Pantomimes - More or Less Over 90 Years?

by Vivyan Ellacott

It's always been known that Pantomime provides a 'lifeline' to many local theatres, and that profits from the panto season contribute a great deal towards maintaining live theatre through the rest of the year.   The cynical have always been ready to point out that 'panto isn't what it used to be'  and they are right!  Pantomime as an industry, a business, an art form and a contributor to the overall theatrical scene is almost TWICE as important today as it used to be.

I was reading an old article from 1920, praising the fact that, now the War was over, things were getting back to normal, and the pantomime season was bigger than ever.  More and more performers were in work, and the largest number of productions for many years was currently being performed.  The article pointed out there were 20 pantomimes being staged in London and the suburbs, and 103 in provincial theatres up and down the country.  A small number of these were touring pantos, and, after a few weeks run in their opening venue, would then go on to play weeks, and even half-weeks in even more venues up and down the country.

That set me wondering how that compares with today  and thanks to the its-behind-you performance diary I made a fascinating discovery:  in 2012 there were 20 pantomimes being staged in London and what are now called the Outer Boroughs (not the suburbs any more!), and an astonishing 187 in what are now called the Regions (they are no longer 'provincial' theatres!)

So, ninety-two years later, panto business has grown enormously with 84 more productions being staffed over the Christmas period (not counting the touring ones!)

The Figures:

1919:         Total Number of Pantos:                     123

                        Number of subjects:                           22

2012:        Total Number of Pantos:                     207

                        Number of subjects:                         19


Top Favourites 1919:

Cinderella                    20

Babes in the Wood     16

Dick Whittington        15

Aladdin                       13

Red Riding Hood       10

 Robinson Crusoe         7

Jack & Beanstalk        5

Jack & Jill                    5

Goody Two Shoes      5

Mother Goose             5

Sinbad                         5

Humpty Dumpty         3

Forty Thieves              2

Sleeping Beauty          2

Top Favourites 2012:

 Cinderella                    44

 Aladdin                       31

 Snow White                25

 Jack & Beanstalk        23

 Peter Pan                     22

 Sleeping Beauty          21

 Dick Whittington        13

 Beauty & the Beast     6

 Mother Goose             6

 Robin Hood                6

 Wizard of Oz              2

 Pantomimes that have disappeared over the past years:

Babes in the Wood

Red Riding Hood

Jack and Jill

Goody Two Shoes


Humpty Dumpty

Forty Thieves

WHY did some of the favourites disappear?:  Part of the story of 'Babes in the Wood' has been merged into the Robin Hood pantomime, and certainly the original tale of murdering two children for their money doesn't sit too happily in today's world. This might also account for the loss of 'Red Riding Hood'  cutting open the wolf to release Granny from his stomach is not exactly child friendly for today's audiences.

'Jack and Jill', 'Goody Two Shoes' and 'Humpty Dumpty' are possibly too lacking in plot to satisfy today's audiences, where the pantomimes are more plot-driven and rely less on outside speciality acts and variety turns to pad out the story.

'Forty Thieves' has presumably disappeared on the grounds of economy ('You four thieves follow me.  You other thirty-six stay in the wings. . .').  'Sinbad' has always been considered unlucky, the 'Scottish Play' of the pantomime world  and again this is probably on the grounds of economy, since all those special effects are very expensive.

Pantomimes that have newly appeared:


Snow White

Peter Pan

Beauty and the Beast

Robin Hood   

Wizard of Oz

WHERE did these new pantomimes come from?:  The interesting thing about most, if not all, the new subjects is that they have all been made into successful films  the majority as Disney films.  Since most of the original stories were in the public domain, it was possible to turn them into pantomimes.  'Beauty and the Beast' has become a favourite subject since the 1991 Disney film, but the copyright extends to such things as costume design, character names, and songs, meaning pantomime scripts for this story have to be carefully adapted to avoid legal problems.

The same applies to 'Snow White' (Disney 1937) , for, although the original fairy-tale is in the public domain, the film's original creations, including the songs and the names of the Seven Dwarves  - Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey  remain in copyright and cannot be used without permission.

'Peter Pan' was an annual Christmas favourite as a play, and only entered the pantomime world when the copyright expired in 2007.   Copyright in 'The Wizard of Oz' story expired in 1956, but any original plotting, characters and music from the film version are still subject to control.  Purists will argue, of course, that these two subjects are not actually pantomimes.  They are Christmas productions, and sometimes lack pantomime essentials like a Dame and a songsheet.

Christmas Pantomimes 1919-1920


(20 Pantomimes, 10 subjects)

Cinderella (5)


Croydon Grand

Drury Lane

King's Hammersmith

Woolwich Artillery


Dick Whittington (4)

Borough, Stratford

Islington Empire




Babes in the Wood  (2)

Penge Empire

Woolwich Hippodrome


Aladdin (2)

Elephant & Castle



Red Riding Hood (2)

Golders Green Hippodrome



Mother Goose (1)

Chelsea Palace


Little Jack Horner (1)

East Ham Palace


Sinbad (1)

Ilford Hippodrome


Goody Two Shoes (1)

Kilburn Empire


Robinson Crusoe (1)



(103 Pantomimes: 22 subjects)


Cinderella (15)

Brighton Grand

Chester Royalty

Eastbourne Devonshire Park

Falkirk Grand

Ferndale New

Glasgow Alhambra

Halifax Grand

Hanley Royal

Newcastle upon Tyne Hippodrome

Oldham Grand

Plymouth Grand

Rawtenstall Palace

Sheffield Royal

Southport Opera House

Windsor Royal and Opera House


Babes in the Wood (14)

Birmingham Palace

Blackburn Prince's

Bradford Prince's

Cardiff New

Edinburgh King's

Edinburgh Garrick

Hyde Hippodrome

Leigh Royal

Macclesfield Royal & Opera House

Manchester Queen's Park Hippodrome

Nottingham Grand

Radcliffe New Palace

Sheffield Empire

West Stanley Royal


Dick Whittington (11)

Birmingham Royal

Bristol Royal

Coventry Opera House

Great Malvern Assembly Rooms

Huddersfield Royal                                                            

Lancaster Grand

Liverpool Lyric

Luton Grand

Southsea Pier Pavilion

Walsall Her Majesty's

Westcliff on Sea New Palace







Aladdin (11)

Bedford Royal County

Bilston Hippodrome

Derby Hippodrome

Dudley Opera House

Exeter Royal

Folkestone Leas Pavilion

Leeds Royal

Manchester Palace

Nelson Grand

Newport Mon Lyceum

Plymouth Royal

Little Red Riding Hood (8)

Birmingham Alexandra

Cannock Hippodrome

Darlington Royal

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Nottingham Royal

Oxford New

Ramsgate Palace

Southport Pier Pavilion


Robinson Crusoe (6)

Chorley Pavilion

Dewsbury Royal

Dunfermline Grand

Edinburgh Royal

Ilkeston Coliseum

Newcastle upon Tyne Palace

Jack and the Beanstalk (5)

Bootle Metropole

Dublin Queen's

Eastbourne Pier

Liverpool Olympia

Rochdale Hippodrome


Jack and Jill (5)

Bath Royal

Bognor Pier

Glasgow Coliseum

Sheffield Hippodrome

Swindon Empire


Goody Two Shoes (4)

Bishop Auckland Eden

Bradford Royal

Durham Palace

Great Yarmouth Aquarium




Mother Goose (4)

Bristol Prince's

Eccles Crown

Manchester Osborne

Torquay Opera House


Sinbad (4)


Belfast Opera House

Manchester Royal

Northampton Opera House


Humpty Dumpty (3)

Chatham Royal

Liverpool Royal Court

Manchester Junction


Forty Thieves (2)

Brighton Palace Pier

Worthing Royal

The House That Jack Built (2)

Aberdeen His Majesty's

Rochdale Royal


Sleeping Beauty (2)

Middlesbrough Grand Opera House

Portsmouth Royal


Jack the Giant Killer (1)

Buxton Opera House


Little Bo-Peep (1)

Salford Regent


Little Jack Horner (1)

Cheltenham Opera House


Mother Hubbard (1)

Hull Grand


Old King Cole (1)

Dublin Gaiety


Tom Thumb, or the Old Woman

Who Lived in a Shoe (1)

Glasgow Royal


Tom Tom the Piper's Son (1)

Leeds Grand
























This page was last updated 17th October 2013

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