History of Panto

Topics: Pantomime, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Joseph Grimaldi Pages: 9 (2905 words) Published: October 12, 2013

The History of Pantomime

In the United Kingdom, the word "Pantomime" means a form of entertainment, generally performed during the Christmas season. Most cities and towns throughout the UK have a form of Pantomime at this time of year. The origins of British Pantomime or "Panto" as it is known date back to the middle ages, taking on board the traditions of the Italian "Commedia dell’ Arte, the Italian night scenes and British Music hall to produce an intrinsic art form that constantly adapted to survive up to the present day.

Pantomime has been attempted abroad, usually with a small amount of success. Not surprisingly it has proved popular in countries such as Canada, Australia and South Africa- recently a production of "Babes in the wood" ran at the Rainbow Seven Arts Theatre in Harare, Zimbabwe! In America this very British art form has fared less favourably, although in 1868 a production of "Humpty Dumpty" ran for over 1,200 performances at the Olympic Theatre, New York, making it the most successful Pantomime in American history.

The Subjects
Pantomime, as we know it today is a show predominantly aimed at children, based on a popular fairy tale or folk legend. The most popular subjects being "Cinderella", followed by "Aladdin", "Dick Whittington" and "Snow White". Other popular titles are "Jack & the Beanstalk", "Babes in the Wood",( usually combining the legend of Robin Hood) and "Sleeping Beauty". Rising in popularity is "Peter Pan", although purists would argue that this is not strictly a pantomime, but a children’s story, based on J.M Barrie’s play. "Peter Pan" first performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London in 1904 transferred successfully to America shortly afterwards. Today the story has had elements of Pantomime introduced, and is one of the highly popular Christmas shows around the British Isles.

Pantomime has become a thriving business in this country. Large theatres vie with each other for the subjects and "star" names that will attract full houses, and the pantomime can often run for six to eight weeks, providing much needed revenue to box offices up and down the country. Twenty years ago the average run of a pantomime could be from the week before Christmas up until the end of February, but today few theatres can sustain such a length of run. The exceptions recently being the Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, and the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.

The Impresarios
Pantomime giants, such as E&B productions, present as many as thirty pantomimes in Great Britain, and several others abroad. During its long existence Pantomime has witnessed other panto impresarios, such as Augustus Harris, "Father of modern Pantomime" at the Drury Lane Theatre in the 1870’s. Harris, the manager of Drury Lane introduced the first stars of the popular Music Hall into his productions, and created the lavish productions that popularised the genre, forcing managements not just in London, but around the country to ensure that every town had at least one, if not two Pantomimes running every Christmas season.

Francis Laidler took on the mantle "King of Pantomimes" in the 1930’s, producing shows at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, which were then presented all over the country. The subjects on offer in the 1930’s and 1940’s included those now fallen from popularity. Titles like "Goody Two Shoes", "Humpty Dumpty" and "Red Riding Hood" have almost completely vanished today., while in recent times Pantomime has seen the gradual disappearance of titles like "Puss in boots", "Mother Goose" and "Robinson Crusoe". In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Pantomime crown rested upon the head of Derek Salberg, who created pantomimes from the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham in the style and tradition that made them justifiably famous, along with producing managements such as Howard and Wyndham, and Emile Littler. In recent times companies such as Triumph and the impresario Paul Elliott have...
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