Sex, Death and Panto

5 April – 12 May 2017
Curated by second-year Drama and Theatre students

A regular second-year Drama and Theatre module on Victorian and Edwardian theatre is taught in collaboration with Kent’s Special Collections & Archives. It emphasises the use of archives in researching 19th–  and early 20th-century theatre.

This year, the students chose to focus on how crimes and scandals affected the theatre of the time, and on the renowned pantomimes performed at Drury Lane. They used primary sources from the University’s extensive Theatre and Performance Archives.

Here’s what the students say about their exhibition: 

Drury Lane Pantomime of the Late 19th Century

This exhibition explores the pantomimes performed at Drury Lane in the late 1800s, produced by Augustus Harris.

It uses primary sources of the time, such as playbills, to focus on this popular form of Christmas entertainment and its most popular acting profiles.

Your journey begins with maps of the time illustrating the location of Theatre Royal Drury Lane in relation to other theatres in the surrounding area, and the distance between Drury Lane and transport links. This research focuses on why Theatre Royal is the birthplace of panto.

The exhibition also dives deeper into Drury Lane to focus on two pantomimes – Dick Whittington and Cinderella – exploring the characters we know and love today, and how they came to be.

Alongside this are four case studies of actors and actresses of the time that played principle roles in the two pantos: Ada Blanche, Dan Leno, Isa Bowman and Alexandra Dagmar. The case studies explore their influence within the pantomime world and give understanding into why Augustus Harris chose females as principal male roles over males. We aim to leave you inspired to enjoy pantomimes as much as we do!

Crime, Scandal and Theatre

This exhibition focuses on a variety of crimes and scandals in the mid to late Victorian era and how they affected the surrounding theatres at the time.

We have used archival material to research into the underbelly of Victorian London and see how poverty, murder, prostitution and mental illness have affected and been reflected on the stage.

Part of our exhibition focuses on the communal fear of Jack the Ripper and how this influenced the choices of theatre productions and the portrayal of villains in London performances.

Another piece considers the societal appetite for sensation and scandal and how this translated to the theatre of the Victorian period; with a focus on the Influence of the Whitechapel killings, and the sex scandals surrounding Ernest Boulton and William Park.

We have also explored the societal view of prostitution and why playwrights like George Bernard Shaw created female characters ‘with a past’ as protagonists in his plays.