Oh yes it is! Story of pantomimes told in new Norwich exhibition

Panto at Great Yarmouth taken 9th December 1967.

Panto at Great Yarmouth taken 9th December 1967.

Norfolk's love of pantomimes runs so deep that they continued to be performed throughout the First and Second World Wars.

Natalie Barth(6)enjoys dressing up and taking the stage at The Story of Panto in Norfolk exhibition

Natalie Barth(6)enjoys dressing up and taking the stage at The Story of Panto in Norfolk exhibition at The Forum.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

If an air raid warning sounded during a performance at the Norwich Theatre Royal, a red light would be illuminated at the side of the stage and the show carried on.

When an all-clear was announced, a green light was displayed instead.

Programmes from the Second World War show that there were two shelters in the theatre – one at ground level and one at the circle level upstairs.

The first recorded pantomime at the theatre was on May 25, 1774.

Back in 1971, the Lowestoft Players were about to put on their production of Sleeping Beauty at the

Back in 1971, the Lowestoft Players were about to put on their production of Sleeping Beauty at the Marina Theatre. In this picture, taken on December 31 that year, members of the cast are involved in a dress rehearsal for the panto which was staged at the Sparrow's Nest Theatre. - Credit: Archant

And for the region's panto fans, are the best years behind them? Oh no they're not! More than 1,000 people turned out to the opening evening of a new exhibition at The Forum, in Norwich, which celebrates all things panto.

The Story of Panto, in the Gallery space at the venue, opened its doors to the public at the Christmas lights switch-on event on Thursday, and will run throughout the festive period.

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Visitors can expect extravagant outfits from shows of yesteryear, curiosities including an original programme from the Theatre Royal's first recorded pantomime and videos of performances from around the region. Youngsters can even dress up as their favourite panto characters and run through a script.

Organisers spoke to groups involved in pantomime – including Thetford Players, Gorleston Pavilion, Hethersett Pantomime Group and Sheringham Little Theatre – with video interviews screened at the exhibition.

Lindsey Roffe, of The Forum, said: 'We just want people to come along and join in the spirit of panto, do some of the scripts and learn about the history of panto and its tradition in Norfolk.'

Among the exhibits are paintings by Richard Matthews as part of his 12 Dames of Christmas series, and a giant set designed by local artist Jim Kavanagh.

Richard Gauntlett, a long-standing pantomime dame at Norwich Theatre Royal, said: 'Pantomime was the first theatrical experience I can remember. I was five years old at the London Palladium. I can recall the orchestra starting up, the lights dimming, the curtain rising and then an exciting story unfolding before my very eyes.'

His association with Norwich Theatre Royal began 15 years ago, and he urged people to visit the exhibition as well as this year's Theatre Royal pantomime, Snow White.

The exhibition is also full of Norfolk pantomime trivia, including, for instance, that the pantomime Tom Thumb and the Norfolk Giant was performed in 1874. It was likely based around the meeting of Robert Hales, a Great Yarmouth man who was 7ft 8ins tall, and Charles Stratton, who, at around 40 inches tall, was known as 'General Tom Thumb', who appeared with him on an American tour.

The exhibition runs until January 9, 2016.

For exact opening times, see theforumnorwich.co.uk