Pantomimes at City Varieties Music Hall
Pantomimes at The Varieties date back to (at least) the early 1940s when Harry Joseph was proprietor. One famous tale exists of a woman giving birth during a performance of Babes in the Wood in 1941. Legend has it that the child was gifted free admission to The Varieties for life!
Towards the end of the 1940s, pantomimes fell from favour. It wasn’t until 1968, after Harry’s sons, Stanley and Michael, had taken over, that they made a return to the Varieties’ stage, with Terry Cantor at the production helm. These often-featured Terry’s son, Kenny Cantor, alongside other variety stars, including The Patton Brothers, Leeds’ own Wendy King and the hugely popular clown Charlie Cairoli. Productions of Cinderella during this period were famed for a coach pulled on stage by real (but very small) horses.
In the early 1980s, ownership of The Varieties passed into the hands of Leeds City Council and General Manager, Peter Sandeman, was appointed to run the venue. As well as reintroducing a live stage version of The Good Old Days, Sandeman also revived the family pantomime. Forming a partnership with writer-director Robin Davies (Catweazle, Shakespeare in Love), these hugely successful shows (the early ones often featuring popular TV stars), ran for over 20 years and formed the Leeds tradition of an anarchic ‘rock fight’ with sponges!
After Jack & the Beanstalk completed its run in January 2009, the venue closed its doors for a major restoration. The music hall re-opened in the Autumn of 2011, hosting Aladdin, the first of the Rock ’n’ Roll Pantos, in December. A very different format to the traditional Christmas pantomime, Rock ’n’ Roll Pantos mix traditional elements of audience participation and corny gags with a jukebox full of classic rock anthems and chart-toppers – all performed live on stage by an ultra-talented cast of actor-musicians. The ‘rock fight’ was also given a 21st Century make-over to become a ‘boulder battle’ with giant inflatable bouncing balls creating bedlam around the auditorium.
Over the past few years, Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Robin Hood and Sleeping Beauty have all been given the Rock ’n’ Roll Panto treatment with increasing success and a whole new Leeds tradition has been born.