General Election 2019

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Harlequin and Mother Goose

Grimaldi’s most famous role was as Clown in the pantomime of Harlequin and Mother Goose, first played at Covent Garden in London in 1806. It was set up at short notice, and therefore could not feature the elaborate machinery and scenes then typical of pantomimes. Perhaps because of this the performers’ skills, their ‘whim, humour and agility’ were more evident. When it opened on Boxing Day, European Magazine said, "...it was received with the most deafening shouts of applause, and played for ninety-two nights, being the whole remainder of the season." Despite its success, and despite his role in it, Grimaldi did not hold it in high esteem. In fact, he declared it to be one of the worst pantomimes he had ever played.

The Library of Birmingham holds two copies of this pantomime. One is in Grimaldi’s own hand, one of six Grimaldi pantomime manuscripts in an exercise book, forming part of the Theatre Royal Collection. It carries his autograph and monogram. The scripts are dated 1794 to 1829. The others are in date order. Harlequin and Mother Goose is the last of the Grimaldi pantomimes in this book.

The second copy is a reprint dated c1875. It contains the story with an illustration for each scene. Because the original version was so famous the original illustrations featuring the 1806 performance were copied and sold as 'The Bow Bells Christmas Annual'. The editor writes that the story is based on Thomas Dibdin’s original script. However, it differs in places from Grimaldi’s script. It is probable that the star performers adapted the actions according to the time and place.

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