A Cultural history of English Pantomime, c. 1820-1910

Pantomime was one of the most popular, enduring and influential theatrical forms in Victorian England. It is a given of our national cultural life and has been part of the experience of virtually every generation of English people since the Industrial Revolution. However, it remains almost entirely unanalysed and unstudied in a scholarly context. This neglect is almost certainly due to the widely held misapprehension that the pantomime is essentially lightweight and frivolous.
  • Details of symposium, 'Politics, Performance and Popular Culture' (University of Birmingham, 19-20 April), here.
  • Details of conference, 'Race, Nation and Empire on the Victorian Popular Stage' (The Storey, Lancaster, 11-14 July 2012), here.
‘Pantomime  Pudding’, Illustrated London News, 23 December 1893
Our project, however, seeks to investigate a series of substantial and significant research questions.
  1. To what extent did pantomime dramatise and highlight contemporary political, social, and cultural issues and events (for example, imperial wars, colonial politics, political disputes, Cabinet politics, crime, and trade). This will include the extent of the influence of pantomime in the colonies, particularly Australia.
  2. The extent to which, given theatrical censorship by the Lord Chamberlain's Office, it was possible for pantomime to offer a subversive take on topics otherwise proscribed in ‘legitimate’ theatre.
  3. The depiction of, and changing attitudes towards, masculinity, femininity and gender relations, involving such pantomime institutions as the male dame, and the female principal boy.
  4. Regional differences: to what extent did provincial pantomime emulate the metropolitan pantomime and to what extent was it largely local in its appeal and reference points?
  5. Class differences: to what extent did West End and East End pantomimes diverge in content, character, subject, and appeal? How did pantomime construct and perform class?
  6. What can pantomime tell us about theatre audiences in the Victorian period?
  7. What is the place of pantomime in Victorian visual culture, and Victorian history of music and dance?
  8. How and why did the structure and nature of pantomime change during the Victorian age?
  9. The role of pantomime in the Victorian childhood experience and the participation of chid performers in Victorian pantomime.

This project will undertake a wide-ranging study of Victorian pantomime in England, looking at pantomime as a rich vein of cultural history and topical commentary about British society and politics in the Victorian period.