A pantomime (or "panto" for short) is a British form of theatre, in which classic fairy tales are laced with slapstick comedy, cross-dressing actors and the occasional naughty joke the kids won't get. It's said to be a soup of genres, with heavy influences from Commedia dell'Arte, among a few other European types of theatre, which had the result of creating a composite genre which is traditionally played around Christmas even though the performances themselves aren't Christmas-y whatsoever.
Common source material for them include, but are not limited to: Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan, literally anything with a princess, and Dick Whittington, to name a few. But in general, any well-known fairy tale will do as a base.
Panto revolves around an array of conventions, so much that the audience comes already knowing what is going to happen. Because the stories are generally children's stories, Parental Bonus and Getting Crap Past the Radar are to be expected in order to be able to entertain as much audience as possible without needing to Avoid the Dreaded G Rating.
Panto will usually have a series of songs throughout the play, performed by the characters and sometimes accompanied by a chorus which sings and dances. Panto is also very fond of Audience Participation, like its inspiration. You'll usually find the audience booing the villain, feeling empathy for the rejected characters, warning the hero of incoming danger, etc.
Traditional roles in panto generally include, but are not limited to:
- The Principal Boy: The romantic male lead, traditionally played by a woman wearing men's clothing (even though a man playing that role isn't out of the question and is actually becoming more common with time). They're the main character in pantomime, that comes in many flavors.
- The Principal Girl: The Principal Boy's love interest, played by... a girl. She's generally depicted as pure and good-hearted.
- The Villain: The Big Bad of the story, they're often depicted doing what they do For the Evulz and frequently mistreat their Mooks, and have a Small Name, Big Ego to hide the fact they're generally ineffective and always outsmarted by the hero at the end. He'll usually enter from the left (unlike the Good Fairy and other heroic characters who enter from the right) as a convenience dating back from the Medieval mystery plays where Right was considered Heaven and left was Hell.
- The Dame: Played by a man, she's panto's larger-than-life Grande Dame wearing a Pimped-Out Dress that borders on Rummage Sale Reject and is generally part of the Principal Boy's family, usually his Large Ham of a mother acting in a very melodramatic way, trying to remain a Proper Lady despite her less-than-flattering appearance and always failing in romancing a guy for a long enough time. Of course, it wouldn't be complete without getting the Dame in undignified situations. Despite her Chew Toy tendencies, she's hardly evil - if she is, she's a Harmless Villain at best.
- The Comic Lead: As the name implies, they're the comic relief (if the Dame isn't enough anyways). Usually a dense but good-natured person. If they're male, they can also be interested by the Principal Girl, but they're generally too timid to speak out their heart and will resort to sobbing to the audience.
- The Good Fairy: She's the Big Good. She serves as an intermediary between the play and the audience, often being the narrator of the story who likes speaking in verse for whatever reason. If all hope is lost, she'll pull a Deus ex Machina, solving everything up with a fling of her magic wand.
- The Horse: Two people dress up as a horse with one at the front and the other at the back. They often come in outlandish colors and non-biologically-correct decorations.
- The Chorus: Not exactly a role, but they frequently appear on stage to sing and dance throughout the show several times.
Many other roles can be included in this genre depending on the source of the play, among other things. Not all of the aforementioned roles are mandatory, save for the Principal Boy, the Principal Girl, the Dame and the Villain, really.
The story will always be a conflict between Good vs Evil and will have a Happy Ending no matter what with the villain being defeated and the Principal Boy successfully marrying his love interest and living with her Happily Ever After. It's possible to base a panto from a story with a Downer Ending or with unfitting roles, but it must be re-adapted and rewritten to fit the mold again. Generally everyone dances in the ending or throws pies at each other, but it's generally full of energy anyways and panto loves its slapstick humor.
The genre changed a lot if you wanted to compare it with how it was at its inception, especially due to most of the traditions having loosened significantly, but the fact it's constantly adapting to the modern times is what is helping it not fall into decay. The jokes nowadays can get slightly political, or in general referencing actual matters in the world, even though it's not abused as the audience still loves a good traditional show that is only enjoyed at a certain time of the year. Nowadays people try and cast famous people in order to draw in more audience, but generally the role of the Dame stays untouched in that matter as the role is so important and specialized that few famous people can actually play the role of the Dame successfully.