When the Brits discovered that ice skating could be great theatre they really got cracking and put on some smashing ice shows. The first was "Arabian Nights" at Bournenouth's Westover Ice Rink in 1932. It started a tradition there of annual new summer "Musical Plays on the Ice" which enjoyed great success for many years. In 1935 they imported dynamic American ice star Evelyn Chandler for the title role in "Rita The Spy," an original ice musical that has to be the first Who-Dun-It on skates. Other venues such as Brighton's Sports Stadium and theatres in Manchester and Nottingham soon jumped on the ice wagon.
Producer Claude Langdon's 1936 Brighton blockbuster "Marina" is counted as a milestone in English theatrical history. Like those at Bournemouth the lavish production had a complex story line and an outstanding cast of international skating stars including Melitta Brunner, "Red" McCarthy, and Baron von Petersdorff (a real baron). It went on to great success in Manchester, London, and Blackpool.
The Blackpool Ice Drome was built in 1937 specifically for staging ice shows. From its grand opening with the imported "Marina" up to the present it has broken all records by creating an innovative and exciting new skating production every year. The 1952 production put such "Literary Frolics" - and authors - on ice as Treasure Island, Midsummer Night's Dream, Omar Kayyam, and Diary of Samuel Peyps. The large 1955 cast recreated the entire history of America's "Deep South" on skates - everything from slavery to Mardi Gras revelry. Long-time producer and driving force Amanda Thompson carried on the tradition of her grandfather, founder Leonard Thompson. Very sadly, after surviving for over seventy years Blackpool's venerable Ice Drome became a casualty of the world-wide economic slump and discontinued its shows at the end of the 2008 season. Hopefully a recovering economy will soon bring fabulous ice productions - and cheering crowds - back to that hallowed hall.
HAPPY NEWS!! After a disappointing hiatus in 2009 an exciting and innovative new "Hot Ice" production was staged in Blackpool in 2010, although with a shorter run than in previous years. Thankfully, annual productions were resumed in 2011.
Meanwhile Gerald Palmer was staging two lavish ice spectacles a year at London's huge Wembley Arena. Among his highly successful offerings with glamorous American star Gloria Nord were "Sleeping Beauty On Ice," "Chu Chin Chow On Ice," and "The Dancing Years On Ice". In 1953 Miss Nord made theatrical skating history as the first ice artist to perform in the annual Royal Variety Show Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth.
In 1955 "Holiday On Ice" glided over from its European tour with such success that it has returned to the UK with a new edition each year. Blackpool titled its popular shows "Ice Parade" in the 1960's and 70's, then "Showtime On Ice," and "Hot Ice" after 1984. Another perennial favorite, The Bournemouth ice shows became "Ice Follies" through the 1960s, '70s, and 80s.
It was raining gold on English skaters in the 1970s and 80s. John Curry triumphantly won Olympic gold in men's figure skating in 1976 but shunned contract offers from traditional ice shows. Instead he fulfilled a long-held dream by forming his own dance-influenced skating company, training the skaters in his own classical style, and bringing his unique "Theatre of Skating" to the Cambridge Theatre in London in 1976, returning with "Theatre of Skating II" in 1977 at the London Palladium. In 1984 after performing all over the world The John Curry Skating Company returned to London for historic performances at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall.
When Robin Cousins captured his Olympic gold for England in 1980 it was a totally different story. Robin eagerly embarked on his long show-biz career with the European "Holiday On Ice." In 1983 he brought his own skating company, "Electric Ice," to perform at London's Victoria Palace Theatre. Like Curry he too found performing success all around the world and in 2000 made his farewell skating performance with "Holiday On Ice" at Brighton Center in his home country. Robin has concentrated on his many directing and choreographic activities since then, primarily for the "Holiday On Ice" company, with occasional performances on-the-boards in stage musicals such as "Rocky Horror Show," and "Grease.".
After the collapse of the Soviet Union England welcomed groups of Russian professional skaters, the Russian Ice Stars and The Russian All Stars, which each toured the U.K. The All Stars performing "Peter Pan On Ice" and "Barnum On Ice," and the Ice Stars such classics as "Sleeping Beauty On Ice," Cinderella On Ice," and "Beauty and the Beast On Ice." Wild Rose Productions entered the scene in 2000 with "Phantom of the Opera On Ice."