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A History of Pantomime by R. J. Broadbent

Which began introducing Pantomimes and ballets


In

the last century, Pantomimes, in the form so dear to our forefathers, sometimes twice yearly--at Easter and Christmas--were given. The comic and other scenes were in that true sense of the word humorous and funny. The reason was not far to seek, as they were all played by _actors_. The music-hall had not, as far as Pantomime was concerned, made such inroads as at the present time it has done into the dramatic profession. Clown, to _pater_ and _materfamilias_, and others, was a source of genuine enjoyment; and though they may have passed the sere and yellow leaf of age, the laughs and hearty merriment of their grand-children gathered around them made them think of other days, when they were young themselves. Picture them all, dear reader, sitting in the Family Circle--now termed the Dress Circle--a happy party with smiling and contented faces, laughing at some _genuine acting_--Pantomime though it be--no _double entendre_ songs, and nothing to be ashamed of.

To the young a visit to the Pantomime was invariably a yearly occurrence to be joyfully remembered till the next Boxing Day came round again. Do they, or can they, understand Pantomime in its present form? I very much doubt it.

When towards the close of the 'fifties, and the double plot was abandoned, the character of Harlequin began to be played by women, the origin of what is now known as the "principal boy," and some acrobatic turns, or other speciality

business, began to be introduced during the course of the Pantomime, which greatly discounted the efforts of Harlequin and Clown.

Another competitor that took up the running to the abolition of Clown and his companions, was the music-hall, which began introducing Pantomimes and ballets. The first to do this, some years ago, was the Canterbury, other halls soon following suit.

The managers of the theatres took up arms, with the result that various decisions, chiefly averse to the music-halls, were obtained. A decision of the Court of Common Pleas left the music-halls in a position to give ballets with costume and scenic effects without any such control or precautions as was exercised in theatres under the Lord Chamberlain's authority. The duration of the litigation was all owing to the vague definition "Stageplays in the 6 and 7 Vict. c. 68," and of "Music, dancing and public entertainments in the Act 25, Geo. II., c. 30."

Of present-day Pantomime, with the immense sums spent annually on its gorgeous spectacular display and costly dresses, there is no necessity for me here to dilate upon, as it is a subject that is well known to us all. All that is beautiful about it is due principally to the scenic artists and the costumiers. The best parts are, as a general rule, allotted to music-hall "stars," whose names will draw the most money. And the followers of Thespis have, until the reign of King Pantomime is over, to take oftentimes second-class places in the Pantomimic form of entertainment of the present day.

In the old days everyone looked forward to the performances of Clown and his companions; but little by little their business went, until finally this has dwindled down to about one or two scenes--which, in some few instances is still retained.

And now to formally "ring down," and in writing the "tag," there is, I may say, with the sound of the prompter's bell, a melancholy ring as the passing knell of Clown and his merry companions, and the "tag," as it were, their epitaph.

Pantomimes--as our forefathers knew them--have become a thing of the past, and the survivors, Clown and his comrades, the former whose quips and quiddities, in childhood's happy days, many of us still lovingly remember; the wonderment with which we gazed at the magical tricks wrought by Harlequin and his wand; the quaint conceits and ambling gait of Pantaloon; and, last but not least, bewitching Columbine, with whom, most likely as each year came round, in youthful ardour we fell anew in love's toils, are all rapidly vanishing into the dim and distant past, and to live in the future only in the memory.

CURTAIN.

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