Theatre productions of Dan Leno

two men dressed as a boy and a girl hold the hands of a rag-doll between them
Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell in 1897

Dan Leno (20 December 1860 – 31 October 1904) was an English comedian and stage actor of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, famous for performing in music hall. As a child, he was known for his clog dancing, and in his teen years, he became the star of his family's music hall act throughout Britain.[1] He was an increasingly popular solo artist during the late 1880s and 1890s.[2][3] He also performed in pantomimes and a few Victorian burlesques and comic plays and musicals, especially in the last two decades of his career.[4]

Leno's first theatre appearance (as distinguished from music hall) was in pantomime in Liverpool in 1865, where he had a supporting part as a juvenile clown in Fortunatus; or, The Magic Wishing Cap alongside his parents, who appeared as "Mr and Mrs Leno – Comic Duettists".[5] Leno earned wider theatrical notice as Dame Durden in a pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk at London's Surrey Theatre in 1886, having been spotted singing "Going to Buy Milk" by the theatre's manager.[6] The piece was a success, and Leno received rave reviews; as a result, he was booked to star as Tinpanz the Tinker in the following year's pantomime, Sinbad and the Little Old Man of the Sea; or, The Tinker, the Tailor, the Soldier, the Sailor, Apothecary, Ploughboy, Gentleman Thief.[7] The Era reported that Leno "made a capital Tinker, full of drollery and grotesque business."[8]

Cartoon style drawing of a man in woman's clothing smiling broadly at the viewer
Leno as a dame, by Alfred Bryan, 1890s

Sinbad brought Leno to the attention of Augustus Harris, the manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, one of the largest London theatres, which staged elaborate pantomime spectacles every Christmas.[9][10] Harris offered Leno a role in the theatre's 1888 Christmas pantomime, Babes in the Wood.[11] One critic wrote that "'the cake' for frolicsome humour is taken by the dapper new-comer, Mr. Dan Leno, who is sketched as the galvanic baroness in the wonderfully amusing dance which sets the house in a roar. The substantial "babes", Mr. Herbert Campbell and Mr. Harry Nicholls, would have no excuse if they did not vie in drollery with the light footed Dan Leno."[12] Babes was a triumph: the theatre reported record attendance, and the run was extended until 27 April 1889.[13] Leno went on to star in a total of 16 Christmas pantomimes at Drury Lane from 1888 to 1904.[14] In 15 of these, he played alongside Herbert Campbell, a veteran pantomime performer, with Leno playing predominantly dame roles.[15] Leno became famous for his characterisations of dame roles, and he was described as the "precursor of contemporary pantomime dames".[16]

Leno also performed in a few other theatre productions during his career, including burlesques and musical comedies, while continuing to perform in his own popular music hall act, in London and on tour in the British provinces.[17] By 1902, he had become an alcoholic and had begun to decline physically and mentally; he was briefly admitted to a mental asylum in 1903 and, upon his release later that year, played in only one more production.[18] Leno died the following year, aged 43.[19]


Leno's co-stars Harry Nicholls and Herbert Campbell
Leno as Widow Twankey, 1896
Leno (top) and Johnny Danvers, c. 1898, with Drury Lane co-star Herbert Campbell (bottom)
Leno as Dame Trot, 1899
Leno as Sister Anne, 1901
An illustration of Leno as Mother Goose, 1903
Date Production Genre Role Theatre Notes
18 Dec 1865 Fortunatus; or, The Magic Wishing Cap Pantomime Juvenile clown Royal Colosseum, Liverpool Leno's first recorded theatrical performance; he appeared in the harlequinade, while his parents, Louisa and Will, played the principal boy Fortunatus and Ursa Major Britain, respectively. His parents were billed as "Mr and Mrs Leno – Comic Duettists". The music hall comic Harry Liston was also in the cast.[5]
18 Jan 1869 Old King Humpty; or, Harlequin Emerald Isle and Katty of Killarney Pantomime Various Monsters Saloon, Crampton Court, Dublin By Will Leno. Performed during a tour of Ireland; young Dan Leno received praise from Charles Dickens, who was in the audience and told him: "Good little man, you'll make headway!"[20]
22 Jan 1870 Jack the Giant Killer; or, Harlequin Grim Gosling, or the Good Fairy Queen of the Golden Pine Grove Pantomime Jack the Giant Killer Rotunda Music Hall, Liverpool By Will Leno. The Lenos also featured in the variety entertainment that preceded the pantomime,[21] which offered Dan Leno a chance to "demonstrate his all-round talents".[22]
26 Dec 1886 Jack and the Beanstalk, which grew to the moon; or, the Giant, Jack Frost and the Ha-Ha Balloon Pantomime Dame Durden Surrey By George Augustus Conquest and Henry Spry.[11] Leno and his wife Lydia were jointly paid £20 a week.[23]
26 Dec 1887 Sinbad and the Little Old Man of the Sea; or, The Tinker, the Tailor, the Soldier, the Sailor, Apothecary, Ploughboy, Gentleman Thief Pantomime Tinpaz Surrey By George Conquest and Henry Spry.[7] Co-starring Leno's wife Lydia, the pantomime was the last of Conquest's performances.[24]
2 Apr 1888 Two Lovely Black-Eyed Susan Burlesque Susan Strand By Horace Lennard. This reworking of the F. C. Burnand burlesque, The Latest Edition of Black-Eyed Susan; or, the Little Bill that Was Taken Up, was not well received.[25] However, The Entr'acte called Leno's dancing "quite phenomenal".[26]
Nov 1888 Atalanta Burlesque Leontes Strand Opened on 17 November, with Leno joining at the end of the month.[27]
26 Dec 1888 Babes in the Wood Pantomime Baroness Drury Lane By Augustus Harris. Co-starring E. L. Blanchard and Harry Nicholls.[28]
9 May 1889 Penelope Comic opera Pitcher Comedy By George P. Hawtrey (words) and Edward Solomon (music).[29]
26 Dec 1889 Jack and the Beanstalk; or, Harlequin and the Midwinter Night's Dream Pantomime Mrs. Simpson Drury Lane By Augustus Harris and Harry Nicholls. Nicholls and Campbell played King and Queen.[30][31]
26 Dec 1890 Beauty and the Beast Pantomime Mr. Lombarde Streete Drury Lane By W. Yardley and Augustus Harris. Nicholls and Campbell both played dame roles.[32]
26 Dec 1891 Humpty Dumpty; or, Harlequin the Yellow Dwarf and the Fair One with the Golden Locks Pantomime Queen of Hearts Drury Lane By Harry Nicholls and Augustus Harris. Little Tich played the title role with Marie Lloyd as Princess Allfair and Fanny Leslie as King Dulcimar.[33]
26 Dec 1892 Little Bo-Peep, Little Red Riding Hood and Hop o' My Thumb Pantomime Daddy Thumb Drury Lane By Augustus Harris and Wilton Jones, co-starring Marie Lloyd, Little Tich and Herbert Campbell. The pantomime received negative reviews from the press for its lengthy script,[34] which was of the "roughest Cockney texture".[35]
26 Dec 1893 Robinson Crusoe Pantomime Mrs. Crusoe Drury Lane By Augustus Harris and Harry Nicholls. The production co-starred Marie Lloyd as Polly Perkins and Little Tich as Man Friday.[36]
26 Dec 1894 Dick Whittington Pantomime Idle Jack Drury Lane By Augustus Harris, Cecil Raleigh and Henry Hamilton. Herbert Campbell played the dame called Alice.[11]
26 Dec 1895 Cinderella Pantomime Baroness Drury Lane By Augustus Harris, Cecil Raleigh and Arthur Sturgess. The lavish production included a carriage drawn by real horses and "the use of thousands of lights".[37][38]
26 Dec 1896 Aladdin Pantomime Widow Twankey Drury Lane By Arthur Sturgess and H. Leonard. The production was considered to be one of the weakest of the Drury Lane pantomimes, but Leno's characterisation of Widow Twankey was admired as one of his finest Dame roles.[39][40]
26 Dec 1897 The Babes in the Wood Pantomime Reggie Drury Lane By Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins. Herbert Campbell starred as the dame Chrissie.[41]
1 Aug 1898 Orlando Dando, the Volunteer Musical farce Orlando Dando The Grand Theatre, Fulham By Basil Hood (words) and Walter Slaughter (music).[42]
26 Dec 1898 The Forty Thieves Pantomime Abdallah Drury Lane By Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins. Herbert Campbell played The Fair Zuleika, and Leno's uncle, Johnny Danvers, played Ali Baba.[43]
9 Oct 1899 In Gay Piccadilly! Musical farce Aubrey Honeybun Theatre Royal, Glasgow By George R. Sims (words) and Clarence Corri (music). A provincial tour followed.[44][45]
26 Dec 1899 Jack and the Beanstalk Pantomime Dame Trot Drury Lane By Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins. Music by Walter Slaughter. Leno starred with Harry Nicholls, Herbert Campbell and Charles Lauri.[46]
26 Dec 1900 The Sleeping Beauty and the Beast Pantomime Queen Ravia Drury Lane By J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins.[47]
26 Dec 1901 Bluebeard Pantomime Sister Anne Drury Lane By J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins. Leno starred opposite Herbert Campbell's Bluebeard.[16]
21 July 1902 Mr. Wix of Wickham Musical comedy Mr. Wix Stratford Borough Theatre By Herbert Darnley, George Everard, Frank Seddon and Frank E. Tours. A provincial tour followed.[48]
26 Dec 1902 Mother Goose Pantomime Mother Goose Drury Lane By J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins. The role was created for Leno.[49]
26 Dec 1903 Humpty Dumpty Pantomime Queen Spritely Drury Lane By J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins.[50]
Note: The source for Leno's stage performances, except as otherwise noted, is Barry Anthony, The Kings Jester, pp. 215–16.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Brandreth, p. 3
  2. ^ Anthony, p. 97
  3. ^ "King Rat Dan Leno", History: Grand Order of Water Rats,, accessed 13 January 2013
  4. ^ Newton, p. 30
  5. ^ a b Anthony, p. 16
  6. ^ Brandreth, p. 26
  7. ^ a b Brandreth, p. 27
  8. ^ The Era, 30 December 1887, p. 13
  9. ^ "Mr. Pitcher's Art", Obituary, The Times, 3 March 1925
  10. ^ Anthony, p. 87
  11. ^ a b c "Biography of Dan Leno" Archived 2011-03-14 at the Wayback Machine , Victoria and Albert Museum website, accessed 13 January 2013
  12. ^ Penny Illustrated Paper, 5 January 1887, pp. 12–13
  13. ^ Brandreth, p. 28
  14. ^ Anthony, p. 88; after Harris died in 1896, Arthur Collins became manager at Drury Lane and helped to write the pantomimes.
  15. ^ Disher, p. 56
  16. ^ a b Taylor, p. 108
  17. ^ Hogg, James. "Leno, Dan", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed January 2013 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  18. ^ Brandreth, pp. 85–89
  19. ^ "Death of Dan Leno", Western Times, 1 November 1904, p. 5
  20. ^ Brandreth, p. 12
  21. ^ Anthony, p. 22
  22. ^ The Era, 9 January 1870, p. 11
  23. ^ Anthony, pp. 71–72
  24. ^ Anthony, p. 77
  25. ^ Anthony, pp. 78–79
  26. ^ The Entr'acte, 14 April 1888, p. 6
  27. ^ "Atlanta", Leeds Times, 3 November 1888, p. 6
  28. ^ Anthony, p. 88
  29. ^ The piece was a musical version of the farce The Area Belle. See Anthony, p. 90
  30. ^ "Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: Jack and the Beanstalk, 1890", British Library Evonian Catalogue, accessed 15 January 2013
  31. ^ Anthony, p. 91
  32. ^ Bolton, p. 186
  33. ^ Anthony, p. 114
  34. ^ Anthony, p. 115
  35. ^ The Times, 1 April 1892, p. 3
  36. ^ "The origin of popular pantomime stories", Victoria and Albert Museum website, accessed 10 February 2013
  37. ^ Penny Illustrated Paper, 28 December 1895, p. 7
  38. ^ Anthony, p. 133
  39. ^ "Principal Boys, Dames and Animal Impersonators in Pantomime" Archived 2013-03-22 at the Wayback Machine , Victoria and Albert Museum website, accessed 11 February 2013
  40. ^ Ackroyd, p. 168
  41. ^ Anthony, p. 166
  42. ^ Brandreth, p. 69; produced by the manager Milton Bode, the piece initially played in a suburban London theatre before Leno was available to play in it. See "The Foreign Stage", The New York Dramatic Mirror, 10 September 1898, p. 8, accessed 16 January 2013
  43. ^ "Mr Dan Leno as the Captain of The Forty Thieves", Victoria and Albert Museum website, accessed 11 February 2013
  44. ^ Produced by the manager Milton Bode; Leno's uncle Johnny Danvers appeared in the piece. See "Amusements in Birmingham: Grand Theatre", The Era, 11 November 1899, p. 23a; Brandreth, p. 69; and "Dan Leno at The Theatre Royal", Sheffield Independent, 31 October 1899, p. 11
  45. ^ Booth (1996), p. 203.
  46. ^ "Jack and the Beanstalk", The Era, 2 December 1899, p. 8
  47. ^ Booth (1976), p. 379
  48. ^ Produced by the manager Milton Bode. Booth (1996), p. 203; the musical was revived on Broadway in 1904 with many of the songs composed or re-set with new music by the young Jerome Kern.
  49. ^ Zarrilli, McConaghie, Williams, p. 350
  50. ^ "Dan Leno and Drury Lane Pantomime", Manchester Evening News, 26 November 1903, p. 4


  • Ackroyd, Peter (2007). Dan Leno & the Limehouse Golem. London: Vintage Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7493-9659-6.
  • Anthony, Barry (2010). The King's Jester. London: I. B. Taurus & Co. ISBN 978-1-84885-430-7.
  • Bolton, H. Philip (2000). Women Writers Dramatized: A Calendar of Performances from Narrative Works Published in English to 1900. London: Mansell Publishing. ISBN 0-7201-2117-5.
  • Booth, Michael (1996). The Edwardian Theatre: Essays on Performance and the Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45375-2.
  • Booth, Michael (1976). English Plays of the Nineteenth Century: Pantomimes, Extravaganzas, and Burlesques, vol. 5. Michigan: Clarendon Publishing. ISBN 978-0-19-812519-8.
  • Brandreth, Gyles (1977). The Funniest Man on Earth: The Story of Dan Leno. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 978-0-241-89810-9.
  • Disher, M.W. (1942). Fairs, Circuses and Music Halls. London: William Collins. OCLC 604161468.
  • Newton, H. Chance (1928). Idols of the Halls. London: Heath Cranton. ASIN B00087ABNQ.
  • Taylor, Millie (2007). British Pantomime Performance. Bristol: Intellect Books. ISBN 978-1-84150-987-7.
  • Zarrilli, Philip. B; Bruce A. McConachie; Gary Jay Williams Thorn (eds) (2006). Theatre Histories: An Introduction. Oxford: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-46223-5.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

External linksEdit