Theatre brats

Children in the audience

Panto has become a serious business. No self-respecting alpha mummy would consider Bradley Walsh's Buttons in Milton Keynes now that their Christmas newsletter can namecheck a Cinderella penned by Stephen Fry and commissioned by Kevin Spacey. The Old Vic's latest posh panto already looks like it will repeat the sell-out success of Aladdin, famous for Sir Ian McKellen's deliciously hammy Widow Twankey.

Fry believes that Spacey's rowdy renaissance has implications for the future of theatre itself. Observing that panto forms the first theatregoing experience for many children, Fry has suggested that its cheers-and-hisses communal participation has particular potential to engender a lifelong passion for the stage in today's kids. In an isolated online world, Fry says that he has "yet to find any gizmo from the digital age that can match pantomime for genuine interactivity".

The man makes a fine point, but is this kind of "genuine interactivity" really theatre's USP for Generation Wii? Kids actively participate in our society and our culture to a previously unprecedented degree, whether as critics, artists and video producers on their blogs and Bebo pages, or as casting directors voting for Lee Mead on Any Dream Will Do. Yes, this remote participation is a very different and possibly less "genuine" experience compared to the real-time fun of panto, but anyone who has recently sat in a play next to a school group knows that their online confidence seems to translate into an assumed right to "interact" with real actors, whether welcome or not.

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