Monthly Archives: December 2018

It’s behind you: Christmas shows at the Northcott Theatre

The tradition of pantomime is hundreds of years old; thought to have originated in the 16th century Italian street theatre tradition of commedia dell’arte before spreading through Europe and gaining popularity in England by the mid 17th century. The 18th century saw the commedia character ‘the Harlequin’ emerge to precedence as the star of the pantomime, along with his wooden slap stick (a wooden bat which produced a loud smacking noise but little force, allowing actors to hit one another without injury). In the 19th century the 1843 Theatres Act lifted the restrictions on using spoken word in performances (previously only allowed in theatres with a royal patent) and allowed Victorian pantomime to flourish. The resulting addition of verbal dialogue, puns, social commentary and audience participation provided a format that would be recognised by many theatre-goers today. The 19th century also saw the gradual replacement of harlequinades with pantomime story lines taken from folk tales, fairy stories and nursery rhymes. Mother Goose is often hailed as the grand old dame of pantomime; with the story dating back to an ancient Greek legend. It first appeared in 1806 as ‘Harlequin and Mother Goose or The Golden Egg’, though bearing little resemblance to the story we know today. It may also be in the running for the most popular pantomime ever; being rumoured to have opened on Boxing Day 1806 and played for 92 consecutive nights! The modern version owes its origin to the 1902 version created for Victorian pantomime’s most famous dame: music hall star Dan Leno, who performed as the Drury Lane Theatre Royal’s pantomime dame for 15 years, from 1888 until his death in 1904.

In recent years the Northcott Theatre’s pantomime has become synonymous with Christmas for many theatregoers in Exeter, resurrecting the strong tradition of pantomime set by it’s predecessor. Exeter’s Theatre Royal often put on several pantomimes a year (the current view of pantomimes as specifically a Christmas show being a relatively recent development); in fact a search of our Theatre Royal playbills collection (EUL MS 202) shows 126 playbills for pantomimes performed between 1893-1953! However, despite this long history, the yearly pantomime is a relatively recent trend for the Northcott, which historically put on a family show or musical each year.

Theatre Royal playbill for Little Red Riding Hood (1900)

Theatre Royal playbill for Sindbad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After opening in 1967, the Northcott Theatre’s christmas show for it’s first two years (with a reprisal in 1975) was ‘Big Noise at Fortissimo’. This eclectic show followed the story of a troop of abandoned toy soldiers reclaiming their fort from the new toys that had taken it over, and was written by the Northcott’s writer-in-residence Bernard Goss and actor Paul Starr. These family friendly productions, part musical, part play, and with pantomime elements, continued with ‘The Adventure’s of Noah’s Ark’ and ‘The Fantastic Fairground’ (also by Bernard Goss) until Artistic Director Tony Church stepped down in 1971 and Jane Howell took the reins.

 

Jane Howell, Artistic Director from 1971-74, is often credited with the introduction of the Christmas musical production. This tradition began in 1971 with ‘Guys and Dolls’ and was continued by subsequent artistic directors. As with many of the Northcott’s early shows these musical productions often contain fun glimpses of famous faces early in their careers. If you look closely at the last two photos of ‘Guys and Dolls’ below you can make out a young Robert Lindsay playing the role of Benny Southstreet.

 

During the late 1970’s and 1980’s fairy tales and children’s stories began to become common choices for Northcott Christmas shows. Many of these shows revolved around the same fairy tales that form the basis for much loved pantomimes and. despite being primarily billed as family shows or musicals, many of these shows embraced some pantomime elements, particularly with regards to staging and illusion. Flying systems, trapdoors, elaborate scene changes and the perilous star trap are all used to contribute to the illusion and suspended reality of pantomimes; far from being a cheap show, pantomimes often have some of the most complicated and costly set design, and the smooth performance of scenes relies on perfect timing by both the actors and stagehands. Many of the stage plans and set designs in the Northcott Theatre Archive show a similar level of intricacy in these Christmas family shows and musicals, with complex sets used to create mystical lands. A quick look at these shows again reveals a number of famous names, with Raymond Briggs (creater of ‘The Snowman’) making his debut as a theatre designer for the Northcott’s production of ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ (1984). Sadly my personal Christmas wishes have failed to come true and the archive has so far failed to reveal a picture of Celia Imrie in what i’m sure would have been a seminal role as ‘The Christmas Pudding desirous of remaining in tact’ in ‘The Adventures of Alice’ (1976).

 

Despite the pantomime elements of the Northcott Christmas shows in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, actual pantomimes were uncommon, with only two shows being billed as such before the 1990’s. The 1978 production of Cinderella has the honour of being the first Northcott pantomime, with all the traditional trappings including a principal boy, pantomime dames, a fabulous transformation scene for the ugly sisters, a real horse pulling a carriage on stage and Imelda Staunton starring as a sugar-wouldn’t-melt Cinderella. Despite a successful run, there would only be two more pantomimes performed at the Northcott in the next 17 years; Aladdin (1981), starring prominent black actor Thomas Baptiste as the Genie, and Sleeping Beauty (1990).

 

In 1991 John Durnin took over as Associate Director for the Northcott and the Christmas shows became firmly routed in fairy stories and folk tales. In 1996 Durnin wrote the book for the Northcott’s pantomime ‘Cinderella’, a success he repeated again the following year for ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’. After his departure in 1998 the new artistic director Ben Crocker, a graduate of the University of Exeter’s Drama Department, carried this on and the yearly tradition of the Northcott Christmas pantomime was born. From 1996-2009 a Christmas pantomime has been put on every year at the Northcott theatre with the books for these years usually having been written by John Durnin, John Crocker or Ben Crocker. A particular style of panto has emerged, helped by the long service of pantomime dame Steve Bennett. A local actor, Bennett has acted in many Northcott productions but began his career as a pantomime dame in the 1996 production of Cinderella, playing the dame each year until 2009, a consecutive run of 14 years, almost as long as famous Victorian pantomime dame Dan Leno.

With the Northcott Theatre being placed into administration in 2010 the yearly pantomime came to an end. It’s last outing, rather ironically, being that grand old dame of pantomime ‘Mother Goose’ (2009). But we end with a happily ever after as after after 6 years of absence the pantomime returned in 2016 with ‘Peter Pan’ under Artistic and Executive Director Paul Jepson, and even Steve Bennett has reprised his role as pantomime dame.

Cue: oh no he didn’t, oh yes he did…….

 

EUL MS 348 – Pantomime programmes from the 2000’s

 

Northcott Christmas Productions from 1967-2009

Run start date

Title

22 Dec 1967 Big Noise at Fortissimo
21 Dec 1968 Big Noise at Fortissimo
29 Dec 1969 The Adventures of Noah’s Ark
23 Dec 1970 The Fantastic Fairground
15 Dec 1971 Guys and Dolls
13 Dec 1972 Old Time Music Hall
20 Dec 1972 John Willy and the Bee People
12 Dec 1973 The Owl and the Pussycat went to see
10 Dec 1975 Big Noise at Fortissimo
18 Dec 1975 My Fair Lady
15 Dec 1976 The Adventures of Alice
22 Dec 1977 Rock Nativity
21 Dec 1978 Cinderella (Pantomime)
21 Dec 1979 Jack and The Beanstalk
19 Dec 1980 Godspell
18 Dec 1981 Aladdin (Pantomime)
16 Dec 1982 Treasure Island
22 Dec 1983 Showboat
20 Dec 1984 Toad of Toad Hall
19 Dec 1985 The Railway Children
17 Dec 1986 Pickwick Papers
16 Dec 1987 The Wizard of Oz
14 Dec 1988 Peter Pan
13 Dec 1989 Alice in Wonderland
12 Dec 1990 Sleeping Beauty (Pantomime)
11 Dec 1991 Merlin’s Dream
9 Dec 1992 Robin of the Wood
7 Dec 1993 The Magical Tales of the Brothers Grimm
14 Dec 1994 Toad of Toad Hall
13 Dec 1995 Peter Pan
4 Dec 1996 Cinderella (Pantomime)
10 Dec 1997 Jack and the Beanstalk (Pantomime)
8 Dec 1998 Dick Whittington (Pantomime)
9 Dec 1999 Aladdin (Pantomime)
14 Dec 2000 Sleeping Beauty (Pantomime)
13 Dec 2001 Cinderella (Pantomime)
12 Dec 2002 Mother Goose (Pantomime)
11 Dec 2003 Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood (Pantomime)
9 Dec 2004 Jack and the Beanstalk (Pantomime)
15 Dec 2005 Dick Whittington (Pantomime)
13 Dec 2006 Aladdin (Pantomime)
12 Dec 2007 Cinderella (Pantomime)
10 Dec 2008 Sleeping Beauty (Pantomime)
3 Dec 2009 Mother Goose (Pantomime)

The Road to Emmaus: the papers of Michael Adams (1920-2005) – EUL MS 241

‘I have never met a journalist who isn’t biased about practically anything and, since they aren’t Daleks, this probably shows through in their copy. The idea that a journalist should be unbiased is a curious one. The best ones are very biased indeed.’

– Terry Pratchett, reviewing Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) by Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew MP in The Bath and West Evening Chronicle, 30 August 1975. (EUL MS 241/5/2)

Michael Adams’ career as a journalist spanned almost six decades, during which he established a reputation not only as an expert on the Middle East but also a passionate campaigner on behalf of the Palestinian people living in the Israeli-occupied territories. He was well aware of the potential conflict between these two aspects of his work and his papers offer valuable insights into the internal and external workings of the media. How does a journalist balance personal beliefs against the need to present an equivocal view of events for his audience? How do newspapers and broadcasters balance their desire for editorial independence with their reliance on financial sponsorship and advertisers with their own agendas and vested interests? How can we learn to navigate the complex relationship between media representation, human experience and political reality?

These are issues with which Adams had to wrestle over many years, and which cost him a great deal of personal pain and sacrifice. Like many critics of Israeli policy, he was accused of anti-Semitism and became embroiled in an unpleasant lawsuit trying to defend himself. During a period when sympathy in the UK lay almost entirely in favour with Israel and in opposition to its Arab neighbours, Adam’s reporting upset many and strained his relationship with his editor at The Guardian, Alastair Hetherington. How these events and tensions played out over the years is documented in detail, through correspondence from different parties, personal notes, typed reports and presscuttings.

Although Adams’ name is closely associated with the subject of Israel-Palestine relations, he travelled widely through the Arab world and wrote about many other regions during his long career

Born in Addis Ababa, Adams was educated at Sedbergh School before going up to Oxford, although his time at university was interrupted by wartime service in the RAF. He was shot down and captured in 1940 and spent most of the war in Luchenwald POW camp near Berlin; we have two early typescripts – Solitude and Adventures with Robert Browning – about his experiences as a POW, written in Oxford just after the war (EUL MS 241/5/1). Having obtained his MA in 1948, Adams began working as a BBC scriptwriter, and travelled in Greece, Turkey and American before his appointment as Middle East correspondent for The Guardian in 1956. As Adams admitted in the introduction to his first book, Suez and After (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958): ‘No one could report events in the Middle East for long without becoming to some extent involved in them. Where principles are in conflict, and prejudices heartfelt, only a saint or a cynic could retain his detachment, and I am neither.’

His involvement in these events was deepened in 1967 after the BBC sent him to make a series of radio programmes gauging what Arabs thought and felt about the situation after the Six-Day War. This work took him through the occupied territories of Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and while his meetings with Palestinian people inspired his book Chaos or rebirth: the Arab outlook (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1968), the visit had a profound effect on his own views. Disturbed not only by the brutal treatment of Palestinian families that he witnessed, but also by the failure of British and American media to report on these matters, he committed himself fully to addressing what he perceived to be a biased misrepresentation of the situation in the Middle East.

Three photographs of Imwas (Emmaus), taken in (top to bottom) 1948, 1958 and 1968.
EUL MS 241/5/3

One of the events that moved him deeply at this time was the Israeli demolition of three villages (including Imwas, long identified as the biblical ‘Emmaus’) between Jerusalem and Ramla. We have an entire file documenting Adams’ research into the destruction of Imwas, including photographs, maps and letters from former residents of the village (EUL MS 241/5/3). Adams’ persistence in publicising these events led to further difficulties with his editor at The Guardian, who refused to publish the article – it appeared instead in The Sunday Times.

CAABU

In 1967 Adams was one of the co-founders of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which aimed at countering some of the widespread ignorance and prejudice about the Arab World. Among Adams’ papers are some of the original documents relating to the founding of CAABU as well as records of some of the meetings, events, lectures and exhibitions organised during its early years.  (EUL MS 241/3) Adams found another platform for his mission to promote a greater understanding of the Arab world when he became the first editor of the magazine Middle East International (MEI) in 1971. The archive holds copies of many of his MEI editorials and articles.

Remaining frustrated by the difficulties faced by those who wished to publish opinions that might be deemed critical of Zionism and favourable to the Arab states, Adams teamed up with Christopher Mayhew, a Labour MP and Foreign Office official, to write Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) which presented evidence of systematic media bias in western coverage of matters relating to Israel and Palestine. The book also offered some practical solutions for the future of the peace process – something that Adams continued to think about and actively seek for the rest of his life.

Black September

Perhaps the most striking instance of Adams’ direct involvement in Middle Eastern affairs was the role he played in negotiating the release of hostages following the hijacking of five passenger jets during the Jordanian civil war of September 1970 – a period of bloody warfare known as ‘Black September’ when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the more radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) tried to wrestle control of Jordan out of the hands of King Hussein and give greater autonomy of the majority Palestinian population. The hijackings were carried out by the PFLP almost simultaneously, and after one plane was surrendered in London and other blown up in Cairo, the remaining three were flown to Dawsons Field, an airstrip near Zarka in Jordan. Most of the passengers were released, but around fifty Israelis and Americans were detained. Given the chaotic situation and the lack of trust on all sides, negotiations for the release of the hostages proved difficult and Adams flew out to help on behalf of CAABU.

He landed in Amman, the capital of Jordan, where he met Walid Khaled, brother of the imprisoned hijacker Leila Khaled. Subsequent events are recorded in a 52-page diary transcript, which details his meetings with representatives of the PFLP, Jordanian military and British and Dutch ambassadors, as well as the escalating fighting in Amman, the destruction of the planes and the release of various Arab prisoners from European jails – including Leila Khaled – in exchange for the hostages (EUL MS 241/2/1). In addition to Adams’ account there are copies of various communications between the Foreign Office, the UK Ambassador to Jordan and other officials involved in the negotiations (EUL MS 241/2/2).

Some of Adams’ correspondence, including images of Bethlehem sent as Christmas greetings. EUL MS 241/2/5

Any assessment of Adams’ achievements as a journalist and campaigner must rest primarily upon the quality of his research and writing, and our collections contains copies of scores of his articles in both typescript and published versions, in addition to his working notes, diaries, photographs, maps and letters. The collections would be well worth exploring for anyone seeking to understand better the recent history of the Middle East – in particular, the relationship between Israel and Palestine – as well as the role and responsibilities of the media in educating the public and influencing political opinion. The online catalogue can be explored here. 

The Odysseys of Captain George Henry Parlby White (1802-82) – Naval Diaries, EUL MS 418

While taking a slight repast in the Temple of Venus, we were surrounded by a bevy of young girls dancing the Tarantella       
–     
George H.P. White R.N., Diary entry, May 1836. EUL MS 418/6

Old travel narratives can be a source of reading pleasure as well as edification, as the charm of their quaint language and their unusual perspectives on regions both familiar and unfamiliar can help us to think again about our own views of the world. The literary pretensions and insatiable curiosity of many of these travellers combined to produce chronicles of their journeys that sometimes reveal as much about the culture from which they came as they do about the culture they were exploring.

We are fortunate to have in our collections a series of six notebooks written by Admiral George Henry Parlby White R.N. (1802-82) between 1819 and 1845 when he was a young naval officer stationed in the Mediterranean. These record his journeys around the coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as voyages further afield to South America and Canada. He later served on HMS Implacable during the blockade of Alexandria in 1840 when the British navy engaged with Egyptian forces who had invaded Syria, although these events are not included in these books.

Four of the six notebooks in which the diaries are written        EUL MS 418

The author of the diaries had been born into a naval family. His father Admiral Thomas White (1766-1846) was a native of Buckfastleigh and lived at the Abbey House, the castellated Gothic mansion built on the ruins of medieval Buckfast Abbey. Thomas spent 66 years in the navy, having entered the service in 1780 at the tender age of eleven. Three of his four sons followed him into the Royal Navy, with George being joined by his younger brothers Edward John White (1805-47) and Richard Dunnington White (1814-99), whose son Vice-Admiral Richard White died in Exeter in 1924. Richard also took part in the naval operations off the Syrian coast and painted a watercolour The Bombardment of St. Jean D’Acre – November 3rd – 1840 which is now held in the collections of the V&A.

George was born on 11 October 1802 at Droxford in Hampshire, and after entering the Royal Naval College in November 1816, he served on ships within British waters before joining the crew of his father’s ship HMS Superb in August 1819. The diaries begin with an entry for 9 September 1819: ‘Sailed for South America in HMS Superb. Longeur and Hyperion in company.’

HMS Superb (on the right) engaging with the French flagship Impérial at the Battle of San Domingo in 1806. Painting by Nicholas Pocock, National Maritime Museum

All the diaries are written longhand in lined notepads, with sporadic inclusion of dates and long prose passages that continue over several pages.  It is not long before the reader gains some sense of White’s character and interests. Having caught sight of Tenerife and crossed the Equator, a dolphin is killed for food and the young midshipman writes out some thirty lines on ‘The Dying Dolphin’ by William Falconer – an extract from Canto II of the poem The Shipwreck (1762.) The wording varies in several places from the published text, suggesting that White was quoting the passage from memory. As the diaries proceed, the sailor’s literary interests and skills become increasingly apparent, as does his intellectual curiosity and observant eye.

When the ship arrives in Rio de Janeiro (24 October 1819) he writes a vivid description of the sunset over the harbour, and is soon exploring inland, recording in detail the riding skills, habits and cuisine of the gauchos, or cowboys, of Maldonado (January 1820.) Life here was not without danger – White’s diary notes how ‘The Hon. Lieutenant Finch was basely assassinated when returning from a shooting party,’ (29 August 1820) – but he evidently found much to interest him in the region, from the ‘immense number of sperm whales’ on the voyage to Valparaiso (13 February 1821), to flamingos, condors and other local birdlife (15 September 1821) – indeed he regarded Chile as truly ‘the country for the Poet, the Artist, the Botanist, in fact every lover of nature and her works; at every step he sees something new, he treads on something yet unknown.’ (13 April 1821.) When not exploring South America’s flora and fauna, there was naval work to be done, such as a fortnight’s pursuit of the Chilean pirate Vicente Benavides (5-19 July 1821); although White and his crew failed to find Benavides, he was captured soon after and executed the following February.

The first diary ends in January 1825, by which time White had attained the rank of lieutenant. Later that year, he would be promoted to captain. At the back of the notebook, written in the opposite direction, are almost 100 pages of poems and prose passages, some of which – such as Lines on Botogago Bay, Rio de Janeiro and Admiralty Leave to Tell! A Soliloquy. In the Royal Marine Barrack Yard – appear to be White’s own work. Others have been selected and copied out from books, periodicals and other sources in the manner of a commonplace book, including poems in Greek and Italian, the work of Gabriel Rossetti and Petrarch, an Ode to Lord Byron and some lines from Morning Twilight, by ‘Maria Colling, a servant girl living at Tavistock’. Some of these passages are dated as late as 1845, indicating that the notebooks were reused.

There is more evidence of reuse in the later volumes, with some entries duplicated in different books, indicating that the diaries were copied out at some point. The wording of the two versions is not always identical. Although we only possess six notebooks, these are numbered in pencil as Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and the full extent of the original diaries is unclear. Pencilled dates have been written inside the covers, either by White or a later hand, but these do not always represent the contents accurately. An approximate summary of the actual dates would be thus:

Notebook I    September 1819 – January 1825, with additional material up to 1845
Notebook II   September 1829 – June 1830
Notebook III  August 1830 – September 1834
Notebook IV  February – August 1834, and September 1841
Notebook V   August 1836 – May 1840
Notebook VI  May 1836 to May 1838

Part of White’s account of his visit to the temple on Aegina, December 1829. EUL MS 418/2

Following White’s departure from South America he had a brief stint off the coast of Africa, but most of his subsequent career was spent in the Mediterranean, which is the background to the events recorded in the rest of the diaries. Notebook II chronicles his ship’s constant cruising between Gibraltar, Malta and the coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Those who imagine that sailors spent their time ashore seeking the pleasures of wine, women and song might be pleasantly surprised to find White and his fellow officers pursuing other interests. Upon reaching the Greek island of Aegina, he writes ‘Let out with ten officers of our ship to visit the remains of the Temple of Jupiter.’ (4 December 1829). This was the famous Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius, which had only recently become known in the west. After an energetic walk across the island, White provides a detailed description of the site as well as recounting the legends about its foundation. It has since been recognised as being dedicated to Aphaius rather than Jupiter.

‘Temples of Jupiter Panhellenius, Aegina’ engraving by William Miller published in H.W. Williams, Select Views In Greece With Classical Illustrations (London, 1829)

He sailed on to Smyrna in modern-day Turkey, where he visited a mosque and commented, ‘There is something particularly impressive in the simple and unostentatious worship of the Mahomedan. No noise, no bustle, no laughing and talking, as is often the case in Christian churches.’ (20 December 1829). On a later visit to Smyrna he enjoyed a Turkish bath, which he also describes in detail (Notebook III, 17 September 1830, see below.) His ship then moored at Parikia on the Greek island of Paros, where he led his fellow officers into the nearby marble quarries ‘in search of antiquities’ (9 January 1830) only to stumble across the famous bas-relief depicting the Festival of Silenus (a companion of Bacchus). A few days later Captain White ‘formed a large party from our ship to explore the celebrated Grotto of Antiparos’ (15 January 1830.) The party’s enthusiasm for seeking out ancient ruins gives some insight into the degree to which their view of the region was highly coloured by knowledge of classical literature and mythology.

White’s account of a Turkish bath in Smyrna, September 1830. EUL MS 418/3

Later entries cover his visits to Siciliy with detailed descriptions of the Cathedral at Grigento, antiquities in the museum at Syracuse and the Benedictine monastery at Catania, pursuing a Spanish privateer off the coast of Gibraltar, sailing to Tangiers and Tétouan on the African coast, a narrow escape during a boar hunt in Tunisia, a description of the Carlist wars in southern Spain, including the brutal murders of the governors of Malaga and the military exploits of General Miguel Gómez Damas and Don Antonio Escalante, plus carrying troops of the 71st and 73rd regiments around Quebec and Halifax. There are interesting passages in which White ponders on the location of Troy, expressing his doubts about the theories of Dr Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) and advancing his own ideas as he examines inscriptions and the terrain around Berika Bay and Bounarbashi (Pınarbaşı in modern Turkey.)

White married in 1847, retired in 1863, and was subsequently promoted to Rear Admiral (1865), Vice Admiral (1871) and Admiral (1877). Returning to Devon, he lived in Ashburton for a while and later at Rockwood Villa off Totnes Road in Newton Abbot, where he died on 29 December 1881 leaving two daughters and a son.

The diaries would be of interest to anyone doing naval or maritime studies, particularly with regard to the Royal Navy, as well as those researching Victorian travel, antiquarianism, amateur archaeology and classical studies, the political and military histories of Spain and Latin America, the Kingdom of Greece, the Ottoman and British empires, early Victorian encounters with Islam and the Orient, the relationship between Britain and its colonies, 19th century memoir-writing and vernacular literature. The local connections are also strong, with the links to Devon and occasional references to the west country. More details about the contents of the diaries can be found in the online catalogue entries here.