The tale of “Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp” originates as one story in the epic “1001 Nights” or “Arabian Nights”.
This collection of stories was first recorded in the 9th Century, with tales brought together from China, India, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and places in the East. In 942 AD the collection contained only 264 stories. It is believed that others, including “Aladdin” were added later during European translations in the 18th Century, when the number increased.
Originally these tales were supposed to be the stories told by Scheherazade to her husband, the King. The King, set on revenge after his first wife was unfaithful to him, decided to marry each day, and execute his wife the next morning. Not surprisingly the wives were in short supply, and it became the turn of the Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade.
Scheherazade hit on a plan to remain alive for as long as possible, and each night would tell her husband a thrilling story, promising to complete it the following day. Eventually, after 1001 nights of entertaining stories the King abandoned his cruel plot, and Scheherazade was saved.
The Three Wishes
The legend of someone being granted three magical wishes dates back to the 3rd Century AD. “The Book of Sindibad” in the 9th Century AD is in part the framework of the “Arabian Nights”, in which the tale of “Aladdin” appears.
FOR THE ORIGINAL STORY OF ALADDIN FROM “THE ARABIAN NIGHTS” CLICK ON THE LAMP BELOW
ALADDIN - THE PANTOMIME
Aladdin began it’s existence as a pantomime at Covent Garden in 1788, but not in a form that we would easily recognise today. The Harlequinade characters were unnamed with the exception of one- “Aladdin’s Mother”. It ran for two hours and ten minutes, and was not received kindly by the critics! A Mrs Davenett played “Aladin’s Mother” while the rest of the cast were called by their usual names of Harlequin, Pantaloon, Pierrot, Undertaker and so on.
In 1810 a “new dramatic spectacle called Alladin” was performed in Norwich, but again this was too early for a recognisable pantomime format- as was the romance “Aladdin and the wonderful lamp” performed at Covent Garden in 1813, revived again in 1826.
The Royal Amphitheatre presented “a gorgeous Melo-Dramatic Tale of Enchantment-Aladdin” in 1830 and in 1833, performed almost entirely on horseback, which included a mock Tiger hunt! Definitely not our version of a pantomime. For that time has to pass- in 1844 there were three productions in London, and in 1856 at the Princess Theatre Aladdin’s mother was played by “Paulo”- who afterwards transformed into the familiar harlequinade character “Pantaloon”. Aladdin was played by a man, so was “Badroulbadour”- presumably his Princess, and rather confusing even for the time!
Drury Lane 1885 - Click to Enlarge
Finally, the Pantomime true origin happened when the great pantomime author Henry J.Byron wrote his burlesque “Aladdin, or The Wonderful Scamp” performed at the Strand Theatre during April 1861. From this version all the modern “Aladdins” are descended.
In this production of 1861 the part of TWANKAY was created by Mr James Rogers, who had recently finished playing “Ugly Sister” Clorinda for Byron in his “Cinderella”. The part, as we know actually went back to that early production in 1788, and the name goes back to 1861. Apart from characters named in “Robinson Crusoe”, Aladdin’s mother has the oldest pedigree in the history of pantomime.
Click to enlarge
ALADDIN - THE PANTOMIME TODAY
Aladdin is one of the most opulent and spectacular pantomimes to be seen. Costume and scenic designers can run riot with rich colours, spectacle and scenic transformations. Almost every production will have a “speciality Act” or similar lined up in the form of a Magic Carpet- for a great many years the Black Light speciality of "Emerson & Jayne” performed in pantomimes with their magical act that included a mysterious actual “Flying Carpet” that seemed to defy gravity. Also acts like "Wilson, Keppel & Betty" in their Sand Dance speciality 'Cleopatra's Nightmare'.
Emerson & Jayne - Wilson, Keppel & Betty
The central characters of Aladdin have survived into the 21st Century- some have adapted- these days you might find an Aladdin but no Wishee-Washy for example- as a “star” vehicle the part of Aladdin might be written to incorporate the comedy elements that a Wishee might have, in others you might find an Empress in place of an Emperor, one Chief of Police instead of a set of Chinese Policemen, in others a Vizier but no So-Shy, and visa versa. The combinations are many.
The Pantomime version of Aladdin would traditionally begin with a prologue- deep in the lair of Abanazar, possibly in Egypt- here Abanazar is likely to summon the spirit of the ring (or Genie of the Ring) who will reveal that, in far off China lives a boy called Aladdin. Only he can provide the Magician with the magic lamp. The scene would traditionally end with Abanazar commanding the slave to transport him to China.
THE OPENING SCENE: The Market Place in Old Peking (or Pekin)
For many years Cole Porter’s song “Come to The Supermarket In Old Peking” has proved to be the most popular opening number for this pantomime. Villagers in brightly coloured “Chinese” costumes, rickshaws perhaps, and a sign somewhere on the cloth leading to “Widow Twankey’s Laundry”- perhaps to be found in “The Street of A Thousand Scrubbers”!
The songs might now be updated, but the villagers will still be introduced to the Chinese Policemen (or Chief Of Police), meet Aladdin, who will have an opening song with the chorus- unless of course he or she “fronted” the opening number, and Wishee Washee would be introduced and ensure that the audience is all part of “Wishee’s Gang”.
Widow Twankey would make her entrance- often in a vehicle such as a rickshaw, or a bicycle- depending on how elaborate the costume is, and the scene would be set for the Royal Entrance.
At some point in the opening scene a Vizier would announce the imminent arrival of the Princess- Jasmine, or Balrubadour, as she might be called, and inform onlookers that the Emperor/Empress has decreed that anyone caught gazing upon the Princess would face execution “By pain of Death!”
In some versions Aladdin will defy the decree, gaze upon the Principal Girl, and fall madly in love. In another version this scene might be held back for a following scene set in the Palace Gardens.
Often, towards the end of this scene Abanazar will re-appear, possibly with his slave of the ring, and Aladdin will be pointed out to him. In some pantomimes by the end of the opening scene Aladdin has been captured by guards, and is about to be executed for gazing at the Princess. It is then that Abanazar will freeze the assembled throng, by casting a spell, and spirit Aladdin away to safety.
A STREET IN PEKING:
Following every major scene there must be a front cloth to enable the set to be changed, and for chorus to change costumes. This scene might well be a comedy scene, possibly involving Twankey and Wishee, and it may include a brief plot whereby Abanazar explains to Aladdin that he is, in fact his “Long Lost Uncle Abanazar!” and request directions to the home of Widow Twankey.
THE PALACE GARDENS:
In some versions the action will switch to the Palace of the Emperor, often in the Imperial Gardens. Here there is scope for a song by the Princess, surrounded by her chorus of handmaidens, with Chinese parasols, fans and often very Japanese style kimonos- Pantomime has often taken “artistic License” wherever costume is concerned! In some pantomimes this will include a scene/love duet between Aladdin and the Princess, so that they can fall in love, and face the wrath of the Emperor thereafter. Chinese Policemen might be involved in this scene to chase Aladdin away.
Depending on the scenery, there might follow another “front cloth” scene, or in some cases the action would now be in the home of Widow Twankey.
WIDOW TWANKEY’S LAUNDRY:
As a rule, if the laundry appears in Act One, generally the “whole” laundry set would not be set onstage. That would rob the opening of Act Two later on of its special appeal. In this scene- whether in the laundry, or even in the street, Widow Twankey is introduced to her “Long Lost Brother-In-Law”, Uncle Abanazar. The Dame will never quite catch his name, and will constantly refer to him as “’Ave A Banana”, or “Abbey National” much to his annoyance!
During this scene, Twankey would traditionally flirt with Abanazar, and become putty in his hands- usually only after the sight of gold proffered from his purse. She can be a little suspicious of this distant and unheard-of relative, but generally a gold coin or two will refresh her memory. Abanazar explains that he wishes to take her son Aladdin beyond the City walls, and that he will be returned by nightfall. The boy (and of course, his Mother) will be richly rewarded for this “simple Task”. Twankey agrees, and often Aladdin exits in the hope of a farewell scene with his love the Princess.
OUTSIDE THE CAVE: A Ravine In The Mountains
This front cloth scene covers a flurry of backstage activity. The entire crew and chorus are now preparing for the largest and most lavish scene in the pantomime. The Genii has by now donned his costume, and is standing by. In some theatres he will have descended to the bowels of the earth to stand on a trap door, ready to appear. In theatres without a “trap” a special mobile one might have been installed in the Orchestra pit- a “Pit Lift” in fact. In another venue the Genie might be preparing to trampoline on to the stage from the wings, or in another he will be “pre-set” behind a large rock!
Outside the Cave involves Aladdin complaining to Abanazar about their long journey. He can often be accused of being “a Whinger” at this point, as he has to become truculent and cheeky for the sake of the plot. Abanazar will point out the “mouth of the cave”- often a section of a cloth or flat that has a sliding panel behind it, painted as a rock. Only the magic words uttered by the magician will open the cave. Generally, Abanazar will forget them, but this does not concern the audience- every child knows the spell to open the cave- “Open Sesame!”.
The “rock” slides back and Aladdin refuses to enter the cave. He might step in, and then quickly step out. Often with the words- “look! A Lad in.. A Lad out!” This almost proves too much for Abanazar who loses his temper, and almost loses the trust of the cheeky Aladdin. He finally reveals that the object he seeks in the cave is an old lamp. Aladdin must fetch the lamp and return immediately.
At this point in the plot the magic ring has to be established. However he receives it, Aladdin must be wearing the ring when he enters the cave. It begins life on Abanazar’s finger. In some panto versions it is given by Abanazar to Aladdin to keep him safe- in other versions it is given to Twankey by Abanazar in lieu of cash, and she gives it to her son. In some versions where the Slave of the Ring has no connection with Abanazar, it has been given to Aladdin by his Princess as a parting gift.
INSIDE THE ENCHANTED CAVE- The Cave of Jewels!
The scene opens inside a gloomy cave. Aladdin calls out to Abanazar that he can’t find the lamp.Abanazar becomes angry, and reveals his unpleasant side. Finally Aladdin stumbles upon the lamp, but is distracted by the jewels that he has discovered. Abanazar rages about the lamp, and Aladdin becomes irritated. “What do you want a silly old lamp for anyway..” Aladdin refuses to bring him the lamp.
In his fury, Abanazar threatens Aladdin, who is now concerned with filling his pockets with the gems. Finally the magician’s patience snaps. “Very well- you can be alone with your pretty jewels- entombed for all eternity!” He casts a spell, and the mouth of the cave is sealed up. This is generally a reverse cloth at the back of the cave with a smaller sliding device. The lights dim. Aladdin is trapped.
The following scene is often where most of the scenic and costume budget for the pantomime is spent! Once Aladdin has rubbed the ring on his finger, and the slave of the ring has appeared, the scene is set for a transformation. This can be done before, or more often after Aladdin discovers (with the help of the audience) that he should rub the lamp.
The Genie of the lamp appears in a flash- with the words “Master! Your wish is my command!” and the cave is transformed from gloom into the cave of jewels. Often at this point the chorus will parade, often dressed as gems- rubies, diamonds, emeralds and sapphires- just as they did in the Victorian pantomimes that specialised in grand spectacle.
The Jewel slaves parade and Aladdin is whisked off, often by the Slave of the Ring while a dance by the jewel slaves and juveniles covers Aladdin’s quick change. It was at this point that pantomimes of previous years would have introduced the “Adagio Act”- a speciality dance performed by the Genie & the Slave of the Ring involving acrobatic and choreographic skill. Mostly that has died out now, and you hardly see the slave being carried aloft by the Genie to the strains of “Stranger in Paradise” or “Scheherazade” while Aladdin is undergoing a rapid change backstage. Pictured left is one such speciality act - 'Praton and Jules'.
Finally the tableaux. Act one of most pantomimes will finish with a tableau- Aladdin would most likely descend the stairs of the cavern, the chorus in fabulous costumes pose at the foot- the Genie and the Slave present- perhaps Aladdin would sing a short number- the jewels light up- perhaps “Currie’s Waterfalls” will be switched on along with dry ice, moving lights- even lasers as the house tabs bounce, reveal, and slowly bring the curtain down on Act One!
WIDOW TWANKEY’S LAUNDRY
Perhaps today the curtain won’t rise to the strains of George Formby’s “Chinese Laundry Blues” and a chorus of tapping laundry helpers- but Act two would traditionally open with a number in Twankey’s Laundry, probably fronted by Wishee-Washee or Twankey.
The scene that follows is as traditional as panto can get- the Laundry Scene. This time the set has additions- Widow Twankey’s very large mangle with giant rollers, a washing machine with a practical opening door, washing lines and laundry paraphernalia , and possibly an iron board and outsized iron.
Sometimes the set itself will have trick doors in it to allow for chase sequences, for this scene is one that owes it’s origins to the old Harlequinade and the Variety sketch. The plot is simple: Twankey has to do the Laundry- “You’ll have to help me Wishee, I’ve got a little behind….” And here the “prop” based comedy begins.
Christopher Biggins and Simon Callow - Aladdin 2005/6
Various routines include using the iron to press the Emperor’s underpants. The iron will be left on the garment, and the audience tries to warn the pair that it is burning. The iron falls through the ironing board, and Twankey might pick up the scorched briefs, peer through the large hole and say “That’ll see him through the week..”
Wishee might well be instructed to fold the sheets. He finds this nigh impossible, and will be told not to let go of his end, while twankey rolls them through the mangle. Wishee follows these instructions to the letter, and ends up going through the mangle. Twankey reverses the handle, and a very flat dummy Wishee slides back . “Ohh! Wishee Washee.. all Squishy Squashy!”
THE MANGLE: Not surprisingly, most children today will have never seen a mangle! For some strange reason it needs no explanation though, and hopefully it will continue to flatten Wishee’s for a long time to come. In one script I wrote I included “Now children, don’t try this at home- those of you that have mangles!”
THE WASHING MACHINE: A favourite routine with the “new Fangled” washing machine has been to involve the Chines Policemen , or the Chief of Police. When Aladdin is being pursued he takes refuge in his Mother’s laundry. Wishee or Twankey would pretend he has concealed himself inside the washing machine. The Policemen climbs in to find him, the door is slammed shut and he is put through the cycle. Behind the machine is a hole for the actor to escape through. He can then be replaced by the smallest juvenile, dressed identically, and lo! When the door is opened The policeman has shrunk!
Sometimes this routine is performed with the same actor in “Shrunken” versions of his own clothing- however, this routine has dwindled in popularity- it does not set a very good example to young minds about the dangers of climbing into discarded washing machines or ‘fridges for example, and is often followed by a very strict warning by Wishee Washee to his “gang”.
During this scene great comedy value is “wrung” out of every possible laundry gag and prop- Aladdin might have appeared, but the main aim is to have a comedy scene after the interval when both principal comics have been off stage throughout the long cave scenes and the interval.
A STREET IN PEKING:
The plot has to be furthered- Aladdin has to tell his Mother he has returned safe and sound. He also has to find the Princess and ask her to marry him, if he hasn’t already done so in Act One! In some versions Twankey will find the lamp, and (just as in the original “Arabian Nights”) discover the Genii. Generally, by the end of this scene Aladdin, Wishee and Twankey are rich beyond their dreams, and Abanazar has discovered Aladdin has the lamp.
In some pantomime versions there is a grand procession, led by Aladdin to visit the Emperor and ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The chorus carry caskets of treasure, and Twankey is revealed wearing fabulous clothes having “gone up in the world”. At the end of this procession Aladdin commands the Genie of the Lamp to build him a magnificent Palace, which is revealed on stage. Aladdin has not revealed the secret of the lamp to his bride-to-be, or to his prospective Father-in-Law.
NEW LAMPS FOR OLD:
The action takes place either in a courtyard of the new Palace, or in the gardens. In some versions the Palace can be seen in the distance as a flown piece of scenery. The cries of “New lamps for old” can be heard off stage, and the Princess sends a servant to bring the rusty old lamp so that she might exchange it for a shiny new one- this deed would impress Aladdin.
Abanazar enters (often in a terrible disguise that fools no-one- especially the audience) and the dialogue is often shortened as the volume of “boo-ing” and Hissing from the audience increases! The Princess hands over the lamp to the peddler who throws off his disguise, reveals himself as Abanazar, and summons the Genie of the lamp who is forced to obey him.
Abanazar commands that the Palace, and everyone in it be transported to Egypt (or on some occasions to the moon! But traditionally Egypt) and he and the Princess exit. In some versions we see the palace fly out- often with pyrotechnics and lighting effects, leaving an empty space in its place. In other versions the command is made within the Palace, and the scene fades out. The Palace has vanished.
A STREET IN PEKING, or THE PALACE GARDEN
Aladdin, and the remainder of the company discover the Palace has vanished, and the Princess has been kidnapped by Abanazar. Aladdin vows to find her, and realises he still wears the magic ring. The Slave of the ring is summoned, and she offers to transport him (and often the other Principal characters) to Egypt.
THE FLYING CARPET:
This is the place to put the speciality act- usually a flying carpet device. This effect is usually carried out in Black (U.V) Light, and can incorporate a speciality involving magic, or puppets as the carpet is prepared. Emerson & Jayne performed their “Flying Carpet” illusion for many years at this point in the pantomime. They began with a series of magic tricks, including “The Indian Rope Trick” where Jayne would climb a rope magically rising from a wicker basket, and, upon reaching the top would vanish. The act would finish with a flying carpet that flew not only across the stage, but over the orchestra pit and almost into the front stalls, while they waved at the audience before exiting.
The action now moves to Egypt, or Morocco where Abanazar has transported the Palace. The scene might open with a chorus dance- generally a harem dance, with Abanazar lauding it over the captured Princess. He threatens her with all sorts of calamities if she does not agree to become his wife.
Aladdin enters, and is secretly re-united with the Princess. Often today he will be shortly joined by Wishee, Twankey and on occasion the Police men or Police Chief. The plot of Aladdin is so strong that it is not always easy to insert comedy scenes, and bringing the comics to Egypt allows further scope. Possibly a plot is hatched to distract Abanazar- Twankey will volunteer to perform “The dance of the seven tea towels”, or the comics might perform a sand-dance while Aladdin attempts to retrieve the lamp.
Finally Aladdin has possession of the lamp, Abanazar is thwarted, and the Genii is summoned to return everyone back to China in the Palace. The problem of what to do with Abanazar is often solved by various means- he could be forced to become a scout master, or transformed into a nice man by the Slave of the Lamp. He might be banished to a darkened room for all eternity to watch re-runs of “Big Brother”, or even get married to Widow Twankey! A Fate worse than death!
THE GRAND FINALE:
After the songsheet- traditionally the sing-a-long involving Wishee Washee and often Widow Twankey, the final scene takes place at the Royal Palace. Again, the most lavish scenery and costumes provide a sumptuous “walk-down” for this most magical of pantomimes!
Kings Theatre, Glasgow - Stanley Baxter - Aladdin 1986
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Traditionally the Principal Boy of this Oriental Pantomime is, and always will be called “Aladdin”. Played originally by a woman, the role has been open to men since the London Palladium cast (Sir) Norman Wisdom as “Aladdin” in 1956. Among the famous Principal Boys who have played the part were Cora Goffin, Hetty King, Cilla Black, Bonnie Langford and Barbara Windsor
As mentioned previously the part of “Aladdin’s Mother” was first created in 1788, played by a Mrs. Davnett. The character was again mentioned in 1813 (played by a Mrs Davenport) and in 1826 (played by a Mrs Garrick- no relation to the famous David Garrick).
In 1836 Aladdin’s mother gets a name – she is “The Widow Ching Mustapha”. The widow of a tailor, she does not have a laundry yet. The part was not comical, and she was not the Dame character we know today.
By 1844 “The Widow Mustapha” is “a washerwoman with mangled feelings”, but there was a long time to pass before she became firmly attached to a laundry again. In 1856 she is again running a tailoring business.
When J.H.Byron christened his character “The Widow Twankay”, it would have made people laugh immediately. Twankay was a tea, popular in the 1860’s. This green tea (popular because it was one of the cheaper blends) came from the Chinese province of “TUAN KAY” (or “Tong-Ke” as it is sometimes called). It was the equivalent of calling his character “The Widow Ty-Phoo” or “The Widow Earl Grey” today!
1861 J.H.Byron created the name “Widow Twankay”- she has no laundry still, but takes in “plain sewing”. She remained a “tailoress” throughout the next three decades.- in London that is. In 1885 she has a newspaper shop, and in 1891 she is still a tailoress.
Her name was also not firmly established- productions named her the “Widow Ching”, “Ching Ching” and even “Wee-Ping” (1881 Gaiety & 1885 at Sanger’s Theatre) a few odd exceptions include “Chow-Chow”and “Tay-Kin” for example.
Outside of London Twankay had some success in the laundry- In Leeds in 1871 she has a wash-tub, in Sheffield she is “A Laundress eaten up with care” (1875) in Worcester in 1879 she does “washing, mangling and lodging for single men”- but she returns to London “In the wardrobe and laundry business” at the Grand Islington in 1889.- the same pantomime had “Wishee-Washee”- a family business was emerging!
She is still however “Twankay” not “Twankey” as we now know her!
By the time Dan Leno played “Twankay” at Drury Lane in 1896 the Laundry scene was plainly established.Her name was also beginning to settle- “Twankay” at Hanley (1876) “Twanky” at Glasgow (1881) and Douglas on the Isle of Man had “TWANKEY” in 1871 and again at Sangers in London in 1874, in 1879 and Newcastle in 1885.
Byron’s version of 1861 established the “Dame” character as well as her name- before then the part had been played by women, but her costume was not always what we would expect. In the Victorian pantomime era one might have expected her to be dressed as an “English Char Woman”, but that tradition (now almost vanished in modern times) was broken almost immediately. Dressed in English style for Dan Leno in 1888, the character was dressed in Chinese style when next worn by Dan Leno in 1896, as she was dressed for Wilkie Bard (1909) and Stanley Lupino (1917).
Today we would expect Widow Twankey to be dressed in typical loud and often outrageous costumes, but with a concession to Chinese style- possibly with the enlarged Chinese collars, bobbles and frogging - and certainly we would expect her to have a “Laundry Costume” decorated with washing, washing lines and even soap powder boxes at some point.
Wishee Washee was a late arrival to the pantomime of “Aladdin”. He emerged at the time when the East End of London and other areas began to see Chinese laundries starting up business. By the time “Wishee” came along- around 1889, and again at Drury Lane in 1896, Twankey was established as a laundress, and his character was there to help, or more likely hinder her. He is the Chinese version of Idle Jack, or Simple Simon.
In 1896 the role was played by Dan Leno. The character’s name seemed to sum up his position, and it has not changed- except when “He” becomes “Them!” Double act comedians have sometimes played the part calling themselves “Wishee” and “Washee”. Lauri Lupino Lane and George Truzzi often teamed up to play these roles in the 1950’s.
More often these days Wishee Washee is Aladdin’s brother.
As Wishee Washee grew in strength, the part of Abanazar’s Slave “Kasrac” fell out of favour.
Until the release of the Disney film “Aladdin” in 1992, the villain of the piece had retained his name since at least 1813. Along came the film, and suddenly millions of children believe that he is really called Jaffar!
The name Abanazar was used by Farley at Covent Garden when he produced his “Aladdin or the Wonderful Lamp” in April 1813. In the original story he was known only as “The African Magician”. He has had other names, briefly- Abel el Nisir at the Amphitheatre (1830) and Kiradamac at the Charing Cross Theatre (1874) At the Crystal Palace he was Abenazac (1889) and even Hocus Pocus at the Moreton Theatre in 1891. Generally, his name has remained Abanazar, very occasionally “Abanaza”, and, in pantomime his homeland is usually Egypt.
In his book “ Some Pantomime Pedigrees” Clinton-Baddeley points out that Abanazar originally had a slave called “Kasrac”. This part was played by Joseph Grimaldi in 1813, and again in 1826. The part remained in “Aladdin” on and off, and given the name “Kassarak” was to be found in Drury Lane in 1909. However, this part soon vanished into the ether as the more powerful Slaves of the Lamp and the Ring took over. He lived on in Emile Littler’s productions of “Aladdin”, but as “Kazim- Slave of the Lamp”.
Due to the influence of the Disney Film, many children expect the Princess to be called “Jasmine”. In fact, she had been named “Yasmin” forty years before the film was released, and has had many other names in her pantomime career. The most traditional of these would probably be “Princess Balroubadour”-and before that “Princess Badroulbadour” she was called “Balroubadour” when the young Julie Andrews played the part for Emile Littler in 1951. A year later the Princess stole her maid’s name and was “Princess So-Shi” at Stockport, and has also been “Tai-Hee” – overall her traditional name has always been “Balroubadour”.
THE CHINESE POLICEMEN:
The Policemen, and the chase scenes were popular in the old Harlequinade pantomimes. After the introduction of “The Peelers” by Robert Peel in 1829, the police force was often a source of merriment (kept up in Silent Film with “The Keystone Cops” of course- pure Harlequinade chases there!)
The Chief of Police in Drury Lane’s “Aladdin” in 1874 was “Whack-Bang”. There were Chinese Policemen in 1875 at Manchester, at The Crystal Palace, and at Leeds- this time called “Chi-Ike and Bhob-bee” in 1880. In 1885 they could be found called “Kaw-per and Pee-ler”, also “Koppah and Sloppah “ (1889) “Bobbee and Coppee” in 1896. At the Grand, Nottingham the Edwardian Policemen were called “”Chew-Chew, Chop-Chop and Chow-Chow”- in this production the joke on China Tea was taken further than just “Twankay”- The Grand Vizier was named “Lip Tung Tee” (Lipton Tea? ), and the chorus included “Kophdrop” “Loofa” “Souchong”!
More modern pantomimes have given them names such as “Ah Tish” & “Ah Tosh” (Coliseum 1940), “Bend-Hi & Bob-Lo” , “Ping & Pong” (Exeter 1952) – In this production Tiki & Del the speciality act were “Flying Chinese Policemen!”- other names have included “Li-Hi & Li Lo”, (1945 Hammersmith), “Coppem & Stoppem” (1941 Stockport), “Tish, Tosh & Tush” “Peke & Nese” (1953 Hackney Empire)
The London Palladium starred (Sir) Cliff Richard as “Aladdin”, in 1964 and the police force (headed by Charlie Cairoli Snr) had” Inspector Bathrobe in charge of P.C. Noodles, P.C.Boodles and Sergeant Pork.”
Cliff’s group “The Shadows” Played “Aladdin’s Friends-Wishee, Washee, Noshee & Poshee”- almost an early “Spice Girls” line up isn’t it?
Cliff Richard was a rare Principal Boy played by a male, and is partly responsible (along with Norman Wisdom earlier) for starting the trend towards having Male actors in those parts. Interestingly the programme I have, bought at a sale, has the following scribbled on the front cover- “11/3/65. Very good in parts. Too much Cliff Richard. Not my idea of a principal boy”
Recently the Policemen find that their roles, like the Broker’s men are in danger of vanishing,and sometimes they are solo on the beat- but when they do appear they have been given names like “Ping, Pong & Wrong” (Shaftesbury), “Hay Yoo”, and I have to take responsibility for “Inspector Typhoo” and“Chief Inspector Li-Li Law” in the Aladdin I wrote for the Kenneth More Theatre!
PRINCE PEKOE:- The Forgotten Prince
Prince Pekoe was christened in the same production as Twankay- the character’s name was created by J.H.Byron for his burlesque “Aladdin or the Wonderful Scamp” in 1861.
Prior to this he had been called “Kalim Azack” since 1813.
The part was a second Principal Boy (most Victorian pantomimes had at least one additional “boy” part) played mainly by a woman, and was the son of the Vizier. His name, like Twankay’s came from a tea- “Pekoe”. With a few exceptions he kept this name throughout his pantomime life, lapsing once or twice when he was called “Tealeaf” (1872 & 1874), “Souchong” (1882 & 1889) and even “Mazawatea” in 1893.
The part of Pekoe has now entirely disappeared from the pantomime “Aladdin” that we see today- he was surviving in the Emile Littler pantomimes of the 1930’s and even in the 1950’s, but is no longer a part of the general plot.
Prince Pekoe played opposite his love interest- a comedy soubrette, who was often Widow Twankey’s Maid, or sometimes the handmaiden to the Princess. Again the authors could have fun with Chinese puns. The part was created by Blanchard in his Drury Lane “Aladdin” of 1885 as “Che-Kee- Twankay’s Maid of All Work”,(played by Miss Nelly Leamar) and had an opposite number “Saw-Cee- Her Maid of No Work!”
Since then she has had many names including “Kissi-Wissi”, “Tcha-Ming”, “Petti-Sing” (taken from “The Mikado Operetta”), Itti-Sing and “So-Shy”.
Again, the part of Twankey’s maid, and Prince Pekoe’s love interest has now vanished from pantomime, but her character lives on, in part whenever there is a companion to the Princess, and then she is often named “So-Shy”.
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ALADDIN 2! - THE FORGOTTEN PLOT
In his book Slapstick and Sausages - The Evolution of British Pantomime, Norman Robbins recalls the “follow-up” to the Aladdin tale from the Arabian Nights, in an early manuscript.
In this “sequel”, Aladdin and the Princess- here named “Badr-al-Budur” were plunged into misery at their failure to have any children. The Princess went in search of a prophetess called Fatima, who might help with her mystic arts. The Prophetess divined that to break the curse, Aladdin must go in search for a Roc’s egg, remove it from the nest and hang it from the crystal dome of their palace. If he does this, then the problem will be solved.
Aladdin rubbed his magic lamp and summoned the slave of the lamp, and commanded him to carry out this difficult task. To his shock, the Slave refused his command, and vowed to kill Aladdin on the spot. Aladdin discovered that the Roc is sacred to all Genii’s, and to suggest such a blasphemy the one who uttered the command must be killed.
Aladdin, cowering in terror explained that this request came not from his lips, but from the Prophetess Fatima. It was revealed to him that the Prophetess was, in fact a man- and the evil brother of the Dervish that Aladdin had slain. Intent on revenge the Brother had created a situation that would lead to Aladdin and his Bride being childless, and indeed believed that Aladdin would be slain by his own Genii.
Armed with this knowledge, Aladdin lured the false Prophetess to his Palace, and removed “her” head, as he had done with the Dervish brother. In doing so, the spell was broken, and the curse lifted. Aladdin and his Princess were soon blessed with “countless” children and lived in harmony and joy.
Aladdin - 1937 Adelphi Theatre, London
Rehearsal footage of Arthur Riscoe as Widow Twankey with Jean Collins, Edwin Styles and Elsie Randolph
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SCENERY / COSTUMES / COLLECTORS CORNER / MISC
Old Vic - Aladdin with Sir Ian McKellen 2005/6
Opens a Promo Video of the Old Vic Production of Aladdin
This page was last updated 21st August 2010