When the stars of this year’s pantomime at Wimbledon Theatre walk on stage for the first time today, they will be the 100th cast to do so.
Pantomimes have been performed every year bar two since the theatre opened its doors for the first time on Boxing Day 1910. Only the winters of 1941-2 and 2003-4 saw no performances as a result,
respectively, of war and refurbishment.
This year’s pantomime starring Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage will be the 12th time Dick Whittington has been performed.
Once again the legendary fortune seeker will be “turning again” towards his destiny as Mayor of London, accompanied of course by his cat.
It is nine years since Whittington’s last appearance when comedian Russ Abbott headed the cast.
The previous ten times before that began in 1932 with Patrick Colbert and continued every few years until 1997 when the cast included John Nettles and Lesley Joseph.
Between those came an extraordinary assortment of Dick Whittington stars including Jon Pertwee in 1949, Adam Faith in 1960, Norman Vaughan and Jack Douglas in 1971, Jimmy Tarbuck in 1975, Eric
Sykes and Roy Kinnear in 1981, and Les Dawson in 1991, appearing alongside John Nettles the first time round.
Only two other pantomime favourites have outnumbered Dick Whittington over the past century: an impressive 19 productions of Cinderella and 14 of Aladdin. Clearly, Wimbledon audiences have taken
well to the Ugly Sisters and Widow Twanky.
Today’s generation of pantomime fans have even been treated to two productions each of these since the theatre reopened in 2004.
They have also had two Peter Pans, although the perennial flying youth and his fairy accomplice have only ever appeared four times in Wimbledon, the first as recently as 1988 with Lulu.
Jack and the Beanstalk has made it a more respectable eight times, the Babes in the Wood six times and Mother Goose five.
Also-rans have included four Little Red Riding Hoods and two productions each of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Humpty Dumpty and Puss in Boots.
By contrast, Robinson Crusoe has been a comparative favourite with six productions since 1913 and most recently in 1987 with Dennis Waterman and Rula Lenska.
Whether the recent Wimbledon Society lecture which suggested a special link between Wimbledon and the fictional castaway will make any impact on planning of future productions remains to be seen.
However it may be worth noting that earlier Crusoes included the Goon, Michael Bentine, in 1953.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.
For more information, visit wimbledonsociety.org.uk and www.wimbledonmuseum.org.uk.
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