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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dan Leno in the role of Widow Twankey, for an 1896 performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Widow Twankey (originally Twankay, sometimes Twanky) is a female character in the pantomime Aladdin. She is a pantomime dame, played by an older man.


The story of Aladdin is drawn from the Arabian Nights, a collection of Middle-Eastern fables. It was first published in England between 1704 and 1714; and this story was dramatised in 1788 by John O'Keefe for Covent Garden as a harlequinade and included the character of 'Aladdin's Mother' (but unnamed) played by Mrs Davett. She was the widow of a tailor (as in the original story) and this was the profession in many later versions.[1] In 1813, she had the same profession but was the Widow Ching Mustapha, and again in 1836, played by Eva Marie Veigel (Mrs Garrick), but the character was not yet comic nor played by a man.[1]

In 1844 a burlesque version of the story described Widow Mustapha as 'a washerwoman with mangled feelings'. However, in productions of the same year and most others up to 1891 she is involved with tailoring, with rare excursions to a newspaper shop and fishmonger.[1] The laundry was already established as a place for a clown performance on the stage and began to be worked in, notably with Dan Leno as Twankay along with Aladdin's brother Washee-Washee in 1896.[1] The name later changed to Wishy-Washy.

The name Twankay appears first in 1861 in a play by Henry James Byron called Aladdin or the Wonderful Scamp, (a parodic name of an earlier opera) which established much of the content and style of the modern pantomime. It was performed by James Rogers who had previously played the female role Clorinda in a version of Cinderella.[1] It was named after a cheap brand of China tea.[2] Twankay, or 'twankey' is an inferior grade of green tea, with an old, ragged, open leaf – the implication is that the widow is 'past her best' — with the name Twankay deriving from Tunxi in Anhui, from where the tea in China originates.[3] Occasionally, the spelling of her name in the programme (but not the pronunciation on the stage) is varied to make it look more like a "Chinese" personal name – e.g., "Tuang Kee Chung" in a 1979 musical version.

The character has had a number of different names including Ching Ching, Wee Ping, Chow Chow, and Tan King.[1]

Some notable people who have played Widow Twankey

(many have played it more than once)

Widow Twanky in other media

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, a U.S./New Zealand fantasy-adventure-comedy television program, added Widow Twanky to its supporting cast in 1997. The role was played by Michael Hurst, who also played the regular character Iolaus and the recurring character Charon. On at least one occasion, Hurst-as-Twanky was credited as "Edith Sidebottom."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Clinton-Baddeley, V. C. (1963). Some Pantomime Pedigrees. The Society for Theatrical Research. pp. 33–37.
  2. ^ a b "The origin of popular pantomime stories", Victoria and Albert Museum, accessed 22 October 2011
  3. ^ The Chambers Dictionary (8th edn, 1998) Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh
  4. ^ Billington, Michael (7 January 1999). "Theatre Review". The Guardian. London. p. A11.
  5. ^ Fraser, Katie (16 December 2005). "There's nothing like a dame". Daily Express. London.
  6. ^ Davidson, Maitland (30 June 1932). "Theatre Notes". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  7. ^ "Carry On film star Peter Butterworth found dead". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 January 1979.
  8. ^ "Nothing like this Dame". The Daily Telegraph. London. 29 December 1999.
  9. ^ "Theatres". John Bull. London. 2 January 1886.
  10. ^ Valley, Paul (13 December 1981). "This New Aladdin had never seen a Pantomime". The Sunday Telegraph. London.
  11. ^ "Flashes from the Footlights". The Licensed Victuallers' Mirror. London. 25 September 1888.
  12. ^ Bower, Hilary (23 February 1999). "Can John Archer come back from the dead?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  13. ^ Holliday, John (23 December 1999). "Christmas Review: Aladdin". The Stage and Television Today. p. 16.
  14. ^ "The Drama". Bell's Life in London. London. 14 June 1863.
  15. ^ Russell, Clifford (10 January 1991). "Bromley Aladdin". The Stage and Television Today. p. 27.
  16. ^ Bishop, George (17 December 1951). "London's Three Pantomimes A Widow Twankey with Chic". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  17. ^ Thirkell, Arthur (23 December 1978). "Danny, the Lavish and Very Merry Widow". Daily Mirror. London.
  18. ^ "The Footlights o' London". Judy. London. 6 January 1897.
  19. ^ Billington, Michael (20 December 2004). "Aladdin". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  20. ^ "Cinderella has Scarlet Nails". Daily Express. London. 27 December 1934.
  21. ^ Neville Cardus, Second Innings: Autobiographical Reminiscences (London: Collins, 1950), pp. 23-34
  22. ^ "Boxing Day Amusements". Bell's Life in London. London. 28 December 1885.
  23. ^ Mallon, Maggie (24 December 2007). "There ain't nothing like a dame". Daily Express. London.
  24. ^ "Adelphi Theatre". The Times. London. 24 December 1937.
  25. ^ Maxwell, Dominic (8 December 2009). "There is Nothing Like This Dame". The Times. London.
  26. ^ "Christmas Shows". Daily Mirror. London. 24 December 1959.
  27. ^ "That Old Routine". Daily Mirror. London. 4 January 1985.
  28. ^ Maxwell, Dominic (13 December 2008). "It's tacky, corny, inauthentic . . . and an absolute joy". The Times. London.
  29. ^ Coady, Matthew (4 January 1985). "There is Nothing Like a Dame". Daily Mirror. London.
  30. ^ H., H. (27 December 1930). "Aladdin up tp date". The Daily Telegraph. London.
This page was last edited on 1 May 2024, at 21:24
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