Not to be confused with mime, the pantomime (abbreviated as ‘panto’) is almost exclusively a genre associated with England, beginning in the early 18th Century and originally involving Commedia dell’Arte-type characters.
When Queen Victoria arrived on the throne in 1837, the modern pantomime was borne out of the English harlequinade and storylines centred on dramatising fairytales suitable for young audiences.
Today’s pantomimes incorporate dance, slapstick and music, and the plots are loosely based on one of several popular fairytales or stories, such as Puss in Boots, Aladdin or Cinderella. A degree of cross-dressing is evident in English pantomimes. A young woman usually performs the Principal Boy, while a large, middle-aged man normally plays the Dame. These elements are conventions familiar with the audience and part of the pantomime’s general appeal.
Pantomimes in England are normally reserved for the Christmas festive season and regularly have well-known television and media personalities performing various roles.