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Panto on prescription!

As Christmas approaches an editor’s thoughts move - much like the inevitability of the change of season - from relatively sane art forms to traditional indoor entertainment of a more bizarre nature.

Yes, folks,we are approaching pantomime time once again - stage productions supposedly designed for families, employing cross-dressing characters from fairy tales, comic innuendo, for parents and slapstick comedy for kids. There’s always someone to love and someone to hate; will the Prince (mum’s favourite) wed the pretty girl in the ragged dress who dad’s got his eye on? - will the hissable villain get his comeuppance? Will everyone live happily ever after?

Panto gives many of our favourite television stars the chance to take to a real stage and perform in front of real people, albeit as some fanciful or unbelievable character. This year I chose Stefan Booth of Hollyoaks, The Bill and Dancing on Ice fame, to chat to about the idiosyncrasies of pantomime. He’s about to play Prince Valiant in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Harlequin Theatre, Redhill and he said one thing that put everything else in perspective. Is pantomime still relevant? I asked, thinking of its long and tangled roots in European commedia dell’arte and the traditional characters who seem so unreal to modern audiences. ‘Relevant?’ It’s a social necessity!’ he responded. Many children face a range of issues in society today and taking them to a panto is one sure way to allow them to forget the harshness of the real world for a short while and escape into a land of make-believe, where good meets bad, but bad always seem to turn out good in the end. You’ll never see a child leave a panto with a glum face, Stefan said and who can disagree with that?

Perhaps panto should be administered by prescription to dysfunctional families. Put it on the National Health, rather than have people pay for tickets… Let’s have state-run panto!

In the meantime, while we wait for unreal to become real, take the time out to treat your kids to a good old ‘he’s behind you!’ at your favourite Surrey theatre, this Christmas.

Chris Wood is resident composer with Guest House Opera and editor of Epsom, Sutton and Cheam Time & Leisure.