Sources of laughter rearranged

Radical Pantomime Courses introduce young writers to creating comic stories for their local communities. They show how comedy is a socially powerful tool for bringing communities together.

The images of different audiences watching a comic pantomime testify to the on-going tradition of comic pantomime in English theatre, as we see below in the illustration an audience watch a pantomime performance in the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London in the 1860s and at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in 2016.

How laughter builds communities.

We offer fifty comic pantomimes ‘subjects’ from digitised archives as a treasure trove of successful comedies that continually engaged their local audiences for hundreds of years.

New writers are shown how to adapt and rearrange the unique convention of their comic elements to forge new stories.

The old pantomimes offer them plenty of material to work with:

  • The uses of fairy tale and myth-based scenarios to link stories to local, social and political events and holiday themes ;
  • A wide variety of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters that poke fun of both heroic and foolish stereotypes; and
  • Exotic worlds and settings created through satirical songs, spectacular dances, the use of special effects.

Sources of comic pantomime

The pantomimes produced between 1850 and 1920 fall into two main categories.

One group is directly based on familiar fairy tale narratives.

The courses give young writers access to the following titles: Aladdin, Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves, Babes in the Wood, Beauty & the Beast, Bluebeard, Cinderella, Who Killed Cock Robin, Dick Whittington, Gulliver’s Travels, Hey Diddle Diddle, House That Jack Built, Humpty Dumpty, Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack & Jill, Jack the Giant Killer, Little Bo Peep, Little Miss Muffet, Little Red Riding Hood, Little Tommy Tucker, Mother Goose, Puss in Boots, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Sinbad the Sailor, Sleeping Beauty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Tom Tom the Piper’s Son.

The second group include original works that were variations of the traditional fairy stories. These were often created to fit in with a special sporting, scientific or cultural happenings: for instance, Australis, the City Of Zero was created for the 1901 Sydney Federation celebrations and Adamanta, the Proud Princess of Profusia coincided with Melbourne’s scientific role of observing the transit of Venus in 1874.

Other titles we offer are: Aurifera, Australia Felix, The Bunyip, Who Killed Cock Robin, Djin Djin, Goody Two Shoes, Gosling the Great, Harlequin & Faustus, Harlequin & William Tell, Harlequin Hudibras, Jack In The Box, Jack Sheppard, Lalla Rookh, Little King Pippin, Matsa, Nimble Nip, Number Nip, Santa Claus, St George u0026amp; the Dragon, Trookulentos, True Bluebeard and Valentine & Orson.

As Richard Restak states:

All humour involves playing with what linguists call scripts (also referred to as frames). Basically, scripts are hypotheses about the world and how it works based on our previous life experiences. Consider what happens when a friend suggests meeting at a restaurant. Instantaneously our brains configure a scenario involving waiters or waitresses, menus, a sequence of eatables set out in order from appetizer to dessert, followed by a bill and the computation of a tip. This process, highly compressed and applicable to almost any kind of restaurant, works largely outside conscious awareness. And because our scripts are so generalized and compressed, we tend to make unwarranted assumptions based on them. Humour takes advantage of this tendency.

RESTAK, R., 2013. Laughter and the Brain. The American Scholar, 82(3), p. 27.

Exploring Critical Problems

Storytelling and problem-solving are linked closely in human cognition, highlighting how human survival was not strictly determined by natural selection. In Theatre & Mind (2013), Professor Bruce McConachie summed up the situation as follows:

Most scientists now believe that hominid cooperation and communication (even before the emergence of language) gave our ancestors an evolutionary edge in the struggle for survival. That is those proto-human species that used culture to expand their neo-cortical brains flourished, while others on nearby branches of the evolutionary tree died off. When hominids acquired the ability to pass down their learning to the next generation and those children could build on what their elders had taught them, our ancestors had mastered mental skills that separated them from other higher mammals.

For instance, in the fifth century BC in Athens, drama festivals marked out the coming of Spring with comic and tragic stories based on issues facing society. Aristophanes‘ satire of The Birds, first performed in 414 BC, based on the story of Pisthetaerus, a middle-aged Athenian, persuades the world’s birds to create a new city in the sky, named Cloud Cuckoo Land[3], thereby they gain control over all communications between mankind and the gods.

The main themes of late-19th-century pantomime have been outlined in the video below. They include themes such as:

  • The pursuit Of happiness;
  • The differences between growth and greed, progress and stagnation;
  • The clashes of lass disputes;
  • Weathering physical as well as emotional storms;
  • The provocative problem of gender see as ‘the woman problem’; and
  • (The failure to) transform racism.

Remarkably, comic pantomimes reveal something of the influence of the Industrial Revolution on agrarian England which drives huge numbers of the population into cities and towns. Theatre historian Michael Booth (1981) argues that it is the same movement of the population that propels the growth of Victorian spectacular theatres. Producing comic pantomimes was possible because of these larger and more technologically advanced theatres.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email