Theatre in Auckland 1888


No where to the scale of its sister city, Melbourne, Auckland still had a large enough population to warrant one large theatre and throughout the year it was always in use. After a season or two in Australia companies would cross the Tasman to tour the main centres of New Zealand generally starting at Dunedin and then working their way up the islands. Here follows a listing of what one could see during the year 1888 in Auckland. All reviews are from the Evening Star.


George Leitch and company opened a short season on Monday December the 5th. The first production was the Nautical Drama 'Harbour Lights' which was the first performance in Auckland of the work. "Mr. George Leitch took the part of the typical jack tar of Maryatt's style in a manner that delighted the audience. His humorous sayings and ridiculous antics evidently hit the taste of those present, for he kept the house in roars of laughter." (Editor's note: Captain Frederick Maryatt of the Royal Navy was a celebrated fiction writer of his time.) On Monday the 12th 'Human Nature', by Henry Pettitt and Augustus Harris, opened. "There is enough sensation and spectacular display in it to satisfy the most morbid craving for that kind of excitement!" The season finished on Saturday the 17th although 'Harbour Lights' returned on Monday the 19th for a single benefit performance.
On Thursday and Friday the 22nd and 23rd the local amateur operatic company put on Offenbach's Comic Operas 'Breaking the Spell' and 'The Rose of Auvergne'. "The performance passed off in a very satisfactory manner."
The Bland Holt Dramatic Company were in residence from Monday the 26th. First was 'Alone in London'. "We must in the first place praise highly the very complete and realistic manner in which the piece is staged. Mr. Bland Holt has always been noted for his care and trouble in these matters,andd the present production fully sustains his reputation."

Bland Holt Joseph Bland Holt (1853-1942) was born in Norwich, England, and came to Australia with his father in 1857. He made his first appearance on the stage when he was six years old. He returned to England when he was fourteen and made acting his profession. He appeared on stages in New Zealand and the United States as well as the old country. He established himself back in Australia in 1877. His first production was 'New Babylon' at the Victoria theatre, Sydney, and for 30 years he continued to produce the principal melodramas of the period. His play 'The Breaking of the Drought' was turned into a movie in 1920. Being an actor all his life this gave him a practical experience of everything connected with mounting a dramatic presentation.


On Monday the 9th of January the Bland Holt company mounted the first production in Auckland of 'A Run of Luck'. "The first act opens at the training stables of Mr. Copsley, and the public are introduced to real horses; they see real flowers blooming upon the stage; and their attention is drawn to real pigeons perched upon the porch of the homestead. In fact, one might easily fancy he was inhaling country air, so vivid is thepicturee in all its various details." 'The World' was mounted on the 16th, 17th and 18th. This had not been seen since 1882. "The revival of the play has been a decided success." On the 19th, 20th and 21st the domestic comedy 'Taken From Life' was presented. The season finished on the 21st.


The Mississippi Minstrels opened on Saturday the 28th of January and remained at the theatre until the middle of the month. On the 16th there was a Grand Singing and Dancing Competition organised by the men of the H.M. Squadron. On the 17th there was a Grand Concert and Comedietta in aid of the Parnell Convent Schools and on the 18th a Grand Minstrel and Variety Entertainment. On Tuesday February 21st the Carrie Swain dramatic season opened with 'The Tomboy', by Leonard Glover. "The centre piece - Miss Swain - completely absorbs the interest of the whole affair, and the minor parts are correspondingly subsidiary." The programme changed on Monday the 27th to 'The Miner's Daughter', an adaptation from the works of Bret Harte. This was the firstperformancee in Auckland. "She impersonated the wild, untutored, and mischievous, but, nevertheless, warm hearted and impulsive child of the diggings to the life, and won golden opinions from her audience."


Carrie Swain and Company continued their successful season. 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' played for two nights (the 2nd and 3rd). "Miss Carrie Swain took the part of Topsy, which she impersonated with marked success." There was a return of 'The Tomboy' on the 5th.
On the 28th the Brough and Boucicault Grand Opera and Burlesque Company moved into the theatre opened with 'Little Jack Sheppard', by Henry Pottinger Stephens and William Yardley. "There are plenty of sensational incidents in the opera as well as an infinite supply of fun, which, coupled with fine scenery, grand costumes, and good music, should ensure a most successful run."


On Friday April the 6th 'Dick!', 'Dick', by Edward Jakobowski, was performed by the Brough and Boucicault Company. This was another first for Auckland city. "An additional charm is contributed to the piece by costumes of the most striking and elegant character, and newandd pretty scenery...the new opera was listened to and received with enthusiasm by the large audience." The short season finished on April 11th.
On Friday April 20th Australia's Queen of Song, Amy Sherwin, performed a series of recitals. There was much to enjoy with a different programme each evening usually ending with a larger work (the opening night included the first act of 'Martha'. Also in the cast were Minnie Fischer and the Prima Donna's brother Arthur Sherwin. "She came, she sang, she conquered. Thus, after the famous Cæsarean model, might one epitomise in a sentence the record of Miss Sherwin's reception in Auckland after a lapse of nine years." The season finished on Friday the 27th.

Amy Sherwin. Reproduced courtesy of the Archives Office of Tasmania 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.


On May 1st there was a charitable benefit given to the widow and orphans of the late actor J.F. Fisher. On Friday ay 4th there was a Jacobite Concert and Entertainment on behalf of the Auckland Industrial Association. On the 19th to the 22nd there was a Monster Variety Entertainment and on May 23rd there was a Grand Athletic Carnival and Concert.
On the 24th there was mounted a Nautical Drama 'Borealis, or, the Seaman's Star'. "The drama was well represented and the scenic effects were especially good. Several situations that arise in the course of the play proved very amusing, and the dancing of the sailor's hornpipes was well executed." This played four performances in May and returned for a further two performances on June 11th and 12th as a benefit in aid of the Ladies' Benevolent Society.


A very quiet June at the Opera House. The 'World-Renowned' Illusionist Professor Herbert appeared and disappeared quickly on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd. On the 27th the Jubilee Minstrel, Variety and Burlesque Company played a two week season. "The performance was considerably above the average, and the means of success achieved should ensure a prolonged season."


On Tuesday the 3rd of July the Auckland Choral Society put on a single performance of Mendelssohn's 'Elijah'. This featured 200 vocalists and 44 instrumentalist. "The conductor's baton, as usual, being skilfully wielded by Herr Carl Schmitt." The Jubilee Minstrel, Variety and Burlesque Company finished their season on the 19th. On the Friday the 20th there was a Grand Scottish Concert by the Burns Club. This was in aid of the Industrial Association.


Opening on August the 15th the Auckland Amateur Opera Club put on a production of 'the Pirates of Penzance' There were six performances. One performance, on the 21st, was a benefit in aid of the friends of the Auckland Ladies' Benevolent Society. Reviews were positive singling out Mr. Edwards as Frederic who "was in excellent voice, and sang the lines allotted to him with correctness and good expression, although a little more force would have made a marked improvement in several places. His surprised and rapture on the appearance of the girl's chorus representing Major Stanleys daughters was well conceived, and small wonder, for the ladies presented a most charming and picturesque group, some of the dresses being really worthy of special mention." On Monday the 27th the musical comedy drama 'Hans the Boatman', by Clay M Greene, took the stage. This featured Charles Arnold. "Hans the Boatman is Mr. Charles Arnold, and Mr. Charles Arnold is Hans the Boatman. The character was conceived to display the rare abilities of that talented actor, and he fits the part to the life. This was fully realised at the performance last evening, and so effective was the portraiture that many of the audience were completely overcome by emotion on more than one occasion."


'Hans the Boatman' finished on September 3rd. During the week over 10,000 people saw the performance setting a New Zealand record for the largest takings for the present tour. On Saturday the 19th there was a single appearance by the Greek Illusionist Professor Canaris.


On Thursday October 4th Professor Carrollo and his pupils held their annual Gymnastic Carnival at the theatre. On Saturday the 6th the 'Great Wizard of the North' hit the stage for a seven night season. "The performance was in every respect a success. There is no question of doubt respecting the merit of the entertainment, which is given solely by the professor, with the assistance of Mdlle De La Cour." On Thursday the 25th the local amateur dramatic society produced 'Lost in London', by Watt Phillips, for three performances. "A somewhat ambitious attempt for amateurs, as the scenes are numerous and varied, while the development of th plat affords ample scope for the display of the power of the actors in portraying emotional acting." This was followed on the 29th by 'Old Soldiers' by H.J. Byron.


Most of November was taken by Frank M. Clark's All Star Variety Company. This opened on Monday the 5th and played right through until Saturday the 24th. On the opening performance the reviewer said "Although the weather was unpropitious, there was a large audience, and it is safe to say that so much laughter as was indulged in has not been heard in the building for a twelve-month at least." On Wednesday the 26th the Hicks-Sawyer Coloured Minstrels played for one week. "It is certainly the best combination of the kind that has visited Auckland for many years, and the performance is a thoroughly enjoyable one." The season finished on Wednesday December 5th.


On Friday the 7th of December there was a Grand Scottish Carnival. On Thursday the 13th Gaylord and Silbon's European Novelty and pantomime Company appeared for a week. The featured work was 'Humpty Dumpty in the Wild West'. "The entertainment is one consisting entirely of gymnastic, aerobatic, and juggling feats, with a pantomime at the close. Every artiste is exceedingly good in his or her own particular line, and mediocre talent finds no place in the company." On Boxing Day the Jungfrau Kapelle Alpine Choir and Swiss Band opened a twelve night season at the Opera House.

Theatre in Melbourne 1888 Theatre in Melbourne 1889