How to write a hit panto, 20 times on the trot - oh yes he did!
Writer and composer Karl Broderick writes for Culture about the formula for a winning panto. Spoiler Alert: Everyone lives happily ever after.
Firstly I must explain that i never saw a pantomime as a kid. So, when I first saw one, I fell in love faster than a panto prince and princess!
Sleeping Beauty is my 20th consecutive panto as writer and producer. People often ask me, ‘Isn’t Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella already written?’ - to which I try to explain that I could tell them the story of Sleeping Beauty in 30 seconds, but I’ve got two hours of funny action and dialogue to put in peoples mouths.
As the writer of the panto you get to choose the tone. There could be two theatres staging productions of Sleeping Beauty, but one could be bright and silly while the other takes a more realistic and heartfelt approach.
For me, I love it when that 6-year old girl, in the 3rd row, who’s come along dressed in her princess costume, truly believes in the story and falls in love with the characters; so when they are sad or in danger, she really cares. Taking the audience on a real journey where they laugh, cry, care and cheer is the main aim. If they don’t believe, then it’s just actors in funny costumes on a set… and some pantos do that. Personally, I try to transport them into a fairytale and get them invested in the magic.
I don’t like 10 minutes of political jokes that leave the kids behind, and I equally don’t want parents sitting there bored.
I like to keep the scary scenes scary, as I think kids love to be scared - in a safe environment. I learned a lot from movies like The Wizard of Oz and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; the Wicked Witch of the West and the Child Catcher scared the bejaysus outta me as a kid; and I loved it.
Panto is set apart from other forms of theatre, in that the characters often break the fourth wall. This means the cast can interact with the audience. The cast are great at finding the fun in that, and it makes the panto a real, living, breathing entity. So I often write extra lines that can be used on the spot, if things go ‘wrong’. Many times I’ve had people ask me if the cast are making everything up, right there on the stage, as it feels so natural and spur of the moment. Nobody wants to think of a man at a computer writing the script, so I feel that’s my job done. Panto should feel spontaneous, even if it’s the cast's 50th performance.
There are certain plot points that you have to hit, but around these you get to flesh out a real story and make every line count. What’s happening in the world often makes it’s way into panto, and of course there’ll be jokes about Donald Trump and social media references, but the story keeps moving forward, towards its dramatic ending.
It’s extremely important to me to entertain kids and adults at the same time… similar to The Simpsons. I don’t like 10 minutes of political jokes that leave the kids behind, and I equally don’t want parents sitting there bored. I love to see the entire audience belly laughing - and our panto does that.
Taking the audience on a real journey where they laugh, cry, care and cheer is the main aim.
I’ll try to choose music that will help move the plot along, and if a song can do that, instead of 10 pages of dialogue, I love that. The prince and princess can fall in love throughout the 3 minutes of a love song or the baddie can cast a spell and cause mayhem.
The very important, underlying message of panto? That bullys don’t win, and the good guys live happily ever after. It's that simple. If only the real world were more like that!
The Cherios Panto: Sleeping Beauty is at The Tivoli, Dublin from December 7th 2017 - January 14th 2018 - more details here.