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Is panto still releveant? Oh Yes it is!

PUBLISHED: 07:39 15 January 2014 | UPDATED: 07:39 15 January 2014

Alan Cousins as the Prince/Beast and Katy Pearce as Beauty

Alan Cousins as the Prince/Beast and Katy Pearce as Beauty

Archant

With attracting families to Christmas pantomimes becoming more difficult, Sam Gelder spoke to the writer and director of Beauty and the Beast, showing at Erith Playhouse, to find out why the British panto remains popular.

Some may say the pantomime dame’s glory days are behind them – but the man responsible for this year’s production at Erith Playhouse believes the tradition still has an important role to play.

David Maun has written and directed three pantomimes for the independent theatre in Erith High Street, Bexley, and his updated version is showing at the theatre until Saturday.

Having been a member of the theatre for 30 years and involved in 19 productions - both on and off stage - David, 54, speaks passionately about the “magic” of panto.

“A visit to a pantomime may be a child’s first experience of live theatre. If that experience is magical enough, it can leave a lasting impression,” explained David,

“In a world where children are surrounded by computer games, DVDs and the all pervasive influences of television - a visit to a pantomime could be a catalyst.

“The audience of the future - not just pantomime, but live theatre – could well be fostered by the experience of sitting in a darkened auditorium watching the magic of pantomime.”

David, from Erith, directed Mother Goose for the Playhouse in 1990, Cinderella in 1994 and Beauty and the Beast in 2001.

Families are able to enjoy an updated version of the tale as old as time, and according to David, it is the constant evolution of the entertainment form that keeps it fresh and exciting.

A tale as old as time

A tale as old as time

Beauty and the Beast, or La Belle et la Bête in French, is a traditional fairytale.

The first published version was a rendition by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in 1740.

The best-known written version was published in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont – an English translation appeared in 1757.

In 1991, Walt Disney Pictures released the famous animated version.

In 1994, it became the first Disney film to be adapted into a Broadway musical.

“I’ve updated the 2001 version for the modern era,” he explained.

“Had panto remained ‘traditional’ in the sense that it never changed, it would have long have passed into theatrical lore.

“It is down to the fact that it has adapted over the years that it remains an integral part of theatre.

“It can bring a smile to people’s faces.”

The quintessentially British tradition can be dated back to the 17th century, influenced by the Italian “commedia dell’arte”, a form of popular comedic Italian theatre.

To this day many of the traditions remain, such as the villain being first to enter from stage left, followed by his adversary from stage right.

The lead boy being played by a female and the pantomime dame are other traditions that remain active.

But one key tradition the format could not work without is audience participation.

“My earliest theatre memory is going to a pantomime at Erith Playhouse at about 9 or 10 as a birthday treat. The pantomime was Dick Whittington and the Fairy had the initials N.U.F.F on her chest – standing for the National Union of Flying Fairies,” explained David,

“Every time a character in the pantomime said ‘fair enough’ – pow, the fairy would appear.

“I can probably trace my love of theatre back to that very evening.”

Rehearsals started for Beauty and the Beast in October and a cast of 20 local people, ranging from in ages from 17 to 71 are walking the boards.

David hopes the production will be a catalyst for younger theatre goers.

“We need to bring in another generation of theatre goers,” he concluded.

Visit playhouse.org.uk for performance times and call 01322 350 345 for ticket availability.

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