Scenic design for pantomines is based on traditional theatre scenery from the Victorian era and beyond, with the use of the proscenium arch and ‘legs’ to frame the story and flown cloths to facilitate quick scene changes as well as to create lavish, elaborate locations on the stage. The script is structured to allow for front cloth scenes for the purpose of these changes, timed at various lengths to allow for easier or more complex situations. The same applies to costume changes, a prime example being the ‘Songsheet’, a frontcloth scene, to enable the ‘Walkdown’ finale costume changes. In the design process, if a certain set or costume change is looking more complex, a song or a gag can be added as cover.
Other practical considerations, of which there are many, involve finding out what it takes to make comedy gags work, magic, transformations, puppets, pyros., glitter drops and many more. A good panto is packed full; it’s non-stop variety at its best. The set and costume designs have many practical factors to accommodate, from funnels and fishing wire to secret pockets and velcroed disappearing trousers, washable slop scene outfits to growing, climbable beanstalks. There are an abundance of challenges to solve and an experienced team is essential.
While solving the practicalities is important, the designer’s main job is to create the world in which this all takes place. Costume-wise, the essence is in the caricature, creating recognisable character types: Baddies, Comics, Dames and Princesses. It is important to be very clear who is who at all times and disguises must be very obvious. Dame costumes are a world unto themselves and are, within the general parameter, free from restrictions; a Dame can walk on as whatever she wants, however inexplicable!
There are hundreds of thousands of panto designs out there, none of which are right or wrong, some I personally like more than others. I always imagine that it is an alternative world to the real world that runs parallel. I want to take people off the High Street and deliver them to Pantoland, then drop them back again having had a great time and with something to think about. Therefore I always use vibrant colours and try not to make a sky blue or a brick grey but subvert everything. But that’s just me. And of course, there’s glitter. Glitter IS magic.