Bath Unconvention Symposium 2011 - Bill Tuck

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'Experiments in the reconstruction of early 18thC English pantomime'


The 'pantomimes' created by John Rich and others in the early part of the 18th century became one of the richest and most prolific theatrical forms of that whole period. They were not at this stage mere 'children's entertainment' - that was a later 19th century development - but were a multimedia entertainment aimed at an adult audience. They included dance, instrumental music and song, along with very elaborate staging effects.

It has been suggested that this extremely popular form of theatre provided one possible source for the origin of the folk plays that emerged in the 18thC. While it is not our purpose to argue here for any direct connection, it might nevertheless be useful to describe some recent attempts at reconstruction of this important but elusive theatrical genre. Beginning in 1998 and over the following decade the Chalemie theatre group created and performed a number of pantomimes based on existing material from the many London stage productions of the early 18thC.

The paper explores the background to John Rich's The Necromancer - or Harlequin Dr Faustus (1723), Perseus & Andromeda (1730), and other pantomimes of this period, together with other sources of information, such as Hogarth's illustrations of Southwark Fair (1733). These provided much of the material for Chalemie's production of Harlequin Dr Faustus and Harlequin Pygmalion that were first performed at the South Bank Centre in January 2002/3 and subsequently toured the UK. The principal mummers characters of classical hero, rescued maiden, implacable foe, quack doctor, battle, resurrection and even a dragon (along with music, songs and dancing) are all to be found in these performances. [Full PDF - 270kB]

About the author

Bill Tuck is a director of theatre company Chalemie and performs in commedia with Barry Grantham's Intentions Commedia Company. He also has considerable experience as a musician in a number of fields. An interest in early music led him to study baroque flute at the Guildhall School of Music in London and then to become involved in the problems of stage production of early music theatre and dance. At the same time he pursued an academic career as research fellow and lecturer in several universities. Since retiring from UCL several years ago he has devoted himself entirely to musical and theatrical interests. He holds a PhD in Mathematics and an OU Diploma in Music.

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