Sydney Carton’s was a “Tale of Two Cities”: Mine is a tale of six. Our slogans, however, are identical. Carton said it was a “far, far better thing” he did, etc, and so do I: For while last year I attained my  high-water mark in pantomime production with four big resident pantomimes, this year I have six. What this means for the producer I will try to explain.

Throughout 1931 I have been trying to divide myself into a Yorkshireman (which I am) a Northumbrian, A Warwickshire man, and a citizen of Nottinghamshre. To manage this successfully one needs to be something of a protean actor, or a conjuror who keeps six plates spinning at once. In either case I find it means a pretty heavy responsibility for one man, under current conditions.

Although affairs in the country during the past year have not been such to encourage enterprise in theatrical matters, I decided, even before the last pantomime season finished, to carry on as usual, only more so, as far as pantomimes were concerned. I actually commenced work on my six new shows so far back as February last, and have been working on them the whole of this year.

I try to be personally responsible for everything in every department: then, if anything by chance should go wrong, I have only myself to blame. I not only engage all the principals, of which there are nearly a score in each production, also musical directors and stage managers, but every single chorus lady is personally selected by me (I have over 250 in six shows) and of course, every member of my own troupes of Little Sunbeams.

I also superintend, personally, all matters connected with the scenery, properties, staging, lighting, wardrobe, publicity, and a thousand-and-one other incidental matters, which work provides sufficient employment for one person for almost a full year. I say “almost” because during the Summer I produced a twice-nightly super-revue and, at the same time, had two others on tour. These were no sooner launched in mid-summer than I had to get back to my pantomime prelimaries, and my time has been monopolised by my six Christmas shows ever since.

When the initial stages have been got over of selecting the cast, setting the whole of the scenery of each pantomime, during September and October, on the stage of the theatre where it will be produced at Christmas (and this work usually takes a full week for each pantomime) ordering costumes, etc, we come to the important period of rehearsals.

One who has to keep in touch with rehearsals in six cities, simultaneously, must be in good form physically, keep his nerves steady and refuse to have his temper ruffled, whatever worries may arise. It means practically living in trains and cars during the period of rehearsals, but the time is not wasted. I am able to occupy myself, when travelling, by dealing with a mass of details which would otherwise have to be dealt with subsequently in my office. One gets used to economising time.

My Christmas, as you can easily understand, will differ very much from the orthodox Christmas of the Pantomime Annual reader. While he or she is mainly occupied in the preparation and absorption of the Christmas turkey, I will be dancing around the North and Midlands with a note-book watching the opening antics of “Humpty Dumpty” at Bradford, “Mother Goose” at Birmingham, “Dick Whittington” at Leeds, “Cinderella” at Newcastle, “Babes In The Wood” at Nottingham and “Aladdin” at Sheffield: making little alterations, cutting down or adding to where necessary, smoothing over any rough edges, until I have the whole half-dozen running smoothly to my satisfaction.

Then I will probably settle down to my Christmas dinner somewhere about the middle of January.

The old cry that pantomime is dying, though not as persistent as it was a few years ago, still recurs occasionally. I don’t believe it. At any rate, not in the Midlands and the North of England. Pantomime will live as long as the real spirit of pantomime is retained in the production, and so long as the element of revue is excluded from it.

When I hear people arguing that Pantomime is out of date, I ask them this question: “What would you substitute for it, as a Christmas entertainment for millions of Pantomime lovers?”

The spirit of pantomime is the spirit of Christmas, and, as no other form of entertainment embodies this spirit to the same extent, I cannot see anything likely to bring about the deposition of good old King Pantomime.

Francis Laidler “The Pantomime Annual” 1931

This page was last updated 17th February 2006

Free JavaScripts provided by The JavaScript Source