The King's Panto
In 1943 Queen Elizabeth II donned her tights and crown to play Aladdin in that year's Royal Family Pantomime alongside her sister Princess Margaret. Royalty and pantomimes go hand in hand and indeed most pantomime titles feature Kings, Queens, Princesses, Princes, Sultans and Emperors and conclude with an extravagant Royal Wedding.
Rags to riches tales, such as Cinderella, demonstrate that hard work, honesty and kindness pay off, but for those already in power, Pantoland paints a rather less than positive picture. Both the King in Jack and the Beanstalk and the Emperor of China in Aladdin are often seen as bumbling idiots whilst, in the case of Dick Whittington's King Rat, rotten rodent rule signifies everything wicked and nasty. But pantomimes are also about transformations and, much like the title character in The King's Panto, these characters soon realise the errors of their ways and a Happy Ending is had by all.
Written by Martin Coleman, The King's Panto brings together many of our beloved fairytale and pantomime characters for a story of selfishness and silliness in a narrative that also introduces younger readers to a number of pantomime conventions in preparation for their first theatrical visit.
One day a grumpy and bossy King calls for a Royal Pantomime to keep him entertained. However, there's a problem; it is summer and no-one in the Royal Court dare tell the King that pantomime is usually a festive treat. With a quest to stage a pantomime on the cards, the Court's Dukes, Duchesses and Barons set off across the Kingdom to recruit Pantoland's finest by Royal decree. With little time to rehearse, the show doesn't go quite as planned, but regardless of falling scenery, an infestation of rats and Prince Charming's limited equestrian skills, the Royal Pantomime is not a total disaster...
Written in rhyming couplets like the nineteenth century pantomimes of E. L. Blanchard, The King's Panto is full of fun. Tim Slater's bright colours and bold illustrations adorn the book's A4 sized pages and encourage younger readers to interact with the story in their own way. The centre spread double page image of the King's Pantomime in action is a wonderful stimulus for discussion and additional storytelling and will no doubt inspire many other stories as readers delve into the goings on of the Pantoland performers as they try to save the show from impending calamity.
The accompanying DVD, narrated by the author, is a delight to watch and would not look out of place broadcast on CBeebies what with its colourful characters and simple, but effective animation. Whether viewed on DVD or read aloud at bedtime, The King's Panto is an enjoyable tale about the importance of sharing, friendship and community.
The King's Panto DVD may well herald the title appearing in other forms, and indeed the illustrations lend themselves nicely to a colour-me-in version of the tale, where children could choose the colours for Cinderella's dress or decide what food should adorn the banquet table. Plans are already underway for a possible musical version of the title, which would no doubt be extremely popular with infant and junior schools, not to mention youth theatre groups due to its large number of characters and lack of soppy romance.
In addition to encouraging reading and stimulating creativity, Martin Coleman's The King's Panto also celebrates Britain's cultural heritage, thereby joining a select list of other pantomime-themed children's books such as Enid Blyton's The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat, Daisy Meadow's Paige the Pantomime Fairy and Kay Umansky's Pongwiffy and the Pantomime. Of course seasonality acts as these titles' best and worst enemy—sales of The King's Panto will be strongest during the pantomime season—but, with its summer panto focus and images of Widow Twankey bathing on Brighton Beach, The King's Panto is most definitely a title to be enjoyed all year round.
£8.99 with 50p from every sale going to Children in Need
Reviewer: Simon Sladen