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Panto Etiquette

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Not only does December bring the arrival of Christmas decorations being dusted off and scattered throughout the house, but it also brings a much loved British tradition - the pantomime. They take place in theatres usually accustomed to holding shows of a slightly more serious nature where the audience may be more reserved and withheld than with a Christmas panto. But, as with every aspect of life, there is an unwritten (until now) etiquette and social code that goes with attending a panto. This week I went to Manchester's biggest pantomime Cinderella starring the wonderfully addictive Louie Spence as Dandini and during my fun-filled experience I began to wonder what this social code was.

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The normal January-November theatre rules apply such as make sure your mobile is switched off, and don't rustle your sweet papers during a particularly quiet part of the show: wait for the interval or a big and loud production number before plunging in your hand to find that last fruit pastille.

Oh yes you will! Pantomimes live and die off audience participation. If you are not the sort of person who wants to join in with the group song, or boo and hiss at the Ugly Sisters then best stay at home with a good book. It's always best to just go for it and not hold back when at these events when it comes to participating - if you half-heartedly attempt a "he's behind you" then you'll just end up looking silly. Let your hair down and go for it!

Babes in their seats Unlike more serious theatre productions, children will be encouraged to stand up, shout at the villains, and jiggle about. This is perfectly acceptable but do ensure that they don't knock into people not in your party that they may be sitting next to.

Has anyone seen Dick? For those who find themselves back at a panto for the first time since their childhood don't panic at the slightly blue innuendo dotted throughout the show. The children won't understand and will be more mesmerised at the sparkling sets and sequined costumes than searching for double meaning (they won't even be aware that language can have a hidden code!) Sit back, relax, enjoy and laugh and if they ask you what you're laughing at, just say "the whole show - it's great!"

Snow White and the Stage Door By all means take your little loved ones to meet the stars of the show at the stage door but be aware that the cast will emerge sans costume and make-up and may appear very different in looks and temperament to how they did ten minutes ago on the stage and this may perturb young children. Also be aware that whilst the actors will/should not mind having their photos taken (the 21st century version of the autograph) they will probably want to get home so make sure you have your camera at the ready and don't take up too much of their time.

The final and most important rule is to enjoy the performance. If you have had a rough and weary day then whatever age a pantomime will help quell some of the day's trauma and tension. Even the Scrooge's of this world won't be able to help but crack a smile. Oh yes they will...

Picture with kind permission of Matthew McNulty.

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