You love it or you hate it, but this time of year brings the annual pantomime season!

Like the Christmas tree and Christmas cards, pantomime first became popular in Victorian times.

From the 1870s these unusual comedies (originating in the 15th century with Italian comic theatre) were based on favourite children’s stories or fairytales.

They featured a 'principal boy' played by a woman (saucily showing 'his' legs) and an old 'Dame', always played by a man.

There was usually a comic 'duo', dim-witted and gullible, and always a Good Fairy, pitted against a Wicked Villain, but winning in the end, of course!

The panto was aimed at a family audience which was expected to join in with appropriate noise and comments.

This audience participation was familiar in the popular (if more raunchy!) Music Halls, which also inspired the songs and music which make up the traditional British Pantomime.

It was the newly-formed Sinodun Players, led by former Gaiety Girl, Mrs Curtis of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, who launched an annual pantomime for the Wallingford area, beginning with Cinderella in Brightwell Village Hall, 70 years ago.

After a few years, productions moved to the Masonic Hall in Wallingford, where Agatha Christie (Mrs Mallowan), local resident and president of the Sinodun Players from 1951-1976, regularly attended the annual show.

In letters to John Atwell, the players’ chairman (and pantomime Dame!), she revealed her life-long love of pantomime and enjoyment of the performances.

In her elderly years she often attended wearing her fur coat and carpet slippers, sitting in the front row in specially reserved seats.

She always received a box of chocolates.

In 1976 the Sinodun Players took over the Wallingford Corn Exchange building and began its conversion to a fully-equipped theatre which ran with great success until recent problems with the roof led to a temporary closure.

Happily, this month sees a grand celebration of the newly-restored building with the launch of the 70th pantomime – a production of Cinderella!

But local pantomime has not been confined to Wallingford.

In the early 1980s a group of mums instigated an annual show for the children of Cholsey School.

At first it was ad-libbed with simple props and costumes – the first carriage for Cinderella was a decorated wheelchair!

By 1986, Cholsey’s Millennium year, the Cholsey Pantoloons had developed fully-scripted productions and the mums’ Babes in the Wood went triumphantly public for the first time.

Further development of staging, lighting and sound (all imported specially into the school hall for panto week) and the inclusion of men in the cast (not wanting to miss out in the fun/dressing up!) brought a regular enthusiastic audience.

Eventually alterations to the school building enforced a new venue, so now the Fair Mile Great Hall stage, once used for entertaining patients of the former Berkshire Asylum, reverberates again with the happy sounds of traditional Pantomime.

‘Oh no it doesn’t!’ - ‘OH YES IT DOES!'