A Christmas card from 1870

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Evidently, pantomimes did not just happen. Hundreds of people were involved in the preparations (actors, costume designers, stage technicians, casting, etc.), propagation of the news and other such activities now catalogued as PR. Fairies would not put their wings by the slap of Harlequin’s wand. It is actually “rubbing the gilt off our gingerbread with a vengeance” (issue 784, 25 Dec. 1875). Just imagine you are a Victorian child and have already celebrated Christmas with your family, perhaps Father Christmas or his friends even brought you presents. You are anxiously waiting for the Pantomime. What if you could sneak in the theatres – on Christmas Day, let’s say – what would you see?

The PIP illustration-reporter, this time Mr. Friston with his “cunning pencil” (issue 784, 25 Dec. 1875), always on the job, and always on the right place took a sneak preview at a pantomime dress rehearsal at the Theatre Royal Dazzle (fig. ). Seemingly, the whole pre-performance period is quite an anxious one, especially for all the cast and crew, now busy with the final retouches:

It is clearly an anxious time for all – anxious for the Queen Fairy (Miss Sugarplum) and her attendant sylphs, though they do take matters so coolly; anxious for Billy Button, engaged from the provinces and desirous to make a hit as Prince Folderol; anxious for the young scene painter waiting to see whether the drop-scene on which he has lavished all his skill will make his fame; anxious for clown and pantaloon, harlequin and columbine; anxious for the unobtrusive author; anxious, very anxious, for the stage-manager; most anxious of all for the lessee, who has risked his thousands of the venture, sparing no expense, no pains to make his pantomime worthy a triumphant success. Action is moderate: airs and graces are reserved for Boxing Night. Dialogue is mumbled. Mr. Prompter only requires them to be word-perfect in their parts.

[…]When the clown rushes on with a quiet “Here we are again!” and there is only dead silence to greet the facetious one, your Playgoer finds it is high time to be going, for it would never do to detract from the novelty of the “comic business” by describing, however briefly, the deliberate rehearsal of those practical and apparently impromptu jokes which are to set the house in a roar next Monday night. (issue 784, 25 Dec. 1875)

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