The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

It’s Only Panto! “Oh No It Isn’t”

 

By Jez Edwards

Actor and Children's Presenter

 


I was completely unaware whilst I was sat watching a summer show in Blackpool or a Panto in Manchester that my destiny was being mapped out.  Years later when I got my first break in TV my agent asked what I would like him to concentrate on.  Without hesitation I replied “Panto”.  23 years later I am preparing for my first Christmas off.

I have heard “Well, it’s only Panto!” said many times and it instantly gets me on the defensive.  It’s often used by people as an excuse for the inability to actually perform in Panto.  It’s a skill.  There has always been a snobbery surrounding this beautiful, historic and traditional genre of theatre. With actors feeling that their credibility will be called into question if they performed in one.  I have told many a presenting workshop that if a presenter can do Panto they are trained and grounded for anything that could possibly be thrown their way in a TV studio.

I honestly feel that Pantomime is the priceless foundation from which so many different things grow.

This year thousands of performers will be missing an opportunity to show their talents.  Many productions have teams of youngsters who get their first experience in front of a live audience.  Regardless whether they pursue a career in dance/theatre in the future this is an invaluable confidence boost at a very crucial development stage for children.  An experience they can think back to in times of doubt.

For many, Panto is their first contract out of college.  Years of hard training to finally be allowed to showcase their skills.

It is hard enough for performers and production staff in this competitive industry at the best of times.  To have the Christmas season taken away is a very cruel end, to a very hard year.

When I first started in Panto I was like a very excitable puppy that definitely needed to be trained.  It didn’t take long for me to realise that a Panto run is brutal and gruelling but the fuel you need is sat right in front of you in the thousands of families and groups who come through the doors to have their Christmas treat.  Panto is where memories are made at a very special time of year.

Grandparents are absolute superstars in keeping up traditions by providing youngsters with their first live theatre experience.  An experience that can enhance social development and strengthen family bonds outside their home.  The interaction at panto is what I live for.  I know digital platforms allow for interaction immediately but its predominantly a solitary activity.  To be presented with a fairy tale and be immersed in the magic of live music and then be asked to take part in the story in verbal and physical responses, it just can’t be beat.  The audience become my gang and I call on them to help the story along and help us triumph over evil.  They have a role so they stay focused and follow the story.  This is such an important connection and success can be measured with how invested and emotional children get in helping thwart the baddie.  The essential ghost gag in act 2 shows how much they care about the characters when the roof is lifted off the auditorium.  So they themselves are storytelling, decision making around the themes of good and bad, friendship and problem solving. Win, win, win!

If we do our jobs on stage we can create a theatre goer for life.  If we don’t do our jobs we can ruin the build up to Christmas and a memory of what theatre should be like.  That is a massive responsibility.  It was my family tradition to mark the beginning of the new year with a trip to the theatre.  I now have my own family and on Christmas Eve my wife brings our kids to see the show and then we race Santa back to the house together.  I will miss that.  I will miss families.

I have been privileged to play The Carriageworks in Leeds for 11 years.  So I have had the lovely experience to see the same families and groups of friends come year in, year out!  I know what it means to them.  Ever since going into lockdown the first time I was getting a lot of messages from audience members saying we can’t wait until Christmas we will need a good laugh!!! Sadly not to be.

I have to admit I feel if my production had gone ahead it would not be the same experience, as much as we all need a lift.  Our lovely theatre isn’t big enough.  It would have broken my heart 2/3 times a day to see masked and separated groups. I love to see the faces in the audience. “Its only Panto!” Oh no it isn't!. It's much, much more to so many people.  Getting everyone through this pandemic is absolutely crucial.  Hopefully our much-loved venues survive so we can be a part of a much needed uplifting reboot with some essential theatre magic, fairy dust and laughs.

Industry

2 Responses to “It’s Only Panto! “Oh No It Isn’t””

  • Michael Plant says:

    The modern British Pantomime is unique in our world. Most of the rest of the world scratch their heads in puzzlement as to what the hell is going on!
    However, you can’t keep a good format down. Oh no you can’t!
    Next year, Panto will be back even stronger from its unwanted holiday.

  • Dawn D says:

    All I want for Christmas is to be able to say of 2020 and Covid is “it’s behind you”.

    Roll on panto 2021 and see you there

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