What Is A Panto Dame?

What Is A Panto Dame?

When it comes to the world of theater, few characters are as iconic and beloved as the Panto Dame. This larger-than-life figure, traditionally portrayed by a male actor in flamboyant costumes and extravagant makeup, has been entertaining audiences for centuries. With their exaggerated personalities and comedic timing, Panto Dames bring a unique blend of charm and humor to the stage, captivating both young and old alike.

The history of the Panto Dame dates back to the origins of pantomime in the 16th century. Originally, these characters were played by male actors due to societal norms and restrictions. However, over time, the role evolved into a beloved tradition, with Panto Dames becoming an integral part of pantomime productions. Today, Panto Dames continue to entertain and enchant audiences with their wit, quick thinking, and larger-than-life personalities, making them an essential ingredient of any pantomime production.



What Is A Panto Dame?

The History of Panto Dames in Theatre

Pantomime, commonly known as panto, is a popular form of British theater that entertains audiences during the Christmas season. It is known for its lively music, slapstick comedy, and audience participation. At the heart of every panto production is the beloved character of the Panto Dame.

The Panto Dame is a larger-than-life, comedic character typically played by a male actor dressed in exaggeratedly feminine clothing. This tradition dates back to the early 19th century when women were not allowed to perform on stage. The role was initially played by men as a way to add humor and entertainment to pantomime productions.

Over time, the character of the Panto Dame has evolved and become an integral part of the pantomime tradition. Panto Dames are known for their flamboyant costumes, elaborate makeup, and larger-than-life personalities. They often interact with the audience, cracking jokes, and delivering witty one-liners that keep the audience engaged and entertained.

The Role of the Panto Dame

The Panto Dame plays a crucial role in pantomime productions. They are usually cast as the mother or grandmother of the main protagonist and serve as a comic relief character. The Panto Dame provides humorous moments throughout the show, often engaging in funny exchanges with other characters, particularly the villain.

One of the key characteristics of the Panto Dame is their exaggerated femininity. They embrace their femininity through their attire, makeup, and mannerisms, often portrayed in a larger-than-life, comedic fashion. This provides ample opportunities for physical comedy, double entendre, and witty banter.

The Panto Dame also interacts with the audience, breaking the fourth wall and involving them in the performance. They may ask for their opinions or participation, creating a sense of camaraderie and shared experience. This interaction adds an element of spontaneity and unpredictability to the show, making it a unique and immersive theatrical experience.

The Evolution of Panto Dames

Throughout history, the portrayal of Panto Dames has evolved, reflecting the changing social and cultural norms of the time. In the early days of pantomime, the Panto Dame was often portrayed as a grotesque and exaggerated caricature of femininity. Their costumes and makeup were over-the-top, emphasizing the humor and entertainment value.

However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the portrayal of Panto Dames. They are now seen as empowering figures who challenge gender norms and celebrate individuality. Panto Dames are often portrayed as strong, confident women who command the stage with their wit and charisma. They are role models, breaking stereotypes and fostering inclusivity.

With the rise of feminist movements, the Panto Dame has become a symbol of empowerment and gender expression. The character allows male actors to explore their creativity and challenge societal expectations of masculinity. It has also opened doors for female actors to play traditionally male roles in pantomime productions, further breaking down gender barriers in the theater.

Iconic Panto Dames in Theatre

Over the years, numerous actors have donned the extravagant costumes and makeup to portray iconic Panto Dames. These performers have become synonymous with the character and have left an indelible mark on pantomime history.

Dame Edna Everage

One of the most iconic Panto Dames is Dame Edna Everage, created and portrayed by Australian comedian Barry Humphries. Dame Edna is known for her bouffant hair, outlandish outfits, and signature cat-eye glasses. Her sharp wit and larger-than-life personality have made her a beloved character in pantomime and beyond.

Dame Edna's appearances in pantomime have brought a fresh and modern take on the Panto Dame character. She embodies the essence of a strong, confident woman who stands up for herself and others.

Leslie Joseph

Leslie Joseph is another renowned actress who has become synonymous with the Panto Dame character. She is best known for her role as Dorien Green in the sitcom "Birds of a Feather" and has brought her comedic talents to pantomime stages across the UK.

Joseph's portrayal of the Panto Dame is characterized by her energy, quick wit, and comedic timing. She has embraced the tradition of the Panto Dame and has become a fan favorite in the world of pantomime.

Christopher Biggins

Christopher Biggins is a veteran actor who has played the Panto Dame in numerous productions throughout his career. His larger-than-life personality and infectious laughter have made him a beloved figure in the world of pantomime.

Biggins brings an incredible sense of fun and mischief to the character, engaging audiences with his charismatic stage presence and impeccable comedic timing. His performances as the Panto Dame have garnered critical acclaim and earned him a devoted following.

The Panto Dame Through Different Lenses

The Panto Dame is not simply a character; it is a multifaceted symbol that has different meanings and interpretations depending on the perspective through which it is viewed.

From a theatrical standpoint, the Panto Dame represents the rich tradition of pantomime and the comedic genius required to bring this character to life. It showcases the creativity, versatility, and physicality of actors who take on this role.

From a social perspective, the Panto Dame challenges traditional gender norms and encourages inclusivity. It provides opportunities for male actors to embrace their femininity and for female actors to explore traditionally male roles, transcending boundaries and stereotypes.

Lastly, from an entertainment standpoint, the Panto Dame brings joy, laughter, and audience participation to the theatrical experience. They create a unique bond between the cast and the audience, making each show a memorable and interactive event.

In conclusion, the Panto Dame is an iconic character in British theater, bringing comedy, entertainment, and empowerment to the stage. Their larger-than-life personalities, flamboyant costumes, and interactive performances have made them beloved figures in the world of pantomime. Whether challenging gender norms, embodying empowerment, or simply making audiences laugh, the Panto Dame will continue to be an integral part of this cherished theatrical tradition.


What Is A Panto Dame?

Understanding Panto Dames

A panto dame is a character in a British pantomime show, typically portrayed by a male actor dressed in flamboyant and exaggerated female clothing and makeup. This theatrical tradition dates back to the 18th century and has become an integral part of British culture.

The panto dame is known for being larger than life, with a loud and comedic personality. They are often the comedic highlight of the show, providing entertainment through witty remarks, slapstick humor, and audience interaction. The audience often anticipates their appearance and enjoys the outrageous costumes and outrageous antics.

  • The panto dame usually plays the role of the protagonist's mother or a comedic sidekick.
  • They often bring a sense of lightness and comedy to the show, engaging and entertaining the audience of all ages.
  • The portrayal of the panto dame is carefully exaggerated to create a larger-than-life character, incorporating physical comedy, quick-witted dialogue, and extravagant costumes.
  • The panto dame is an essential part of pantomime tradition and continues to be beloved by audiences in the United Kingdom.

Key Takeaways - What Is A Panto Dame?

  • A panto dame is a comedic character traditionally played by a male actor in a pantomime.
  • The panto dame is known for their extravagant costumes and exaggerated makeup.
  • They often have over-the-top personalities and provide comic relief in the production.
  • Panto dames are usually the butt of jokes and engage in humorous banter with the audience.
  • The role of the panto dame has a long history in British theater and continues to be a beloved tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions

A panto dame is a character typically found in pantomime productions, which are a form of British theater. The panto dame is traditionally played by a male actor dressed in flamboyant, comedic costumes and makeup. They provide comic relief and often interact with the audience through improvised jokes and humorous banter. The panto dame is a beloved and iconic figure in British pantomime.

1. What role does the panto dame play in a pantomime?

The panto dame plays a crucial role in a pantomime production. They are often the comedic heart of the show and provide entertainment for the audience. The panto dame's character is usually larger than life, often portrayed as a loud, eccentric, and lovable figure. They engage in comedic situations and deliver witty one-liners to elicit laughter from the audience. The panto dame also interacts with other characters, including the villains, heroes, and fairy tale characters, adding humor and creating memorable moments.

The panto dame's costumes are extravagant and often exaggerated, featuring vibrant colors, layers, and accessories. Their makeup is usually over-the-top, with exaggerated features such as large wigs, bright lipstick, and exaggerated eyebrows. The panto dame also often breaks the fourth wall and interacts directly with the audience, engaging them in the performance and creating a unique theatrical experience.

2. How are panto dames traditionally portrayed?

Traditionally, panto dames are portrayed by male actors, adding an element of gender-bending humor to the performance. The exaggerated femininity of the panto dame's character, both in appearance and mannerisms, adds to the comedic effect. The panto dame's character is often portrayed as confident, sassy, and quick-witted, captivating the audience with their larger-than-life personality.

The panto dame may have various occupations or roles within the storyline, such as a mother, aunt, or housekeeper, and their interactions with other characters, including the principal boy and villain, contribute to the plot and humor of the pantomime. The panto dame's role is not limited to one specific type of character, allowing for creative interpretations and diverse portrayals.

3. What is the history of the panto dame in pantomime?

The panto dame has a long history in British pantomime, dating back to the 19th century. Pantomime originated as a form of entertainment that combined various theatrical elements, including music, dance, comedy, and storytelling. The inclusion of the panto dame added an additional layer of humor and entertainment to the pantomime performances.

The portrayal of the panto dame has evolved over time, but the essence of the character remains the same. They continue to bring laughter to audiences through their eccentricity, quick wit, and lively interactions. The panto dame has become an integral and cherished part of British pantomime tradition, delighting audiences of all ages with their comedic performances.

4. How do panto dames contribute to the audience experience?

Panto dames play a vital role in engaging the audience and creating a lively and interactive experience. Their comedic timing, improvised jokes, and ability to break the fourth wall ensure that the audience remains entertained and actively participates in the performance.

The panto dame's interactions with the audience often include playful banter, ad-libbed jokes, and even inviting individuals onto the stage for comic moments. This interaction creates a unique and memorable experience for the audience, making them feel like an integral part of the production.

5. Can women play the role of a panto dame?

While traditionally played by male actors, there have been instances where women have portrayed the role of a panto dame. This can add a different dynamic to the character, as women bring their own interpretation and style to the role.

Regardless of the actor's gender, the essence of the panto dame remains the same – to entertain, engage, and bring laughter to the audience. The performance style and character portrayal may vary, but the spirit of the panto dame as a comedic figure in British pantomime is maintained.



In summary, a panto dame is a comedic character traditionally portrayed by a male actor in pantomime performances. The panto dame is known for their exaggerated personality, flamboyant costumes, and comic timing. They often play the role of a mother, aunt, or grandmother figure in the pantomime story.

The panto dame brings humor and entertainment to the audience through their comedic expressions, gestures, and interaction with other characters. They are often the highlight of the pantomime, providing laughter and joy for both children and adults alike. With their larger-than-life presence, the panto dame adds a touch of comedy and charm to the pantomime experience.


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