For many, the Christmas pantomime is a highlight of the festive season.
In Brighton, one of the people most closely associated with this annual tradition was Ellen Nye Chart, manager of the Theatre Royal from 1876 until her death in 1892. Ellen came to Brighton as a young woman in 1865, joining the theatre company managed by her future husband Henry Nye Chart, whom she married in 1867. After his death, she took over the running of the theatre, occasionally performing but spending most of her time behind the scenes, raising the status of the theatre and the quality of the productions it staged.
The annual pantomime was a real extravaganza. Shows included classics such as Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Jack and the Beanstalk and, according to the theatre programmes held at Brighton History Centre, each one sizzled with music, dancing, and fabulous costumes and scenery. Ellen was an astute businesswoman and, despite the expense involved, the panto was said to be one of the most profitable events of the year. There were performances every evening, usually from Christmas Eve until early February, with matinees on Boxing Day and every Wednesday and Saturday.
Each year, the staff and inmates of the Brighton Workhouse, more than a thousand people in total, were invited to a free performance of the pantomime. It’s easy to imagine how magical such an experience would have been for them, and this gesture of kindness contributed to Ellen’s great popularity. She died in 1892, but by this time both the Theatre Royal and its annual pantomime were well established in the town.
Kate Elms, History Centre Officer