American audiences usually understand the word Pantomine as something like Marcel Marceau’s mime; that is to say, non-verbal, physical theatre. British Pantomine or Panto is a distinctive art form involving musical comedy, slapstick, cross-dressing, special effects, audience participation and topical in-jokes. It is performed for children but has a lot of sexual double entendres and topical references for the adults. In the U.K., it is a major tradition at Christmas and New Year for professional theatre and amateur companies alike. However, it is never Christmas-themed but takes fairy tales and children’s stories such as Aladdin or Peter Pan. Its traditions date back to Italian Commedia dell’ Arte and medieval mummers plays.
One of the great traditions is the banter with the audience and a lot of “Oh yes it is” and “Oh no it isn’t” going back and forth between the audience and the actors, until it reaches a fever pitch. It is popular both in the West End theatres in London and in village halls. (the American equivalent of a Church basement) It is the ultimate in “interactive” theatre, and is almost like an American basketball or football game because an individual can immerse himself in a crowd.
The Fremont Players have created this tradition here in Seattle. Their play, “Peter Pan,” is staged in an old warehouse owned by Hale‚Äôs Brewery on Leary Way between Ballard and Fremont. This production delivered the goods for the children, who laughed and participated, on the children only open floor space in the front. The most important element of a British Panto is the banter back and forth between the audience and the cast. They delivered on this. The strength of this production was the original music composed by Kiki Hood and Sasha Malinsky (Hook’s song), the lyrics were improvised by the cast as was the story-line
Unfortunately, the space was not very forgiving and the acoustics worked against the production. Also the sound system and the actor’s diction was not particularly good so if you were seated in the back-row 50% of the lines were muffled and incomprehensible. The show was going in the right direction but lacked the requisite production values-a good set, costumes, and special effects to make this the spectacle it should have been. Also in keeping with its origins in commedia dell’ Arte, Panto is supposed to have a lot of physical comedy, unfortunately the movement, choreography and direction was not particularly inspired and often the blocking was just a “chorus line” in front of the audience.
Having said that, it was an enjoyable evening, and the kids seemed to have a good time. From a reviewers perspective, it is nice to see a show at this time of year which isn’t about Christmas, so I hope that soon they will get the financial support they need to make this the spectacle it deserves. I would love to see this staged at Seattle Rep on a big budget.
If you are sick to death of Christmas themed shows and wish to take your children to something they will really enjoy, which will not force them to sit passively, this is a show to see.
British Panto “Peter Pan”. Fremont Players and the Fremont Philharmonic Orchestra, Jan 7, 8, 14, 15. Hale’s Palladium, 4301 Leary Way NW, Ballard, Seattle, www.brownpapertickets.com