A couple months ago I started seeing ads for pantomime (also known as panto) shows here in Dublin. From the posters, I gathered they were family-based shows that happened around the holidays. However, since I got a seasonal job working at a department store for Christmas, I was too busy to see a panto show here in Dublin.
After Christmas, I went to Bath, England for a few days. On a walking tour, our guide told us about the Theatre Royal, which is a beautiful and historic Georgian theatre in the city. The next morning I stopped by the box office to see if they had a ticket for that evening’s performance of Aladdin. They did. Little did I know that I’d be seeing my first panto show.
What is Panto?
Pantomime or panto shows are family shows that are popular around the holidays (December-January) in the UK and Ireland. They originally started out as entr’actes (performances that were done between the acts of an Opera). Eventually, they became their own show.
Panto shows today are very much family oriented. Stories are often retelling of popular fairy tales. There’s often musical numbers, slapstick comedy, mild sexual innuendo jokes for the adults to get, in-jokes, and audience participation. However to really understand a panto show you have to see one for yourself.
My Panto Experience
As I mentioned before, I didn’t know that this production of Aladdin was a panto show. And I didn’t know what to expect, other than it being a family show (from the posters and all the families I saw in attendance). When the villain Abanazar (played by Bill Ward) came on stage (before I knew he was a villain), everyone started booing. Then Abanazar said to the audience, “Oh do shut up” (very British).
Immediately, I got the sense that panto shows were very interactive. The only show I can think of that is interactive in a similar way is the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but of course, that show is not for kids. Panto shows however are.
This version of Aladdin is very different than other versions that you may be familiar with. The premise of a poor boy named Aladdin (Mark Rhodes) who falls in love with a princess named Jasmine (Gemma Naylor) is similar, but the rest is entirely different. There are different characters including Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee (Jon Monie) and his mother the Widow Twankey (Nick Wilton) who runs a laundrette. At one point they sing a song called “In The Laundry” (to the tune of “In The Navy” by The Village People). Actually, I was also very excited when they did a version of “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” from The Book of Mormon because I’m a musical nerd.
Other characters include police constable PC Pong (Tom Whalley) who provided a lot of physical comedy routines (in an Abbott and Costello way) with the Wishee Washee character. The Emperor and Jasmine’s father (Glyn Dilley) and Abanazar’s Slave of the Ring (Loula Geater), the Genie (Michael McGinn) and the ensemble (Jack Osmond, Molly Griffin, Ellie Irish, Sophie Smith and Lily Edwards). There were also some kids from the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dance in Bath who did a great job performing too.
Aladdin is a super serious show only meant for intellectuals who wear smoking jackets and sip brandy. Just kidding. The show is silly and fun and interactive in a great way (where you can participate, but you won’t get pulled on stage…unless maybe you’re under 10). The sets and costumes for the show were fantastic, and the performances were great. It is definitely aimed at families, but everyone (adults included) were having a great time. In fact, kids (or you know their parents) could buy these light up toys during the show. It kind of reminded me of when I was 5 and saw the Ice Capades (except there is no ice skating at this show).
Can You Go to a Panto Show Without Kids
I went to Aladdin by myself. I sat in the stall section, which had a blocked view (I was warned of this beforehand). However, I was the only one in my section, so I moved down a row to see a bit better. I was probably the only person at this show by myself, but I didn’t feel awkward. I love theatre, so I’m always happy to see a show. My only regret is I wish I had picked up a program that tells you about the interactive parts of the show. Most of it I caught onto pretty quickly.
Should You See a Panto Show?
If you’re in the UK or Ireland or anywhere that might playing a panto show during the holidays I say yes. It’s silly, and ridiculous, but a lot of fun. Aladdin at the Theatre Royal in Bath is still playing for a few more days (until January 8).
If you want to hear more about my experience with Panto, I did an interview with BBC Radio in Bristol about my first experience seeing a panto show. The interview is here and starts after the 2 hour 39 minute mark (after the Roy Orbison song “Pretty Woman” plays). It was a lot of fun to talk about seeing my first panto show. I’m already looking forward to seeing my second panto show.
The Theatre Royal is located on Saw Close in Bath. It’s a short walk from the Bath Abbey and Roman Baths. For more information on tickets and upcoming productions, please visit the Theatre Royal Bath website.
Please note this post has not been sponsored, endorsed, or reviewed in any part by the Theatre Royal Bath, the UK Production of Aladdin (including any crew and cast), or BBC Radio. I paid for my own ticket (to this show. All opinions in this post and that I stated in the radio interview are my own.
Have you been to a panto show before?