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A raucous British holiday tradition comes to Connecticut

Evil Stepmother, Lady Bigbucks, Marykay Kelleher and her Crow minions in Norwich Arts Center’s Christmas Panto, "Cinderella at the Christmas Ball."
Norwich Arts Center
Evil Stepmother, Lady Bigbucks, Marykay Kelleher and her Crow minions in Norwich Arts Center’s Christmas Panto, Cinderella at the Christmas Ball.

The word “pantomime” may make you think of men and women with their faces painted white, wearing a black and white striped shirt and a colorful scarf, pretending to be engaged in a lively game of tug of war.

That seems to be a mostly American perception of the term, but in Great Britain, a “pantomime” is a pretty raucous affair, with songs, jokes, slapstick comedy, and audience participation.

“Have you ever seen the Monty Python troupe? A lot of their humor is right out of the British Panto tradition,” said Faye Ringel, co-writer of the Norwich Arts Center’s panto “Cinderella at the Christmas Ball,” which runs this weekend. “Everything is over the top. And there is no fourth wall. The actors talk directly to the audience, and the audience talks back.”

Ringel said the jokes are quite often topical. For instance, she had to update this year’s script because the jokes she used back in 2017 were outdated. She said the audience’s energy level goes through the roof once the actors break the fourth wall and talk directly to them.

“The audience seems to catch on quickly, and they love reacting and being part of it. The little ones may not really understand most of the jokes, things may get by them, but they just love the idea that they are being invited to participate.”

“Cinderella at the Christmas Ball: A Christmas Panto” runs Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 18. Performances are at the Norwich Arts Center’s Donald Oat Theater.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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