Theatre in Melbourne 1888
|"A man named Francis Pinder had an unpleasant surprise at the Princess Theatre, Sandhurst, on May 8 last. He was witnessing the performance of the Garetta and Ouda Company from the gallery, and during a trapeze act a pistol was fired, the wad from which penetrated his hat and set it on fire on his head. He claimed a new hat from the management, who refused the supply, alleging they did not pay for anything not skin deep. Pinder thereupon sued in the County Court and got 12s 6p damages and costs on the 13th inst." (Scalfax June 18th, 1888)|
The Bijou Theatre, Melbourne, 1880s
Two years ago when I was married I was only a girl, unversed in the world's ways, full of love for my husband, but wanting in that wisdom which is only bought by bitter experience. Through the scandal of neighbours into our life came 'the little rift within the lute', and finally we drifted apart. One word would have explained all, but pride prevented its utterance. I returned to my mother, and day by day watched him as he passed my window on his way to the office, hoping against hope that he would return to me. This wretched existence went on until last Wednesday, when, by chance, reading the words written by the English clergyman on 'THE WORLD AGAINST HER', something impelled me to go to its performance. During the progress of the play I was so carried away by the Pathetic story that I had my eyes and ears for nothing else, and in the intermission I was haunted by the one thought - 'IF HARRY COULD ONLY SEE THIS PLAY'. At last the curtain fell on the perfect picture of confidence restored and domestic happiness assured, and then across the theatre, I saw my husband. As i was hurrying out, a hand slid into mine, and the voice I knew and loved so well, said, 'EMILY, FORGET and FORGIVE'.
'THE WORLD AGAINST HER' has brought such happiness to me that I trust all women who suffer or have suffered will, as you suggested in your advertisement, bring their Sweethearts, Husbands, Sons and Daughters to learn the lesson it teaches. Harry knows I am writing this and approves.
Yours, gratefully, ---"
Correspondent to the Argus regarding the current hit play at the Alexander Theatre in November, 1888. A play that took Melbourne audiences by storm and one which ran for months and which the theatre advertising claimed had been seen by over 100,000 people.
MELBOURNE CELEBRATES IT'S ANNIVERSARY
1888 was anniversary year so the city was awash with music and drama for the full twelve months. Many popular companies passed through the city during the year. There were seasons by the Charles Warner's Royal Dramatic Company, the Saint Maur Comedy Company, W.J. Holloway's 'powerful' Company, the Amy Sherwin Opera Company, the famous London Gaiety Company and a very successful visit by the versatile American Carrie Swain. Click on a month and check what was happening in Melbourne theatres for the year 1888. All reviews are from 'Table Talk' unless otherwise stated.
The ever popular pantomime 'Jack the Giant-Killer and Little Bo-Beep', by Alfred Maltby, continued its long run at this theatre.
Reviewers said Emma Chambers, in the title role "seized every opportunity to give vent to her sprightliness and exuberant gaiety" , and John Gourlay, as the Widow Jennie Johnson "got through his comical episodes to the amused satisfaction of all beholders".
The Comic Opera Company continued with their successful 'Ermine'. This ran throughout most of January.
"The musical composition shows ingenuity throughout the greater part of the work. It suggests on the part of the composer a strong admiration for Strauss and his methods. The ear is kept in suspense, as are the relationship between theme and harmony throughout many quaint sounding and ingeniously contrived musical numbers." (Argus)
It should be noted that the costumes alone for this production cost over £2,000.
The comedy 'Sophia', which had opened on December 26th would run for the entire month of January. This production featured Cecil Ward, as Tom Jones.
"Mr Cecil Ward made Tom Jones no mere theatrical personage who spoke his lines well - on the contrary, he has steadily thought out the character, and every line in his dialogue, so that the hero was an actual human being in whom the identity of the actor was quite lost." (Table Talk)
The Royal Italians continued with alternating productions of 'The Huguenots', 'La Gioconda', 'Il Trovatore', 'Faust', 'Norma', 'Lucretia Borgia', 'La Sonnambula', 'Rigoletto', 'Maritana' and the popular 'Martha'. The season closed on January 14th. There was a benefit concert for the Company at the Town-Hall on February 16th before touring around the rest of the country. The Alexander went dark for the rest of the month.
Arthur Vivian's 'powerful dramatic' Company changed its programme on Saturday the 14th. 'Missing at Lloyd's' was billed as a Nautical melodrama in four acts. This featured Mr. W.G. Carey and Helen Vivian.
"The cast is a fair one, and the scenic effects are good." (Scalfax)
"...Mr W. G. Carey, »ho narrowly misses making a fine part of Frank Lynton, chiefly because of the jerkiness of his delivery and his apparently inveterate habit of chopping up his sentances into little bits." (Argus)
[Editor's note: The term of the title means that of an insured vessel which both ship and cargo is deemed completely lost at sea.]
When the season of 'Ermine' finished at the Princess, Williamson despatched several of the cast to Sydney for a lengthy season in that city. The remainder staged the English hit 'Dorothy' on Saturday the 28th of January. This ran throughout February. This featured the hottest star of the era, Nellie Stewart, who had just returned from several months in England. William Elton, Alice Barnett and Fanny Lydiard were also in the cast and the composer, Alfred Cellier (1844-1891), conducted. Cellier had recently arrived in Australia. When 'Dorothy' was first produced in Australia, in 1887, it was not the success that had been hoped for. This new production was an immediate hit.
Age says of Nellie Stewart: "Miss Stewart's performance was successful in
all respects, her appearance picturesque, her manner charming, and her singing
such as to interpret the music with graceful and appropriate expression."
"As Dorothy Bantam she pleased everybody; her voice is full and rich, and her acting, good as it used to be, has greatly improved. She had to submit to constant encores; as, indeed, had all the members of the company." (Scalfax)
"Mr Knight Aston is a decided gain to the companv. He speaks well und bears himself intelligently, while his good voice told with effect in the song, "1 stand at your threshhold sighing." which was honoured with an encore." (Argus)
The Princess Theatre:
Opened in 1854 as Astley's Amphitheatre with a 2,000 seat auditorium. After a few alterations it was renovated and reopened as the Princess's Theatre in April 1857. The first production in the new venue was Bellini's opera 'Norma'. In 1886 Williamson, Garner and Musgrove commissioned the design of a new theatre for the site. The New Princess opened December 1886 with a three level auditorium lit by electricity and was ventilated by a sliding section of the ceiling dome. The Princess Theatre is still in use today.
Arthur Vivian's season at this theatre concluded on Friday the 27th of January and the following day the mesmerist, Professor T.A. Kennedy, took over the stage. Billed as 'the 8th wonder of the world' Kennedy would play to packed houses all through February and well into March. The audiences loved this sort of entertainment and it was probably a great diversion to the other types of material currently on offer in Melbourne theatres. After the first night Professor Kennedy's reputation was fully established.
'Jack the Giant-Killer' concluded its season at this theatre on Friday the 10th of February and the next day the theatre's own dramatic company put on the melodrama 'Sentenced to Death', by Petitt and Conquest, which was a stop grap.
"Mr B. N. Jones made the hit of the evening as the bibulous old rascal, Hoyley Snale by name, who has always a stereotyped moral sentiment on his lips and a marvellous amount of depravity in his heart." (Argus)
On the 18th the production of 'Drink' was mounted. This was adapted by Charles Reade (1814-1884) from Emile Zola's 'L'Assommoir'. Leading English actor Charles Warner, fresh from a recent London revival, led the cast.
"Mr Warner's Coupeau must
be seen to be appreciated, and once seen will never be erased from the
memory." (Table Talk)
"In the four first acts this gentleman is easy, natural, and quietly effective, without effort, but there is nothing, except, perhaps, the love making scene, and that in which he plays with his little child during the dinner hour, to differentiate the representation of the character from that of any other experienced actor with a good presence, a good voice, and a sympathetic temperament. It is in the fifth act that Mr Warners opportunity, or what the French call "the psychological moment" arrives." (Argus)
'Drink' was successful enough to run through the rest of February and well into March.
The Alexander reopened on February the 4th with the Saint Maur Comedy Company in Sydney Grundy's 'Those Arabian Nights'. This comedy in four acts was based on a German story by Gustav von Moser and proved to be very popular with Melbourne audiences. The next production of the season (opening on the 25th) was the farcical comedy 'Brighton' by James Albery and Bronson Howard (1842-1908). 'Brighton' (an adaption of an earlier Howard play 'Saratoga') opened on February 25th and ran into early March.
"Mr. St Maur and his company are well up in it, and act fairly well all round." (Scalfax)
"We welcome Mr Saint Maur back again to the Melbourne stage not only for his own sake, but for the benefit of his example to some of our young actors of local growth." (Argus)
'Sophia' finished on Saturday January 28th.
W.J. Holloway's 'powerful' Company opened with a season of Shakespeare on January 30th. The leading lady was popular Shakespearian actress Essie Jenyns. 'Romeo and Juliet' was the first work presented.
"A very short acquaintance proved that the young lady had lost none of her natural attractiveness, while she gained greatly in her acquired gifts, and, in short, that she had developed into a consummate actress" (Age)
"Miss Jenyns possesses the primary requirements for the character she portrayed, and her Juliet was a charming bit of acting throughout." (Table Talk)
This was followed by 'As You Like It' on Saturday February 18th.
"The company as a whole is not capable of providing a strong cast for the piece, but Miss Essie Jenyns is a great attraction in herself, and the comedy had been so carefully put upon the stage, that the audience derived a real evening's enjoyment from this exquisite composition." (Age)
|Essie Jenyns (1866?-1920) was born Elizabeth Esther Helen Jennings but was always known by her stage name. Her first major stage performance was in 1883 when she created the character of Babs Berkeley, in George Darrell's drama 'Sunny South', at the Melbourne Opera House. In the mid 1880s she studied in Europe and then returned to Australia making her name as a powerful Shakespearian actress.|
Essie Jenyns took a rest from Shakespeare to star in the old favourite 'Ingomar, the Barbarian' by British playwright Marie Lovell (1803–1877).
excellent piece of acting, full of pathos and refinement." (Table Talk)
"Mr Holloway plays Ingomar, und the defects which render him so objectionable in Shakespearian parts are advantageous rather than otherwise to an actor who is called upon to portray a barbarian ot the fourth or fifth century." (Argus)
[Editor's note: Of interest, the play would be turned into a film, by D.W. Griffith, in 1908.] 'Igomar' continued until Friday 23rd March. The following evening Essie was back performing Shakespeare. This time it was 'Twelfth Night' which held the stage until well into April.
"Miss Essie Jenyns may be complimented on her graceful and agreeable portrait of Viola, and upon her intelligent conception of the character." (Age)
"Miss Essie Jenyns exhibited most of the qualities which have secured for her so much favour with the public, and she was thrice called before the curtain in the course of the evening." (Argus)
The Saint Maur Company continued at this theatre. On March the 3rd, the play 'Stage Land' hit the boards for one week only.
"Mr Harry St Maur gives a powerful representation of the character of the old French man, Casar Hector du Boisgoby, as he is called, and affordcd further proof of his versatility as an actor." (Argus)
[Editor's note: This was, in fact, an adaptation of Dion Boucicault's 'The Life of an Actress', which was also known as 'Grimaldi'.]
This was followed by a double bill of 'An Old Master', by H.A. Jones, and 'Pink Dominoes', based on the Rudyard Kipling poem. The Saint Maur Comedy Company made its last appearance on Saturday the 17th of March with the double bill 'O'Callagham on his last legs' and 'Pink Dominoes'. For the next two weeks the theatre remained dark.
The operetta 'Dorothy' finally ended its long run on Friday, March 2nd. The following evening the much heralded new production of 'Faust' took the stage. Nellie Stewart was Marguerite, with Fanny Liddiard, C.H. Laumaine and F. Federici. The audience on the opening night were unaware that Federici, playing Mephistopheles, had suffered a fatal heart attack as he made his final exit through the theatre trapdoor. The theatre was closed on the Monday allowing the Company to pay their respects. The opera opened again on the Tuesday with Mr. E. St Clair taking over the bass role.
Mr St Clair "makes a fair attempt at a part which is really beyond his powers." (Scalfax)
The opera was extremely successful and ran for 22 consecutive performances after which the company headed for Adelaide. On the afternoon of Saturday the 24th there was a 'Grand Entertainment' for the benefit of Federici's widow and children.
'Drink' made its final appearance on Friday the 16th and was replaced the next night by 'The Road to Ruin', by Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809). This successful play was first produced at Covent Garden in 1792.
"One of the features of the production was the appearance of Miss Grace Warner as Sophia. This young lady had only been on the stage once before, and it was rather a bold experiment to entrust her with the leading part in this play. Miss Warner's impersonation of the part was graceful, and in some respects effective. She was accorded a very flattering reception, and was made the recipient of several beautiful baskets and bouquets of flowers." (Argus)
The final night of the Charles Warner season was on Thursday the 29th.
The theatre went dark on the Friday allowing final rehearsals for the Bland Holt Company.
Mr and Mrs Bland Holt, supported by a strong dramatic company offered latest stagepieces from London. 'New Babylon', by Paul Meritt, opened on the 31st. This play was first performed at the Manchester Queen's theatre on June 10, 1875. The first Victorian production was in 1881 and many of the actors from this cast were also together again in this latest presentation.
The Argus reviewer said "The play was well mounted, the racecourse scene being particularly well represented."
The production stayed in residence until the end of April.
Professor Kennedy finally disappeared from the stage of the Opera House on March 9th. He next headed for Sydney.
On the 10th there followed a season featuring Grattan Riggs, the Irish comedian and character actor. This opened with 'The Irish Detective', written by Riggs himself and in which he played seven different characters.
"We have seen Mr. Riggs in this part a few times before. He is as amusing as ever, and has a fair company at his back." (Scalfax)
This ran until the 23rd when it was replaced by 'Nobly Won', by Charles Bradley. This drama held the stage for less than a week.
The Alexander reopened, under the new management of Mr C.P. Williams. First up now was a season of week long plays by the theatre's own company. The first production was an Australian first, 'Olivia Vera', by Edward Byefield, opening on the last day of March.
"The mounting of the piece is exceptionally fine, and the 'tout ensemble' is exceedingly satisfactory." (Table Talk)
This was followed by 'Across the Continent', by Oliver Byron, on the 7th, and the domestic drama, 'The Ring of Iron', by Frank Harvey, on the 14th. This ran for two weeks.
On the 28th there was a re-appearance in the city of the English Tragedienne Ada Ward. Ada had not been seen in Melbourne for several years. The first production 'Left to Perish', by Charles Bradley, did not receive good notices.
Of the author Scalfax said "we can only wonder how ever he managed to write it, and how he got anyone to accept and stage it."
The work perished after a week. [Editor's note: Ada Ward made her first appearance in Melbourne at the Opera House in a Russian play called 'Les Danicheff' in February 1877. The critics noted that "Miss Ward has made a very strong impression on the public by her graceful and highly disciplined style of acting, combined with her considerable personal attractions." She became popular as Lady Isabel in 'East Lynne', a role which she would play over 1.500 times.]
Grattan Riggs appeared on the last day of March in 'The Shaughhraun', by Irish playwright, Dion Boucicault.
"The drama was beautifully mounted, and the acting of the favorite Mr. Grattan Riggs was as inimitable as ever, and elicited round after round of hearty applause."
'The Shaughhraun' ran through until the 13th.
After this the Arthur Vivian Dramatic Company took the boards with a series of one week seasons. 'The Green Bushes', by John Baldwin Buckstone, was up first. (This play was first produced at the Adelphi, London, in 1845) It was replaced on Saturday the 21st with 'Missing at Lloyd's'.
"The spectacular effects of the sinking ship and castaways at sea are well managed, but we have has a lot of them lately." (Scalfax)
The play did not do much business and was replaced a week later by 'A Chain of Guilt'.
Charles Warner's Royal Dramatic Company now moved to the Princess with a season of one week seasons. 'The School for Scandal' opened on March 31st.
Of Charles Warner the Argus said: "The demeanour and manners were as free and easy as those of a man about town in the smoking-room of his club. He jerked the other characters under the ribs, was as rollicking as a fast young fellow in a contemporary farce, and scarcely uttered a sentence without following it up by a laugh or a giggle."
A week later Boucicault's 'London Assurance' was staged.
Charles Warner "plays the part with so much gusto, with such unflagging spirit and hearty enjoyment, as to carry the audience with him from beginning to end." (Argus)
The tragedy 'The Fool's Revenge', by Tom Taylor (1817–80), opened on the 14th.
"Might we suggest that it would be comparatively easy for members of the company to acquire the accurate pronunciation of such words as Bologna, Bertuccio, Mantredi, Bentivoglio, and Cesena were it only to secure uniformity in that respect." (Argus)
[Editor's note: 'The Fools Revenge' was based on the play 'Le Roi s'Amuse', by Victor Hugo, This was turned into an opera by Verdi entitled 'Rigoletto'.]
On the 21st there was 'Old Heads and Young Hearts', by Dion Boucicauit.
The performance "kept a large audience in a state of merriment from beginning to end.". (Argus)
'The Lady of Lyons', by Claude Melnotte, opened on the 28th.
"Mr. Warner's portrayal of the part was admirable, and the earnest impressive and artistic manner in which he acted, made it evident that his Claude Melnotte may be regarded as one of his very best parts." (Table Talk)
'The Merchant of Venice' replaced 'Twelfth Night' on the 14th.
"Essie Jenyns sustained the role of Portia in her well-known artistic style, and her performance of the part was clever and essentially pleasing, and indicated that she had thoroughly studied and mastered the beautiful character of Shakespeare's heroine. Mr Holloway as Shylock acted with vigor but does not seem to have thoroughly grasped the character of the usurious Jew."
There was two benefit performances for Essie of 'As You like It' on the 27th and 28th. The Governor and suite were present on the Friday. 'Twelfth Night' returned on the 30th and the Holloway season of 83 nights concluded on Friday the 4th of May with 'The Merchant of Venice'. [Editor's note: This was probably the longest that Shakespeare had ever ran in Melbourne]
Bland Holt's 'New Babylon' was having a wildly successful season running through the whole of April.
"Mr. Bland Holt sings two songs during the performance. It cannot be truthfully stated that he has even a musical voice, but the audience generally goes into raptures and, like the little boy, want them all over again." (Scalfax)
'Babylon' finally finished on the 27th.
'Mankind', by Paul Merritt and George Conquest, another Bland Holt entertainment, opened on April 28th and ran until May 11th.
"Mr. Bland Holt made an amusing costermonger of the jovial good-natured stamp and received renewed applause each time he appeared on stage." (Table Talk)
"The scenic effects were excellently managed, as they always are at this house, those of the channel steamer and the Thames with its many bridges calling for special mention." (Scalfax)
There was a revival of the popular 'Alone in London', by Robert Buchanan, on the 12th.
"The completeness of the present production leaves nothing to be complained of." (Scalfax)
The final work of the present season was 'Taken From Life', by Henry Pettitt, which opened on the 26th.
"The part of Kate Denby was taken by Miss Agnes Thomas, whose sterling abilities as an actress gave her complete command over its requirements." (Argus)
The Bland Holt season concluded on Friday June 1st after which the company headed for Sydney.
'Leah the Forsaken' plyed for the nights of May 5th, 7th and 8th. 'Leah the Forsaken' was an adaptation of a translation of Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal's 'Deborah' by American Augustin Daly (1838-99). On Wednesday 9th 'East Lynne' was staged. [Editor's note: 'East Lynne' was an adaptation of Mrs. Henry Wood's (1814-1887) 1863 novel. This novel was extremely popular and would eventually be turned into a movie - not once but several times, most recently in 1982 as a television drama.] 'East Lynne' ran until Tuesday the 15th.
"Miss Ward displayed her powerful dramatic qualities in an admirable manner."
On Wednesday the 16th the Ada Ward season continued with an adaptation of 'The New Magdalen', by Wilkie Collins. This was followed by 'The Women in Red', the 1868 drama by Joseph Stirling Coyne, on the 20th.
Of Ada Ward, Scalfax said, "Rudigia, the woman in red who roams in search of a lost daughter, is a part which suits her physically and artistically, and she was pretty much supported by the stock company."
This was followed by 'The Octoroon', by Dion Boucicault.
"Had one or two of the actors engaged in the play shown something like a proportionate knowledge of a dialogue not entirely new several awkward pauses in the first act would nave been avoided, and the production would have gained from the rising of the curtain the success which the attention given to it by the management and the leading members of the company has most honestly earned." (Argus)
The advertisements for this production highlighted the burning steamer sequence. The theatre then went dark.
The musical comedy drama 'Hans the Boatman', by Clay M Greene, took the stage on the 5th. This featured comedian Charles Arnold. This production provrd highly popular, running uninterrupted until the last performance on June the 8th.
"Mr. Arnold is a most entertaining, gentlemanly and versatile actor. The way in which he dances with the children, and his gambols with his sagacious dog call to mind the days of our childhood, and are sympathetic and touching in the extreme."
The Royal Comedy Company took over the Princess on Saturday the 5th of May with 'The Barrister', a farcical comedy by George Manville Fenn (1831-1909) and James Henry Darnley. Fenn was a prolific writer of boys' adventure stories. He also wrote serialised books for the various boys' periodicals. 'The Barrister' proved most successful and ran for most of the month.
"Mr. Brunton has painted two very beautiful scenes for the play , which is in other respects handsomely mounted" (Argus)
Half way through the season of 'The Barrister' 'Dora', by Charles Reade, was added to the evening's entertainment. [Editor's note: This was an adaptation of Lord Tennyson's poem.]
"It went straight to the hearts of the audience accordingly, eo that the curtain fell amidst a storm of applause, and had to be raised again upon the final tableau." (Argus)
On Saturday the 26th Charles Warner appeared in 'Hamlet'. This ran for just one week.
"Throughout the play it was evident that Mr. Warner had reverentially studied the character, which, perhaps of all his creations, is Shakespeare's masterpiece."
The Arthur Vivian Dramatic Company continued its season. 'A Chain of Guilt', billed as a great sensational, spectacular and immensely humourous drama, opened on April the 28th. 'East Lynne', an adaptation of Mrs. Henry Wood's (1814-1887) 1863 novel, opened on the 5th and ran just a few performances. [Editor's note: 'East Lynne' was also in production at the Alexander.]
The Opera House went dark for three days in preparation for the Amy Sherwin Opera Season. The Opera House auditorium had been newly decorated and upholstered with an updated electric light system. There was also a new terra-cotta plush curtain replacing the old one. Amy Sherwin was known as the Tasmanian Nightingale. The Melbourne season opened on the 12th with 'Lucia, the Bride of Lammermoor'.
Of Amy Sherwin Scalfax said "She is so well known over the colonies now that I need to say she was recalled after each act and covered with bouquets."
The Argus said "Her pure soprano voice is heard to great advantage in each musical scene."
'Lucia' was followed by 'Maritana' on the 19th and 'The Bohemian Girl' on the 28th. [Editor's note: At the performance of "Maritana' on the 26th Minna Fischer substituted for Amy Sherwin.] The company also included contralto, Marie Hester, and baritone, Avon Dixon.
|Amy Sherwin (1855-1935) made her professional debut in May 1878, in Hobart, as Norina in Donizetti's 'Don Pasquale' with the Royal Italian Opera Company. She travelled to the U.S.A. and Europe to further her studies. She made her debut in London at the Drury Lane Theatre with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, performing in 'Maritana'. In 1887 she returned to Australia to present seasons of opera in English.|
'Hans the Boatman' finally ended its long run on June 8th. On Saturday the 9th the programme changed to 'Jim the Penman' by Sir Charles L. Young. According to reviewers this was a beautifully mounted production.
"Mr. Harry St. Maur, as Ralston, appears to better vantage than in anything he has yet done here, and he is ably supported by a capable company." (Scalfax)
There were good reviews for Agnes Thomas "Miss Thomas actually alters the equipoise of the play. she makes Mrs. Ralston the central figure of the piece, and controls the attention of the audience so that the remaining characters pass unnoticed." (Edward Ellis)
[Editor's note: This drama had been very successful in both London and New York running for over a year in both cities. It would be continually revived for thirty years and eventually turned into a movie, starring Lionel Barrymore, in 1921.] In Melbourne it proved popular enough to run through to July the 6th.
The Carrie Swain season commenced with 'The Tomboy', by Leonard Grover, on Saturday June 2nd. The highlight of this production was the use of real water where a child is thrown from a wharf. Carrie would swim and save the child amid ovations from the audience.
"Miss Swain must have some nerve to jump into cold water from a draughty stage these freezing evenings." (Scalfax)
"It ia immaterial that the dive is made in exactly the opposite direction to that in which the child has disappeared. The spectators lose sight of the incongruity, and watch the actress with great interest as she swims to the far aide of the stage, returns, and finally, as the curtain descends, swims back again with the child clasped to her neck." (Argus)
|Carrie Swain began her stage career as a child actress at the California Theatre in San Francisco in the 1870s. She arrived in Australia in 1886 and spent the next two years touring the country and New Zealand. She had audiences gasping at her sheer energy and earnestness. She was a charming singer, a fearless gymnast, and a vivacious actress. After her lengthy season in Australia she returned to the States and continued to perform both there and in London.|
'The Tomboy' ran uninterrupted until the 22nd when it was replaced by 'The Miner's Daughter', based on a story by Bret Harte (1836-1902). This ran until July 6th.
This theatre remained dark throughout the whole month of June.
The Amy Sherwin season continued at the Opera House with productions of 'Maritana', 'The Bohemian Girl', and 'The Daughter of the Regiment'. On Saturday 9th there was the first perfomance by the company of 'Martha'.
"When the time came for the performance of the "Spinning Quartet," it was by no means disappointing to find that none of the performers knew how to use the treadle, and even if they did, the "property" spinning wheels refused to work, and disconnected themselves from their motors with a fidelity to stage tradition which is at once remarkable and mysterious." (Argus)
Early in the month Amy developed a severe head cold and her parts, in many performances, were taken by Minna Fischer.
The Charles Warner season continued with various productions including 'The Fool's Revenge', 'Old Heads and Young Hearts', by Dion Boucicault, 'The Lady of Lyons' by Bulwer Lytton, and 'London Assurance', the 1841 parody of a classical English comedy, also by Dion Boucicault. The season concluded on the 14th and 15th with two benefit concerts.
On Saturday the 16th the famous London Gaiety Company hit Melbourne.
"The company is far and away the best we have ever had here or are likely to see again for many years." (Scalfax)
The burlesque melodrama 'Monte Cristo Jr', by Richard Henry, opened the season. This production at the Princess ran throughout June. The show featured the first appearance in Australia of Nellie Farren and Fred Leslie (1855-1892). These two artists were in the original production at the Gaiety Theatre, London, in December 1886. They then toured the work in the United States before heading down to Australia. Also in the cast of the company were Sylvia Grey, Marion Hood and, principal female dancer, Letty Lind (1861-1923).
The Argus said "Miss Letty Lind, who plays Marinette, combines with no inconsiderable personal attractions a pretty voice and great elegance as a dancer."
|Nellie Farren (1848-1904) was also known as Ellen Farren. She was the daughter of Henry Farren and came from a family with a long tradition in acting. Nellie was renowned for her comedy acting and famous for playing 'boy' roles in burlesques at the old Gaiety. Nellie was married to actor, Robert Soutar (1827-1908). She retired from the stage in 1892.|
'Jim the Penman' finished its long run on July 6th. On the 7th 'Bachelors', by Robert Buchanan, opened. This featured the first appearance in Australia of actress Lilian Gillmore.
"Her dashing and attractive appearance and her fascinating manner enabled her to fill out the lines of a character for which the author had done very little." (Edward Ellis)
'Bachelors' ran for three weeks.
There was a change of programme on the 7th. Carrie Swain appeared in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'.
"(Carrie's) dancing was excellent,
and the same may be said for her singing." (Table Talk)
"The scenic effects and incidental choruses and dances well given." (Scalfax)
The last night of this production was Friday the 27th.
After remaining dark for a month the Alexander was taken over by lessees Messrs Hiscocks and Friedman. The theatre hosted the Novelty, Melodramatic Extravaganza Company for a season. The first production was entitled 'Zuleika, the Pirate Queen', an extravaganza by Charles A Sherard. Reviewers seemed to boycott this production.
Scalfax summed it up with "Life has cares sufficient without seeing a bad piece played by a bad company." 'Zuleika' ran for three weeks to poor houses and was replaced on the 28th with a double bill, the melodrama 'The Golden Farmer' and the comedy 'A Dead Shot'.
'Monte Cristo Jr' continued its long reign.
"What can one say of Mr. Fred Leslie save that he defies description. He is everything at different moments. His facial expression is marvellous; he reminds you every minute of somebody else. He can imitate - and does - most of the instruments of a brass band; one instant he is a squeaking doll, and the next he is a fair imitation of Henry Irving. He sings, dances, acts, and conjures equally well." (Scalfax)
The last night was Friday the 20th. On the 21st a 'new and original' burlesque entitled 'Miss Esmeralda', by A.C. Torr and Horace Mills, took the stage. [Editor's note: A.C. Torr was the pseudonym for Fred Leslie] This was a recent hit at the Gaiety Theatre, London. The production ran into the middle of August.
"Miss Nellie Farren's mercurial temperament knows no trammels, and we verily believe she could make fum out of everything, and put life back into the most unlikely subject for her captivating and vivifying magnetism." (Table Talk)
The Amy Sherwin season continued with productions of 'Maritana', 'La Sonnambula' (which featured the first appearance in Australia of the American Prima Donna, Dora Wiley), 'The Bohemian Girl' and 'Faust' (which featured Herr Otto Fischer, a competition winner at London's Royal College of Music).
Carrie Swain continued to star at the Royal. On July 28th the drama 'Jack and I' opened.
"Miss Carrie Swain sought to make the part of Rhoda Thorn the leading character, and to achieve this end introduced several songs, one of them an original topical song, being singularly out of place though none the less pleasing." (Argus)
The play ran until Wednesday the 8th of August.
On the 9th and 10th of August the Melbourne Shakespeare Society gave single
performances of 'As You Like It' and 'Hamlet'. This was a benefit for Melbourne
Saturday the 11th was the start of the final productions in the Carrie Swain season. First was 'Little Neill and the Marchioness' based on the Charles Dicken's story 'The Old Curiosity Shop'.
This was adapted by John Broughton and
was described by the Melbourne Argus as being "mangled and mutilated almost
Miss Swain played both title roles and according to the reviewer "fails signally in each".
This production only ran until August 20th and was then followed by brief reruns of 'The Miner's Daughter' and 'The Tomboy'.
The double bill at this theatre concluded on August the 7th. The following evening 'Lost in London', by Watt Phillips, played for three performances. This work had its first performance at the Adelphi Theatre, London, in 1867. The play was replaced on the Saturday night with 'Master and Man' described as a "Realistic drama suggested by Emile Zola's 'Germinal'".
"Mr. H.C. Sidney, in the part of Etienne, acted with vigour, and gave the character a far higher attribute of chivalry than is set forth in the novel. This gentleman is so good an actor that even when his speeches were dull they were never allowed to hang fire."
This play ran for a week and was replaced on Saturday the 18th by 'The Outcasts' which was based on the novel 'Henry Dunbar'. A week later there played an adaptation of New Zealand writer Fergus W Hume's (1859-1932) novel 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab'.
The production was badly reviewed: "Mr. H.C. Sidney is to be warmly praised (in trying) to make the piece popular, but fate was against him."
This murder-mystery was on stage until the end of the month.
|Sir Fergus Hume (1859-1932) was considered to be New Zealand's first mystery writer. Heavily influenced by Emile Gaboriau's 'L'affaire Lerouge' Hume began work on his novel 'Mystery of a Hanson Cab' in the 1870s. The completed novel was rejected by various publishers but Hume published it at his own expense. It proved very successful but Hume did not make a great profit. He sold the rights to a British publishing syndicate for £50 where it was moderately successful. Hume died in England.|
Amy Sherwin continued to appear in productions of 'Faust' and 'Maritana'. Then on the eve of a new production of 'Der Fresichutz' crisis! The Sherwin Company were facing financial difficulties. Dwindling houses and high costs caused the company to collapse. Even though the artists were prepared to continue on under new management the orchestra refused to play unless they received arrears of salary. The manager of the company, Herr Görlitz, is said to have lost £5,000 with liabilities outstanding of another £2,000. This was sad as he had made strenuous efforts to revive the slumbering taste for English opera in Melbourne. Under temporary management (and without Amy Sherwin) the season continued from Saturday the 18th with two popular crowd pleasers 'Martha' and 'The Bohemian Girl'. The cast included Miss Colbourne-Baber (who appeared at four days notice), Emelie Melville and Mr Stockwell. Popular American baritone Guglielmo (Signor) Verdi was supposed to appear, but was ill, and his place was taken, at short notice, by Mr. Hubbard. There were a few performances of 'Der Fresichutz' at the very end of the month. Signor Verdi was, once again, back on stage.
However Scalfax reported that this was mounted "with a total disregard of all that is necessary to make this charming opera acceptable to a mixed audience. The principals gave ample evidence of hasty study, the chorus was shaky and the orchestra uncertain."
'Der Fresichutz' was quickly withdrawn and 'Martha' substituted. [Editor's note: Amy Sherwin continued to tour Australia giving small recitals and concerts. Near the beginning of November she set sail for India embarking on a three year round the world tour.]
'Miss Esmeralda' finished on Thursday the 16th. The theatre was dark on the 17th to allow a return of the W.J. Holloway Company, with their star Essie Jenyns. After this season Essie would be off to fulfil engagements in London. On Saturday August 18th 'The Merchant of Venice' opened for a week.
"Both Miss Jenyns and Mr. Holloway on their first appearance were loudly cheered, the reception accorded to the former being especially enthusiastic." (Argus)
This was followed by a few performances of 'As You Like It' and 'Ingomar the Barbarian'.
|William John Holloway (1843-1913) was born in London and brought to Australia in 1856. He became interested in amateur dramatics and formed his own company, in 1880, in Ballarat. He specialised in Shakespeare and played seasons in various Australian cities. He returned to England in 1889 where he continued working in the theatre.|
The first performance in the Australian colonies of the Brandon Thomas and B. C. Stephenson comedy 'Comrades' opened at this Theatre on Saturday July 28th. [Editor's note: Brandon Thomas (1856-1914) would go on to create one of the most remembered plays of all time, 'Charley's Aunt'. 'Comrades' was one of his first, written in 1882 and first performed at the Court Theatre, London.]
"'Comrades' cannot be called brilliant in any part, but it is interesting enough, and was admirably acted." (Scalfax)
"The acting was better than the comedy, and we are glad to welcome Miss Agnes Thomas back again to the theatre." (Argus)
'Comrades' continued through to August 17th.
The Brough-Boucicault Comedy Company opened a season on Saturday August 18th with 'The Magistrate', by Arthur Wing Pinero.
"Mr Robert Brough'a picture of the highly respectable, amiable, nervous, and weak kneed magistrate was as consistently and continuously diverting as ever, with a tendency, perhaps, to over elaboration at times but with a quality of earnestness, and even of seriousness, in its humour." (Argus)
This company was formed by two well known London actors, Robert Brough (1857-1906) and Dion Boucicault, Jr (1859-1929). The play continued to play to good houses through to mid September.
'The Magistrate' continued its successful run, finishing on the 14th. The following night there was an Australian first. The farcical comedy 'On Change', adapted from the German of Herr von Moser by Miss Eweretta Lawrence, proved successful enough to run into October.
The final few days of the opera season finally concluded with a production of 'The Grand Duchess' by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880). Featuring Emelie Melville, in the title role.
This performance "did not arouse much enthusiasm." (Scalfax)
The season terminated mid week.
On Saturday the 8th an imported dance troupe of Spanish students took over the theatre for a series of flamenco dance evenings. They were billed as 'select, refined and unrivalled entertainment'.
"Of the ballet dancing the least said the better; it was of the old, old Italian opera style in costume, and no particular style in grace or beauty. The dresses of the leading danseuses were so scant that they excited the feeble wit of the gallery boys, who evidently found much amusement in the whole affair." (Scalfax)
The company proved popular enough to run into October.
On Saturday September 1st there was the first production in Australia of 'Mr. Barnes of New York' based on the book by Archibald Clavering Gunter (1847-1907).
"The characters of Marina and Danella appear to be specially well adapted to Signora and Signor Majeroni respectively, and they will probably be able to make much of them on a future performance, but on Saturday evening, whether it was that their voices, weakened by numerous rehearsals, were inadequate to fill so large a house, or that they had underestimates its magnitude, much of the dialogue was inaudible in the gallery and at the back of the dress and upper circles, and the result was a display of restlessness and a feeling of irritation on the part of a good many persons." (Argus)
The work ran through to the 22nd when 'The Old Corporal', by Enrico Bellotti, took the stage. This was termed a 'romantically spectacular military play'. This ran for just one week.
Hiscock and Freidman's New English Specialty Company and Grand Minstrel Company moved into the theatre and played throughout the entire month of September.
"Every seat in the large theatre was occupied long before the curtain was raised, and scores of people were turned away from the doors unable to gain admission." (Argus)
The last night was the 29th.
The W.J. Holloway Company continued with 'Much Ado About Nothing' until the 14th. Followed on the 15th by W.S. Gilbert's ever popular 'Pygmalion and Galatea'. This work drew much larger audiences than the proceeding Shakespearian productions probably due to the reappearance on the Melbourne stage of the popular William Elton.
William Elton "was in a somewhat unenviable position. The majority of the audience seemed to expect more from him than the dramatist had actually permitted, and though cramped in his efforts to extract much light comedy from it, Mr. Elton, with rare discipline, kept within the four corners of the part." (Argus)
'Pygmalion and Galatea' stayed at the theatre the rest of the month.
O company under the direction of W.G. Carey opened for a very short season stop gap. Their production of the murder-mystery 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab' opened on Saturday the 6th. There followed a week later 'The Artist' by F.S. Travers-Vale. The short season drew to a close on the 15th.
On the 20th the New Royal English and Italian Opera Company opened a long season which would take them through to the end of the year. Verdi's 'Ernani' opened the season.
"On Saturday (the company) appeared to be in a nervous condition, the chorus was wavering and only rose to the occasion once or twice, and the opera was staged in a very careless manner." (Scalfax)
Besides 'Ernani', Balfe's 'The Rose of Castile' was performed during October. There was an increase in ticket prices which did not go down well with the public.
"Of the humorous incidents of the evening was the fearful and
wonderful excitability of the conductor (Signor Lombardi}, who evidently had commenced the opera
with the notion that everybody was either very deaf or very blind and could not
see the beat. Accordingly the whole night he kept on rapping the baton on the
desk in front of him in a manner that jarred on everybody." (Table Talk)
Scalfax said "He is the liveliest conductor I have seen for some time. If he does not tone down when the summer months come he will conduct himself into an early grave."
There was another grand opening on September 29th with the Charles Warner Company, which also included Isabel Morris and William Elton. The production was 'Hands Across the Sea', by Henry Pettitt (1848-1893).
"The piece is of peculiar construction, without much originality, but with consummate skill displayed in the planning, pruning and paring, for there is not a line too much or a line too little."
This play was receiving its first performance in Australia. The play had opened in Manchester earlier in the year and proved so successful it transferred to the Princess in London. The popularity followed the work to Australia where it went on to play the rest of October and all of November. [Editor's note: Henry Pettitt was a popular and prolific writer of over fifty comedies and melodramas, and many of his works were regularly performed in the West End during the 1880s and '90s. His play 'Master and Man' would be turned into a silent movie in 1929.]
At this theatre there was a double bill - 'In Chancery', by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934), and 'In Honour Bound', by Sydney Grundy (1848-1914). [Editor's note: The latter had its first performance at the Prince of Wales, London, in 1881, and the former would eventually be turned into a musical comedy, in 1919, entitled 'Who's Hooper?' by Fred Thompson.] These two plays opened on the 6th and played for two weeks.
In reviewing 'In Chancery' the Argus said: "In the unfortunate man who has lost his memory, Mr. Brough has found a part which suits him to a nicety. He is perplexity personified, an insoluble enigma to himself, and an inexplicable puzzle to everyone else."
Of Lilian Gillmore, in the role of Mrs. Montague Joliffe, Edward Ellis said "her graceful and refined manner elevated a not very important role, and made it a pleasant memory for the playgoer."
On the 20th the double bill was replaced by a return of the comedy 'Sophia'.
"Better played than on the first production, the result is extremely satisfactory to both actors and audience."
This ran well into November.
Essie Jenyns continued to woo audiences with performances of 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Twelfth Night', 'Cymbeline' and 'As You Like It' which played the last night of the season on the 19th. At this point Essie retired from the stage and married Mr. 'Bonner' Wood an 'extremely rich young man'.
On Saturday the 20th the J.C. Williamson company hit the stage with their Summer Opera Season. This featured the ever popular Nellie Stewart, Fannie Liddiard and Howard Vernon. The first production was 'Olivette', by Edmond Audran (1842-1901).
"Miss Nellie Stewart in the title rôle displayed all her old ability in voice and acting, and even if she is a little domineering on the stage now, she (to use a colonialism) takes a lot of wiping out." (Table Talk)
[Editor's note: Audran was not known much outside native France except for a couple of his works that were translated into English and in this form would prove popular in London, New York and now Australia. 'Olivette' had been seen in Melbourne five years previous.]
Early in the month Alfred Dampier and company opened with week long season of plays. The company included his daughter, Lily, and Dampier's wife, Katherine Russell. 'For the Term of his Natural Life', adapted by Alfred Dampier and Thomas Somers (non de plum of New South Wales parliamentarian, Thomas Walker) from the novel by Marcus Clarke (1846-1881), opened on October 6th. Of interest, Alfred Dampier was a good friend of the author's family and voluntarily paid a guinea a performance to Marcus Clarke's widow. The next production was 'The Green Lanes of England', by Henry Pettitt (1848-1893), on the 13th, and 'An English Lass' by Alfred Dampier and C.H. Krieger on the 20th.
"Miss Lily Dampier, in the leading character, had such an amount of misery to get through that she could not assume a touch of cheerfulness during the whole performance." (Table Talk)
On the 27th the melodrama 'A Royal Pardon', by Pettitt, was the
last production for the month.
The Royal English and Italians production of 'Carmen' opened on the 1st and ran successfully until the 13th. This was followed by 'The Bohemian Girl', and a few days later 'Il Guarany', by the Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Gomez (1836-1896). This was receiving its first production in Australia.
"Music, or rather musical compositions, can often be described in Shakespeare's words as 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,' and a great deal of Il Guarany comes under this designation." (Age)
two performances of 'The Bohemian Girl' on the 23rd and 24th and then
'Rigoletto', featuring Lilian Tree and Mr. Guglielmo Verdi, was performed on the 26th,
27th and 28th. Single performances of 'Il Guarany' and Balfe's 'The Bohemian
Girl' completed the month.
[Editors note: Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) was Born in Dublin. Although composing 28 operas it is only 'The Bohemian Girl' which has remained popular. Written in 1843 it is known for the famous aria "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls".]
The J.C. Williamson Company opened 'The Mikado' on November the 3rd. This featured Howard Vernon, Fannie Liddiard, C. H. Leumane and Nellie Stewart.
"Nellie Stewart plays Yum-Yum better than she ever played it thus coming up to an ideal of perfection which it is impossible to surpass."
Popular as it was 'The Mikado' was replaced on the 17th by another of Audran's operettas 'La Mascotte' with the afore mentioned cast.
"Miss Nellie Stewart worked very hard to keep the action of the piece going briskly and animatedly, and is responsible for by far the greater part of the success which has attended the production, for she sings the music of her part better than she has yet sung it, in point of brilliancy and sympathetic delivery."
'La Mascotte' was the more popular of Audran's works written in 1880 and running non-stop for two years in France. The operetta held the stage for the rest of the month.
On Saturday the 3rd of November a smallish production opened very quietly at this theatre. Word of mouth took hold and all of a sudden 'The World Against Her', by Frank Harvey, became the talk of Melbourne. However initial reviews were negative:
"The play bills did not disclose the name of the author of this drama, which belongs to the melodramatic and emotional class, and though deeply interesting, is weak in point of construction, and the dialogue somewhat commonplace, so that the author can hardly hope to gain immortality." (Age)
However the production ran and ran continually for the rest of the year and well into January 1889.
'Sophia' continued on into November. On the 17th 'The Squire' by A. W. Pinero opened for a short run till the end of the month.
"Mrs Brough gave a very gfair study of Kate Varity, and in the lighter scenes was eminently successful, but she fails when pathos and the higher emotions require her skill." (Scalfax)
(Editor's note: 'The Squire' was written in 1881 and was the first of Pinero's plays to show promise. The playwright would eventually collaborate with Arthur Sullivan on the operetta 'The Beauty Stone' in 1898.)
Charles Warner, in 'Hands Across The Sea', continued its successful season.
"(The) Australian scenes rouse the gallery to a pitch of excitement unusual even amongst its inflammable members." (Scalfax)
|Charles Warner (1846-1909) certainly was one of the most popular actors in Melbourne Theatre and was certainly one of the great theatrical personalities of the English speaking world during the latter part of the nineteenth century. His career on the stage was long, appearing first in 1861 at a special performance before Queen Victoria. He suddenly committed suicide in New York in 1909.|
Alfred and Lily Dampier's highly successful 'The World Against Her' continued to run and run and run. After eight weeks 112,000 people had seen this play and word of mouth continued to keep its success alive. It was still running in January.
'Hands Across The Sea' finished on December 7th. The next day 'It's Never too Late to Mend', by Charles Reade, opened.
"Mr. Charles Warner's performance of Tom Robinson was lifelike and vigorous, and built up so consistently that it was a perfect study of human nature."
This was originally a novel published in 1856 and turned into a dramatisation in 1865. A serious drama describing the cruelties of prison discipline. The play ran until the 22nd after which the Warner Company headed for Sydney. The theatre then went into final rehearsals for the annual pantomime which, as by custom, opened on Boxing day.
Sinbad the Sailor; or, Tinbad and the Wicked Ogre and the Good Fairy Submarina' was written and produced by E.W. Royce (Editor's note: Royce was a member of the Gaiety Theatre in London and came to Australia in 1886). This featured Ida Osborne, Sophie Harris, Florence Harcourt, Clara Thompson and other popular stars of the day. According to one reviewer there was a corps de ballet of 200 who dressed as fire fiends carried torches performing intricate dance movements (Editor's note: I suspect that the reviewer meant to say 20). As usual the pantomime would run well into the new year.
The opera season continued in December with daily changes of programme. Featured works included 'Il Trovatore', 'Maritana', 'Carmen', 'Norma', 'The Bohemian Girl', 'Faust' and 'Satanella', by Balfe, with Lilian Tree who had a "Beautiful and well-trained voice."
Opening on December 1st was the popular 'Iolanthe'. The cast included Howard Vernon, Ida Osborne, Fannie Liddiard and Miss Colbourne-Barber.
"Miss Colbourne-Baber as Phyllis continues to manifest her steady progression in the art of acting, while her singing as usual meets with great admiration."
Popular as 'Iolanthe' was it ran for one week only after which it was replaced by 'Princess Ida' with Howard Vernon, Fannie Liddiard, May Pollard and Nellie Stewart in the title role.
"Miss Nellie Stewart gives a representation of the Princess that is perfectly studied, highly finished and thoroughly consistent."
John Wallace played King Gama, a part originally played by William Elton.
"There is so much difference in these gentlemen's style of humor that it appeared almost an entirely new part." (Scalfax)
'Princess Ida' ran until Christmas eve. The ever popular 'Dorothy' returned on the 26th and played into January. Of course it was Nellie Stewart, again, that won favour with the critics.
"Miss Nellie Stewart, as the heroine, repeats her former success, and both in acting and singing develops a surprising amount of latent talent."
Also making a welcome return on the 1st was 'Hans the Boatman'.
"Mr. Arnold acts with that perfect skill and easiness only acquired by
long association with the part which he makes no mere character sketch, but a
real flesh-and-blood creation which at once enchains the sympathy and
The ever cheery reviewer Scalfax had this to say "Taken as a boatman Mr. Arnold would be a rank failure, and would probably be requested to leave in a week if he were employed at any colonial ferry, but they may manage things differently in America."
O 'Hans' remained on stage until its last performance on the 22nd. On Boxing day 'The Private Secretary', by Charles Hawtrey, opened running into the new year.
"Mr. Frank Thornton's performance is as complete as ever, possessing the same amount of finish, and never for a moment suffering from any over elaboration."
|Sir Charles Henry Hawtrey (1858-1923) was an English actor, comedian, writer and theatre owner/producer. He managed London's Globe Theatre and the Royal Comedy Theatre during the 1880s and 1890s. He would later appear in some of the first silent movies. He was knighted in 1922. 'The Private Secretary' was one of his first plays, written in 1883.|