MEMBERS and guests of The Arts Society Falmouth were entertained by  a lecture at the Princess Pavilion on the history and development of British pantomime.

It was given by Ian Gledhill, a former engineer turned theatre director, set designer and actor. 

The origins of pantomime go back to the 16th century and are based on commedia dell’arte and the characters of Harlequin and Columbine, and later Pierrot. 

All forms of public entertainment were banned in England during the years of Cromwell’s Republic, but when Charles II ascended to the throne, theatres flourished and harlequinade became very popular. 

As the English audience didn’t understand the Italian and French of the first strolling players but were enthusiastic about the comedy aspect, much of the early performances was in mime, leading to the art form becoming known as pantomime. 

Encouraged by actor/managers John Rich and David Garrick, short harlequinade acts were usually staged following a programme of drama or tragedy, in order to send the audience home in a lighthearted mood. 

In the 18th century pantomime came into its own, made popular by the clown Joseph Grimaldi, who often performed in three different plays in one day.  

Later the themes that we are familiar with today – amongst them the stories of Cinderella, Mother Goose, Jack and the Beanstalk – developed, with their traditions of crossdressing, bawdy jokes and audience interaction being central to the performances. 

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