It's official. The pumpkins have been carved and the fireworks have fizzled, which means Christmas is truly on the horizon. And for theatre folk, Christmas means one thing and one thing only... PANTO! OH YES IT DOES!
So grab your glitter and slap on your sequins, it's time to play PANTO BINGO! Katie Brennan explains the top ten things to spot at panto - tick them off when you've spotted them!
1. Characters - one point for each of these
Hero (traditionally a girl in tights pretending to be a boy), Heroine (the one in the princess frock), Dame (usually the hero's Mother, played by a chap in drag), Villain (the one with the sinister 'mwohahaha'-esque laugh), Comic (slapsticky sidekick) and the Fairy (wand and wings non-negotiable).
2. Sweets being thrown into the audience - one point for every sweet that's caught
AMAZING. Imagine being a kid in a theatre and having sweets thrown at you?! It would be like as an adult, being sat in a theatre and someone lobbing a pint at you. Or money. Yeah money, that's less messy. Also, just FYI health and safety nuts, it kind of spoils the magic of theatre if the Dame has to state "Don't eat these if you have any allergies."
3. The Dame's outfits - one point per costume change
The pantomime Dame will always sport a wardrobe of outrageously outlandish outfits that raise gasps and laughter from the audience. Last year for example our Dame dressed as a Swiss Army Knife, a full English breakfast, in a chainmail crinoline and a five tiered wedding cake. She had swag.
4. A cow/horse/other livestock animal - one point per species
On stage, a magical intelligent companion providing a crucial part in the story. In reality, two blokes in furry trousers sweating and trying to dance in time.
5. The Ghost Gag - one point for each 'capture'
Usually occurring in the Villain's lair, a spine-chillingly scary ghost (a kid in a sheet) legs it onstage and captures some of our beloved characters. Now is the correct time to bellow, "IT'S BEHIND YOU!"
6. The Song Sheet - one point for each rousing chorus
Once the baddies have been thwarted, the tabs (the middle curtains) will fall and the audience will be encouraged to join in with a big sing-a-long, following the words on a big sheet on stage. The reason this happens, is obviously because it's great jolly fun, but also because everyone backstage is running around like a maniac changing the scenery and getting changed into their finale costumes. No-one wants to bow wearing the same outfit they've smote a giant in darling.
7. The Slop Scene - one point per SPLAT
Usually done by the Dame and the Comic, the slop scene is basically an excuse to throw cream and eggs at each other. No matter how old you get, people getting custard pied in the face is always hysterical.
8. Corpsing Actors - one point per giggle
If whilst you're watching panto you notice the actors get a bit giggly embrace it! They've probably gone and got glitter in an awkward place and to be fair, they're dealing with some tricky stuff - all that giant slaying, magic carpet riding, disappearing in puffs of smoke, flying and massive beanstalks sprouting up makes for a pretty eventful day at the office.
9. The UV Scene - one point per flying item
At this point in the show, everything goes dark. Emerging from the blackness appears a whole host of glow in the dark delights, seemingly flying through the air as if by magic! (In reality, it's a load of actors bumbling about the stage in black balaclavas looking like bank robbers. It's pant-wettingly funny.)
10. Celebs - one point per 'name'
Most pantos these days rely on a bit of celebrity casting to help draw in the crowds, so if you would love to see your favourite EastEnders star in tights or watch someone from the 2010 X Factor in a tutu, now's your chance!
Now, score an extra half point for every time the audience cheer, go 'awwww' at a sad bit or boo and hiss, every double entendre and every topical reference (I imagine Scottish Independence, selfies and twerking will crop up a bit this year!). ADD UP YOUR POINTS!
Hopefully your score is nice and high, because that means you've just seen a perfect example of one of the most brilliantly bonkers British traditions. Panto is part of our cultural tapestry, so this year, be sure to wear your most sparkly outfit or your most hideous Christmas jumper and go and shout your lungs out cheering the goodies and booing those baddies. It's fantastic fun - all together now - OH YES IT IS!
Merry Christmas all!
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