Daisy Dormer and sisters in panto
December is here and in theatrical terms it can only mean one thing – the panto season is upon us! I have been trawling through the many press clippings haphazardly kept by my Great Grandmother Violet, trying to piece together the pantomime years. It is clear a stint in panto was when a music hall performer could be guaranteed a steady income for at least a month and a home from home in theatrical digs for a longer period than the usual week.
In the 1890s it became popular to cast a music hall star in a leading role in pantomime – in much the same way that today’s soap and reality TV stars pop up in panto. Popular music hall songs would feature just as pop hits do today. The top of the panto tree were the spectaculars staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – but as today – pantos were taking place all over the country and my grandmother, great-grandmother and great aunts appeared at various points in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff, Liverpool, Huddersfield, Stoke Newington, Portsmouth, Aberdeen, Eastbourne and Abergavenny.
Daisy Dormer had two younger sisters, Violet and Norah, who also caught the theatrical bug. Like Daisy they were born with the surname Stockwell but this was transformed to the more musical “Stockelle” for their stage personas. Violet Stockelle was my great-grandmother. I shall be writing about them in future but it would be fair to say that their careers never took off in the way that big sister Daisy’s did. They represent the thousands of female music hall turns trying to eek out a living from performing in the Edwardian period.
Whereas Daisy Dormer scaled the dizzy heights of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane panto, Violet had consistent success in principal boy roles particularly in Cardiff (two seasons at the New Theatre including Puss in Boots, 1912) and Portsmouth, her home town. My last record of Violet in pantomime was in 1933, at the age of 48, playing Aladdin “the Bad Lad of the Family” in Abergavenny.
Earlier in her career a reviewer wrote:
Violet Stockelle is a singer of chorus songs, and she owes not a little to her popularity with her audiences to her physical qualities, which would make her an ideal principal boy in a pantomime.
And here are those physical qualities on display:
In 1922 she appeared at the Theatre Royal, Huddersfield in Humpty Dumpty (at this stage of her career using her husband’s surname Levy):
The Era, December 28 1922 reviewed her performance:
Violet Levy as Rudolph, the principal boy, is the possessor of a magnetic personality, which endears her to all hearts. She has what is commonly termed a “way with her” and her singing of “Whoops-a-Daisy” is one of the hits of the piece”.
Where Violet played the principal boy, big sister Daisy played the principal girl.
Daisy appeared in many Glasgow pantomimes having played her first principal girl role there at the The Royal Princess’s (now the Citizens Theatre) in Goody Two Shoes in 1902. The last record I can find of Daisy in panto is Cinderella at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool for the 1918/19 season.
The youngest Stockwell sister, Norah, appeared as a “serio comedienne” and toured the provinces, but as far as I can tell never made it to principal roles in pantomime. Big sister Daisy, the star of the 1917/18 Howard & Wyndham’s “Cinderella” production at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was able to secure Norah a role alongside her.
For anyone interested in further information about pantomime now or from the past then I recommend the excellent It’s Behind You hosted by Dame extraordinaire Nigel Ellacott.