Based on the nineteenth century story by the French Countess d'Aulnois, the story concerns the heir-less King Pat-a-Cake of Euphoria who has three adopted sons. Seeking a successor he sets them a task, offering the throne to the winner. Dim-witted Princes Fyne and Dandi squabble over the quest whilst Prince Peerless encounters a beautiful girl on his travels. She is, in fact, Princess Rosamund, hidden twenty years ago by her distraught parents who believed she would be forced to marry Prince Ghastly by his evil mother, Queen Venoma, who is still searching for her, using magic powers. Mother Goose keeps a fairy-watch over the story and is instrumental in hiding Rosamund at the court of The White Cat, Queen of Mysteria.
This first new version of the famous Victorian pantomime has all the essential ingredients of modern pantomime from ghost sequences to the Dame and the children's sing-along, with the Internet and e-mail thrown in for good measure. An enchanting experience with much family humour and the choice of songs left to the director's discretion.
Like "King of the Golden Mountain", "A Frog he would a-wooing go", "King Humming-top" and dozens of other Victorian pantomimes, "The White Cat" vanished from the pantomime roster almost a hundred years ago. Its last production was, I believe, at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1904 (that particular version being written by J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins) but for many years prior to this, it was a very popular subject.
Based on a story by the French Countess d'Aulnois, it was first seen in 1811 at the Lyceum Theatre, London, as "The White Cat; or Harlequin in Fairy Wood" though typically of the pantomimes of that period, the story part served only to set the comical Harlequinade in motion. In 1842, however, at Covent Garden theatre (Now the Royal Opera House) it was presented as a fairy extravaganza (written by that brilliant man of the theatre, J.R.Planche) as a vehicle for the sensational Lucy Vestris, to who'm the theatre world owes so much. Following its huge success in this form, its innovations were quickly adapted by other managements for pantomime use and continued to delight audiences for the next 60 years until mysteriously it fell from favour.
Whilst researching Slapstick and Sausages my book on pantomime's evolution, I was kindly and unexpectedly loaned copies of the Planche extravaganza and the Hickory Wood/Collins version of "The White Cat, both of which I read with interest. The latter was a world away from Planche's beautifully rhymed and touching couplets, its comic fairy making "her" first entrance on a flying wire and many zany characters being introduced to carry the story forward. There was even a short Harlequinade (from which modern pantomimes developed) tagged onto the end of it and (unusually for pantomimes of any era) three acts. Both, however, must have been spectacular to watch, and made me wonder how the story could have been ignored for so long.
Having a strong dislike for comic fairies, it took me some time to formulate my own pantomime version of the story and adapt it for amateur usage, but eventually the scenes took shape and modern technology has enabled me to include one section that would have been impossible for Victorian audiences to see, but would have delighted the Countess d'Aulnois who described it so beautifully in her original story; the ghostly hands. In offering this version of "The White Cat", I'm assuming that todays audiences will be as enthralled by the unusual story as I was. The potential for an experienced production company is awesome, yet even the smallest pantomime society should find it within their capabilities. For those with limited resources, I have included a few production hints.
Mother Goose, an Immortal
Ghiselle, her pet goose
Ambrose, the Court Chamberlain
King Pat-a-Cake, Ruler of Euphoria
Venoma, the Witch-Queen of Despondia
Dame Hernia Lovelorn, Nurse and Guardian to Rosamund
Princess Rosamund, Heir to the Seven Kingdoms
Peter Piper, a Groom in the King's stables
Prince Fyne, The King's eldest son
Prince Dandi, his second son
Prince Peerless, his youngest son
Bluemalkin, the White Cat's servant
Esmeralda, a Gypsy leader
Peg-leg-asus, a Royal Horse
Tigger-toes, a very jazzy Cat. (Singer/Dancer only)
Chorus of Citizens, Servants, Cats, Gypsies, etc.
For Graham and Avril Chambers of Gloucester, Canada "Just a small token.....".