It’s panto time! Oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is!

Families wanting to let their hair down and have some interactive festive fun this Christmas are spoilt for choice with a number of pantomimes taking to stages across the county.

Cinderella will be going to the ball in Eastbourne, Crowborough, Battle and Lewes, while Jack will be climbing the beanstalk in both Hastings and Uckfield. For Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs it’s off to Polegate they go, while on holiday from Neverland Peter Pan takes to the stage in Seaford. Meanwhile Dick Whittington will turn again to Peacehaven.

Audience participation

Whatever show you choose probably doesn’t matter because almost certainly there will be a panto dame to laugh at, a villain to boo, a hero and heroine to cheer, and plenty of jokes, slapstick, singing and noisy audience participation.

It’s perhaps an odd irony that traditional pantomime, reliant on fun, frolicks, double-entendre, audience participation, colourful sets and silly costumes, extravagant villains and outrageous dames, could have gained such popularity in a country famed for its more reserved and withdrawn stiff upper lip. But for many families the “it’s behind you!” fun of panto is an established part of the festive season, and has been for many years.

But how did this curiously British institution come about? Well, as with many of these big questions, there is disagreement on the answer.

Tudor origins?

According to some historians, pantomime, a term which dates back to Greek and Latin languages was modelled on the early masques of the Elizabethan and Stuart days in the 1500 and 1600s, which evolved from  14th century musical, mime or spoken dramas, usually performed in grand houses.

The timing of the British pantomime at Christmas and the role reversal of the lead characters (the principal boy being played by a woman and the dame by a man) may also have its origins in the Tudor “Feast of Fools”, an unruly event, involving much drinking, revelry and role reversal.

But other historians disagree and insist that while pantomime is often seen as something utterly British, it actually developed from Italian street theatre in the 16th Century. Small theatrical companies toured in Italy and France, setting up in market places and fairgrounds to tell stories of the old man Pantalone and the clown Pierrot.

But whatever the truth, the fact remains that pantos in town theatres, village halls, schools and other venues across East Sussex – many of them performed by local theatre groups – promise to give us a fun treat this Christmas. “Oh yes they do…oh no they don’t…oh yes they do!”

Some of this year’s East Sussex pantos:

Cinderella – Eastbourne
Devonshire Park Theatre, Compton Street, Eastbourne
7th Dec 2018 to 13th Jan 2019

Jack and the Beanstalk – Hastings
White Rock Theatre, White Rock, Hastings
14th to 30thDec 2018

Cinderella – Crowborough
Crowborough Community Centre, Pine Grove, Crowborough
15th & 16th Dec 2018

Dick Whittington – Peacehaven
The Meridian Centre, Meridian Way, Peacehaven
30th Nov 2018 to 8th Dec 2018

Cinderella – Battle
Battle Memorial Hall, High Street, Battle
22nd & 23rd Dec 2018

Jack and the Beanstalk – Uckfield
Uckfield Civic Centre
13th to 15th Dec 2018

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Polegate
Polegate Community Centre
12th to 20th Jan 2019

Peter Pan – Seaford
Seaford, Barn Theatre
11th to13th January, 18th to20th Jan 2019

Cinderella – Lewes
St. Mary’s Social Centre, Christie Road
12th to 19th Jan 2019