"In English Pantomime, how has the role of 'The Dame' changed over time and why has it remained such an essential component in the success of the genre"?

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A conversation on whether the character of the 'Dame' in English Pantomime is considered offensive and sexist towards women in the 21st century.

Submitted: September 18, 2018

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Submitted: September 18, 2018




“In English Pantomime, how has the role of ‘The Dame’ changed over time and why has it remained such an essential component in the success of the genre”?


by Christopher Mitchell





Many families go to the Theatre to see, what is traditionally known in the UK, as a Christmas Pantomime; or an English (Panto) as it is sometimes referred.  This dissertation investigates the question: “In English Pantomime, how has the role of ‘The Dame’ changed over time and why has it remained such an essential component in the success of the genre”? There will be an in-depth investigation into the history and character of the Dame. It will be explored whether the Dame has any true significance in the modern era. This paper will cover the historical background of the genre, delving into its humble roots from Commedia Dell’Arte from Italy, which travelled across Europe and came to England and became blended with the English traditions of theatre mixed by various innovators, to make the genre how it is today.


The research focuses on the character of the Dame and cross dressing, due to a new debate in society, questioning the inclusion of the Dame character.  This is part of the ongoing climate of change regarding the expression of public opinion about gender equality and gender rights and respect. This is influencing differing opinions on what is acceptable and not acceptable. Stereotyping has in some circles, been dismissed as not appropriate, as demeaning people and causing prejudice. For example, currently it is now generally frowned upon for comments to be made about fair haired women being low in intelligence. The research covers the historical and cultural perspectives to help understand cross dressing in Theatre, exploring the reasons as to why it was socially acceptable for men to parade around on the stage as both men and women due to the law of women being strictly forbidden from performing on the stage because of their gender. It will then explore an issue which has been brought to attention following it being ‘acceptable’ for grown middle-aged men to exploit dressing in ‘drag,’ as it may cross boundaries as far as the transgender community is concerned. From this is followed with just a few of the past and present ‘male’ Dames who have performed in Pantomime during the Christmas circuit and hearings their opinions on the evolution and current debate over her appearance, which then interlinks into the issue of Stereotyping Women, having some persons disagreeing with the nature of the Dame’s appearance and moral dynamic of how women are perform, which is stated as offensive, to say the least.


The defence is explained, as to why the character of the Dame is not offensive, and how her character has entertained people across the generation. The point that must be made is how this character has lasted and why she is an essential formula in Pantomime, one of the key ingredients of the popularity of the Pantomime. For the research questions to be answered and explored it was appropriate to choose research methods which allowed an in-depth exploration into investigating these questions. A variety of sources were found to do this with, such as videos, articles, web pages, TV programmes and books.




A great variety of secondary sources has been used to provide the research for this dissertation, to gather together different opinions on the evolution, history, present and future views of the role of the Pantomime Dame. It will also explore a much broader understanding of the genre of the Pantomime and the special form of entertainment it gives to children and families. The sources were books, practical guides, articles, web pages, blogs, videos and historical documents.


The reason for using the secondary research, rather than the primary research method is to take a closer look into the developments and analyse the research made from other scholars and their reasonings on various subject matters. It was an important aspect that it was kept strictly to other scholars and academics who had found similar research, then combining in by arguing the given question. Since this original research topic is all about exploring the history and contextual existence of ‘the Dame character’ and whether ‘she’ still holds any lasting purpose within the theatrical industry, it became clear that secondary research was the correct pathway to choose. Since there has not been any in-depth academic exploration as to this matter with the Dame, it was key to investigate this topic fully through other discourses about this wild and colourful character. From what had been sought over and discussed within these research documents, there was no real argument on the social importance and on-going development for the role. These subjects would vary from: the historical aspect of Pantomime and the evolution of the Dame, as well as exploring the context of her as to why she may, or may not, be deemed as ‘out-dated’ and/or, ‘offensive.’

Through this established research, it is best to link everything together to then make an entirely new and convincing argument to explore and eventually answer the proposed questions, with thorough knowledge. It is then that books, articles, scholarship journals and video context is sufficient to make a convincing case. It will be through synthesizing and developing further explanation that the interpretation will become much clear. This will delve into specific findings which will be sought out in a unique way.


A Brief History of English Pantomime


The stylistics of Pantomime have been derived from various sources over the years, dating as far back to the Ancient Greek period. The earliest origin of the name Pantomime is taken from the Greco-Roman, ‘pantomimus,’ meaning ‘to act without words’ (Stage Beauty, 2007). The biggest inspiration is taken from Commedia Dell’Arte (Comedy of Artists) an Italian form (University of York, no date) on wearing masks that focused on the physical aspect of the performer (Victoria and Albert, 2016) touring across Europe in the 16th century (Hartnoll, 2012, p. 66) before coming to England in the mid-17th century. This depended upon the actor, who, with the use of improvisation and visual humour could attribute dance, songs and acrobatics to entertain the audience. This was created with the aid of a distinctive character mask, (Hartnoll, 2012, p. 61) denying all use of facial expression. This owed everything to the actor to create an ensemble of characters, known as ‘stock characters’ (V&A, 2016) and to present status of roles.

The medium underwent several changes by key innovators in the UK; the first being John Rich [1692-1761] manager of the Lincoln Inn Theatre. He was the first to adopt the Italian format to the English theatrical scene, having his own unique vision upon the format (V&A, 2016). It would focus on one Commedia ‘stock character,’ Harlequin (played by Rich), compact with characteristic gestures and farcical scenario, often ending in a chase. This style of Pantomime was a Harlequinade and became heavily fixated on having dramatized fairy tales as a structure to the story. By incorporation this element, it appealed more to a younger audience and something which the public could recognise (V&A, 2016). David Garrick [1717-1779] was manager of the Drury Lane Theatre, which performed regular Pantomimes (Tait, 2001, p 29) which he was not too fond of. However, he recognised that they were a popular form of entertainment so showcased them at festive periods such as Christmas (Venables, 2014). Consequently, towards the late 18th century, Pantomimes became much more successful (Tait, 2001, p. 30). Joseph Grimaldi [1778-1837] brought animals onto the stage. He was a clown performer and would perform tricks, delighting children (Tait, 2001, p. 37). This clown would face the Harlequin (Venables, 2014). Grimaldi played several Dame-like roles on the Drury Lane stage, adding much more of a farcical element to them (Tait, 2001, p. 57). It was not until during the late nineteenth century in which new manager of the Drury Lane Theatre, Augustus Harris [1852-1896] that Pantomime became enthused with music hall and spectacle (University of Exeter, no date). This became much more elaborated in both size and cost, resembling popular burlesque shows of the time. It was during this time that women were taking hold of the ‘Principal Boy,’ matching with the likes of the Dame. Nellie Stewart was a fine example of the time, perceived as “big bosomed and broad buttocked” (Tait, 2001, pg. 54) as the Principal Boy.


In 1879 Harris was responsible for these artists who were in favour of splendour of the fairy tale extravaganza and nursery rhymes (Tait, 2001, p. 42). For example, Cinderella was performed in 1804 (Tait, 2001, p. 45). This formula continued, Collins introduced the male Principal Boy, an innovation which did not find favour with the customers. By WWII many of the characteristic features of the Victorian Pantomime had disappeared. Even the female Principal Boy was an endangered species, though nothing could displace the Dame. Many structural elements remained such as Slap-stick Humour, local and topical illusion as well as audience participation (Richards, 2015, p. 408).


The Introduction of the Dame


Pantomime became well-established in English tradition, but it wasn’t until the latter part of the nineteenth century that the Dame made ‘her’ mark (Hogan, 2012). Joseph Grimaldi played a variation of Dame-like characters at Drury Lane, but it wasn’t until the 1880s when Dan Leno [1860-1904] made his debut that the Dame really took off (Tait, 2001, p. 57). Leno was a music hall comedian of the 1880s that would travel across the country, creating characters by using direct address, which was influenced from Grimaldi. Leno was hired by Harris to perform as the Dame at Drury Lane and was a keen observer of people, to which was the influence of creating ensemble of believable characters, all based on real people. This added pathos to the characters, which reflected in his comedy routines. “Talkative old women” would be established, having have been highly observed by Leno during his touring days (V&A, 2016). ‘The Dame’ is all the character has in terms to who this person is as a character, bearing no real traditional name (Hughes, 2013, p. 70). This then gives writers and producers alike to engage with creative access and give the character its own identity. 


For Leno, ‘The Dame’ had to be ‘domesticated’ and a ‘motherly figure’ who would face problems, poverty and unemployment. All of this reflected the times of the Victorian period. It was about ‘creating a credible woman,’ which would get sympathy from an audience, but not too much as they would always know that it was a man. The character would also engage with ‘double entendre’ and would have ‘quick-fire quips’ and this would create the ‘logic of nonsense’ – so everyone would really know that everything was going to be ok. She was now seen as a more ‘human character’ who was engaging with the working-classes, rather than a piece of fiction. Although she has a dysfunctional family, at the heart of it she is a good person, struggling to cope in an unfriendly world (University of York, no date). It was this engaging talent coming from the British Music Hall scene which brought a new flavour to the genre which had never really been seen before. It was all about making fun of everything, for example parodying the fashion of the period, as the Dame would become much more eccentric in ‘her’ dress-sense (Basel English Pantomime Group, 2017). The character would never be bitter, always a friendly person with a tough exterior and always meaning well. She is interacting and conspiring with the audience, always staying on the side of the children, getting them on the hero’s side (Hodgson, 2010). Leno became one of the most popular of ‘Dame actors’ during the Christmas season (V&A, 2016).

This was still favoured for a man to play the character, even though women were now able to perform on the stage since 1660 (Ellacott and Robbins, 2018). Always reassuring and outrageous becoming much more extravagant. It is, after all the Dame who sets up the jokes and is there to ad-lib and play with the audience (Clinton, 2011). It has engaged with the public, becoming a beloved favourite and regains theatrical tradition. It then paved a platform for ‘other Dame’ to make a mark on the genre, showing off the unique qualities that were brought. Actors such as: Berwick Kaler [1946 - ] who is renowned as the UK’s longest serving Dame actors (Hughes, 2013, p. 93), blending in qualities of both old and current comedy. 


English Pantomime Today


It is recognised that ‘English Pantomime’ has entertained and united people through the ages. It uses both a blend of ‘continental’ and ‘British traditions’ which have transformed and shaped the genre through generations (University of York, no date). The Pantomime Dame is traditionally played (unconvincingly) by a middle-aged man and The Principal Boy by a young woman. These archetype characters use a method of ‘call and response’ (Hope, 2013) which challenges an audience, including elements of farce and slap stick into the story. Actors acknowledge the audience’s existence, making them an essential characteristic of the genre, always being encouraged to cheer the hero and boo/hiss the villain. The show continues to use the traditional aspect of fairy tales, (Hope, 2013) with the heroes becoming victorious and the villains having been defeated. This continues to move with the times, incorporating new elements and becoming much more topical and engaging with modern trends (Basel English Pantomime Group, 2017).  It has been performed and watched every year long before and after the long awaited festive period of Christmas, reaching new territory by becoming staged at both Easter and summer time (Hope, 2013).

Pantomime has never really been what it was in sixteenth century Europe. It is forever changing throughout the years, being refreshed and re-worked throughout each new generation. Everything contributed in some way. From the humble origins of Commedia Dell’Arte to Victorian British Music Hall, linking with modern trends the British culture has seemed to embrace the medium and ticket sales have increases, having long runs at the Theatre. This medium has been created that both confirms and embraces the absurd, blending in ridiculous and crude humour with good clean fun of slapstick. It is there for all ages, children and grown-ups alike. It regains rude health, still regaining a brand of humour used from yesteryear. For some people, the traditional English Pantomime is main time of the year where the family can attend the Theatre together. It is good, wholesome family fun, having a something for everybody. It is something silly to watch, never really taking itself seriously, which was never the intention. It is for good holiday cheer and for people to have a good time. It was after all the Victorians who fully embraced the medium and made it much more of a spectacle to behold from Harris. It came to the slap stick, given from the Grimaldi clown and the eccentric nature of the ‘Panto Dame’ given more heart and depth from Leno. This was explored to its fullest and has enhanced over the generations. It has kept to its initial shape after the latter half of the Victorian period with the Dame, spectacular sets and has evolved with each innovator who has contributed to the genre, which has made it still a joy to behold. The special thing about Pantomime is that it continues to delight and entertain audiences all over Great Britain (Callow, 2014).


Cross Dressing in Theatre


There has always been a platform for cross-dressing within the theatre industry (University of York, no date) which is a long tradition for the Dame always to be a man in the English Pantomime scene. There may be some gender confusion with this (Blacker, 2013) some debate regarding whether in the twenty-first century that it is still ok for grown men to parade up and down on the stage for entertainment sake.


The preoccupation with cross dressing that is prevalent in Pantomime to the ancient Greeks and Romans as, for them, cross dressing was a feature of the Bacchanalia of their times, with their slaves dressing in the clothes of their masters and mistresses” (Hughes, 2013, p.16).


It was a tradition in the Theatre at one time that only men were able to play both male and female genders on stage. This was established during the Ancient Greek period when women were considered far more inferior to men and it was considered a danger as it would have alluded prostitution (NC Theatre, 2015). For that reason, it was established that women had no right to perform for the Theatre and with that being stated, the role of women in society became very restricted (NC Theatre, 2015). In seventeenth century England, the country was a Christian nation and to have women perform on the stage would have been scene at that time was regarded as ‘improper’ and ‘impure’ (Trumbull, 2007). During the reign of Oliver Cromwell [1599-1658], he ordered the closures of Theatres, as they had been connected to, and financed by, the crown (Swinglehurst, 2002, p. 167). Effectively, Theatre was outlawed as it did not coincide with puritan beliefs (Trumbull, 2007). It wasn’t until the crown was restored in 1660 that theatre was also restored (Swinglehurst, 2002, p.172). Charles II opted for women to be included with the new theatrical scene and the first two Theatres to gain licences were Drury Lane Theatre and Coven Gardens (Trumbull, 2007). “Gender switching has been a vital part of theatrical tradition.” There is a purpose within the industry to replicate the opposite sex as people are fascinated in people’s traits. It is all about poking fun at each other through the generation and is liberating (Billington, 2007).


Looking at today’s society, it is interesting as to how the role of Principal Boy is disappearing, (Blacker, 2013) which was all with the aid of political correctness taking over.  Both the Panto Dame and Principal Boy is what makes Pantomime what it is and does not take itself too seriously. People nowadays need look at it in the way that is was originally depicted, (Perry, 2014) as a bit of fun and be more fluid in social attitudes. Cross dressing traditions spring from an age long tradition where nobody took anything too seriously and everything was made fun of. There is a paradox throughout all of this, as Western society has become increasingly open and liberal (in relation to gender and sexuality and freedom of speech), at the same time society is increasingly sensitive if they perceive that a person or social group is being offended. (Perry, 2014). To some extent, this could be poking fun at the transgender community, as that is a subject which has become much more talked about – but it is a growing concern and an overreaction to Pantomime, as people are growing much more sensitive in their attitudes towards gender. It looks like the character of the Dame is seen as a bit of a joke towards both the female gender and could come across as ‘homophobic’ in respect that it is could be a parody (Talbot, 2016) in its actions to ‘dressing up’. This is an extreme take but with a sensitive issue surrounding. It may be that the actor portraying the anarchic matriarch is heterosexual, would it then be offensive? This seems like those sorts of people are taking the aspect of Pantomime and the taboo subject of gender and equality to an entirely new level, when really the point of the Dame is an investment for entertainment.


Men who Made the Dame


Actors alike have embraced the character of ‘The Dame,’ having a ‘unique affection’ for the character for which it is pursued and returned to year after year. It recent years, the ‘Christmas Panto’ (as it is now often referred to today) has become much more extravagant, far more outrageous but at the same time, reassuring and keeping with tradition. These gentlemen who take on the tasks of playing this part had a deep affection for contributing to this long tradition. The actor, Jeffery Longmore states that: ‘You are a man playing a woman, which people find funny’. For which he then goes on to say that, ‘I enjoy the anarchy’. Another actor, Keith De’Winter points out that the Dame is not to be feminine in the slightest. ‘It’s obvious that I am a man’ (Clinton, 2011). The audience is not asking for an accurate representation of a woman but to swap gender roles and to see what interpretation it brings.


The Dame is this larger-than-life character who springs to life when the Christmas season approaches. The basic formula is from what Grimaldi and Leno started is still there but have blended more into modern standards. The costumes are getting barmier. ‘I like to wear a costume at every entrance,’ quotes the actor, Christopher Biggins, who has played the Dame for over thirty years on the stage. Black British actor, Clive Rowe, who in no way portrays his Dame in any way but butch says that: ‘It takes truth, dedication and has to be multi-talented. There is no other form for it that is for the whole family’. This is played from what a man thinks matriarchal women are like, but overly exaggerated (Williams, 2014).


It owes itself partly to Grimaldi, who, when at the Garrick Theatre played a variation of Dame-roles and would breaking the fourth wall to interact with the audience. Today most Dames are performed as camp and innuendo-driven with actors such as Julian Clary, Paul O’Grady and Danny La Rue playing the part, who in turn made the Dame much more of a glamourous (Hughes, 2013, p. 93) There is still the typical ‘butch Dame,’ which is clear to see from Les Dawson in the mid-1970s period. This is the concept to playing the Dame. It is all about play a larger than life character and just to be having fun with it (Chapman, 2017). The part has had influences on artists all over Great Britain, such as Brendan O’Carroll with his hit situation comedy matriarch, Mrs. Brown (Doran, 2018). The objective is there in the comedy. A hard-working woman who does all ‘she’ can to help her family out. The only thing that takes away the sympathy is the fact that this actor, like the Pantomime Dame, is clearly being played by a male actor. The same is said for Paul O’Grady’s alter-ego, Lily Savage. Like the Dame, ‘she’ has a ‘no-nonsense’ attitude on life and is ‘straight-talking,’ speaking her mind (Bailey, 2018). This is what is taken from the persona of the Dame. She is embedded in the psyche of performers across the country and even further. People still enjoy coming to the theatres is to experience this and is used further as escaping reality.


Stereotyping in Theatre 


The controversy that has created debate on this issue of the ‘male Panto Dame’ being erased from Pantomime has been something that has got people on both sides. It is something that a lot of people feel quite strongly about, as it is a man posing to be a woman, but that is not the point. One person who strongly disagrees (Moodie, 2016) is actress, Caroline Quentin [1960 –] who feels very strongly about how the genre should takes things in a new direction. In the words of Question, it is claimed that men who dress in drag for pantomime is seen as ‘offensive,’ and ‘sexist.’ Leading on from this, she wishes that all men be stripped from performing as the character all together and to let a ‘actual’ woman take over.  The issue was brought up in conversation on British chat show, Loose Women, (Paget, 2016). Due to the role of the Pantomime Dame now being in the twenty-first century, there has been much discussion as to whether her role should be removed from the theatre as it may cause offend the female gender.


Quentin goes on: “I wonder why, in progressive 2016, we still like to see men dress in drag for entertainment” (Moodie, 2016).  One would think that this outburst would be due to women having fewer roles in theatre and the industry than men and that it is about time that the character changes to give more women a step up in the industry. That is not a viable excuse to replace the traditional Dame. One thing that can be said is that there should be more plays, new plays highlighting the issue, not going over one of the longest running theatrical sights at Christmas time, demanding answers.  As she puts it, it is “ridiculing” women having the character be displayed as ‘heavily-made-up’ and not very attractive. For her, ‘It is a form of sexism’. She brands the whole genre as ‘unfair’ and wishes that the time is right to have a female Pantomime Dame.  This may have originated from as the role of the Principal Boy, which was originated by have a young female actress in the part now being replaced by male soap stars (Moodie, 2016). It is understandable from what is being said, as the character is of a grotesque nature but is in no means a mockery of women.


Writer (Paget, 2016) goes on to document what the Loose Women had to say, which sparked argument: “Utter nonsense!” remarks from actress and Pantomime star Lisa Riley, one of the panellists. Riley defends the case stating that this medium is an English ‘tradition’ In another case, TV presenter Saira Khan states it as ‘PC gone mad.’ So, is everyone really conflicted by the idea that a man is still the role of Panto Dame? In another part of the conversation, Khan looks at Quentin’s point of view of the subject. ‘The Dame upsets the rules of gender, playing with stereotypes’. For that reason, it is best to look at why it may be undermining women.


Defending the Pantomime Dame


To add a counter argument onto the comments made in stereotyping women, the defence needs to be made about how the Pantomime Dame is NOT is any way shape or form offensive. This goes on to the veteran of Pantomime, (Moodie, 2016) Christopher Biggins firing back on Caroline Quentin’s concern. ‘The Dame is played best by a man’, he says. ‘It’s simply tradition that goes through’. By the meaning, it is easy to see that this is how theatre used to be and having a man play this kind of role is better because otherwise it could be taken out of precaution. ‘I don’t think it’s sexist at all’, making his case. His feelings of having a ‘female dame,’ however is very much a straight-forward one. He is ‘not impressed having a woman play the Dame’ and it is easy to see why. 


To have an actor play the part of a women in a comedic role, who is going through difficult circumstances is perceived as funny because knowing it is a man does not give excuse for sympathy. It is only ever going to be an imitation, never a humiliation of the female gender. ‘The Dame should be all man, albeit in women’s clothing’. To have a female Dame look for the sympathy them it is believed then that will be stereotyping the gender (Clinton, 2011). The male actor is the one who looks for the vulnerability and purposely acts like a man to avoid the illusion from becoming too realistic, as to why it is always a middle-aged man. It is like what was said before. The audience secretly share that The Dame is not a woman but play along like everybody to go on through the adventure of the show. It is enjoying a non-existent presence in a disorganised world. (University of York, no date).


After all, the concept is of ‘parodying women’ rather than giving accurate representations. There is no fun in that. It was the same reason why female actors played the role of Principal Boy, to show how the opposite gender acted like the other gender. The comedy is in the man dressed as a female but doing female things considering entertaining the audience. It is about making fun about society itself again, never taking anything too seriously and to just enjoy what is happening in the present moment (Williams, 2014). There is a licence to cause much mischief on the stage in pantomime, especially if it is for the benefit of family fun. There is so much that can be done with the character of the Dame, still holding that motherly aspect about her. That is why she has lasted if she has within the genre. It resonates with the human psyche, about being loved and having someone to take care of, even if life can seem bleak at times. The Dame is at the very heart of English pantomime and continues to thrive and entertain audiences throughout the ages, both young and old alike.


Children and Theatre


With everything that has been discussed there is one audience the Dame resonates the most with throughout the whole of the Pantomime genre. That is children. To take children to the theatre nowadays is a strain now, competing with social media and mobile phones, as well as having low attention spans. The whole point of Panto season is to get children away from the technology of modern age and to get them about into an auditorium and give them the experience of a living show. As what was mentioned earlier within the paper, this is one of the, if not the first taste of live theatre children gets to see with their family or at school nearer to the Christmas holidays. British audiences love bawdy humour, which is situated for the adult members of the audiences and usually avoided from the children because it is a medium which is for all ages. There is the cheeky slap stick and custard pie throwing for the children, then double entendre for the adults. The children do not really understand it but know that it was meant to be funny. This type of comedy and fun is installed into the very depths of children. Even they, as children know that nothing is to be taken too seriously, and the Dame especially. They undoubtedly know that it is not a real woman but play along with everyone else. The Dame is popular amongst children because she is not one for sticking to the rules and on occasions break them – which children love.


There is something rebellious about ‘her’ and ‘she’ makes them laugh, (Kerrigan, 2017) quickly getting them on her side. The Dame is a lovable disaster and an outsider, a bit how children must feel, being separate from the adults. All they see on the stage is fully grown adults being all silly and acting… like children. That is the sudden irony in it. The most of it is enjoyed because no one takes anything at all seriously, so it is ok to be silly and not serious for occasionally. It is absurdity in men dressing as women, women dressing as men, animals being operated by two grown-ups in a rubber suit and clowns running all over the place causing farcical slap stick fun and entertainment. All of this must be closely examined, as because it is to be shown and seen as a bit of fun, some elements can be taken out of protection to many people. Such is the idea of the ‘male’ pantomime Dame (Goodwin, 2017).


In some instances, children are brought to the stage taking part in the ridiculousness of the story. They are treated kindly and fairly by the Dame and often receive sweets (Harris, 2000, p. 3). To some extent, the Dame is seen as the silly character with a kind heart and a cheeky sense of humour, often coming across as the mother or grandmotherly type to look after them for an hour or two. Most children love to be incorporated and be a part of the show, whereas other can tend to be a little shyer. Therefore, the very thought of live theatre is an important platform for them to take part in. Children love to play and absurdity. It is driven within the essence of them. Another aspect of their entertainment is brought through the simple fairy tale format. These stories are universal to almost every culture around the world would a simple structure and moral ending. If this is shown to a young audience, who know the story, it can be followed simply. Nothing is worse than children getting bored. Make it as entertaining as possible (Harris, 2000, pg. 3).


Future of the Pantomime Dame


Out of everything that has been discussed and talked about over the course of these papers, what can be said about the future of the Pantomime Dame? Much that has been explored about the character is her humble beginnings, being derived from innovators, like the Harlequin style, like Commedia Dell’Arte and the Grimaldi clown in the late 1880s. She didn’t really touch ground until the late 19th century when pantomime too became a huge box office success with the experience of having spectacle and making the whole persona of the Dame that of motherly natured and sharp witted, thanks to the incorporation of Victorian comedian, Dan Leno. The arguments have also been talked about the evolution and controversy of her gender and almost always having been played by a male actor, ever since it was with Leno in the 19th century. That all being said, ‘she’ resonates with so many people, especially the children in the audience. The auditorium in a Theatre during Pantomime season is almost often mostly children who have come to see the show because they know that they are going to be thoroughly entertained.


The sole reason as to why she is an important figure in modern Pantomime is that she has survived, whereas some aspects have failed. The entire genre worked through the aspect of the Harlequin, being originally a Harlequinade, but that has since faded away. The character of the Dame has not and that goes to show how much of an impact she has over the British culture and theatrical genre. The fact that it is played by a man should not be taken any other way but in jest. She continues to thrive and survive throughout the many long years since making her debut of how her character was formed. She is much cheekier and lively, blending into the modern culture more and enjoys a giggle and an innuendo with the audience. She is the glue that holds Pantomime together, so without her the genre would slowly fall about because a key aspect has been taken away. It is like any little thing. These elements were brought into the genre because they were something different and had something which resonated with the audiences at the time. That age hold tradition has stood the test of time and has clearly worked as there is no fear of it stopping any time soon.


There is something really rewarding about getting exited during the Christmas period and seeing a Christmas Pantomime with all the ingredients attached. It has become a fully-fledged icon of the theatre industry which keeps making people ask for more. There has even been interest of famous actors and American stars coming over to take part because it is so well loved within the British culture. It just goes to show that everyone loves to believe in make believe and to just imagine ‘what if’ and to go on a journey with the cast though a wild spectacular adventure together.




In summary, within this dissertation there were several avenues to cross in order to return to the primary question:


In English Pantomime, how has the role of ‘The Dame’ changed over time and why has it remained such an essential component in the success of the genre”?


To answer the questions, there was a few links that had to be made up, from historical/origins of early Pantomime, across to the main body of work which focused solely on how the effect of this character has dominated the genre and what has changed, altered, or stayed the same. From the data gathered, it was an interesting subject matter to investigate, searching from Italian Commedia Dell’Arte, over to key innovators and eventually the Dame and how ‘she’ is perceived with people today. In the historical element, there was background information, leading cross dressing in the theatre, which was to try and unearth weather or not there still should be a man on stage for theatrical purposes walking around like an older woman. That was interesting, as through the research there was thought into the transgender community and how that effect that group of people, whilst at the same time, linking into the next topic which was stereotyping women. This was an interesting challenge, for it brought to a great many wonders to the surface. But the answer as to why she has lasted so long is because of the certain abnormality about the character. She is taken out of context, as the show starts, and you know it is a man, but the illusion fades takes place and the theatre-goer is transported to another world.


One of the outcomes given from researching this topic is the influence that this paper could give to any potential student, academic learner or scholar. As this was solely secondary research, it would be beneficial to see what further understanding and knowledge could have been taken up if resorted into primary research. Given that opportunity, it would have meant creating questionnaires, asking own opinion on the character of the Dame. Sadly, having this sadly be only a certain ratio of words to you, it was thought best to go down secondary research. By doing that it meant looking over what other people had research, finalised, talked about and choosing certain elements from them to create a brand new one. Much has been argued about the character of the Dame, from the beloved actors who have played ‘her,’ all the way to the anarchic multi-coloured dress sense and sharp wit. There has been much in the way of this wild and wonderful creation, which still seems to capture the hearts of many around Christmas and Easter time. People still come every Christmas to see the new upcoming Panto, especially if there’s a big star in it, and they just have a good time with everything and the whole experience. As like what was mentioned before, nothing can take the spirit of the Pantomime Dame away. “She’s behind you!”




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