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Famous Pantomime Dames – Here in the UK, we have a fun tradition of going to the theatre in the run up to Christmas and indulging in a good old fashioned pantomime.
These theatrical shows have been around for decades, with actors entertaining people in Britain with their slapstick humour as early as the 17th Century. This old tradition is definitely here to stay and is a regular winter feature in theatres across the UK including at The Grand Blackpool.
But what makes a pantomime special? Some people might tell you it’s the humourous songs and special-effects. Whilst others would say that it’s the element of audience participation. Where else can you get to shout at actors as loud as possible without being thrown out of the building?
Whatever people say, there’s never any disagreement on one thing…a pantomime isn’t a proper pantomime without a famous dame.
Don’t forget to check out our blog How Pantomime Started, and discover what our pantomime is this year.
What’s a Pantomime Dame?
A pantomime dame is a male actor who is dressed up to look like a woman. You’ll recognise these characters from their exaggerated features. Famous pantomime dames have huge over-the-top hairstyles, clownish makeup and brightly-coloured and often matronly, clothing. Everything about a pantomime dame is BIG.
It isn’t just about clothing. A pantomime dame will also often perform in an exaggerated, melodramatic, manner. The role of the dame is to play a warm, matronly character or a wicked antagonist whose main purpose is to get the audience participating.
All together now…”It’s behind you!”
Our Favourite Famous Pantomime Dames…
Most people will recognise this actor from his outrageously camp role in the hit 70s TV show Are You Being Served? A truly British institution in its own right. But how many of you knew that John Inman had appeared in over 40 pantomimes? John’s pantomime dame career started back in the 1960s when he teamed up with fellow actor Barry Howard.
Together they played the role of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. They acted together for eight consecutive years before John decided to go at it alone. Born in Blackpool, it was no surprise really that the actor made his fame by playing the dame. John played many famous panto dames including Mother Goose, Nurse Wanda and of course Widow Twankey.
He sadly passed away in 2007 and his camp antics are still missed to this day.
Not only does this actor play the pantomime dame every single year in the annual show at York Theatre Royal, but he also writes and directs the show.
Berwick Kaler is Britain’s longest-running consecutive pantomime dame and a traditionalist too. Steering away from celebrity guest stars and naughty humour, Berwick prefers the more traditional form of pantomime.
Often referred to as “Biggins”, this actor is one of the most renowned pantomime dames of all time.
In 2016 he announced to the Daily Mail that after over 40 years playing the dame, he was ready to say goodbye – “I don’t want to go on too long and finish my career as a panto dame in some little theatre you’ve hardly heard of. And on walking sticks! I don’t want to die in a dress.”
Interestingly, Roy Hudd starred in pantomimes for more than 35 years before he decided to play a dame.
He famously told The Stage “I decided I should really have a go at a dame before I snuff it.” As a result he found himself finally playing Mother Goose in Dick Whittington.
The actor has since written and starred in his own show Mother Goose and written several books covering music hall and pantomime.
Danny La Rue OBE
Could Danny La Rue be the most glamorous dame of all? The flamboyant performer has been playing the role of pantomime dame since the 60s.
Mother Goose, Queen Passionella, The Very “Merry” Widow Twankey and The Fairy Godmother are just a few dames to his name. The actor has even played in over 30 Royal performances and three Royal Command Performances.
It’s no wonder why he’s made it to the top dame list. Danny was made a member if the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Jubilee Honours list 2002, but sadly passed away in 2009.
Paul O’Grady is by far the naughtiest dame on our list.
If you are familiar with his comedic style, you will have an idea what to expect from his pantomime performances. Made famous for his role as the drag queen, Lily Savage, himself and Julian Clary starred in Cinderella at the London Palladium which was sure to have raised a few eyebrows.
Blackpool’s Grand Theatre Pantomime
To find out more about Blackpool’s Grand Theatre Pantomime this year visit our What’s On.
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