Theatre in Melbourne 1886

"Another of those painful cases which, in spite of stringent prohibitive legislation, crop up every now and then, is being investigated by the police. A young girl, Georgina Warburton by name, died on Friday last at 25 Young street, under circumstances which, it is alleged, leave no doubt that a criminal operation had been performed on her. The notorious Mrs Taylor is said to be the guilty person, and is now under arrest. This woman has been accused of malpractice on four different occasions on which her patients have died, but has always managed to escape conviction. Miss Warburton was lately a member of the "Silk Stockings" Company, and was a daughter of the late Mr. Percival Warburton, for many years box-office keeper at the Theatre Royal."
(Scalfax July 27, 1886)

The Alexander Theatre

The Alexander Theatre, Melbourne, 1880s


This is most undeniably an age of progress. Art and science combined are brought to bear on all things. Steam and electricity annihilate distance. A wise legislation compels even the house-holder to improve 'our dwellings'. Stringent rules of hygiene have reformed all public buildings, schoolhouses, hospital wards; factories have to provide for increased room, adequate light, and efficient ventilation. Yet whilst this progressive movement is going on, there are still in all large centres of population, a number of halls, concert rooms, theatres and other places wherein large crowds congregate together, which are not only totally unfit for such a purpose, but dangerous, in the event of a panic. The watchful eye of the civic authorities or the Board of Health should be cast in that direction in order to compel the proprietors of such buildings to adopt measures for their proper ventilation and provide for easy modes of egress. Progress, however, takes the lead, enterprising men have noticed this crying evil; and there are now in course of construction, in Melbourne, two new theatres which, will, we have no doubt, soon be duly appreciated by a discerning public, whose comfort has been carefully studied by the proprietors. we have, in this city, a large and ever increasing population; a population consisting principally of well-to-do people; learning industrious, hard-working artistans; sufficiently well educated to appreciate good theatrical entertainments. it has all been said, very truly, that the Melbourne public "must have the very best of everything." Our population-principally middle class-when the day's toil is over, is ever ready to enjoy a night's amusement. The merchant, the tradesman as well as the working man, if tempted by an attractive "bill", are willing to patronise in large numbers theatres, concerts, fairs, or indeed any well-devised, well-conducted place of amusement. We are indebted, to a great extent, to the able and spectutive firms who of late have catered for the amusement of our people. But we are bound to notice the great lack of suitable places wherein the great gatherings are held, and it is with gratification that we call our readers attention to the new theatres now in course of construction in the city.

Article in Table Talk June 4th, 1886


In 1886 there was a sad lack of suitable venues for the growing Melbourne population. There were three main theatres offering the latest from the world's stages. There were also a number of smaller auditoriums offering lighter entertainment from smaller companies and solo artists. Two new theatres were being built but they would not open until the end of the year. Click on a month and check what was happening in Melbourne theatres for the year 1886.

January February
March April
May June
July August
September October
November December



The Royal Comedy Company continued their season with 'The Glass of Fashion', by Sydney Grundy, on January 1st.

"The cast of the piece could scarcely have been improved upon, but it seemed to have been inadequately rehearsed, so that it was not played so smoothly as it might have been." (Argus)

On the 23rd the F.C. Burnand comedy 'Betsy' opened.

"The performance was thoroughly successful, and evidently greatly enjoyed" (Argus)
"Mr. Brough is too apt to burlesque the business of the present production. So much of the action depends on Betsy, the servant, that you regret to see Miss Nina Boucicault cast for the part. she is too petite; she lacks weight; you could not possibly suppose great strong men would be overawed by so frail a creature. If Miss Boucicault were to try and hire out as a maid-of-all-work, she would be rejected with scorn." (Scalfax)

[Editor's note: Francis Cowley Burnand was the librettist for the one act farce 'Cox and Box' and the operetta 'The Chieftain'. Both with music by Arthur Sullivan]

Opera House

'Henry V' continued to play to packed houses until January 22nd. The Pettitt play 'In the Ranks' opened on the 23rd and played for one week only. The George Ringold season finished on the 29th. The company then headed for Sydney.

Theatre Royal

The annual pantomime, 'Sleeping Bauty', proved itself popular and played throughout January.

"Messrs Gordon and Hennings have combined to set before us a series of pictures of remarkable beauty, some of which ought never to be painted out." (Argus)


Opera House

A season by Lottie Montal's Opera Comique Company opened on January 30th (Editor's note: Lottie Montal was Louise Felicie Jean Montal. She was married to Horace Remi Poussard, the French violinist and composer). The first production was Offenbach's 'Mdme l'Archiduc' The cast included Annette Ivanova, Minnie Burton, Philip Day, Edwin Kelly and, of course, Lottie.

"The performance was, on the whole, fully equal to the merits of the composition...good scenery was there, and great variety of tastefully designed and well-looking costumes." (Argus)

The Offenbach operetta finished on the 19th. On the 20th the management of the theatre made an announcement stating that they "have determined to produce, in quick succession, a series of the most popular comic operas, and having also resolved to secure the popularity of the season, from and after this date the prices of admission will be reduced." The first work was 'Boccaccio'. The cast included Minnie Fischer, T.B. Appleby, Albert Brennir and, in the title role, Annette Ivanova.

Annette Ivanova "brings all the energy, the cheerfulness, and intelligence of manner which have earned her the position of high favour which she now enjoys before the Melbourne audience." (Argus)

'Boccaccio' finished on March 5th.

Theatre Royal

'Sleeping Beauty' finished its long season on February 19th.
On the 20th the Royal Comic Opera Company opened a season of 'The Mikado'. This had the added presence of both Alfred Cellier and Alice Barnett from the D'Oyly Carte Company in London.

"Miss Barnett is a huge woman, the word massive about suits her. She is fully six feet high and is the fortunate possessor of a highly-cultivated contralto voice of good range and power." (Scalfax)

Also in the cast were John Forde (the Mikado), W. Harrison (Nanki-Poo), Howard Vernon (Ko-Ko) and Nellie Stewart (Yum-Yum).

"The music of the opera is as bright and fresh as if it were the first, instead of being the ninth, for which we are indebted to Sir Arthur Sullivan's facile and graceful pen…the vestibule of the dress-circle had also been decorated in harmony with the opera, and the play-bills were printed on Japanese hankerchiefs." (Argus)


'Dark Days' opened on February 6th. This was a dramatization by Comyns Carr and Hugh Conway. The cast included George Sutton Titheradge, Maggie Knight, Dion Boucicault, Jr and Robert Brough.

"In no previous part has Mr. Brough been so impressive or displayed so firm a grasp of a character, or manifested such true dramatic power as in the part of William Evans" (Argus)

'Dark Days' finished on the 26th. [Editor's note: 'Dark Days' had been first produced at the Haymarket Theatre, London, in September 1885]

George Sutton Titheradge from the Australasian sketcher, 1885. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria George Sutton Titheradge (1848-1916) was born at Portsmouth, England. He played several Shakespearian roles in both England and India. He made is first appearance in London in 1877. His first appearance in Australia was in May 1879. The following year he joined the London Comedy Company in Sydney. After touring American he was engaged by J.C. Williamson to play the lead in The Silver King in 1883. He joined the Brough and Boucicault company in 1887 and played with them for ten years. He returned to London in 1898 to join the Mrs Patrick Campbell company which would consequently tour America. He finally returned to Australia in 1908 making just the occasional appearance on stage. He died in Sydney.

MARCH 1886


Dion Boucicault's farcial comedy 'Forbidden Fruit' opened on Saturday February 27th.

The Argus said the play was "overflowing with improbabilities, replete with divertingly absurd situations, and depending for its success upon the unflagging vivacity of Mr. Robert Brough, and the boisterous humour of Mr. Anson."

[Editor's note: 'Forbidden Fruit' was first produced in New York in 1876.]
On March 13th Steele Mackaye's domestic drama 'Hazel Kirke', by Steele Mackaye, opened.

"Hazel Kirke is the most arduous part which Miss Boucicault has yet essayed, and is also her best. She is not physically qualified to portray the intense emotion which is occasionally required of her, but in other respects it was a fine performance." (Argus)

Opera House

The comic opera 'Manteaux Noirs' (Black Cloaks), by Procida Bucalossi (1832-1918) opened on the 5th.

"Neither the music nor the libretto were familiar to the principals, with one or two notable exceptions, and even as a tentative one the representation could not be regarded as recommending itself to favor." (Age)
The production appeared to be so bad that reviewer Scalfax said "From beginning to end the effects of hurried and insufficient rehearsal were palpable to everyone; the principals, with three exceptions, did not know their parts; the conductor was not ready for his cues; and the chorus was oftimes lamentably perplexed to know exactly where they were."

[Editor's note: Richard D'Oyly Carte thought so well of this operetta that he obtained the rights to produce it himself, both in the British provinces and in America.]
On the 20th 'Boccaccio' was revived for another week after which 'Rip van Winkle', by Robert Planquette, opened.

This featured T.B. Appleby in the title role of whom the Argus said "displayed the possession of a better singing voice than we had credited to him from our recollection of previous performances."

[Editor's note: Thomas B. Appleby returned to England not long after and continued his acting carreer. However he died in November 1892 while lessee of the South Shields Theatre. He was 47.]

Theatre Royal

'The Mikado's' popularity continued unabated throughout the month.

"The trio 'Three little girls from school are we' receives its double encore every evening; in fact, the encores are a nuisance, they so greatly extend the time of the performance...The chorus and orchestra look like machinery under Mr Cellier's hand." (Scalfax)

APRIL 1886


'Hazel Kirke' proved popular enough to run until April 9th. On the 10th, 12th and 13th there was a double bill consisting of 'Grimaldi' and 'Puppets'. The former was an adaptation of Boucicault's five act drama 'The Life of an Actress' now compressed into four acts.

"It is a very fine performance on the part of Mr. Anson and will serve to strengthen the hold he has already taken on public favour." (Argus)

On Thursday the 15th Frank Thornton appeared in 'The Private Secretary' for seven nights only.

Frank Thornton courtesy of the Canberra Public library Frank Thornton (1845-1918) began his career as a performer giving evening entertinments in London. He joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company appearing in the original production of 'The Sorcerer' During the first run of 'HMS Pinafore' he understudied the leads and he created the part of Major Murgatroyd in 'Patience'. He also stage managed the first New York production of 'Princess Ida'. He obtained the Australian rights to the farce 'The Private Secretary', and staged it in Sydney in July 1885. He appeared in the first Australian production of 'The Sorcerer' and toured with the 'Dorothy' company. In June 1891 he returned to the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and continued on the stage until well into the Twentieth Century


On Saturday April 24th the Majeroni annual dramatic season commenced at this theatre. The season opened with 'Elizabeth Queen of England' with Signora and Signor Majeroni appearing as Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex.

"The Elizabeth of Signora Majeroni is every inch a queen, but she is at the same time brought within the range of ordinary sympathies." (Argus)

[Editor's note: In 1883 Giulia Majeroni, niece of the famous Italian theatrician Adelaide Ristori, formed a company in Australia with her actor husband Edoardo Majeroni. The company toured for almost a decade.]

Opera House

'Rip van Winkle' ran rather successfully throughout the month.

"Miss Lizzie Colborne, the Dunedin young lady, has made an unqualified hit, and the remainder of the company are proportionately jealous and spiteful." (Scalfax)

The production finished on the 23rd. On Saturday the 24th 'Falka', by Francois Chassaigne, had its first performance in Australia. The English version for this was by H.B. Farnie. [Editor's note: 'Falka' was first produced on October 29, 1883, at the Comedy Theatre, London.]

"With plenty of light music,smart dialogue, good scenery, and beautiful dresses, worn by clever performers, the performance on Saturday night was welcomed by the audience as a success." (Argus)

Theatre Royal

'The Mikado' continued to play through the month.

"Miss Alice Barnett has amply confirmed the favourable impression she first created, and has to suffer an encore for her songs every night." (Scalfax)

The operetta finally finished on April 30th. In the final week the original Sydney Nanki-Pooh, Frank Boyle, appeared.

"(Frank Boyle) proved, as was expected, a great improvement upon his predecessor." (Scalfax)

MAY 1886

Theatre Royal

'Iolanthe' was revived on May 1st. This featured Frank Thornton as the Lord Chancellor making his first appearance in a comic opera for the first time in Australia.

The Argus said that Frank Thornton "must be credited with having given an intelligent, vivacious, well-sustained, and amusing version of the part."
Comparing this production with the original the Weekly Times said "The new representation is decidedly a very successful one, but does not overshadow the first performance in excellence."
Scalfax quipped "Mr. Frank Ridsdale, the new baritone, was probably nervous, as he did not appear to much advantage. he lost so much time during the first and second acts looking for his voice that he had no time to change his dress, and appeared among the pears of the realm in his peasant dress."

'Iolanthe' finished on the 21st. On the 22nd saw a double bill of 'The Sorcerer' followed by 'Trial By Jury'.

"The experienced Miss Alice Barnett, as the Lady Sangazure, was equally good as in all the other parts she has undertaken, but Mr. Howard Vernon was lost as Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre." (Argus)

[Editor's note: Although 'The Sorcerer' had been seen in Melbourne before this was the first performance of the Savoy 1884 revival]

Opera House

'Falka' continued to successful houses playing throughout the whole month.


'Elizabeth' continued to draw good houses finally finishing on the 21st.

The Weekly Times said of Signora Majeroni that "although occasionally her voice did not seem to have sufficient reserve power, gave a splendid representation of Elizabeth in all the scenes."

On the 22nd the comedy 'Only Dust' opened. This was adapted from the Italian by Wybert Reeve.

"Signora Majeroni is qualified to shine in comedy as well as tragedy and that she enters heartily into the spirit of this piece goes without saying." (Argus)

JUNE 1886

Theatre Royal

'The Sorcerer' finished on June 4th. 'Patience' was revived on the 5th and ran for one week only.

"Miss Barnett rendered the music in excellent style, which, together with her intelligent and humorous interpretation of the dialogue, won for her the unanimous approval of the audience." (Age)

From the 12th to the 25th 'Estrella' played after which the Royal Opera Comique season concluded. The company then headed to Adelaide.

Opera House

'Falka' concluded on June 11th. On June the 12th 'Princess Toto', by Frederic Clay and W.S. Gilbert, opened. This was the first production in Australia and featured Armes Beaumont, as Prince Dora, making his return to the operatic stage after an absence of four years. Also in the cast were Edwin Kelly, John Forde, T.B. Appleby, Emma Temple and Annette Ivanova in the title role.

Annette Ivanova "sang the rather florid music effectively though her voice showed no signs of fatique, probably through protracted rehearsal." (Age)
Of the opera itself the Age said "The music proved to be of a very light description and rather monotonous in character, although some numbers are tuneful and likely to attain popularity."
"The costumes are new and glorious, the scenery is becoming, and Mr. Harrison is wielding the baton with good effect." (Weekly Times)
"The dialogue is very pointed and very humorous, and the plot is rather novel, leaving a lot of room for good acting, which the excellent company have made the most of." (Weekly Times).

The operetta closed suddenly on Friday the 25th. The theatre then went dark for a week.


The Majeroni season continued. 'Only Dust' proved very successful.

"It is seldom that all the actors of a company have parts so admirably suited to them. From Signora Majeroni to the little page boy all look the characters they represent." (Herald)

The play finished on the 17th. On Friday the 18th 'Jealousy' played for one week. This was a translation by F. Morrell from Achilles. On the 26th 'A Scrap of Paper', by Sardou, was performed.

JULY 1886

Opera House

On Saturday July 3rd the Opera House reopened with a return of 'Falka'. This featured a return to the Melbourne stage of Emelie Melville (1852-1932)

"It was at once evident that the freshness of her voice had suffered, no doubt through her residence in tropical countries, but in the song, At Eventide, her well managed mezza voce and appropriate interpretation roused the audience from the apathy which had previously prevailed. (Age)

On the 18th Planquette's operetta 'Neil Gwynne' was played for the first time in Australia.

"Miss Emelie Melville proved herself a thorough artist in the delineation of the character Neil Gwynne. She looked very winsome, moved about gracefully, and spoke in a natural manner." (Weekly Times)

Theatre Royal

The Royal Dramatic season opened on June 26th with 'His Natural Life' in an adaption by George Leach from the Marcus Clarke novel. This was a first performance in Melbourne. At the beginning of the season the play ran far too long into the evening for Melbourne audiences. However by the end of the first week the work was running more smoothly.

The Weekly Times said "The long intervals between the four acts of this lengthy play have now been much shortened, and the drama, comprising all chief incidents of the novel, is got through in a somewhat reasonable apace of time."

'His Natural Life' finished on the 23rd. On the 24th 'The Silver King', by Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman, was represented.

"The great burden of the piece revolved, as on its former representation, upon Mr. Titteradge, who gave probably as careful, finished and powerful an interpretation of the character of Wilfred Denver as it has ever received at the hands of a melodramatic actor." (Age)
Also in the cast were Harry Taylor and Maggie Knight whose "emotional acting is well suited to the part of the long-suffering wife." (Scalfax)


'A Scrap of Paper' finished on July 9th. On the 10th 'Marie Antoinette'. A long evenings entertainment with a prologue, four acts and a epilogue.

"The play was carefully mounted, but the intervals between the acts were too long." (Age)

On Saturday July 24th 'The Rocket' by Pinero received its first Melbourne performance.

This featured Wylbert Reeve whose acting was "extremely whimsical and droll. He sustained the comedy by it, and, in fact, saved it." (Age)



'Fedora', by Victorian Sardou, was revived on July 31st for one week only.

"The revival of 'Fedora' at this theatre on Saturday evening enabled the audience to witness one of those spirited and well sustained competitions of artistic effort in which each of two performers, equally distinguished in their art, act and react upon the other, so as to stimulate and call forth tho highest powers of both while their personal relations increase the interest of their emulation and augment the enjoyment of the audience." (Argus)
The Weekly Times said the play "splendidly represented by Signor and Signora Majeroni in the principal characters, proved an exceptional treat to those who love or appreciate high art."

On the 7th 'Diana' was performed for the first time in Australia. This was an adaptation by Signor Majeroni and Wybert Reeve of an Italian comedy.

"Signora Majeroni was excellent as Marie. In the great dramatic scene she showed unusual histrionic power, and was almost equally good in the lighter scenes which followed." (Weekly Times)

The Majeroni season finished on the 26th. The last week consistered of a revival of 'Elizabeth' and an original drama, 'Foundry Master.'

Opera House

'Neil Gwynne' finished on August 6th. On the 7th 'Maritana' was mounted. This featured Miss Colbourne-Baber in the title role.

Colbourne-Baber "sang very nicely all through. She was deservedly encored for a sweet rendering of 'Scenes that are brightest'. This young lady should have a good future on the operatic stage." (Weekly Times)

On Thurday the 29th 'La Pericole' opened. This featured Emelie Melville in the title role.

Scalfax noted that "her voice is breaking fast, and unless she soon takes proper care of it she will soon have to retire from the envied front rank to which all the heroines are allotted."

This was followed on Saturday the 28th by 'The Bohemian Girl'.

"Signor Verdi represented Count Arnheim successfully and sang with power and expression." (Argus)
Of Miss Colbourne-Baber, Scalfax said, "Her voice, under the fostering care and able tuition of Madame Lucy Chambers, has become wonderfully improved since her first appearance here."

Theatre Royal

'The Silver King' continued to draw good crowds. This finished on Friday the 13th. 'Hoodman Blind', by Henry Arthur Jones and Wilson Barrett, opened on Saturday the 14th. This work was first produced at the Princess Theatre in London in 1885. This featured the first Australian appearance of William Elton. [Editor's note: The first Australian performance of this work was on March 6th at Sydney's Theatre Royal.]

William Elton made a "favourable impression as good natured Ben Chibbles." (Scalfax)
"The drama is not a work of art, but contains a lot of startling incident, which is forcibly portrayed by the very efficient company." (Weekly Times)
"In the character of Yewlett, Mr. Titheradge is seen at his best, and if nature had not denied him a sympathetic voice, the performance would have been perfect." (Argus)

On Friday the 13th there was a one off charity performance of 'The Merchant of Venice' by the Boscian Company.



The farcical play 'The Great Pink Pearl', by Richard Claude Carton (1856-1928) and Cecil Raleigh, was mounted on Saturday August 28th. This starred Florence Wade and, from London, Henry Alleyne. Also in the cast was Melbourne's favourite Philip Day.

Philip Day "was very droll throughout the piece and carried the part into prominence with all the dash of a Charles O'Malloy." (Age)

[Editor's note: possibly meant to be a reference to 'Charles O'Malley' a novel by Charles Lever.]

The Argus said that the work "proved to be highly acceptable to the audience, and the performance must be pronounced to have been a decided success."

On Saturday the 11th 'Tim or the Irishman's Revenge' opened.

"'Tim' deserves to take rank among the curiosities of dramatic literature. In some respects the performance proved to be more diverting than that of a good many comedies, and its serio-comic aspects seemed to be much enjoyed by an unusually large audience." (Argus)

On Saturday the 18th 'As You Like It' opened.

"Miss Florence Wade's representation on Saturday evening was not the Rosalind of the poet's fancy. It was carefully studied, but lacked spontaneity and distinctness." (Age)

On the 25th Frank Thornton commenced a twelve night season. This was to be his last engagement in Australia. He would return late 1888. The work was his ever popular 'Private Secretary'.

"Mr. Frank Thornton and Mr. Harwood are as natural as if their parts were habitual." (Table Talk)

Theatre Royal

'Hoodman Blind' finished on Saturday September 4th. On the following Monday 'Hamlet' played for three nights. This featured G.S. Titheradge in the title role. On Friday the 10th the Royal Dramatic Company performed a benefit. The work was 'Othello' with Titheradge as Iago. 'Hamlet' then returned for the following Saturday and Monday nights. This was followed by the comedy drama 'Blow by Blow' featuring William Elton. This finished on Friday the 17th. On Saturday the 18th 'The Crimes of Paris', by Paul Merritt and George Conquest, opened. This featured the English actor Philip Beck making his first appearance in Melbourne.

"Mr. Philip Beck, who, notwithstanding his somewhat slight physique, possesses very good stage qualifications, and made a most successful debút." (Argus)
Of the play itself reviewer Scalfax said "As a whole, 'The Crimes of Paris' is the worst specimen of its class we have had for many a day, and one can only deplore the taste of the management in ever allowing it to be produced."

Opera House

'Nell Gwyne' finished on Friday September 3rd. On Saturday the 4th 'Les Cloches de Corneville' opened.

"Miss Emile Melville represented Germaine for the first time in Melbourne, and her impersonation was picturesque and pleasing, while her vocalisation proved satisfactory, excepting that she seemed to be suffering from a cold." (Age)

'Maritana' returned on the 11th for a single performance. This was followed by 'Madame Angot' on the 13th, and 'Bohemian Girl on Friday the 17th.

"Mr. Warwick Gainor replaced Signor Verdi as Count Arnheim, and, from nervousness probably, fell a whole tone in his opening solo, the orchestra having to transpose the music suddenly to prevent a contretemps. Mr. Gainor has a fair voice, but his acting wants looking to." (Scalfax)

'Girofle Girofle' played on the 18th and 'Carmen' on the 25th.

"The Opera House was well patrionised on Saturday when Carmen was first produced. Unfortunately, however, Miss Melville was so unwell that it was painful to have to see her go through the performance, and everyone of the actors appeared to be depressed." (Table Talk)
"The scenery gave us some new points about Spain, and from it I learn that the Bluegum and mountain pine grow side by side in that remarkable country." (Scalfax)

St. George's Hall

'Fun on the Bristol' opened to a crowed house on Saturday 18th. The old familiar piece went with the old familiar spirit.

"Mr. John F. Sheridan has lost none of his humour as Widow O'Brien, and our public have evidently not lost the capacity for enjoying the amiable widow's Malapropisms." (Scalfax)

The company played just four weeks and then the Federal Minstrels took over the theatre playing until late November.



The Alexander Theatre opened on Friday October 1st. The lessee was Captain de Burgh. The first performance to be mounted was 'Bad Lads', a farcical comedy by Walter R. Craven.

The play "may be pronounced to have scored a distinct success and the performance was as smooth as if it had enjoyed a week's repetition. There was a call after the first and second acts, and the merriment of the audience was almost continuous throughout." (Argus)

This was replaced on the 16th by Phil Day in 'Uncle Dick's Darling' by Henry Bryon.

"The chief burden of making the drama presentable rests upon Mr. Philip Day, who, in the character of Uncle Sick is, indeed, the only strongly accentuated figure in the piece." (Argus)


'Private Secretary' played its last performances.

Table Talk said that "Miss Emma Temple is a new and very charming Eva."

Harry Saint Maur and company opened a season on the 9th of October. First up was 'The Candidate', a farcical comedy by Harry Saint Maur and Alfred Maltby.

"The comedy was on the whole well and crisply acted. Mr. Harry Saint Maur, who made his first appearance, at once established himself strongly in the favour of the audience. His appearance, bearing, and manner are very agreeable, and the intelligence, ease, and dash of his rendering of the part of the jovial young nobleman, Lord Oldacre, contributed mainly to the success of the comedy." (Argus)

On the 16th there was the first production in Australia of the farcical comedy 'Too too Many'. This was an adaptation of a French farce by Grenet-Dancourt.

Of Mr. Saint-Maur the Argus said "he achieved a success by inventing the character with his own personality, and bestowing on it a warmth and vivacity of temperament, an alacrity of movement, a gaiety of manner, and volubility of speech, which seemed exactly suitable to it."

On the 23rd the comedy 'Betsy', by F.C. Burnand, was mounted.

"The faults of insufficient rehearsal were apparent in the performance." (Argus)

On Wednesday the 27th 'Pink Dominoes' played for a two nights. The unsuccessful season finished on the 28th.

"An excellent company, good comedies, and a liberal managememt - all that was wanted was the public, and they were coy." (Scalfax)

Theatre Royal

'Haunted Lives', by J. Wilton Jones, opened on October 2nd. This was another Melbourne first.

"The acting, taking it altogether, was much better than tho piece. Mr Beck as the polished scoundrel of the drama, made the part undemonstratively effective, and rendered it less unnatural, but not less repulsive, by the sobriety and good taste of his acting." (Argus)

This was followed a week later by 'The Lancashire Lass'. This finished on Saturday the 16th. On Monday the 18th there was the first production in Melbourne of 'In his Power', by Mark Quinton, double-billed with the one-act farce 'Model of a Wife' by Alfred Wigan. On the 23rd 'Human Nature', by Henry Pettitt and Augustus Harris, opened. This was first produced in London in 1885.

"Mr. Titheradge has a part in which he is qualified to excel, and Miss Knight seems to have acquired a prescriptive right to such tearful, wronged, and long-suffering characters as that of Mrs Temple." (Argus)

Opera House

The long Emelie Melville season came to an end with a single performance of 'Falka' on October 2nd. The company then went touring the larger inland towns.

The theatre closed opening again on the 9th under the Lessesship of Robert Brough and Dion Boucicault, Jnr, and their New London Company. The first production was 'Tuned Up' by Mark Melford.

"It is scarely necessary to say that an enthusiastic reception was awarded to Miss Trvelyan, Miss Boucicault, and Mr. Brough, while Miss Romer and Mr. Royce met with an assuring welcome." (Argus)
"Mr Brough was his old self again, and his acting as the melancholy and irascible undertaker could not have been improved upon." (Scalfax)

Robert Brough Robert Brough (1855-1906) was born in London and was a member of famous theatrical family. He joined the D'Oyly Carte 'B' Company as stage manager at the age of 24. For the next few years he played smaller roles with the various D'Oyly Carte companies. In 1885, he and his wife, Florence Trevellyan, traveled to Australia and appeared in the first production of 'Iolanthe'. In 1886 he joined in partnership with Dion Boucicault Jr and for many years they ran the Bijou Theatre, Melbourne, and the Criterion Theatre, Sydney.



'Jim the Penman', by Sir Charles L. Young, was performed for the first time in Australia on Saturday October 30th.

"The Mrs Ralston of Miss Agnes Thomas may be spoken of in terms of unqualified praise." (Argus)

On November the 6th 'My Sweetheart', with Minnie Palmer, opened.

"The stage accessories were admirable, and the spirited efforts made by Miss Palmer and every member of the company were flatteringly appraised by the audience." (Age)

[Editor's note: this play was the work of Melbourne actor "Willie Gill" who had made his name as a comedian in New York.]


'A Ruined Life', by Goodrich and Crauford, opened on October 30th.

"Mr. Augustus Glover gives a vigorous representation of the stockbroker and Mr. Harry Douglas rendered the villian with sufficient effect to excite the indignation of the gallery." (Argus)

On Monday the 15th a production entitled 'Mad, or Quits at Last' played for a few nights. This featured Marion Willis and J.B. Steele.

On the 20th the Lessesship of the Theatre changed to Hanson and Keogh. First up was 'Run to Earth', by Paul Merritt, which had originally played in Melbourne six years earlier.

"The acting of the play is quite up to the standard required in such pieces." (Argus)

This finished on Thursday the 25th. On the 26th an Australian drama in five acts was mounted. This was 'Tempted, or the Black Blocks of the Darling' by Thomas Hanson.

The Argus said "of the acting it is quite unnecessary to speak, for what scope could there be for histrionic display in a temperance lecture?"
Reviewer Scalfax commented "Your wonder as to why (Hanson) ever wrote it is only excelled by your wonder that any management could be induced to produced it until you learn that the author is one of the managers. It is, without exception, the worst drama I have seen in an extended period of theatre going."

Audiences stayed away and the production ran for just a few performances. On Tuesday the 30th the theatre was dark.

Opera House

'Our Regiment', a farce by Henry Hamilton from a book by Gustav von Moser, opened on the 6th.

The Age said "It would be difficult to imagine a more perfect 'mise en scene' than the three acts of the piece presented"
Table Talk said "The dialogue is not particularly lively and what little plot exists is the familiar stage mixture of penpery old gentlemen, mild young lovelaces and sweet young heiressess, all at impossible cross purposes"

This finished on the 19th and was followed on the 20th by a double bill. First was 'Vise Versa', by Edward Rose from F. Anstey's novel. [Editor's note: Anstey was the pseudonym of Thomas Anstey Guthrie. This play had been first seen in London in April 1883.]

"Miss Boucicault acted better than I thought she could as Dulcie." (Scalfax)

[Editor's note: This production saw the first appearance of W. Warde from the Gaiety Theatre, London.] This was followed by 'Silver Guilt', by W. Warham. This was a parody of 'The Silver King' and 'The Light o' London'

"(This) is the wildest amd riotous most piece of fun I have sat out for a year or two" (Scalfax)
The Argus said "The burlesque will bear retrenching in places, as it dragged here and there on the first night."

This production saw the first appearance of Fanny Robina.

"Her dancing is graceful and easy; her acting polished; and when she speaks you hear what she says." (Scalfax)

[Editor's note: Fanny Robina became a very popular artist with the company. However she stayed in Australia just two years before returning to England.]

Theatre Royal

'Human Nature' continued to draw an appreciative audience every evening.

"The many mechanical effects, including the fighting parson, are loudly applauded, and the actors have to submit to frequent recalls." (Scalfax)

This successful production ran throughout the whole of November finally finishing on December 3rd.


Opera House

The Brough-Boucicault company continued with their double bill of 'Vice Versa' and 'Silver Guilt'. On the 11th the comedy 'Young Fra Diavolo', a new version of Auber's opera by E.W. Royce, opened.

"Miss Fanny Robina, as the hero, dances well, sings in a very taking manner, and has a charm of her own which she imparts to everything she does." (Scalfax)

On the 18th the company added 'Bubbles' to the evening's entertainment. This comedy by Charles S. Fawcett was making its first appearance in Australia. The Season finished on Thursday the 23rd. On the 27th the Xmas attraction was 'Little Jack Sheppard', by Henry Pottinger Stephens and William Yardley, a hit at the Gaiety, London, during 1885-6. [Editor's note: Jack Sheppard was an infamous thief and highwayman who was hanged in 1724] The cast included Fanny Robina and Robert Brough.

"There is much lively dialogue in the piece, and some capital situations. The scenery is elaborate and very beautiful, and the musical numbers, as well as the dancing, which are liberally scattered throughout the three acts into which the piece is divided, will be found more than ordinarily attractive." (Age)

Theatre Royal

On Saturday the 4th of December Carrie Swain made her first appearance in Australia at this theatre. This was in the comedy drama 'The Tomboy' by Leonard Grover.

"The piece is uninteresting and vulgar, and can hardly be said to reflect credit either upon the judgement or good taste of the management. Miss Carrie Swain, who personates the tomboy, is possessed of considerable talent, but has deplorably misdirected it." (Age)

On Monday the 27th the annual pantomime opened. This year was 'Robinson Crusoe', freely adapted by Alfred Maltby, with music selected by Alfred Cellier. The cast included Alice Johns in the title role, Ada Lee as Polly and William Elton (making his first Melbourne appearance) as Mrs Crusoe. The Williamson company engaged the celebrated English set designer John Brunton to assist local artist John Hennings with the scenery.

"The piece went remarkably well for the first production of so elaborate a performance, both the comic business, the ballet and the complicated scene shifting showing how carefully the pantomime had been rehearsed." (Age)


The stage doorkeepers stereotypical answer, "Not here this afternoon", did not us, for, though our visit was not pre-arranged, we felt confident that the words "representative of THE HERALD" would serve both as introduction to the artist and excuse for interrupting his labours. The Cerberus contented to go and make sure that Mr. Brunton was not in his room, and in a few minutes returned and invited us to to enter. There are no passages at the back of the Theatre Royal stage to bewilder the stranger. The hindermost drop scene hangs a few yards from the street door and a narrow iron stairway in the right hand corner leads straight to the designing room.
As we enter Mr. Brunton lays down not a brush or a palette, but a pair of scissors. The room is as unlike an artist's studio as it is possible to conceive. No half-finished pictures, bits of drapery, properties, casals (?) or any other adjuncts of the profession, not even a blind to tone the light and hide the hideous outlook on to the battered roofs of the Chinese shops in Little Burke street.
"You see", said Mr. Brunton pointing to a little cardboard model of a act scene, "I have already got to work. This is a scene for the pantomime." We gazed at it somewhat blankly, perchance, for the artist, with a half smile, explained that the model was all formed to scale, so that the carpenters could build from it. "I don't know whether it can be called realistic, for it is meant to represent the bottom of the ocean", said Mr, Brunton. Then the splotches of violet color and the spider-like tracery of the slips and flies, resolved themselves into anernones, and seaweed, and corals, and shells of various shape and brilliant color, a grotto such as Clarence dremed of, but which Dr. Carpenter never found in his dredgings.
"I never use foil but trust to painting for brilliant effects", said Mr. Brunton. "When I first told the manager, at Liverpool, that I would not require tinsel or ballet girls for the transformation scene, he remonstrated, said that the public wouldn't be satisfied without them, and so on. But I kept to my resolution, and for each of the five scenes I presented, the audience insisted on my appearing to receive their applause."
Mr. Brunton is a diligent student of nature and excels in the portrayal of woodland scenery. Perhaps, by contrast, he has a predilection for making small sketches. But he has at the same time a quite wonderful knack of maintaining proportions. A little landscape, on a few inches of paper, will be so arranged that it will make a most effective scene when enlarged to forty feet by thirty; and his coloring will range from the clear shadows of Constable to the glowing brilliancy of Turner's latter style.
"Yes; I saw the famous scenery for Faust at the Lyceum", replied Mr. Brunton, in answer to a question about London stage scenery. "It was very finely designed. Everything is subdued, so as to make the actors the central point of attraction on the stage. The scenery is treated as a good artist treats his background in a figure subject - nothing is slurred, and nothing overwhelms in prominence the figures. The singularly powerful impressions of the scenes on the audience is got by careful adjustment of lights. By it all the actors are thrown into prominence in the most natural way. Irving's impersonation is a most masterly one, and the merits of his performance have not been exaggerated by the critics."
Mr. Brunton, continuing on the subject, expresses strong disapprobation of the practice of revolving scenery and its adjuncts, where apparently for the mere sake of novelty, the ingenious mechanisms of the stage carpenter are laid bare before the audience. What artistic merit is served, or illustration maintained, by twisting a cottage round, so that the hero may scramble out of the top story window; or chairs and tables sliding mysteriously off at the wings, while the side of the room is whipped up above the tree tops? Mary Anderson, with true American disregard for tradition, introduced such scenery when playing Romeo and Juliet at the Lyceum, but the public expressed disapproval so strongly that she gave it up.
"Some of the best scenery I saw in London just before I left", continued Mr. Brunton, "was in Harbor Lights, at the Adelphi. The moonlight effects were very beautiful."
Reverting to the question of the present state of art in England, Mr. Brunton remarked that the standard of average painting had greatly risen within the last ten years. Students, however, still have to flounder on in the old way, pointing most things out for themselves; but the old principle of model drawing and still life study is almost abandoned in favor of life studies and open-air sketching. "Good pictures are saleable enough, not withstanding the dulness of the trade generally; but they must be good; mediocre productions are a drag."
Mr. Brunton, when at Liverpool, had a good reputation as a landscape painter, and a collection of his works exhibited at Agnew's attracted a good deal of attention amongst art patrons. It was not many days after his arrival in Victoria, however, before he was told that there was very little prospect of a landscape artist finding purchasers amongst the wealthy "wool kings". "There are lots of people here who can perfectly appreciate good work", said these Job's comforters, "but there are precious few who will pay for them."
Mr. Brunton, however, notwithstanding his eight years' service as the principal of a large theatre, is still young, and has the hopefulness of youth and the capacity for hard work which is akin to genius. It was speaking of the time occupied in designing and painting the sets for a Shakespearian play, four of which Mr. Brunton has prepared, that we suddenly recollected the days were short, and we had chatted away much valuable daylight; so we stood not on the order of our going but went.

The Herald, June 21st, 1886.


American actress Minnie Palmer continued her successful season of 'My Sweetheart'.

"Miss palmer, as the pert, womanly, yet childish, amiable Lina Hatzell is all that you could desire for the money, and five years' practice in the part must have greatly contributed to the success she has made it." (Scalfax)

The play ran until Christmas. The company then headed for Sydney.

After Christmas the George Darrell (1841-1921) Company opened in 'The New Rush' written by Darrell himself.

"The drama is not distinctly Australian, except in the last act, where the scene is laid upon a goldfield. The plot is interesting and well sustained, and the various parts were admirably played." (Age)


Martin Simonsen's new Royal Italian Opera Company opened a long season on Saturday the 11th of December. The first opera mounted was 'Il Trovatore' which featured soprano, Emilia Cuiti, contralto, Giovanna Cavalleri, tenor, Pasquale Lazzarini and baritone, Giuseppe Pimazzoni. The conductor was Roberto Hazon.

"The chorus is well drilled, and the orchestra, though small, is effective." (Scalfax)

'Lucia di Lammermoor' opened on the 15th with a different cast: soprano, Alice Rebottaro, tenor, Giuseppe Santinelli, baritone, Edouardo Cerne and bass, Tomaso de Alba. [Editor's note: Also in the cast was the young Australian Flora Graupner of which much more would be heard later.] The two operas alternated throughout the month with Norma added on the 28th and 'Faust' on the 31st.

New Princess Theatre

The highlight of December was the grand opening of the New Princess Theatre on Saturday the 18th of December. The Royal Comic Opera Company took the stage with a performance of 'The Mikado'. Alfred Cellier conducted the National Anthem and the Overture to 'The Merry Wives of Windsor". In the audience was the Governor Sir Henry Loch and Lady Loch. Both were avid theatre goers. The cast included Albert Brenair (Mikado) W. H. Woodfield (Nanki-Poo) Howard Vernon (Ko-Ko) Alice Barnett (Katisha) and Nellie Stewart (Yum-Yum).

Theatre in Melbourne 1885

Theatre in Melbourne 1887