Philip Dart has been writer and director of the pantomime at Buxton Opera House for over 25 years. During that time his scripts have received huge acclaim from critics and audiences alike: praised not only for their humour but also for their attention to character and storyline.
Here are Philip’s five tips for writing a great panto script:
1) Don’t mess (too much) with audience expectations
While it’s fine to update your script with modern references, it can be a mistake to play around with the basic structure and traditions of pantomime. Audiences expect to see well-loved features such as the Dame’s opening speech to the audience, the ghost gag and the song-sheet, and you leave them out at your peril!
2) Remember that you’re telling a story
Pantomimes are based on some of the most popular fairy tales ever written. Although your pantomime script should first and foremost be funny and entertaining, it should also respect the story you have chosen to tell. Amongst all the comic mayhem, panto characters such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Prince should be allowed their moment of true romance.
3) The do’s and don’t’s of improvisation
Improvisation can be a risky business. Spur-of-the-moment jokes may fall flat or, in the worst-cases a performer may end up unintentionally causing offence to a member of the audience. In professional pantomimes actors often appear to be improvising, but it’s a safe bet that their ‘off the cuff’ remarks have been carefully rehearsed. That’s why it’s better to start with a script that is genuinely funny and stick to it as closely as possible.
4) How to keep it local
One of the things people love about panto is local references. A shared joke about a local landmark or personality makes the audience feel as though the script has been written specially for them. While writing your own script means you won’t have a problem incorporating local references, it gets more complicated if you are hiring a panto script. However, many pantomime script hire companies can provide you with a version in Word format, so you can make your own minor changes.
5) What does ‘traditional’ mean?
Many panto groups and companies proudly proclaim that their panto is ‘traditional’. If you are following the Victorian tradition, that means boys played by girls, the Dame played by a man and (with the exception of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) the villain as a male character. If you prefer to keep it strictly traditional, that’s fine, but it can also be fun to mix it up a bit. Last year the London Palladium successfully swapped “King Rat” for a “Queen Rat” (played by Elaine Paige), and Philip Dart recently enjoyed writing a “male-playing-female” Maleficent in his new panto version of “Sleeping Beauty” for Buxton Opera House.
If you’ve decided to write your own script, Philip’s advice is to visit as many pantomimes as you can to understand how the basic structure works. And if you run out of funny material, there are plenty of one-liner joke books available to provide some extra inspiration.
However, if you’re looking for pantomime scripts for small casts or panto scripts for amateur groups, why not start by visiting our website? We have a range of well-known titles to choose from and we’d be happy to email a perusal copy free of charge.
Contact us at info [at] scenethreecreative [dot] co [dot] uk for further information.