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Article by Sarah Hamilton-Walker | 4th December 2018

Why Do We Have Pantos Every Christmas?

A form of travelling street theatre called Commedia dell’arte, pantomime developed in Italy in the 16th century. A physical type of theatre that involved music, tumbling, dance and buffoonery, Commedia troupes had a repertoire of stories that they performed in fairgrounds and market places – common characteristic of the modern day pantomimes.

Like pantomime, Commedia dell’arte had types of characters that had their own set of movements and gestures. Popular characters included an old man, naughty servants, a lover and also a clown.

When the English adopted Commedia in the 1660s, they produced their own type of early pantomime called a ‘harleyquinade’.

Fast-forwarding to Victorian times, Harleyquinades eventually died out and pantomime stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella began to dominate the theatre scene. By the middle of the 19th century, pantomimes become so popular that some of them lasted as long as five hours with as many as 600 actors performing in the same evening.

Modern day productions have moved with the times, these days incorporating famous names and faces such as sports personalities, TV soap stars, children’s TV entertainers as well as prominent actors.

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