Exploring the great panto traditions

Oliver Broad fell in love with panto when he did his very first one as his very first job out of drama school, Jack and the Beanstalk in Yeovil.

Oliver Broad
Oliver Broad

He also fell in love with a member of the cast. They got married – and, he’s delighted to say, they are still together.

Oliver is thrilled to be back in panto again this year, taking the baddie role of Abanazar in Aladdin at Shoreham’s Ropetackle from Friday, December 10-Friday, December 31.

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“I was young and I was pretty green when I did my first one but I just absolutely loved the job and I love panto. The company were really great to work with as well, and then the panto producer was so excited when we got married that he put us in the same show together for the next three years or so.

“There are lots of things I love about panto. I guess the usual answer you give is that I love it because for so many young children obviously it is their first experience of the theatre. For so many it is their first experience of all the possibilities of the world and that’s lovely. It’s fun and it’s relaxing and that’s what I love about it, but I also love the fact that there are so many old traditions as well as the new traditions.

“I am a bit old fashioned in some ways and I just find the traditions so interesting, the history of it all, particularly the traditions that the audiences are not necessarily aware of.

“One of my favourite traditions is the fact that the baddies always come on stage left or if you are looking at it from the audience’s point of view, they come on from the right of the stage, and the goodies always come in from stage right – which goes back to that old thing that sinister is Italian for left and therefore the baddies come on from stage left.

“Some companies don’t always play that but I think it’s really nice when companies do. I just think it’s really interesting that pantos are all about the contest between good and evil and the two meet in the middle of the stage and you can’t go past that centre line. Evil and good are not allowed to cross onto the other’s side and yet if you ask an audience a lot of them might not notice but when you point it out they will realise what they have been seeing.”

But it gets more interesting still: “In Jack and the Beanstalk a lot of the second act is in the clouds and there you might see baddies coming in from the other side. The point is that you are now in the lair of the baddies and the baddies can do what they want and the good fairy has no place there. The audience might not be aware of the baddies coming on from the stage right but they might feel that something is slightly different. It might make them feel uneasy and I think that is a big part of the interest of pantos.”

And yes, he is the baddie: “And I’m quite often the baddie. Baddies are my favourite role to play. There is nothing as nice as terrifying the children! But actually I think what is really interesting is that quite often the baddies have several different facets to their character or their personality or their make-up.

“It goes back to that old Italian tradition commedia dell’arte where they all had different stock characters, the goodie and the baddie, the young lovers and the clown and you see all these characters in panto coming together to create these situations where you all work off each other.

“Quite often the baddie of the piece will have a reason for being bad.

“Abanazar is a wizard and just wants to rule the world. He is obsessed with power and wants the lamp.”

But he does have plenty of redeeming features, Oliver insists.

“He is incredibly handsome and he is quite the charmer and he has the most fabulous make-up.

“It says Aladdin on the poster but it really should say Abanazar. He’s really what it is all about!”