A very Happy New Year to everyone!!
I thought readers might be interested in hearing about the historical ceremony which I recently attended at Theatre Royal Drury Lane – the cutting of the Baddeley Cake.
The invitation-only event is organised by the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund and has taken place annually on the 6 January for more than two centuries (apart from the War years due to rationing).
I realised that this occasion is a brilliant example of self-promotion and we can learn lessons from it for our creative businesses.
Robert Baddeley, a contemporary of Garrick and Sheridan, worked as a pastry-cook in the kitchens of actor-manager Samual Foote where he developed a passion for acting, and subsequently spent 30 years at TRDL performing several roles on stage.
In November 1794, whilst preparing for the part of Moses in The School for Scandal, Baddeley was taken ill and died. His name would probably have passed unremarkably into the archives, had he not left £100 in his Will to be invested,and the interest used to pay for a 'Twelfth Night Cake' to be served with Punch to the ‘resident company of players’ at Drury Lane following the evening performance.
In recent years the Baddeley Cake has been made by a baker who previously performed with the D’Oyley Carte Opera company, and is crafted in the theme of the resident show. During my years with “42Street” a miniature replica of the set from the “Buffalo” sequence appeared on the cake - complete with model train.
Last year ‘Shrek’ was represented by a large ‘S’ shape with integral pea-lights atop the cake. The same show was still resident this year, and the cake was a casket with detailed drawings (in icing) of characters from the show. The top of the casket was removed to reveal Robert Baddeley’s monogram, and the speech given by the Theatrical Fund Master linked the traditional with the modern, making the occasion relevant to the current cast.
Nowadays the punch is served from a silver punch-bowl presented to the Theatre by the company of the original ‘My Fair Lady’ in 1963 – at that time the longest running production at Drury Lane.
The widespread celebration of Twelfth Night with cake and festivities all but died out in the late eighteenth century, leaving Christmas as the biggest festival.
Thanks to Robert Baddeley however, the tradition is alive and well in Drury Lane!