Free event: Panto Then and Now, 10th January 2018

SC&A are really excited to invite you to our fantastic pantomime-themed day on 10 January 2018, which should be a great way to kick off the New Year!

We’ve been working with the Centre for Comic and Popular Performance to celebrate all things pantomime. There’ll be a chance to see not one but two exhibitions, hear talks from pantomime experts, test your knowledge in a quiz, go behind the scenes at the biggest theatre in Canterbury and take part in a Q&A session with the cast and creative team from this year’s Marlowe pantomime – Peter Pan.

This event is free, but places are limited. If you’d like to come along, please book your free ticket via Eventbrite. Will we see you on the 10th January? Oh yes we will!

You’re invited to the launch of ‘Sex, Death and Panto’!

The end of the Spring Term is finally upon us (farewell deadlines; hello chocolate) and with that brings the annual launch of the DR575: Victorian and Edwardian Theatre exhibition, which is being held tomorrow (5th April) at 4.30pm.

This is the second year in a row that our second-year Drama and Theatre Undergraduates have had the challenge of designing an exhibition to fit in the new Templeman Library Gallery space as part of their final assignments. This year, the students have split into two groups looking at very different topics:

Group one: Crime, Scandal and Theatre

The Victorian fascination with the gothic and macabre was a key feature of 19th century society. But when scandalous crimes – like the Jack the Ripper murders – became all too real on the streets of London, how did playwrights reflect the concerns of their audiences? This exhibition will focus on several sensations of the period and explore how the theatrical world reacted. This topic has never been explored as part of this module before, and we can’t wait to see what our students come up with.

Group two: Drury Lane Pantomime of the Late Nineteenth Century

The Theatre Royal at Drury Lane stands on the oldest site of a theatre in London. The 1812 building that stands today is the fourth theatre erected there, and it has a rich history. This exhibition will explore how Augustus Harris’ management in the late 19th century changed the fortunes of the Theatre for the better – and, in particular, how Harris’ role in establishing the Pantomime tradition. It will explore the roles of actors and actresses working at the theatre through analysing material held in Special Collections & Archives.

The Victorian and Edwardian theatre module is always a highlight of the Special Collections & Archives team’s year; this time you’ll also be able to take a look back at past exhibitions to see how far the course has developed. Come along, have a drink and discover how fantastic an insight into Victorian Britain (and beyond) our wonderful theatre collections can provide!

It’s Behind You!

Book of Words for the Lyceum pantomime 'Queen of Hearts', 1927-1928

Book of Words for the Lyceum pantomime ‘Queen of Hearts’, 1927-1928

Oh no it isn’t…oh yes it is!

I’m sure you can guess exactly what I’m about to blog about, but just in case you hadn’t noticed, with Christmas coming fast upon us, we will soon be well and truly in pantomime season. Here at Special Collections & Archives, we’re already getting into the panto spirit – but don’t worry, we’ve not been dressing up as animals, attempting to purchase magic beans or waiting for our fairy godmothers to complete our exhibitions. No, instead we have teamed up with the Gulbenkian to create a fittingly bright and cheerful tribute to the pantomimes of yesteryear in our latest exhibition, It’s Behind You!

Pop into the Gulbenkian foyer to take a look at some replicas our the magical, marvellous and multicoloured treasures in our Theatre & Performance collections, which date back to the heyday of pantomime.You can see costume designs from pantos of the 1880s, posters for productions at Drury Lane, the Lyceum and provincial theatres and some of the ‘books of words’ created to go alongside later productions.

Behind you: the history

Photograph of Nellie Farren, principal boy c.1880s

Photograph of Nellie Farren, principal boy c.1880s

Early nineteenth century, performances of harlequinades harked back to the Italian Comedia dell’arte, with their slapstick and transformational scenes rather than the modern pantomime. By the end of the century, however, theatrical tycoons such as Augustus Harris at Drury Lane were staging the opulent and comical productions which we would recognise today.

Indeed, it was during these formative years of the pantomime that interest in their stage magic and heroic tales exploded into the popular imagination. Costumes, sets and settings were bold, exotic and expensive to draw in the crowds. Magazines and newspapers dedicated whole issues to pantomime, reviewing productions, explaining stage transformations and, of course, interviewing the stars of the show. The female stars in the roles of principal boy and girl were often as much of a draw as the men who played the dames.

Illustrations of costumes from Aladdin at Drury Lane, produced 26 December 1885

Illustrations of costumes from Aladdin at Drury Lane, produced 26 December 1885

It’s Behind You! will run until 10th January and is freely accessible in the Gulbenkian foyer, so do take the opportunity to have a look before the end of the term and let us know your thoughts. Feel free to Tweet us @UoKSpecialColls, or drop us an email via