THIS Saturday sees the start of pantomime season at the Salisbury Playhouse. The Playhouse has held a pantomime since its earliest days, and every year since it has been in its present home for the last four decades. For 2017, the pantomime dial is set to Jack and the Beanstalk – the eleventh time the tale has been told in Salisbury. No doubt it’ll be a lot of fee-fi-fo-fun.

This year’s script has been written by actor and writer Andrew Pollard. Andrew is one of the country’s go-to people when it comes to pantomimes: he lost count when we spoke, but has written over twenty and starred in numerous more, too.

Andrew started his acting career in street theatre, as part of the Natural Theatre Company, based in Bath. With winter a bit chilly for street theatre, the company did an indoor show for children, which he wrote.

When the Natural Theatre’s chief executive moved to Greenwich Theatre and needed a pantomime, Andrew got the call.

The rest, as they say, is history. Andrew is now someone immersed in pantomime tradition – woe betide any director who calls it a play or a children’s show on his watch.

He explained how today’s British pantomime was forged in the Victorian music hall era, but that its roots go much further back.

Andrew talked about the role of the commedia dell’arte, the Italian street theatre, as being a founding influence.

Early pantomimes, as the name suggests, were the theatre equivalent of a silent movie – the stories mimed and danced out. The Victorian era added words and music to proceedings, and forged many of the main traditions.

There was a fashion at the time for all things Chinese, hence the bizarre fact that Aladdin is set there, rather than in the Middle East. Mother Goose, meanwhile, was written specifically for Dan Leno, one of the era’s great dames.

Most pantomime stories, however, come from more classic tales, be they Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington or Snow White.

Andrew explained how the number of narratives have reduced over the years to a core handful. Fifty years ago, the variety of stories was much greater, but those based around nursery rhymes (Humpty Dumpty or Little Miss Muffet) have all but vanished. The only new variations tend to come via the cinema: Beauty and the Beast has returned as a modern staple, thanks to the 1990s Disney film.

Jack and the Beanstalk, meanwhile, is a tale as old as Stonehenge itself. Oh no it isn’t? Oh yes it is: last year, researchers at Durham University traced its origins back over 5,000 years. Though whether those early versions included jokes about trying to park in Salisbury remain unclear.