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Panto Season in London

Panto at Hackney Empire, London.

by Joan Scobey

Shouting at actors on stage is the kind of raucous behavior that would ordinarily get you thrown out of a London theater. But there I was, in a boisterous audience of grownups and kids, having the time of my life yelling at assorted comic characters and buffoons in a Christmas week performance of  Dick Whittington and His Cat.

Welcome to panto, short for pantomime, a great British theatrical tradition some two hundred years old that now generally springs to life during the December holidays. But don’t mistake it for silent acting; it’s more like raucous English music hall.

Loosely based on traditional children’s stories, it has a set of conventions all its own: a young hero played by a woman and a baudy comedienne by a man, risque double entendres and groaner puns to amuse the adults, slapstick pratfalls, and, yes, riotous audience participation. Often it includes a guest celebrity, the grander the better. This year’s entry is David Hasselhoff as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, who announced, “Get ready, London, for Hoff The Hook!”

Good luck, Hoff. So far, panto’s tour de farce honor is held by Shakespearean heavyweight Sir Ian McKellen, who gloriously hammed it up as Widow Twankey in Kevin Spacey’s Old Vic production of  Aladdin a few years ago and famously brought the house down.

Here is this season’s panto lineup, to date.

Cinderella
November 25,  2010 – January 9,  2011
Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill

Jack And The Beanstalk
November 27, 2010 – January 09, 2011
Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street

Dick Whittington and his Cat
November 27, 2010 – January 8, 2011
Lyric Hammersmith,  King Street, Hammersmith

Peter Pan
December 10, 2010 – January 16, 2011
New Wimbledon Theatre, Broadway, Wimbledon

Potted Panto
December 10, 2010 – January 9, 2011,
Vaudeville Theatre, Strand
Seven favorite pantos in one show, including Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.

You can find more information at Official London Theatre.

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