Leeds Grand Theatre at Christmas
The ‘Grand Old lady of Leeds’ opened her doors on 18 November 1878 with a performance of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, masterminded by the then actor-manager and playwright, Wilson Barrett. Shortly after, Barrett started working on his ‘new and strictly original comic grand Christmas pantomime’, entitled Blue Beard the Grand – or Harlequin the Amorous Ameer; an opulent and spectacular production with 11 scenes and a 300+ strong cast. The first pantomime ran until the end of February 1879, with successive pantomimes becoming the norm for the festive season.
Records show that there was a period when Cinderella was deemed unlucky at The Grand. On one occasion, Cinders broke her leg, on another, one of the ponies died backstage, and in 1887, a couple of ‘drunken’ young men hurled a large bunch of carrots at Cinderella, then played by Addie Blanche – the pair were dumped in the middle of Briggate by Miss Blanche’s burly fiancé!
The Grand continued to play host to huge stars of the day over Christmas, including Morecambe & Wise, Les Dawson and Roy Hudd. Upon Opera North’s residency in 1977, the company presented many Christmas seasons, until Northern Ballet also became a permanent resident in 1996, when an agreement was reached that both companies would take alternate Christmas Seasons. During this arrangement, a visiting pantomime would sometimes play for a week or two in January.
In more recent times, The Grand now leaves pantomime to sister venue, City Varieties Music Hall, and instead hosts the best of the West End touring productions, including Shrek and Nativity The Musical.