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Jamaica's Broadway | The History of Pantomime in Jamaica

by Kesha Stewart | Associate Writer



Pantomime is what I would call our local broadway. But that, of course, is just my opinion I suppose. I saw my first National Pantomime in 1996, Jangah Rock. It was hilarious, the costuming was dynamic, there was a focus on culture and the original musical pieces and the singing itself was great. I had no idea it was so much fun. So, picture me at the pantomime. I'm prepared to be bored but I went along because my entire youth group had joined with a group from a neighbouring community and there were a total of about sixty of us there. We all had fun. It was also my first experience with attending a theatre so I was totally immersed in the experience. I am happy to talk about pantomime with you today.

Pantomimes usually run from Boxing Day to May of the following year annually. It has been that way since 1941. It's pleasing to see that the National Pantomime of Jamaica has moved away from what was initially a British inspired production to more local based production reflective of characters and topics, folklore and history such as Anancy, Riva Muma (mermaid) and all that. The first production was called Jack and the Beanstalk courtesy of Henry Fowler and Greta Fowler; they were the pioneers of the Little Theatre Movement in Jamaica.

Among the notable players were The Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley, Oliver Samuels, Charles Hyatt, Willard White, Rita Marley and Dawn Penn.

The annual pantomime always opens at The Little Theatre in Kingston. Pantomime was adopted into Jamaican culture based on the tireless efforts of Mas Ron (Ranny Williams) and Miss Lou (Louise Bennett) who are the pioneers of the Little Theatre Movement; they worked incredibly hard to turn this annual show into a Jamaican experience. Writers such as The Honourable Barbara Gloudon have continued to build on this legacy and I daresay create legacies of their own. This is reflective not only of the work they do but the commitment and dedication shown. It is clearly not about the money.

The best thing about the Pantomime is that it is an epic family experience. It is very common for schools at various levels to buy group tickets to see the pantomime. Other groups such as churches, youth groups, business organizations and people with different socioeconomic backgrounds go to see The Pantomime. The organizers can really take pride in that.

Here is a fact about the National Pantomime; some of our best leading talent in every area of production, from scriptwriting to music composition, set and costume design, choreography as well as on-stage performance are involved in what is seen on stage.
Some other noteworthy persons who have been involved in the national pantomime include local standouts like the recently deceased Volier “Maffie” Johnson, and Leonie Forbes.

Intricate stage design and careful and creative use of props help to transform the Ward or Little theatres which have large stages to accommodate this. The set designs over the years have shown senses as diverse as rivers to the moon. This of course calls for set designers who have both awareness of their craft as well as the ability to plan and execute their job well. We have been gifted to have people like Lorna Goodison, Karl Abrahams, and Henry Muttoo. More recently, Denise Forbes and Michael Lorde have done commendable work in the area of props and set design.

Another powerful and necessary part of the process of bringing us the pantomime lies in costuming the cast. Costumes bring characters such as anancy to life and firmly etches the character in our minds. Costuming is a vital component of the visuals with which we associate the Pantomime. The themes and motives of a character needs to be captured carefully particularly because even the very young are a part of the audience. Exceptional work has been done in this area by Patrick Waldemar, Norman Russell, and Anya Gloudon.

The pantomime is a fun way to spend an evening or afternoon. It appeals to individuals both from remote districts in Westmoreland to urban centres like Kingston. The longevity of the Pantomime can be associated with many of the things we discussed in this article, but I believe that its relevance to Jamaican themes has resonated with the public and therefore contributed immensely to its longevity and popularity. We would want to see it if it did not resonate with us. The Pantomime did not miss a single showing until from 1941 to 2019. In 2020 there was no Pantomime due to COVID-19 restrictions. You will see this feat reflected in the list below:
  • 1941 - Jack & The Beanstalk
  • 1942 - Babes in the Wood
  • 1943 - Soliday and the Wicked Bird
  • 1944 - Toad of Toad Hall
  • 1945 - Aladdin and his Magic Lamp
  • 1946 - The Rose and the Ring
  • 1947 - Cinderella
  • 1948 - Beauty and the Beast
  • 1949 - Bluebeard and the Brer Anancy
  • 1950 - Alice in Wonderland
  • 1951 - Dick Whittington
  • 1952 - Aladdin
  • 1953 - Robinson Crusoe
  • 1954 - Anancy and the Magic Mirror
  • 1955 - Anancy and the Pandora
  • 1956 - Anancy and the Beeny Bud
  • 1957 - Busha Bluebeard
  • 1958 - Quasie Lady
  • 1959 - Jamaica Way
  • 1960 - Carib Gold
  • 1961 - Banana Boy
  • 1962 - Finians Rainbow
  • 1963 - Queenie's Daughter
  • 1964 - Bredda Buck
  • 1965 - Morgan's Dream
  • 1966 - Queenie's Daughter
  • 1967 - Anancy and Panadora
  • 1968 - Anancu and Doumbey
  • 1969 - Moonshine Anancy
  • 1970 - Rockstone Anancy
  • 1971 - Music Boy
  • 1972 - Hail Columbus
  • 1973 - Queenies Daughter
  • 1974 - Dickance for Flippance
  • 1975 - The Witch
  • 1976 - Brashana O
  • 1977 - Twelve Million Dollar Man
  • 1978 - Johnny Reggae
  • 1979 - The Honourable all Purpus and Dancing Princess
  • 1980 - Mansong
  • 1981 - The Pirate Princess
  • 1982 - Tantaloo
  • 1983 - Ginneral B
  • 1984 - Sipplesilver
  • 1985 - Trash
  • 1986 - River Mumma and the Golden Table
  • 1987 - King Root
  • 1988 - Bruckins
  • 1989 - Schoolers
  • 1990 - Fifty 50
  • 1991 - Man Deh Yah
  • 1992 - Reggae Son
  • 1993 - Anansi Come Back
  • 1994 - Moonsplash
  • 1995 - Schoolers 2
  • 1996 - Jangah Rock
  • 1997 - Baggarags
  • 1998 - Anansi Web
  • 1999 - Bugsie
  • 2000 - Jack and the Macca Tree
  • 2001 - Chicken Merry
  • 2002 - Miss Annie
  • 2003 - Combolo
  • 2004 - Iffa Nuh So
  • 2005 - Zu Zu Macca
  • 2006 - Howzatt!
  • 2007 - Nuff an Plenty
  • 2008 - Runner Boy
  • 2009 - Pirate Jack
  • 2010 - Blingalinga
  • 2011 - Anansi and Goat Head Soup
  • 2012 - Skollaz
  • 2013 - The Golden Maccafat
  • 2014 - Princess Boonoonoonoos
  • 2015 - Runnesha and the Birds
  • 2016 - The Upsies and De Downzies Dem
  • 2017 - Dapper Dan The Anansi Man
  • 2018 - All Aboard
  • 2019 - Ruckshon Junction
  • 2020 - COVID19 RESTRICTIONS - NO PANTOMIME

I anticipate the return of the Pantomime and encourage you to go out and see The Little Movement: National Pantomime the next time it plays. It is wholesome, entertaining, cultural, historical ​and a lot of fun.

I also recommend you read Art in Jamaica & The Influence Of Edna Manley

Regards,
KS

References:
  • Pantomimes in Jamaica, Pantoarchives, https://www.pantoarchive.com/jamaica

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Comments for Jamaica's Broadway | The History of Pantomime in Jamaica

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Feb 07, 2022
correction
by: c. francis

I wish to make a correction to the article. Pantomime did not always start at the little theatre. Originally it was held at the ward theatre exclusively. After the little theatre was built it did still start at the ward and after a while then moved up to the little theatre. After the ward became somewhat rund down it was moved to the little theatre exclusively.

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