British playwright and mystery novelist Rupert Holmes describes a panto as “part commedia dell’arte, part music hall, and part kiddie show … a panto is to legitimate theatre what the British dish of trifle is to a respectable dessert.”
Pantomimes make use of traditional conventions that often appear, such as a principal boy, a Dame — usually played by a man in drag — audience participation, rewritten lyrics, actors in animal skins, a good fairy, a villain, and often quite a bit of slapstick comedy.
Informally known simply as “pantos” in England and other countries, since they are very rarely performed in the United States, they are usually mistaken for mime.
Theatre Artists Studio presents “Father Christmas and the Snow Queen,” which is a panto performance, from Dec. 1-17 at The Studio, 4848 E. Cactus Road. Show times are 7 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Studio member Alan Austin shares Holmes’ love for the panto form.
Mr. Austin fell in love with the panto as a boy growing up in England when his family attended performances of pantos every Christmas. “It was a family outing and was always fun and exciting,” Mr. Austin said in a press release. “I, in-turn, took my children.”
Decades later he wrote his first panto, “Aladdin,” while serving as a cultural advisor to the government of Singapore. It was loosely based on the classic tale.
“The plot lines are very simple,” Mr. Austin said. “You just take the classical storyline and bend it to suit your actors or situation. You write in topical jokes so there’s an adult level as well as the children’s level.”
He notes the scripts usually take two to three months to complete. He wrote five while in Singapore. One of them, “Father Christmas and the Snow Queen,” has been updated and modified for Arizona audiences and will be presented at The Studio.
Like so many pantos, this show is a takeoff of a classical storyline bent to suit the actors or situation. For the children, it is a fantasy story about overcoming wicked forces — the evil Snow Queen and her Hench cats.
Children are allowed to participate and affect the action and will enjoy animated characters such as the “Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe” and life-sized toys in the magical “Toyland.”
For the adults, part of the fun is watching their children, as well as appreciating some of the asides and topical jokes. “Father Christmas and the Snow Queen” is a holiday adventure with music and dance suitable for the entire family.
Tickets are $25 for general admission; $20 for Groups of 10 or More, Seniors 65 and Over and members of the military and $15 for children and students age 25 and Under.
Go to thestudiophx.org/tickets