Ugly Sister Grizelda (Frank Remiatte) trying on the slipper!
Ugly Sister Grizelda (Frank Remiatte) trying on the slipper!

A beginner’s guide to pantomime

The Algarveans’ rehearsals for ‘Cinderella’ are in full swing! Say the word ‘panto’ to many non-Brits and you will likely receive a blank look. So, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, here is a beginner’s guide to this wonderful British institution.

Pantomime stories are tales of good versus evil with men dressed as women and women masquerading as young men. Over the centuries, it travelled from Ancient Greece to Britain via Italy and France, transforming into a unique concoction of eccentricity and absurdity.

Shows are usually based on well-known children’s stories such as ‘Aladdin’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and so on, and, as such, it has appeal for all ages.

Audience participation is an important part of the show. They are encouraged to boo the villain, argue with the Dame (played by a man), and warn the hero of impending danger.

Slapstick is another traditional element – the throwing of pies, plenty of falling over, outrageous costumes and, naturally, a performing animal.

At the end of the show, good will have conquered evil, song and dance will have been performed and everyone lives happily ever after.

It is generally acknowledged that this curious form of entertainment was modelled on the early masques of the Elizabethan and Stuart periods, having been inspired by the Italian Commedia dell’arte. Distinctive masks allowed the audience to recognise stock characters while enabling the actors to make risqué or topical jokes, a key element of pantos today.

Eventually, pantomime worked its way into British theatre. During the Victorian age, the central comic character became a poor, widowed woman, finally resulting in the eccentric figure of the Dame, a role first created and performed by a man, and acted ever since by men. The audience shares the knowledge that the Dame is not really a woman, but the pantomime’s absurdity relies on the fact that we are all in on the joke. And that’s part of the fun and magic of panto.

‘Cinderella’ is playing at the Carlos do Carmo Auditorium in Lagoa on November 17 and 18, at 7.45pm, and matinées on November 18 and 19, at 2pm. Tickets priced at €12 will be available online at or in person in Lagoa at Auditório Carlos do Carmo, Convento de S. José and at Município Balcão Único. Also available at Worten and FNAC outlets.