The Norwood Society

1902 Christmas at the Crystal Palace

The Christmas season programme would not be the great attraction that it is without the fun of the Pantomime and the flutter of excitement aroused by the various sights to be seen in the Circus. As last year, Mr. Humphrey E. Brammall is responsible for both productions and it is not too much to say they both exceed in all-round attractiveness the similar entertainments of last Christmas.

The subject of the pantomime is ‘Cinderella’ and by admirable arrangement and good stage management the old nursery story is not swamped by the many novelties which the enterprising entrepreneur has to include in the modern pantomime. It runs smoothly from beginning to end and has about as many ‘specialities’ as one would see in any pantomime in or out of London.

The music, marked by its brilliance and originality, was composed and arranged by Mr. Herbert Godfrey, the capable director of the Palace Band.

The chorus embodies all those attributes of tunefulness and infectious liveliness so essential to these Christmas performances, for whether as gorgeously-tinted ‘fairies’ or elegantly-attired ‘sportsmen’ they lend a glow to the whole which is absolutely irresistible. The songs are rendered with a verve that almost ensures them popularity for months to come, while the dancing is bright and graceful.

Miss Alice Digby plays the title role and a more dainty ‘Cinderella’ would be difficult to imagine. Of all the Palace favourites Mr. Charles Coburn holds the premier position and with this well-known comedian playing Baron Topsy Turvey laughter reigns supreme. The Ladies Butterfly band under the direction of Mlle. Stella D’Alber also deserve a special word of praise.

As in previous years the whole of the Central Transept has been set aside for the Circus and Mr. Brammall has not wasted a square inch in the wide area at his disposal in so much as at one time during the performance he has no less than three acts running concurrently - not counting the clowns! It is a physical impossibility to follow everything and if the spectator gets fogged with bewilderment at this sort of Chinese Fair it’s so much better for the management if he feels compelled to make another visit!

Mr. Brammall has struck an original line - by excluding many wearisome features associated with these entertainments and substituting really smart comedians and knockabouts for the ‘Here we are again’ clown.

There is a Diavolo who really does Loop the Loop (apparently with the greatest ease imaginable) and a Professor Heaton who dives, enveloped in flames, from 100 feet into a very small tank. He walks across the arena attended by a dresser and is next seen aloft with flames bursting from all parts of his body. Then, with a triumphant shout, he throws himself off to quench the fire in the water below.

Mr. George Coleman’s team of elephants are a sensation, there is exciting bicycle riding by ‘Hood’s Cycle Sensation’ done on the smallest and steepest cycle track on record, aerial feats by the Five Herberts, and Lady Elo puts some pretty little ponies through a number of intricate movements. The whole is a tribute to Mr. Brammall and a show worthy of the Palace.

Other Christmas attractions

An attractive addition to the number of seasonal sideshows is the Palace of Illusions situated in the Chinese Court which created such a furore at the Paris Exposition of 1900. It is a strange building apparently of limitless dimensions fitted with huge panels of plate glass. The visitor seems to witness an indefinite succession of columns, porticos, and arcades, brilliant chandeliers and luminous garlands at the same time lighting imaginary depths.

Other special sideshows include ‘A trip to the Moon’ the latest cinematographic revelation in the Electric Theatre; a giant Christmas tree; and Bailey’s Royal Punch and Judy.

(from a contemporary account)

The Norwood Review Edition #80.