Pantomime at

The Royal Court, Liverpool

Hetty King as Aladdin

Fanny Fields in Aladdin

Howard and Wyndham's - Babes in the Wood

With no televisions and no cinema, Liverpool audiences of the late 19th Century flocked to the theatre. Liverpool possessed no less than 26 theatres and 38 music halls. The main theatres towards the end of the century were the Prince Of Wales in Clayton Square (opened 1861) the Shakespeare Theatre off London Road (opened 1866) and the Royal Court Theatre.

The site of the Royal Court had been a theatre for many years. As Cookes Royal Amphitheatre of Arts, up to 4,000 people would gather to attend plays, operas, concerts and circus. In 1881 as ownership of the theatre changed, it was rebuilt and renamed The Royal Court Theatre. Along with the three other theatres it presented an annual pantomime.

The Victorian pantomime was not only the template for today’s show, but very much a vehicle for music hall stars. Combining a mixture of music hall, comic opera and a large chunk of spectacle, the pantomime appealed to all levels of society. The first Royal Court Pantomime, or “annual” as it was known, was Babes In The Wood. It is not clear whether this was a success or not, but no further pantomime was produced at the Court for fourteen years, until 1895 with the presentation of Dick Whittington.

Three years later, Arthur Lawrence was appointed the theatre manager. Starting with Aladdin, it was Lawrence who put the Royal Court firmly in the centre of the panto map. The biggest music hall stars of the day would appear in the Court’s “annual”. George Robey, Harry Lauder, Little  Tich, the Three Sisters Levey and the Poluski Brothers all helped to make the Royal Court’s pantomime among the most famous in Britain. With the ownership of the theatre passing to Howard & Wyndhams Ltd at the turn of the century, the growth of pantomime blossomed.

Arthur Lawrence quoted in The Liverpudlian, November 1938:

“In 1906, in Aladdin, I had Hetty King and Happy Fanny Fields, together with Malcolm Scott and Harry Tate-some combination. I produced at the Court, in twenty-six years, twenty pantomimes. The 1906 panto was the biggest success. We averaged takings of just under £2,000 a week, and that in a theatre supposed to hold no more than about £275 at full capacity. Our pantomimes would run elsewhere for about five years, so Liverpool was thus a  pantomime manufacturing centre.  

They were all made here- scenery, dresses, jokes and music, and all. I may mention, also, that we had a stage unsurpassed for its equipment. Every kind of trap ever known on a stage was in being”

That pantomime Aladdin was repeated, with almost the same cast, at the Adelphi Theatre in London the following year. “A chorus of over 100 Voices” boasted the posters. A magazine was produced in Liverpool solely devoted to pantomimes.

By the 1920’s the death of Music Hall was under way, and the Royal Court panto mirrored its decline. Gone were the stars with their own personal songs to be replaced by “free” songs that anyone could sing. The Royal Court panto ended, replaced each Christmas by musical comedy, or a visit by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

In 1933 the Royal Court Theatre was destroyed by fire. Eventually rebuilt, in the new “Art Deco” style. It reopened in 1938 and its first Panto was Humpty Dumpty, starring Gene Gerrard, Bobbie Comber, the Tiller Girls, and a cast “of Over 80”. The consecutive run of pantomime was not to be, With another World War the  spectacle of pantomime found itself replaced with the comedy The Eric Maschwitz revue, featuring a young Charles Hawtrey (of later Carry On Fame) performing female impersonations. The following year Vivienne Leigh appeared in  The Doctor’s Dilemma.

It was not until 1943, with the arrival of A. Stewart Cruickshank as managing director that pantomime returned, again starting with Babes In The Wood. By the 1960’s television comedians and pop stars became the new stars of panto. In 1956, young heart throb Dickie Valentine took on the role of Aladdin. By the end of the fifties, facing stiff competition and dwindling audiences, the Royal Court Pantomime began a slow lingering death. In the Sixties occasional pantomimes (always Cinderella) were interspersed by Christmas shows by Ken Dodd, Dora Bryan, Frankie Vaughan, the Bachelors and the Black & White Minstrels.

Howard & Wyndham’s financial problems increased, and the Royal Court was offered to the City Council to purchase. They refused. An attempt to open the Court as a Bingo Hall in 1968 was abandoned after eight months. There was no Christmas show after Aladdin in 1975. An attempt to revive panto in 1981 with Snow White was not successful, and pantomimes were no longer performed at the Royal Court.

In 1997 the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool presented Aladdin at the Court. Following on their success at the Neptune the previous year with Sonia in Dick Whittington, they presented Aladdin starring Julie Goodyear as Mrs. Twankey, and Danny McCall as Aladdin. Since then the Royal Court pantomimes have been Cinderella (1998), Babes in The Wood (1999), Aladdin (2000) and Dick Whittington (2001).

We would like to thank Robert Bertram, of the Neptune Theatre for the information, and programme notes from the Neptune Theatre’s Aladdin at the Royal Court.


The Poluskli Brothers

'Happy' Fanny Fields

Hetty King

Neptune Theatre production of Aladdin at the Royal Court


List of Pantomimes at The Royal Court

1881 The Babes in the Wood
1895 Dick Whittington
1896 Cinderella
1897 Robinson Crusoe
1898 Aladdin
1899 Babes in the Wood
1900 The Forty Thieves
1901 Oberine
1902 Santa Claus, Junior
1903 The Scarlet Goblin
1904 Dick Whittington
1905 The Queen of Hearts
1906 Aladdin
1907 Cinderella
1908 Humpty Dumpty
1909 Red Riding Hood
1910 The Forty Thieves
1911 Puss in Boots
1912 Tommy Tucker
1913 The House That Jack Built
1915 Sinbad The Sailor
1916 Babes in the Wood
1917 Red Riding Hood
1918 Cinderella
1919 Humpty Dumpty
1920 Robinson Crusoe

Humpty Dumpty

produced by Emile Littler for Howard & Wyndham Ltd


Gene Gerrard, Bobbie Comber, Betty Baldwin, Anne Bolt, Ernest Arnley, Morelle and Melville, Betty Barker, Six Resua Sisters

1939 Goody Two Shoes

produced by Emile Littler for Howard & Wyndham Ltd

Kitty Reidy, Eddie Gray, Jack Stanford, Betty Jumel, Henry Lytton, Gwyneth Lascelles, Hartman Brothers


Babes in the Wood

produced by Charles Ross for Howard & Wyndham Ltd

under the personal direction of A. Stewart Cruikshank


Dave Willis, Ann Drummond-Grant, Rubina Gilchrist, David Dale, Douglas Herald, Kathleen West, Cleef and Moroney, Robinson Twins, Nancy Gabrielle, Paul Stanton, Christine Spencer, Betty Norton, Les Trois Matas

1944 Cinderella

produced by John Roker for Howard & Wyndham Ltd

under the personal direction of A. Stewart Cruikshank


George Clarke, Elizabeth French, Anna Chadwick, Ed Morelle, Triss Henderson, Yale Brothers, Rita Bernard, Lena Brown, Nancy Gabrielle, Mavis Ray, Edna Squire-Brown
1945 Goldilocks and the Three Bears

produced by John Roker for Howard & Wyndham Ltd

under the personal direction of A. Stewart Cruikshank


Dave Morris, May Devitt, Billy Smith, Betty Shaw, Geo and Jack D'Ormonde, Eddie Henderson, Josef Locke, Kathryn Frances, Syd Stuart
1946 Goody Two Shoes

produced by Edward Royce for Howard & Wyndham Ltd

under the personal direction of A. Stewart Cruikshank


Dave Morris, Nancy Brown, Carol Decy, Mickie Renton, Davies and Ross, Billy Smith, Betty Dayne, Wyn Gifford, Four Nemac, Sheila De Haan, Jack Chugg, Syd Stuart, Fred Fredericks, Sonya Hana
1947 Jack and the Beanstalk

produced by Freddie Carpenter for Howard & Wyndham Ltd

under the personal direction of A. Stewart Cruikshank


Dave Willis, Claudia Hill, Betty Shaw, Eddie Leslie, Hackford & Doyle, Jass and Jessie, Jimmy Plant, Joan Mann, Joan Lovelace, Doreen Richards, Roy Purcell
1948 Mother Goose
1949 Sleeping Beauty
1950 Goody Two Shoes
1951 Cinderella
1952 Queen of Hearts
1953 Robinson Crusoe
1954 Puss in Boots
1955 Babes in the Wood
1956 Aladdin
1957 Goldilocks
1958 Cinderella
1963 Cinderella
1971 Cinderella
1972 Peter Pan
1975 Aladdin
1981 Snow White
1997 Aladdin (Neptune Theatre Production)
1998 Cinderella
1999 Babes in the Wood
2000 Aladdin
2001 Dick Whittington

Mickey Starke, Danny McCall, Herbert of Liverpool, Roger Phillips, Darren Middleton, Claire Flynn, Zara Pierce, Sylvie Gatrill, Chantelle Joseph and Mickey Finn

2002 Cinderella

Craig Phillips, Peter Price, Mikey Finn, Chrissy Rock, Richard de Vere, Marc Lawlor, Leanne Campbell, Simon Armstrong

2003 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Leanne Campbell, Louis Hurst, Suzanne Collins, Roy Brandon, Peter Price, Maz Rubin, Darren Middleton


Jack and the Beanstalk

directed by Jane Brown

choreography by Beverley Norris Edmunds

musical direction by Ian Rowlands


Pete Price, Kris Mochrie, Richard De Vere, Chantelle Joseph, Roy Brandon, Mickey Finn, Marc Lawlor, Schnorbitz the Dog

2006 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

produced and directed by Jane Joseph

Christina Baily, Chris Perry Metcalfe, Herbert of Liverpool, John Bishop, Chris Cairns, Chantelle Joseph


This page was last updated 29th July 2010

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