A very British tradition: it’s panto-time!

Programme cover for Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1885. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Programme cover for Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1885. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Get ready for your annual dose of dames, slapstick, mild innuendo and choruses of “He’s behind you!”. Yes, panto season is here!
(“No it’s not”, “Yes it is”, “No it’s not” and so on…)

Although often dismissed as a frivolous form of entertainment, pantomime has a fascinating and influential theatrical and social history. Although its origins date back to Ancient Greece, the heyday of British pantomime was almost certainly the Nineteenth Century. It was during this period that London theatre companies started to break away from pantomime conventions of Italian commedia dell’arte troupes and forge a new, distinctly British form of entertainment.

From the clowning of Grimaldi at the start of the century to the epic productions of Augustus Harris’s Drury Lane pantomimes at its close, the Nineteenth Century was a period rich in innovation for the pantomime, and formed the pinnacle of its importance in British culture.

Grimaldi transformed - playing the clown in the pantomime of The Golden Fish, 1812. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Grimaldi transformed – playing the clown in the pantomime of The Golden Fish, 1812. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

In the Archive Centre’s current Book of the Month, The Politics of the Pantomime (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2011), Jill Sullivan provides a much-needed extension to current understanding of the role of nineteenth-century pantomime, shedding light on important political dimension to their productions and emphasising the genre’s relevance to local and regional culture.

If you would like to delve deeper into the fascinating history of panto in London’s West End, why not visit the Archives Centre and access some of the wonderful related items in our collections including historic programmes and playbills, theatre portraits and reference books?

[Michelle]

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