They say panto is in decline - oh no it isn’t!

The Bolton News: Joyce Foster as Cinderella and Julie Bennett as Dandini in Bethal Crowd’s production in 1979 Joyce Foster as Cinderella and Julie Bennett as Dandini in Bethal Crowd’s production in 1979

THE art of pantomime is alive and well in Bolton — oh yes it is!

While a recent report suggested the curtain was falling on traditional pantos, at least six amateur and professional productions will have been staged in Bolton, from November to February, featuring dames and a hearty dose of slapstick.

The National Database of Panto Performance, found many had abandoned the practice of casting an actress in the leading male role and others scrapped the part of the dame.

Experts suggest the trend may be because younger audiences who have grown up accepting gay relationships do not understand the comic element of cross-dressing.

But Paul Cohen, chairman of BATS (Bolton Amateur Theatre Societies) rejected the claim and said traditional dames featured in all their members’ pantos. He said: “I don’t feel that political correctness is having an impact on males playing dames.

“Whilst I appreciate that people are more accepting of gay relationships I think it has nothing whatsoever to do with the understanding of why a man puts on a dress in a panto. That said, it is important that a dame is played as “a man in a frock” rather than a “drag queen”.

“This is what keeps it traditional and also gets the laughs. Les Dawson was great role model of this. From my experience, traditional pantos are still alive and well. I am currently involved in my 30th pantomime which is full of traditional jokes, songs and slapstick.”

Actor and singer James Edgington, one half of Britain’s Got Talent finalists Father and Son, who is playing Jack McNasty in Mother Goose at Lowther Pavilion, in Lytham St Annes, also disputed the claim.

Mr Edgington, from Harwood, said: “Live performance and theatre is produced to challenge and educate people, but panto has moral values through an innocent story.”

The study also found a shift in the type of pantomimes being performed, with a growth in dame-less pantos, as producers opt for storylines such as Snow White.

Mother Goose, first performed in London in 1806, and Puss in Boots, first performed in 1817, are also staged less often.

Maureen Hughes, who wrote the book A History of Pantomime, believes the two are no longer considered sufficiently glamorous, while Mother Goose is often thought too difficult.

The play is known as the “Hamlet of panto”, for the challenging nature of the central character and also the demands of the heavy, feathered costume.

While pantomimes have been staged across Britain since the 18th century, what do the pair see for the future of the genre? Mr Cohen said: “I feel very strongly that traditional panto should be kept alive. I mean good old panto humour, slapstick, male dames, female principal boy and good traditional songs. I am not a lover of the latest chart-topper in panto. I feel traditional panto is still alive and well and I will work to ensure it stays that way for a long time to come.”

And Mr Edgington added: “I think it's big business in this country. The UK does the best pantos and I think it is coming such a big part of Christmas.”

Comments (1)

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4:18pm Mon 30 Dec 13

Barbara44 says...

Went to the 1 at the Albert hall wit my 2 grandsons and really enjoyed it.
Went to the 1 at the Albert hall wit my 2 grandsons and really enjoyed it. Barbara44

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