Alan Smith as the Dame, Bethany Blakemore as Clueless Simon and Madeleine Wheare as Wicked Witch Wilma - in rehearsal.
Alan Smith as the Dame, Bethany Blakemore as Clueless Simon and Madeleine Wheare as Wicked Witch Wilma - in rehearsal. Photo: GERTY GEERTS

It’s behind you! A beginner’s guide to panto

The Algarveans’ rehearsals for ‘Jack and The Beanstalk – A Panto’ are in full swing. But say the word ‘panto’ to many non-Brits and you will likely receive a blank look. So, for those unfamiliar with the tradition of panto, here is a beginner’s guide to this wonderful British institution:

The story of pantomime is a tale 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, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc, and, as such, it has appeal for all ages.

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

Slapstick is another traditional element – the throwing of pies, plenty of falling over, outrageous costumes and, naturally, a dancing pantomime 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 is modelled on the early masques of the Elizabethan and Stuart periods, having been inspired by the Commedia dell’arte, improvised street theatre from Italy. 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 share the knowledge that the Dame is not really a woman, but pantomine’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.

Upcoming shows

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is playing at the Carlos do Carmo Auditorium in Lagoa on November 24, 25 and 26 at 7.45pm, with a matinée on November 27 at 2pm. Tickets priced at €12 can be bought online at or in person at Auditório Carlos do Carmo, Convento de S. José in Lagoa and at Município de Lagoa – Balcão Único. Also available at Worten and FNAC outlets.