The Origins of Pantomime:
Pantomime originated on the streets of Italy, called "Commedia dell'arte". This was a very physical art of street entertainment including dancing, music, acrobatics, tumbling and "buffoonery"; ridiculous but amusing actions. See the connection to modern day pantomime? Also familiar to what we know today is that every character had set movements, gestures and actions. The Commedia had 'an old man' akin to the 'king' character of some pantos. They had lovers (the servant girl called Columbine who is the principal girl of today), naughty servants and a clown or 'Pierrot' characters. There was a character that can be seen as the origins of the ‘baddie’ that was Pulcinella, a stupid and ugly servant. His looks included a big beaky nose, hunchback and the wart on his forehead. Although this is more reminiscent of Punch in Punch and Judy.
The Commedia came to England in the 16th Century as a kind of early pantomime called a 'Harlequinade'. At this time the principal boy lover was named ‘Harlequin’; a magical character who was always involved in very spirited and gymnastic chase scenes. The name of Harlequin remained in the Harlequinade for around 150 years where the story would revolve around him and the Columbine (the principal girl lover). It was a basic format where the two lovers are kept apart from the girl’s father (the old man or ‘Pantaloon’). The latter’s’ servants play tricks on him and he pursues the lovers with his servant, called ‘Clown’. The pantomime traditions of slapstick (meaning a certain type of clownish physical comedy), chases, speed and transformations were developed from these Harlequinades. In order to continue the flow of the show, transformations scenes were developed to convert from one scene to another. Costumes would be changed on stage along with sets being altered whilst the action was continuing.
In Victorian times the Harlequinade remained popular. This is when it became more like what happens today. The mix of fairy tales and the original story line. Due to licence guidelines of how many words were spoken on stage, the actions became more important and it became more ‘mime’; hence Pantomime. Even when the regulations where lifted, it continued in the same vein but included more puns and word play. Now it was seen that ‘Clown’ took over from the Harlequin as the star of the show. This is the ‘Buttons’ character we know now.
Storylines not only contained fairy tales from Grimm, 17th-century French writers Madame d'Aulnoy and Charles Perrault and other stories derived from European, Middle Eastern and Asian folk tales and legends. They also included real life characters in Dick Whittington; a real Mayor of London who died in 1423, although the cat was an added extra.
It was in the Victorian times that these shows started to become a festive treat for audiences. Also, at this time the musical stars of the day started to see these shows as a natural fit with their talents. By the end of the 19th century these shows were spectacular and lavish. But what about the cross dressing?
Cross dressing was seen as far back as in Shakespeare’s time when it was seen as unseemly for a woman to be an actor, so it is not surprising that a man would take the Dame part. The Dame character has endured constantly for the last hundred years or so. Dames have a lewd sense of humour, outrageous costumes and gregarious personalities. At the time Victorians would not have liked their women to be like this so it is no surprise that men take this role. It is very unfeminine to initiate slapstick and play tricks on the other performers.
‘Breeches Parts’, women dressed up as men, started in the opera but moved over to pantomime shows as many female musical stars, like Vesta Tilley, already dressed up on occasion so it was not a big leap to do this in the festive production. By the 1880s the hero of the show was always played by a woman. The hero is more like a female way of behaving as he has a genteel personality and does everything for the love of the principal girl.
Pantomime as we know it now is not much removed from "Commedia dell'arte" in that it has certain standard stories and characters. That is one of the reason it is quite easy to write. I have tried to put a different spin on my scripts whilst keeping to tradition and on the next page you can see summaries of the pantomimes I have written.
One Act and Full Length Plays:
Alongside the pantomimes are various one act plays and full-length plays. During my quarter of a century in Am-Dram I have seen quite a scarcity of good one act plays that theatres can put on for festivals or for a night of one acts. I have produced quite a few evenings of 2 or 3 on acts. I have various stories that cover different aspects of life; some funny some serious. Reflecting life at a watershed moment, ghostly apparitions to guide a life, etc. Writing a one act play is trying to establish the characters quickly and focus on one incident in life rather than develop it through a longer play or series of plays. It's a challenge but an interesting and rewarding one that I enjoy.
Full length plays gives an author longer to establish the personalities and then the situation that brings them all together. I have written a full length murder mystery and am looking to do a few more.
Please see the tab ‘Play Scripts’ for more information.
Fees for performing the pantomimes and plays are per performance and is reliant on seats within the theatre the play is due to be shown in. Fees for an electronic master copy means that it can be copied enough times that is felt necessary. Advertising must include and ascribe the authors name to the production and if you wish to change the scripts in any fundamental way please get permission from the same author. Please click on ‘Fees’ tab for more information.