While the Palladium has a history of hosting the stars and being famous for variety it is not London’s historical home for pantomime. If you take a trip to Covent Garden and walk towards the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, you will see a drinking fountain on the corner of the street with a bust of a gentleman looking out from the wall of the theatre he once ran.
The man in question is the impresario, Augustus Harris. Harris, known as the Father of Pantomime produced extravaganzas, the likes of which have not been seen on the London stage since.
He had a head for business and employed the most popular performers of the day, many of them musical hall stars, and created pantomimes that would run for 4 to 6 months and last up between 3 and 5 hours. There would be dramatic scenic effects, animals, acrobats, water and stunning scenery all to accompany the brilliantly crafted tale Harris had penned.
Using traditional tales, much in the way we do today, Harris produced such pantomimes as Beauty and the Beast, Dick Whittington, Humpty Dumpty. Not only did the work undertaken by Harris pave the way for the Christmas tradition of Pantomime still going strong today, but his work at the Theatre Royal also helped to lay the foundations for what became the musical, integrating song and dance into a story line became the blue print for the musicals of the 1910s and 1920s before later being refined by Rogers and Hammerstein in the 1940s.
We owe a lot to Augustus Harris. He was a pioneer, a businessman and an artist. A visionary of the theatre whose work still has an impact today. So when you are sitting down at the Palladium this Christmas tucking into your half time ice cream, remember you wouldn’t be there without the work of Harris, almost 130 years ago. It’s not so much of a case of ‘He’s behind you’, but his work is very much in front of you.
Cinderella runs at the London Palladium from December 9th to January 15th