Not long ago, Nancy Friedman alerted me to the use of “Panto” in her native San Francisco. For the uninitiated, in the words of the Theatre-Britain website, “A panto is a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation. The British love a good panto. In fact the nation has been mad on it ever since the actor manager John Rich introduced it in 1717.” (Note to self: check “mad on it.”)

Now, the term used back in 1717 was “pantomime”; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the shortened form “panto” didn’t appear till 1852. “Panto” now predominates and emerges (as Theatre-Britain neglected to note) in the Christmas season. And speak of the devil, here’s a current offering of a troupe near me:

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The doing of pantos by American companies is a kind of cultural Britishism, but I am inclined not to view either “panto” or “pantomime” as a NOOB, for the simple reason that there isn’t any alternative word for that thing.

13 thoughts on ““Panto”

  1. Pantomime is still widely recognised in the UK as the proper full term, but fortunately mime as an art form died the death it deserved

    1. ‘…fortunately mime as an art form died the death it deserved.’
      Hear! Hear! Especially if you refer to ‘street mimes’.
      I loved the bit in the film, ‘Scenes From a Mall’, in which Woody Allen’s character hit a mime. I could relate to that.
      Unfortunately, the effect was diminished when he apologized and gave the guy money, as if there were actually something wrong with thumping one of those pests.

  2. The best of british panto is village panto….whole villages taking part from the teeny tiny to the ancient. Creative locals write scripts and lard them with bathroom humor and local references. Key is EVERYONE gets involved. That aspect of panto is what keeps it popular…and the village productions are way the best. EVERYONE knows EVERYONE. Staged panto is a different animal altogether. Panto or Pantomime, both work.

  3. “I am inclined not to view either “panto” or “pantomime” as a NOOB, for the simple reason that there isn’t any alternative word for that thing.”

    Oh yes there is!

  4. I am intrigued by the American pamtomimes.

    Do they really have a pantomime dame?
    Is the leading man a woman?
    Is there audience participation?
    Double entendres?

    I just can’t imagine Americans doing all this …

  5. I have to add… for the poster to proclaim a ‘musical panto’ is a tautology – pantos ALWAYS have music, and should also have a few dance numbers. The usual form is to insert well-known songs (a mix of traditional and current hits) into the plot, sometimes adapting the words to suit the context. My experience is that the dance numbers are usually undertaken by the chorus or the whole company, not as solos or duets by the principals.

    I must also with regret point to the recent decline in the tradition of casting a young lady as the Principal Boy – several recent productions I’ve seen advertised have a male Prince Charming/Aladdin/Dick Whittington/whoever.

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