With the pantomime season upon us, offers a potted history of beanstalks, dames and slapstick
It comes from the Latin pantomimus, a dramatic performer in ancient Rome. Accompanied by music and a chorus, he ‘mimed’ mythological stories, playing all the roles, each with its own particular mask. but their popularity eventually led to their extension into full stories. The harlequinade was reduced to a short scene at the end and eventually disappeared altogether. The last London harlequinade was staged at the Lyceum Theatre in 1939.
Which of today’s pantomimes has the longest history?
Jack and the Beanstalk, which began life in 1773 as ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ at David Garrick’s Drury Lane Theatre. The first pantomime to be called ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was performed there in 1819 and a young actress called Eliza Povey became the first female principal boy when she played the part of Jack. Jack and the Beanstalk also marked the debut of one of pantomime’s most famous Dames – Dan Leno who appeared as Jack’s mother, Dame Trot, at Drury Lane in 1886.
A painting of Commedia dell’arte characters including Harlequin and Pierrot