Little Jack Horner

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Little Jack Horner can refer to the famous English nursery rhyme, or to a number of stories, plays and other adaptations inspired by it.

The original nursery rhyme

Little Jack Horner[1], is the name of a famous English nursery rhyme, with strong moralising and political undertones, which has been the reworked and used in many ways since the 18th century. It has no doubt also been the direct or indirect source for a number of pantomimes and plays.

Below those performed in South Africa.

Little Jack Horner, or Harlequin ABC by Blanchard (1857)

The original text

An English pantomime, inspired by the famous English nursery rhyme, Little Jack Horner[2], it was written by E.L. Blanchard (1820-1889)[3], and performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, London in the 1857–8 season.

Blanchard's allegoric work is particularly noted for its moralizing tone, being described by Jeffrey Richards as "a plea for "literacy, knowledge, intelligence and imagination" (2014, p.223), and particularly admired for the visual effects in the production.

Also found as Little Jack Horner, or Harlequin A.B.C. or simply Harlequin ABC.

Translations or adaptations

William Groom (cited by F.C.L. Bosman, 1980: pp. 192-3) claims that a pantomime called Little Jack Horner, or Harlequin A.B.C. was done in South Africa and was an "original" work penned by a Mr B. Mollan of Cape Town "expressly for the Occasion". The reviewer in the Cape Argus of 28 December, 1865, also suggests that, while most of the work was original, the opening scene of "The Depths of Darkness, and Mystic Still and Laboratory of the Demon Alcohol" was in fact plagiarized from an "Original Extravaganza" by Francis Cowley Burnand (1836-1917)[4] called Ixion, or The Man at the Wheel.

However, the claim in the flier for the presentation that a "new" overture and music was composed by Mr W.G. Browne, does suggest that the pantomime itself may have been a local adaptation of the British play by Mollan, and that only the presentation of it was in fact "original".

Performance history in South Africa

1865: A pantomime called Little Jack Horner, or Harlequin A.B.C. (and ascribed to B. Mollan) was performed in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by Messrs Alfred Ray and R.S. Cooper on 26-27 December. According to the programme for the presentation (provided by Bosman, 1980: pp.194-198) a "new" overture and music was composed by Mr W.G. Browne, choreography of dances was by Mrs R.I. Cooper, scenery by Mr R.S. Cooper, properties and masks by Mr Der. F. la Yar, mechanical contribution (for the "elaborate Machinery and Mechanical changes") by Mr J. Adams, Harlequinade and Pantomimic business by Mr Alfred Ray, and Herr Luin, comic scenes painted by Mr C.J.M. Smith. The piece had a vast cast consisting of "Rustics, Clodhoppers Villagers" and a procession of "26 of the best characters from the S.A. College[5]" representing the letters A to Z. On the 26th the pamntomime was preceded by A Pair of Pigeons (Stirling) and on the 27th by The Irish Tutor (Butler).

1866: Performed for two more nights (4 and 6 January) in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by the Ray and Cooper Company, with The Secret (Morris).


Jeffrey Richards. 2014, The Golden Age of Pantomime: Slapstick, Spectacle and Subversion in Victorian England. I.B. Tauris

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 192-3

Go to ESAT Bibliography

Return to

Return to PLAYS I: Original SA plays

Return to PLAYS II: Foreign plays

Return to PLAYS III: Collections

Return to PLAYS IV: Pageants and public performances

Return to South African Festivals and Competitions

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page