One of the most memorable elements of the Pantomime is that of it’s too main stars the Principal Boy and the Pantomime dame. The Boy is always played by a young girl and the dame is always played, usually by a male middle aged character actor. Why is there such a switch and a very obvious one at that between the gender roles. If you’re really lucky and you see Cinderella you get more men as women in the horrendous shape of the ugly sisters. If you’re looking for a Panto to go to this year Panto Preston Listings are the best place to start. A Panto Preston production is always a hoot.
The practice is actually quite ancient. Panto’s are at Christmas time and one of the oldest celebrations of the end of the year is Saturnalia, the Roman’s baudy celebration around the shortest day. They loved a party and the people who came would pretend to be old, young, a man, a woman whatever the opposite of what they were. Women were banned on stage for many years but the commedia dell’arte, where all pantomime comes from, began to use the comic potential of a gender switch role.
One of the reasons the principal boy came into being was that it gave the male audience members the chance to see a bit of leg. In the days of the Victorians public showing of skin was deeply frowned upon. The excuse of the principal boy outfit was a justification to show an ankle here and there.