Oh yes it is!
It’s Panto season, and thousands of theatre goers all over the country will be getting ready to join in with cheesy songs, boo and hiss at the villain and laugh at the antics of the dame or the pantomime cow. Pantomime has a long tradition in this country, and the Straw family were not immune to its charms, with William Straw junior recording various theatre visits in his diary.
William lived for part of his life in London where he taught English Literature at the City of London College during the 1920s and 30s. Whilst there, we know he took advantage of the wealth of cultural delights, recording visits to art galleries and theatres. Once back home in Worksop after the death of his mother, he continued to take an interest in the theatre, including it seems the ancient art of pantomime.
On 23rd January 1926 he was at the Brixton Theatre in London to see the panto ‘Hop ‘O My Thumb.’ ‘Hop O’ My Thumb’ is a rare pantomime that was last performed in the 1950s, although it went through a revival in popularity during the 1920s and 30s. The story is a mixture of Babes in the Wood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Hansel and Gretel. Sadly, The Brixton Theatre no longer survives, having been destroyed during World War 2
On 3rd Jan 1935 he saw ‘Aladdin’ at Sheffield at the cost of 10/6, and another panto at an unspecified ‘Lyceum’ theatre (possibly Sheffield again) on 26th January 1929. Although William may have had a bit of a reputation for being serious and academic in later life, he obviously had a lighter side, at least in his youth.
Whilst pantomimes seem to be a particularly British art form, they originated in the Commedia dell'arte, Italian street theatre dating back to the 16th century. Pantomime arrived in Britain in the late 1600s, popularised by the theatre impresario John Rich. By Victorian times, stock characters like the dame, the principal boy and the fairy godmother were bringing well loved stories like Cinderella or Mother Goose to life for delighted audiences, who entered fully into the anarchic spirit of pantomime. The popularity of pantos has never really waned, and today they are performed up and down the country by both professional and amateur companies, often with a sprinkling of T.V. celebrities amongst the cast.
If you, like William, enjoy panto, we hope you will be going along this winter to enjoy a bit of audience participation and cheer the inevitable happy ending – oh yes we do!