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Guest blog... A French visitor goes to the pantomime in Suusex

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Pantomime… at first this didn’t ring any bells for me, but I was able to see that it was everywhere in England. People were talking about it, expecting it. As I walked into the theatre for my first experience of the genre –  <i>Cinderella</i>, I could see all the generations gathered for a show that I had thought was designed for children only.dren only. I was indeed mistaken, for the glowing, sparkling stage and the colourful characters created an electrifying atmosphere that reached everyone from the youngsters to their seniors.

Even though I knew the plot, I never imagined watching a classic tale this way. The two Ugly Sisters, brilliantly played by men, looked as though they had borrowed items from Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. They proudly stated that they were gorgeous – while the audience fervently denied this foolish statement. That same audience then helped the central character (who was being chased by a ghost) by shouting “He’s behind you!”, again according to the tradition.

For me, the main event was without a doubt the amazing transformation of mice and pumpkin into ponies and a coach. I was very surprised to see the live ponies on the stage. It was a very friendly show where the audience participation was encouraged, innuendoes and slapstick jokes burst forth. The whole event was beyond my belief.

At this time of the year France also enjoys its most beautiful celebrations. For instance, from the 8th to the 11th of December in my home city of Lyon, the city lights up as thousands of candles adorn balconies and lights effects abound in the streets. It’s a reminder of the prayers which saved the city from plague in 1643 and is known as la fête des lumières - the Celebration of Lights.

Furthermore, in every city of France, Christmas markets offer a vast choice of candies, treats and cakes but also Christmas decorations, scented candles, wooden toys and much more. The most famous and the biggest is without a doubt the Strasbourg Christmas Market which draws millions of tourists from France and Europe.

Pantomime isn’t part of the French pre-Christmas customs. We do not have any theatre shows like it – and what was a Latin heritage (from the Roman Saturnalia and the later commedia dell’arte) is now a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon institution. What an oddity! But then, most of our French pre-Christmas traditions take place out-of-doors – and isn’t that peculiar when it is so cold?

To put it in a nutshell, my first British pantomime was a totally unique and dazzling experience. It’s one which I would gladly repeat.

Adrien Ferandji has just completed a postgraduate course in travel and tourism.


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