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Pantomime gives the costume designer plenty of opportunity to devise absurd outfits for the comic characters. No pantomime is complete without the larger-than-life Dame, traditionally played by a man, whose outrageous dresses are 'sight gag' costumes, designed to make an audience laugh as soon as 'she' walks on stage. Often the costumes also give information about the character. Jack’s mother in 'Jack and the Beanstalk', and 'Mother Goose', who live in the country, may have flora and fauna references on their dresses, or even an entire vegetable patch; cooking references would be included in costumes worn by Sarah the Cook in 'Dick Whittington', who might even have a whole cake as a hat.

Aladdin's mother, Widow Twankey, is one of the best known Dame parts. The character has evolved as actors and authors add new elements to her story and the most successful of these are retained and developed in subsequent productions. In early versions of Aladdin the hero's mother appeared under a variety of 'Oriental' names and was described as a tailor's widow. By 1844 she had become a washerwoman. She was first called Twankey (or Twankay) in a version of 1861, named after a popular green tea. By the end of the 19th century the Widow was working in, and was sometimes in charge of, the palace laundry, a job now associated with the role and one that provides opportunities for slapstick washing routines and ridiculous costumes.

The dress and headdress worn by Alan Vicars is a good example of a costume which indicates character and occupation, and is guaranteed to get laughs. The dress is constructed from dusters and cleaning clothes, the huge headdress is a washing line decorated with boxes of washing powder which, in good pantomime tradition, have recognisable brand names. The fact that Vicars was 6ft 4in tall (1.93m), and would look even taller in the exaggerated headdress, was another visual joke.

Museum no. S.2633&A-1986

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