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The Golden Age of Pantomime: Slapstick, Spectacle and Subversion in Victorian England

The Golden Age of Pantomime: Slapstick, Spectacle and Subversion in Victorian England
Jeffrey Richards

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Of all the theatrical genres most prized by the Victorians, pantomime is the only one to have survived continuously into the twenty-first century. It remains as true today as it was in the 1830s, that a visit to the pantomime constitutes the first theatrical experience of most children and now, as then, a successful pantomime season is the key to the financial health of most theatres. Everyone went to the pantomime, from Queen Victoria and the royal family to the humblest of her subjects. It appealed equally to West End and East End, to London and the provinces, to both sexes and all ages. Many Victorian luminaries were devotees of the pantomime, notably among them John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and W.E. Gladstone. In this vivid and evocative account of the Victorian pantomime, Jeffrey Richards examines the potent combination of slapstick, spectacle and subversion that ensured the enduring popularity of the form. The secret of its success, he argues, was its continual evolution.

It acted as an accurate cultural barometer of its times, directly reflecting current attitudes, beliefs and preoccupations, and it kept up a flow of instantly recognisable topical allusions to political rows, fashion fads, technological triumphs, wars and revolutions, and society scandals. Richards assesses throughout the contribution of writers, producers, designers and stars to the success of the pantomime in its golden age. This book is a treat as rich and appetizing as turkey, mince pies and plum pudding.

Author Info

Jeffrey Richards is Professor of Cultural History, Lancaster University. His many publications on theatre history include Sir Henry Irving: A Victorian Actor and His World and John Ruskin and the Victorian Theatre. He is General Editor of Tauris' Cinema and Society Series. He lives in Lancaster, Lancashire.


‘[The Golden Age of Pantomime] is social anthropology at its jolliest, backed up with plentiful contemporary texts... detailed and fascinating.’
Libby Purves, The Times

‘As you get your kids and your parents and maybe your grandparents ready for your visit to the panto this year... you might perhaps wonder how such a gloriously odd phenomenon came about... In The Golden Age of Pantomime, Jeffrey Richards takes a trot around the birth, development and – depending on your point of view – apotheosis or implosion of panto.’
Simon Callow, Guardian

‘scholars of popular drama, and of the age in general, will find plenty to interest them here.’
Jacqueline Banerjee, Times Literary Supplement

‘masterful account of pantomime’s renaissance’
Rhys Griffiths, History Today

'I rejoice at Jeffrey Richards’ achievement: the first thorough and gratifyingly detailed study of London’s pantomimes from the 1820s through to ca. 1900 which quietly blends immaculate scholarship, close analysis, and archival work with entertaining readability.'
David Mayer

'An insightful and passionate study of the pantomime written by one of Britain’s leading cultural historians. Jeffrey Richards is able to bring the Victorian panto back to life, show its vibrancy and popularity, and the extraordinary detail with which it was discussed in the print media. Richards almost made me want to go back in time to witness these spectacles first hand.'
Anselm Heinrich, Head of Theatre Studies, University of Glasgow

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781780762937
Publication Date: 30 Oct 2014
Number of Pages: 304
Height: 228
Width: 155
Illustrations: 16 bw integrated

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