English Panto and the American Prude

Flyer for 2010 Cambridge Arts Theatre Panto

I got myself out of Utah, but it takes awhile to get the Utah out of the girl. It was a revelation to watch “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” in 1994 and realize that homosexuals, cross-dressers, and transvestites were just regular people “like the rest of us.” The heavy weight of being raised in a prudish place lifted.

Even so, I was still slightly shocked (and delighted!) to watch English pantomime the first time.

In a theater full of organized school groups, a man dressed as a woman performed lead in a show chock-full of sexual innuendo. I get gleeful just thinking about the shocked(!) letters to the editor and funding cuts that would have resulted in Utah (or much of red state America).

Panto takes a well-known, simple story and fleshes it out with a tremendous amount of singing, dancing, audience-call-back, slap-stick and costume changes. It’s good family fun without being sickeningly cute (the naughty winks to the grown-ups help a lot). Every town with a theater has a yearly panto show (I’m sure they’re a dependable annual influx of cash).

Panto is rather racy to American eyes. During one production, the author was (pleasantly) jolted from a second-act snooze by the sight of a man in a dress and Union Jack boxer-shorts give a full-moon to a jolly audience full of 10-year-olds.

Here in England, the only thing controversial about panto seems to be the frequent use of Royal Family members’ names for the evil step-sisters in Cinderella (this year the obvious choice was “Beatrice and Eugenie”). Men can wear all the frocks they’d like, but for God’s sake don’t offend the Royalists.

Hats off to Brad Fitt: a great “dame” who will be known forever in the author’s family as the “strawberry lady.” Thank you Cambridge Arts Theatre.

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3 responses to “English Panto and the American Prude

  1. Hello from ‘the Strawberry Lady’ I’ve just discovered your blog online, lovely to read an Americans view of Pantomime. All very best wishes to you and your family

    Brad Fitt

    • Ha! Thanks for saying “hello,” Strawberry Lady.

      We went to Panto here in Hong Kong last Christmas (a production put on by a bunch of Brits and Aussies), but it was no where near as wonderful as Panto at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. We didn’t know just how spoiled we were.

      Cheers, Jen

  2. Pingback: Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet arrive in the Netherlands with a lot of baggage | Expat Lingo·

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