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.