Season of 1725-1726: Afterpieces with Dancing at Drury Lane

There were three afterpieces with dancing at Drury Lane during the 1725-1726 season. All were pantomimes.

The Escapes of Harlequin

Harlequin Doctor Faustus

Apollo and Daphne

All had been created by John Thurmond Junior and none were new this season. The second two are worth posts of their own and I will write these in due course.

The Escapes of Harlequin was given on 19 October 1725. The cast listed in the bills consisted entirely of commedia dell’arte characters – Roger and Mrs Booth were Harlequins, Thurmond and Boval together with Mrs Brett and Miss Lindar were Punches, Bridgwater and Mrs Willis (both actors rather than dancers) were the Doctor and his Wife, while Rainton danced Pierrot and Miss Tenoe Columbine. The pantomime had first been given, at Drury Lane, on 10 January 1722 and had been moderately successful in subsequent seasons, although it was performed only twice in 1725-1726 and would be revived only once more, in 1727-1728. No scenario was published and no music is known to survive (the composer is never mentioned in the bills). The afterpiece is ascribed to John Thurmond Junior by John Weaver, who included it in his ‘List of the Modern Entertainments that have been Exhibited on the English Stage; Either in Imitation of the Ancient Pantomimes, or after the Manner of the Modern Italians’ within his The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes published in 1728. Weaver’s lengthy title provides a summary of the influences that lay behind the new pantomimes. The Escapes of Harlequin was initially described in the bills as ‘A new Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ linking it to the ‘Modern Italians’.

The pairs of characters suggest a series of duets, while the separate characters of Pierrot and Columbine perhaps hint at a plot which involves them, although it is impossible to guess at the action of the afterpiece. Thurmond Junior may have drawn on one or more of the plays (many of which were commedia dell’arte pieces) performed by a company of French comedians at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket during 1720-1721. I did wonder whether he might have been using existing entr’acte dances, but the evidence points another way – a Harlequin duet later performed in the entr’actes which might have originated in The Escapes of Harlequin. We know little, if anything about the dancing in Thurmond Jr’s pantomime but, since it had a cast of characters entirely from the commedia dell’arte performed by leading dancers at Drury Lane, might this drawing by Claude Gillot evoke its style?

Harlequin Doctor Faustus, given on 9 November 1725, was the pantomime that had started a craze for the genre when it was first performed at Drury Lane on 26 November 1723. John Rich had swiftly responded at Lincoln’s Inn Fields with the even more successful pantomime The Necromancer; or, Harlequin Doctor Faustus (which I will discuss in my next post) and both productions were integral to the repertoires of the two theatres for many seasons. At least three scenarios were published for Harlequin Doctor Faustus, which differ in some details, so we have a good idea of its action. Little if any of the music survives. The pantomime is, of course, based on the legend of Doctor Faustus and his pact with the Devil, told through the distorting lens of the commedia dell’arte. Thurmond Junior is identified as the author of the piece on the title pages of the scenarios. At the first performances, he played Mephistophilus with John Shaw as Faustus. In 1725-1726, no cast was listed until 3 June 1726 when Roger was Harlequin / Faustus and either Rainton or Haughton (both young dancers) performed Mephistophilus.

An important feature of this particular pantomime was the ‘grand Masque of the Heathen Deities’ with which it ended. This was an extended divertissement of serious dancing, in complete contrast to the grotesque commedia dell’arte characters who appeared in the main part of the afterpiece. The transition from pantomime to divertissement is described in the scenario, Harlequin Doctor Faustus: with the Masque of the Deities (1724). Time and Death enter the Doctor’s study and sing, in turn, to warn Faustus his time is up.

‘When the Songs are ended, it Thunders and Lightens; two Fiends enter and seize the Doctor, and are sinking with him headlong thro’ Flames, other Devils run in and tear him piece-meal, some fly away with the Limbs, and others sink. Time and Death go out.

The Music changes, and the Scene draws, and discovers a Poetical Heaven with the Gods and Goddesses rang’d in order on both sides the Stage, who express their joy for the Enchanter’s Death, (who was supposed to have power over the Sun, the Moon, and the Seasons of the Year.)’

The ‘Gods and Goddesses’ are the dancers in the masque. The excerpt above from the printed text shows how elaborate the staging was, with its tricks, transformations and sophisticated scenery. Sadly, there is no visual record at all of Harlequin Doctor Faustus but the ‘assembly of the gods’ was a favourite topic for ceiling paintings, including this one by William Kent which dates to around 1720.

The last of Thurmond Junior’s pantomimes to be given in 1725-1726 was his most recent, Apollo and Daphne; or, Harlequin’s Metamorphoses on 11 February 1726. Thurmond Junior and Mrs Booth danced the title roles, with Theophilus Cibber as Harlequin. It had first been given as Apollo and Daphne; or, Harlequin Mercury at Drury Lane on 20 February 1725 with the same leading dancers. John Rich had had to wait nearly a year before he could reply from Lincoln’s Inn Fields with Apollo and Daphne; or, The Burgomaster Tricked, in which the title roles were danced by Francis and Marie Sallé with Francis Nivelon as the Burgomaster. Two scenarios were published for the Drury Lane pantomime, which tell us that it began and ended with episodes from Apollo’s fruitless pursuit of Daphne, separated by a complete comic plot in four scenes, and had a concluding pastoral divertissement. In 1724-1725, Thurmond Junior and Mrs Booth were a Sylvan and a Nymph, while in 1725-1726 the divertissement had become ‘a Rural Masque: Les Bois d’Amourette’ with Mrs Booth again as a Nymph and both Thurmond Junior and Roger as two Rival Swains.

It is worth noting that, for its first performance in 1724-1725, Apollo and Daphne is billed as ‘A New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’, linking it to John Weaver’s ballets of a few years before. In 1725-1726, Thurmond Junior had obviously revised his pantomime in answer to Rich’s version and it received more than 25 performances that season (more than in 1724-1725), although it would remain in the Drury Lane repertoire only until 1727-1728. The music for Thurmond Junior’s Apollo and Daphne was by Richard Jones and Henry Carey, but no score survives. We have little idea of the visual effect of the production, although the scenarios record some of the scenic and special effects in both the serious and the comic parts of the pantomime. Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne and her transformation into a laurel tree when he catches her, were favoured topics for artists of the period and both moments were depicted in the pantomime. This version, by Giambatista Tiepolo, is nearly thirty years later, but it shows Daphne beginning her transformation beside her father the river god Peneus as Apollo catches up with her too late.

In my next post, I will turn to the Lincoln’s Inn Fields afterpieces with dancing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s