The 'D'Oyly Carte Pantomimes": Complementarity and Innovation

Gillian Arrighi


For the Christmas season of 1879 the Opéra Comique in London produced Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular comic opera HMS Pinafore with a cast comprised entirely of children aged sixteen and under. Widespread critical reception lauded the production for its innovation and for its surprising humour. The Graphic praised the production as a “comic, satirical, musical burlesque,” whilst The Examiner noted “the audience literally choked with laughter,” considering the piece “infinitely more comic” than when played by adult performers. This article examines The Children’s Pinafore within the context of British pantomime culture, precedent all-child productions of HMS Pinafore that had recently been staged in the United States, and the phenomenal global consequences of D’Oyly Carte’s  “curious” and “possibly very hazardous experiment”  that were to resonate around the globe for several decades to come. Gillian Arrighi is a Lecturer in Drama in the School of Drama, Fine Art and Music at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She is currently co-editing a volume for Palgrave MacMillian that brings together scholarship concerning children in the global entertainment business.

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303