And so Cinderella reached the British stage. The following is taken, with a few additions, from a website called The Magic of Pantomime, which is a mine of information about the history of the genre.
It was in 1820 that the first real pantomime version of 'Cinderella' opened at Covent Garden in the heart of London. Entitled 'Harlequin and Cinderella, or the little glass slipper' it featured the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi as the Baron's wife in the panto tradition of men playing female roles. That year, in a Perrault importation by way of another country and another culture, Rossini's opera 'La Cenerentola' had premiered in London, introducing the characters of the Baron and the Prince's servant, Dandini."This most peculiarly British art form is alive and kicking because it speaks to our inner child," writes a journalist in The Guardian. So does Perrault.
The character of Buttons emerged from page boys, who were nicknamed 'Buttons' from the close-sewn rows of buttons on their uniforms. The character first appeared in 1860, given the Italian name of 'Buttoni', and underwent many changes of name from Chips, Alfonso, and Pedro, before settling down as the Baron's trusty servant, Buttons.
The 1860 production at the Strand Theatre, also in London, developed the characters of the Ugly Sisters. As in Rossini's opera, the first character names for them were Clorinda and Thisbe, and their names have constantly changed to accommodate the fashions of passing times. Other names include Buttercup and Daisy, Euthanasia and Asphyxia, Alexia and Krystle, right up to the Spice Girls – Posh and Scary.
During the 19th Century, over 90 productions of 'Cinderella' were staged. Then as now, was recognised that it attracts larger audiences than any other. In 1958 the Rogers and Hammerstein 'Cinderella' was staged at the London Coliseum as a pantomime with Yana as Cinderella, Tommy Steele as Buttons, Jimmy Edwards as the Baron, and Kenneth Williams and Ted Durante as the Ugly Sisters. Household names to British people of my generation.
Popular trends have dictated that the Prince, usually called Prince Charming and his valet, Dandini, were played originally by women, but in recent times more by men. Among the famous female Princes have been Dorothy Ward, Evelyn Laye and Pat Kirkwood.
Nigel Ellacott. Cinderella. www.its-behind-you.com: the Magic of Pantomime. http://www.its-behind-you.com/cinders.html.
Lyn Gardner. We're still behind you! Why we'll never grow too old for pantomimes. The Guardian newspaper, electronic edition. December 23, 2010.
Poster for pantomime Cinderella at The Wimbledon Theatre, London, 1924.
And with that...
To one and all, whatever your language(s),
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!