Write a Brilliant Pantomime with Billy & Wolfy

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Oh no he didn't!!  Shakespeare took almost all his stories from other sources (except the Tempest and nobody understands that anyway.)  Mozart's "Magic Flute" is an invented fairy story (probably about Rosicrucianism) and the debate over its meaning well illustrates the problems of starting from scratch - however much of a genius you may be 

The smart way is to make traditional fairy stories your choice. The reason is not far to seek. It is because (as Jung and Bettelheim have pointed out) they have a story of mythic content with which people of all ages and most especially children can identify. Also the plot has been honed by thousands of story tellers before you so a lot of the work is already done.

Snow White and Cinderella have the ideal structure: an initial crisis – a recovery from it – an even worse crisis – and a wedding. Here it is spelt out a bit more fully.



Snow White

Initial Crisis

Step mother and ugly sisters arrive

Wicked queen throws out Snow White

First recovery

Fairy Godmother helps her to the ball

Rescued by the dwarves

Happy interlude

Finds Prince

Happy home making for dwarves

Worse Crisis

Lose touch with prince

Witch poisons Snow White

Final Recovery

Glass slipper

Kiss by prince


Marries prince

Marries prince

A form like this is ideal as it breaks naturally into two halves – the second half starting with the happy interlude and then marching forwards fast to the final crisis and resolution.

Beauty and the Beast is another good one. Other fairy stories do not seem to work so well but can be made to fit. Aladdin, much used in the commercial theatre, seems to me to be impossible because it has the wedding in the middle.

If you reject fairy stories, you will need to find something else that has mythic resonance. I have used space operas (Star Trek and Flash Gordon) horror stories (Frankenstein), the jungle (Tarzan) cowboys and Indians (Hiawatha). Superheroes look a good possibility but remember they are heavily covered by copyright as, incidentally, are the well-known names for the seven dwarves. – Disney Corp is definitely the wicked stepmother here.  Other possibilities that strike me are, becoming a pop star with a Nasty Nigel figure as the villain and Mills and Boon stories.

Why do you need a myth?

Two simple reasons:

1. So your actors have real emotions to portray

2. So the audience has a real plot to respond to.

Myths have deep resonance inside us all and if you try to put the clothing of the panto onto a non mythic story (or still worse onto no story at all) the actors and the audience will have nothing to respond to. The trappings of a pantomime do not work unless they are dressing something that matters to the audience and actors. So settle for myth or don’t do it at all.

Are fairy stories still relevant?

There has been over the past 40 years or so a lot of criticism of fairy tales as painting a false and destructive picture of women as submissive creatures totally dependant on a man. This is basically a failure to see the substance through the trappings. Cinderella (to address the classic case) is the story of a woman escaping from the influence of a powerful mother figure so that she can herself grow and in turn become a mother. This is something that all women who have children must do. Don’t be scared away from fairy stories by views that are no longer fashionable and are fortunately now well past their sell-by date. 

Of course you can happily dress your heroine in contemporary clothes, give her ambitions to be a business executive or a champion boxer or a field marshal, the stories are strong enough to accept such trappings which really have little more meaning than the traditional crinoline. Above all give your heroine some good lines, she is the star of the show.  

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1: Panto Home    2: The tradition  3: This page - the story    4: Pantomime Structure    5: Scene structure    6:  Use of music    7:  Children   The Essay  Nick Mellersh's scripts   Email Nick Mellersh - the author

Fairy Tale links:

I'm afraid this is something of a rag-bag but there is so much stuff out there I could spend months on it.  None of the links below are dross, but not all quite what I was looking for.  In  particular there is nothing good on Jung.

A good & short essay about Bettelheim and the use of fairy tales. http://laika.pop.indiana.edu/abstracts/ENG/L390w/2001-03-01/lesson1/discussion6.php

Best I found on Jung after a long search - generally relevant. http://www.cgjungpage.org/articles/msjungslimits.html

Short and good summary of the feminist critique.  


A nice general fairy story site - this page is in the middle of a big site  http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~kvander/swcontext.html

A good scholarly site - Santa Monica University on fairy tales  http://library.smc.edu/research/topics/fairy_tales.htm

A good popular site on fairy tales: