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A stranger’s guide to Panto – or – How to get the most out of it!

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

This article gives you a beginner's guide to Panto.  If you're interested in seeing a fun, high quality Panto in South West London that won't break the bank, do come along New Stagers' very own Panto, every January.


So, you’ve never heard of Panto. There must be a hundred questions you want to ask your friend in the cast who’s invited you, but you don’t know how to do it without looking silly. Perhaps you’re a more recent inhabitant of the UK, perhaps just a visitor, perhaps you somehow missed it as a kid and don’t want to admit it, but, for whatever reason, you’re baffled. Panto is a uniquely British institution and it’s vulgar, silly, noisy, funny, outrageous, involves lots of audience participation and we love it! It’s an integral part of many people’s Christmas experience each year, leaving a smile on the face of old and young alike as they leave.

Most Pantomimes are loosely based around a fairy story, nursery rhyme or children’s book. Some of the most popular include Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Peter Pan.  Common to all are certain characters and traditional audience responses that I’m going to give a short quick-start guide to here.

The Dame

This character is the most rude, silly and outrageous of them all – traditionally played by a man. There is never any doubt about this – Panto Dames are no drag queens! The will be larger than life, have a store of wise-cracks, double-entendre, huge dresses, wigs false eyelashes and more makeup than you seen in the whole of the cosmetics section of Superdrug in Southside! Despite all this, they’re goodies, and invite the audience to respond to catchphrases and jokes, and will keep on encouraging until they get the enthusiastic response they want. When the Dame enters, you cheer, whoop, clap, and make good noises!

The Baddie

The baddie can be male or female, depending on the story, and as you might guess, is the bad guy. When they enter (usually accompanied by ‘baddie’ music and one or two hopeless sidekicks) the audience need to shout “boo!” as loudly as they can.

The Heroine

Often the title role, this is played by a pretty young woman. Scripts vary, and sometimes she can be a bit wet, but is often portrayed as quite a clever, feisty, young thing, but always with a kind heart.

The Hero

Also played by a young woman, usually with a lot of leg on display! This encourages the practice of ‘thigh-slapping’, something that Panto is famous for. The hero is clever and brave, will fall in love with the heroine at some point, and together they’ll defeat the baddies and true love will prevail.

The Good Fairy

A fairy or spirit that observes the hero and heroine’s plight and helps them out. Usually a gentle and kind character, full of courage, but often with rather poor jokes!

Assorted other characters include the stupid goodie, the stupid baddie, a talking animal (cat, mouse, horse, cow), someone who’s hopelessly in love with the heroine, the hero’s friend and an older King/Queen/Parent.

Audience participation:

Other than cheering the Dame and booing the Baddie, there are plenty more opportunities to make a noise, For example:

Character calls “Oh yes it is!” Audience respond “Oh no it isn’t!”

Repeated three times, no more, and can be adapted or reversed according to the situation.

If there’s some sort of activity going on behind a character that they stupidly can’t see or hear, then yell “it’s behind you!”

At some point, the goodies will often require the help of the audience, sometimes everyone doing some sort of ridiculous action, sometimes yelling or singing a magical spell. Whatever it happens to be, you must join in or everything will end up really, really badly. It’s all down to you.

Sometimes, one or two very special audience members are called upon to go on stage and help out the goodies. This is a very important role and if called on you have to do what is asked so that the audience can cheer a really cute child, or have lots of fun at the expense of a hapless adult. Either way, it’s a great honour to be picked.

The audience will usually be given words on boards or flashcards to join in with during the last song.  Again, it’s very important, because by now, everyone should have bought into the magic, and it makes the cast very happy!

I hope that’s given you a bit of the flavour of Pantomime, and that you feel better equipped to get the most out of your experience. Remember, the one thing you must not do is to stay quiet!


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