Pantomime is both very British in its form and in its popularity at this time of year. Traditionally performed at Christmas, pantomime has a history stretching right back to ancient Greece and Rome although its format has altered drastically over the centuries. The forerunner of the modern pantomime can be found in the early 18th century where a performer called John Rich developed a production full of theatrical effects and comedy which became increasingly popular.
Nowadays pantomime is big business with an array of greater and lesser known celebrities providing the entertainment. Audience participation is as important a feature as the songs, dances, jokes and sometimes improbable plots. Pantomime has always been popular and in recent years has been given greater recognition by other theatrical forms with award winning actors such as Sir Ian McKellan taking lead roles.
Pantomime has also traditionally been popular at a more local level, its form lending itself well to community performances. The plot can include local references and jokes, and the format can include space for a diverse range of talents as well as a numerous cast. Wester Hailes organised regular pantomimes over the years.
In 1979 the Wester Hailes Community Festival Association organised and produced “A We’an in a Manger”. An original pantomime written and performed by local residents, it proved to be a hit.
The Community Festival Association went on to organise a variety of performances and events throughout the years, often including pantomime during the Christmas period. In 1984, the production was “Treasure Island”, one of the first performances by Bits ‘n’ Pieces, again with the emphasis on the community taking part as well as providing the audience.
As well as making sure these performances were publicised and promoted, the Sentinel gave space to the large productions happening in town. In 1985 the Sentinel pulled off a scoop, gaining an interview with Stanley Baxter who had expressed reluctance about speaking directly to the press. You can read the full interview here: Stanley Baxter Sentinel interview.