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Kicking off Christmas Festivities – Panto Style
As a little girl I called it pantonine and pantomine. Although I was corrected an infinite amount of times, I still got it wrong, so I resorted to calling it panto.
Apart from Santa and receiving presents, it was one of the most exciting events during the Christmas holidays. I remember my fearless brother being called on stage and disappearing into Ali Baba’s large basket of treasure to then reappear on the seat next to me – for a wide-eyed little girl it was pure magic!
Back then, my mother and her friends used to queue for hours in front of the theatre to buy tickets returning home triumphantly but exhausted. Anything not to disappoint the kids, especially at Christmas.
But what is a pantomime? It is a colourful play, mainly for children which caters for adults too. It includes music, singing, dancing, jokes, slapstick comedy and satire based on fairy tales and other popular stories.
It is usually popular in the UK and a few other English-speaking countries such as Malta. It is another tradition we adopted as our own, like tea and custard.
There are many vital elements which make up a panto apart from the jokes and the singing and dancing. The villain, the evil character, is created in such a way that he or she is immediately recognisable but also laughable. He or she is loud and so over-the-top that it is hard to take him or her seriously. Role reversal and gender-crossing are another bankable element in the panto. The dame who represents the character of an older woman who is a sort of mother figure and a paragon of good, is usually played by a man. It is so obviously a man that it adds hilarity and silliness to the show. The clothes and make up are exaggerated to create a larger-than-life character with whom the audience falls in love.
Once we are on the subject, it is the audience who may make or break a panto. You could say that the pantomime is the original interactive form of entertainment. The audience is invited to actively participate, remember when my brother was called on stage?
Children and adults alike are asked up on stage for various gags. Treats are thrown at the audience creating commotion. The audience is asked to warn the characters about danger with famous phrases such as, ‘He’s behind you!’ and when one character says, ‘Oh yes he is’ the audience in unison replies, ‘Oh no he’s not’. Not forgetting when the villain is creeping around, the audience hisses or shouts ‘Booooooo’. The most important thing is that, in the end, good always triumphs over evil and, sometimes, the villain sees the errors of his ways to embrace good. The hero and heroine get married and live happily ever after.
The feel-good factor is fantastic, especially for this time of the year. Just watch the audience leaving the theatre with big smiles, possibly singing one of the songs too. I strongly recommend you go to one of these productions. There are various pantos being staged around the island both in English and Maltese.
Worth mentioning is a first for Malta, a panto in the dark. Yes, this production is staged entirely in the dark with the promise of being, ‘a magical sensory experience’.
Panto fever has infected secondary schools too. Many put on large spectacles in aid of charity. If you do go to one of these pantos, get ready to lose yourself in this wacky, surreal world of colour, singing and fun. Don’t forget to practise your lines, after all, you are a part of the production just as much as the actors are.
Focus on Fluency
- Kick off – start
- Get it wrong – do something incorrectly
- Resort to – choose to use
- Wide-eyed – childlike innocence
- Laughable – so silly it is funny
- Bankable – reliable
- Paragon – a person who has a large amount of a good characteristic
- Hilarity – extremely funny
- Make or break – the factor which decides whether something will be successful or not
- Gags – a joke, part of a comedian’s act
- In unison – altogether
- Feel-good factor – a feeling of well-being
About the Author
Director of Studies
Michela Formosa has been the Director of Studies at ESE since 2009 and has been active in the industry for the past 18 years both as a teacher and a teacher trainer. In addition, she was a speaker at the ELT Conferences in Malta as well as the Eaquals Conference in Malaga in 2015. In October 2015, Michela received the Inspiring ELT Professional Award 2015 at the 4th Malta ELT Conference.
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