Theatre in Melbourne 1890
|"Theatrical matters in Brisbane are in a poor state. The D'Arcy Stanford Pantomime Company has collapsed, and the other two theatres are being kept open by weak variety companies. As most of the country inland is covered with water, travelling is impossible, and companies are anchored at whatever towns they happened to be when the water rose, and are praying for dry weather, that is, those who know how to pray." (Scalfax February 24th, 1890)|
The Theatre Royal, Melbourne, 1880s
For eleven continuous years, Mr. Sheridan has been playing the Widow O'Brien, his record of actual representations during that period closely approaching three thousand times, so that his name has become inseparable from his performance. Mr. Sheridan, like every other actor, who possesses the skill and experience to think out a part, commenced on the lowest rung of the theatrical ladder, with a very small part and a very small salary, and in his twenty-six years association with the stage, has had as thorough a training as any actor in Australia.
Mr. John Francis Sheridan, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, United States, on October 7, 1848, and as he was originally intended to be an engineer, he passed some months in a foundry, so as to gain practical training of his future calling. The work, However, proving distasteful, the lad went on the stage, making his first appearance on April 12, 1864, at the Theatre Royal, Pawtackett, Rhode Island, in a part that could not be said to tax his memory too heavily as the sole dialogue consisted of two "Yes, sir's" and one "No, sir", he had to encounter the usual struggles and strivings of a beginner, but in the end found his footing secure, although not till several years had been spent in very hard work. From 1870 his lucky star commenced to rise, and he became known as a comedian who might be relied on to get a good effect out of every character he presented.
In 1878 it was the fashion among the smaller theatres of New York to conclude the entertainment with a farce, and in one of these Mr. Sheridan happened to be representing the character of an elderly Irish widow, whose two daughters had gone crazy over Pinafore, and who were in consequence ordered off to a lunatic asylum. The action passed on board the "Bristol", a magnificently appointed steamboat that plied at that time between New York and Boston.
Mr. Sheridan's performance created so much amusement that it occurred to him it would be a good idea to work out a three-act comedy on the same lines. Conferring with Mr. George Fawcett Rowe, an actor and dramatists in America, but who had previously won fame in Australia, Mr. Sheridan gave a sketch of the piece, and placed the construction in Mr. Rowe's hands, reserving the Widow O'Brien for his own invention, with the result that the play now known all over the world as Fun on the Bristol, was evolved. The first performance was given at the Newport Theatre, Rhode Island, in 1879, and the success it then achieved has followed it ever since.
Article on J.F. Sheridan in Table Talk August 29, 1890
Theatre in Melbourne in 1890 was booming leaving little indication of what would follow the following year. Long runs were the norm. The New Bijou opened its doors in April under the management of the Brough-Boucicault company. Nellie Stewart headed her own company at the Opera House that same month and there were long seasons by the Bland Holt company, J.F. Sheridan, the Simonsen Opera Company and the J.C. Williamson operetta company. Click on a month and check what was happening in Melbourne theatres for the year 1890. All reviews are from 'Table Talk' unless otherwise stated.
The pantomime 'Cinderella, Gold and Silver and the Little Glass Slipper' was a sensation. The cast included Fanny Liddiard, Howard Vernon and Clara Merivale in the title role. Also engaged, from London, was the celebrated clown William Walton who played Buttoni.
"Never has pantomime been played upon the Australian stage with such magnificence and never before have Messrs. Williamson, Garner and Musgrove utilised their forces with such splendid effect." says Table Talk.
However reviewer Scalfax notes "As a literary effort it is weak, and the company entrusted with the acting of it is not up to former standards. Of course it is the only piece of its kind in town, and if people want to see a pantomime, as everyone does just as much as he wants plum pudding, there is no option."
The production ran throughout January.
'That Doctor Cupid' clocked up four weeks to moderately good houses.
"The superb mounting and magnificent scenery are great factors in the success of the comedy." (Scalfax)
On the 25th the comedy 'The Gov'nor', by Bryon, opened.
"Mr. Elton's study of the retired boatbuilder is both brilliant and clever, and complete in every particular of dress and makeup...Miss Clara Cowper - as the boatbuilder's daughter - plays prettily, daintily, and effectively."
"Mr. Gordon has mounted the piece in a way worthy of the theatre, the boatbuilders yard, opening; out upon the 'Thames, in the second act, and the drawingroom in Butterscotch-villa, in the third, being especially worthy ot mention." (Argus)
Despite good reviews the work only played until February 7th.
'Fun on the Bristol' continued to exceptionally good houses. "Mr. Sheridan can hold his own ground with any rival.". The final performance was on January 31st.
|John F. Sheridan (1843-1908) specialised in sophisticated 'widow' roles and known the world over as the Widow O'Brien in 'Fun on the Bristol' which had played throughout many parts of the English speaking world with much success. The first performances in Australia were at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, in 1884. Sheridan left his home in Rhode Island in 1882 expecting to return in three months but eight years on he was still touring.|
The Dampier season continued through early January with Frank Harvey's 'Judge Not'.
" Going by the applause which is so liberally showered on those engaged in the piece, their efforts are well appreciated." (Table Talk)
On the 18th Garnet Walch's (1843-1913) dramatisation of 'Monte Cristo' was produced.
"Mr. Dampier acts brilliantly and well-sustains the interest throughout and never for the moment descends to the use of clap-trap." (Table Talk)
"Mr Dampier played it throughout in his usual careful and finished manner, but was most successful in the drama, where he presented a faithful and picturesque portraiture of the cool, determined, vengeful man." (Argus)
'Cinderella' still continued to draw huge crowds at the Theatre Royal throughout February.
The staging was spectacular: "Mr. Brunton's beautiful transformation scenery has become a topic in everyday conversation, as well it might, for nothing half so poetic has been seen in pantomime before." (Table Talk)
The last performance was on February the 21st. The company then headed for New Zealand.
On February the 22nd Charles Warner appeared again in 'Hands Across the Sea', by Henry Pettitt. This had a phenomenal run of ten weeks when it had first hit the Melbourne stage in 1888.
"Mr Warner plays the part of Jack Dudley better than ever. It fits him like a glove. Frequent repetition has made it "a property of easiness" with him, without relaxing his interest in it, or causing him to overlook any of those niceties of detail which are essential to its completeness." (Argus)
The comedy 'Our Boys' was revived on the 8th to good reviews but only lasted a week.
"Mr. Elton's performance is so good as to challenge comparison with the first great representative of the part in Australia - Mr. H. Lingard." (Table Talk)
"Miss P. Emery is never so much at home as in the portrayal of the drudges of the lodginghouse kitchen, and her Belinda ia one of the best we have seen on the Melbourne boards." (Argus)
On the 14th Janet Achurch appears in Archibald Clavering Gunter's (1847-1907) play 'Two Nights in Rome'.
"Miss Achurch has always been considered a very fine actress, but it is not until now she has achieved a triumph." (Table Talk)
"The character of the adventuress has found an admirable exponent in Misa Achurch Both in conception and exeoution it ia superior to anything she has done." (Argus)
Even with good reviews the production only lasted two weeks. [Editor's note: Reviewers compared the plot as being very similar to 'Forget-me-not' produced in Melbourne in August 1885]
'Monte Cristo' continued to attract good houses. The last night of this production was on February 14th. On the 15th there was a revival of 'The World Against Her' with which Lily Dampier had achieved much success in 1889.
'Uncle Tom's Cabin' opened on February 1st. A lot of liberty was taken with the story to include an assortment of 'variety' elements.
"All these unenfranchised slaves are represented as leading the most joyous of lives. Their time passes in an atmosphere of mirth mid music." (Argus)
The play achieved only a two week run.
The John Sheridan company then headed north for Sydney.
On the 15th the John Solomon English and Comic Opera Company made a reappearance in Melbourne with 'The Beggar Student' which had achieved great success prior to Christmas. The cast included Henry Bracy, Knight Ashton and Clara Thompson. The public stayed away and on the 22nd 'The Sultan of Mocha' was revived.
"It is not a very pleasing opera at any time, and when you are rather weary of it it is still less so." (Scalfax)
The John Solomon Company continued their season. On the 1st they produced 'Nemesis' by Henry Brougham Farnie. This was described as an operatic extravaganza and had previously had a successful run in London. The cast included John Forde, Knight Ashton, Henry Bracy and Lilian Tree.
"An excellent representation was given of the extravaganza on Saturday evening, and it suits the capabilities of the company so much that it is strange that it was not performed during their first season here. The part of Calino provides scope for Mr, Bracy as aa actor as well us a vocalist, and Miss Tree has a good singing part, while on the whole the rest of the company appear to more advantage than they have done in most of the operas in winch they have already appeared."
This ran for most of the month. 'The Beggar Student', 'Martha' and 'Maritana' played during the companies last few days. The season finished on Tuesday the 25th and the company headed for Sydney. [Editor's note: In 1896, Lilian Tree, Nellie Melba and Amy Sherwin would all be on the pay roll at Covent Garden, London)
'The Streets of London', by Boucicault, opened on March 8th to excellent reviews.
"Mr. Warner's success is commensurate with his ability." (Table Talk)
"Mr. Charles Warner was seen in the unmistakably low comedy character of Badger, and he gave another proof of his wonderful versatility, showing the skill with which he can throw off his identity and become completely imbued with the spirit of any part which he undertakes." (Argus)
Grace Warner (Charles's daughter), Richard Stewart and Maude Williamson were also in the large cast. This 'sensational' drama had a moderate run in London in 1864.
On the 20th 'A Man's Shadow' opened. This was an English version of 'Robert Le Honte' by Robert Buchanan. Charles Warner portrayed the two opposite characters of Laroque.
"Why Mr. Warner elected to give us this atrocity many of us would like to know. If the symptoms seemed dangerous we might have him looked after." (Scalfax)
"Miss Williamson shows an accurate apprehension of the highly emotional part of Mme. Laroque, and embodies it with appropriate earnestness, but in the more trying scenes of the drama her voice proves inadequate to the strain imposed upon it." (Argus) >
Fresh from America two distinguished actors and their company hit Melbourne at the Princess on March 1st. The production was 'Camille'. Mrs Brown-Potter ("A more graceful and natural actress has not appeared for sometime") and Harold Kyrle Bellew ("His style, bearing, and delivery are noticeably free from even a suggestion of staginess.") are the newcomers.
"There was a call for the newcomers at the end of the first and second acts, but it was a call of courtesy and hospitable feeling; the third act dragged, the fourth terminated brilliantly, and Mrs. Potter left a favourable impression behind her, if a sad one, in the fifth." (Argus)
On the 8th 'The Lady of Lyons', with the two Americans in the leads, played for a week.
"The Claude Melnotte of Mr. Bellew was extremely disappointing. We have seldom heard the well known lines beginning "A palace lifting to eternal summer, & c.", delivered so ineffectively, or known it to fall so flatly on the audience. This was partly attributable perhaps, to a bad habit the actor has of dropping his voice towards the end of a sentence, so that the last two or three words become almost, if not altogether, inaudible, and this sort of thing soon wearies by its monotony." (Argus)
On the 15th 'La Tosca', by Victorien Sardou (1831-1908), opened.
There were great reviews for Mrs. Potter in the title role: "It is impossible to regard her success as little less than a triumph." said Table Talk.
Scalfax stated that 'La Tosca' "is not bringing in the money that was expected, and there appears to be a very general impression that Mrs Brown-Potter is to blame for this, and in fact some of our best critics are saying very unkind things of her."
"Scarpia finds a congenial representative in Mr Bellew, who brings out the Macchiavellian sublety, the coolness and systematic malignity of the character in clear and strong relief, and makes it consistent throughout." (Argus)
The season finished on April 3rd and the company headed for Sydney.
[Editor's note: Arthur Garner, owner of the theatre, looking to cash in on these famous artists, came up with a really strange idea at the commencement of this season. He proposed to open tho box office for one day when seats would be sold at £2 each, the next day at £1, the next at 10s., and tho rest of the week, at tho usual rate of 5d. Not a single ticket, however, was purchased on those terms, and the whole arrangement collapsed, fortunately for Mrs. Potter, who might have experienced some troublo at the hands of her patrons if they had been compelled : to pay the higher tariff!]
|Mrs Brown-Potter (1857-1936) was born Mary Cora Urquhart Oakwood in New Orleans. Cora married the rich New York coffee broker James Brown Potter in 1877. They travelled to England in 1886 and it was there that Cora, leaving her husband, full filled her desire to become an actress. She appeared in several productions before returning to America where she successfully partnered Harold Kyrle Bellew on stage for the next ten years. She briefly took over the management of the Savoy Theatre in London in 1904. Her last stage appearance was in 1919.|
|Harold Kyrle Bellew (1850-1911) was born in England and first served in the Royal Navy and merchant marines. He emigrated to Australian in 1870 to become a gold miner, but abandoned this in 1874, for the stage. His English debut was in Brighton in 1875. He came to America in 1885 playing light comedy roles. He returned to England and in 1887 formed a touring company, with the American actress Mrs Cora Brown-Potter. In the late 1890s he retired from the stage and spent several years back in Australia. He returned to the American stage briefly. His last stage appearance was in 1910.|
'Robbery Under Arms' opened on March 1st. This was a collaboration between Alfred Dampier and Garnet Walch of the novel by Rolf Boldrewood.
"The illustrations of Australian scenery, By Alta, are so natural and familiar and yet so picturesque that they go straight to the hearts of the audience, who are never slow to recognise the beauties of the Australian bush" (Table Talk)
"Mr Dampier, as Starlight, acts in his usual capable fashion, although it is undeniable that his abilities might be turned to better account." (Argus)
The production ran successfully throughout the month. There was a cast replacement late in the month. Rita Wyndale took over from Katherine Russell (Mrs. A. Dampier) owing to the latter's illness.
New Bijou Theatre
The Bijou was due to open on March the 1st with the Brough and Boucicault company. However as the theatre was not finished at that time the production was delayed until April.
'Robbery Under Arms' continued successfully at this theatre. Owing to a severe illness Lily Dampier's part was played at several performances by Rita Wyndale. After a run of seven weeks (42 performances) the production concluded on the 18th. The next night the Dampier company produced for the first time in Melbourne Benjamin Landeck's play 'My Jack' which had recently been seen in Sydney by the Rignold company. The Australian rights were owned by J. Holloway, from whom Dampier secured them for a season.
"Mr. Alfred Dampier lifts a secondary part into prominence by his facility in delineating Irish character, and keep the audience breaking into roars of laughter."
Nellie Stewart inaugurated her season of operatic management at this theatre on Thursday March 27th. The operetta was 'Paul Jones' by Robert Planquette (1848-1903).
"The appearance of the house was more like the honoring of some national event than the production of a new opera...Nellie Stewart, whose re-appearance in the first night of the opera was received with ringing cheers, sustains the character of Yvonne with that vivacity and brilliancy of method which are peculiarly her characteristics." (Table Talk)
"The choruses can be spoken of in terms of high praise. The body of tone ia an unusually full one, but so well trained and regulated as to be extremely effective." (Argus)
"The dresses are all new and original, as there was no time to import any from London." (Scalfax)
The elaborate costumes were made in Melbourne under Nellie's personal supervision. The cast included Marian Burton, Aggie Kelton, Ida Osborne and W.H. Woodfield. [Editor's note: Two of the numbers that were the 'hits' of the evening were actually interpolations and not by Planquette. 'For true love's sake' was the work of the conductor, A. Plumpton, and 'We are two mariners bold' was composed by Fanny Robina's husband, Mr. Stanislaus.]
'La Tosca' was presented on April the 3rd for the last time.
Reviewer Scalfax sums up the season thus "We part with her without regret, and a huge amount of surprise as to how she could have made any name on the London stage."
On Saturday the 5th the 'prince of English comedians' J.L. Toole made his first Melbourne appearance in 'A Fool and his Money' and 'Ici on Parle FranÇais'. For the next eight weeks Toole would play sixteen different characters. His London company included John Billington, Eliza Johnstone and Irene Vanbrugh. [Editor's note: Irene Vanbrugh met Dion Boucicault Jr. and later married him and formed a professional partnership, the Vanbrugh-Boucicault Company.]
"Mr. Toole merits his title as the representative of English comedian in no ordinary way. His method is finished, polished and natural." (Table Talk)
Every week there was a new double bill. Works presented included, 'Artful Cards', 'The Steeplechase', 'Dot, or the Cricket on the Hearth' and 'The Don'. [Editor's note: It was decided to raise the prices of admission for this season. After the first week the audiences dwindled and prices were lowered again.]
|John Lawrence Toole (1830-1906) was born in London. He was educated at the City of London School and worked briefly in a wine merchant’s counting house. He made his first public appearance at the Haymarket Theatre and his professional debut at the Queen’s Theatre, Dublin in 1852. He opened several theatres in London including the Charing Cross Theatre (later O'Tooles) which he ran from 1879 to 1885. He toured Australia in 1890/1891. Crippled by gout, he left the stage in 1895 and retired to Brighton.|
'A Man's Shadow' was only receiving moderate audiences so closed on the 3rd of April. On the 5th 'Drink' was revived to great reviews. This played for two weeks and on the 19th 'It's Never Too Late to Mend' played for a week. On the 26th 'The Noble Vagabond', by Henry Arthur Jones, author of 'The Silver King', was produced for the first time in Australia.
"The plot is of the most usual collared-from-everybody fashion, and really is not worth description to readers who will never see it. Mr Warner, as Ralph Lester, is as good as the piece will let him, but no more. I do not think that 'The Noble Vagabond' will last long. If it does, I am going to buy a gun." (Scalfax)
New Bijou Theatre
The official opening of this theatre was on Easter Saturday, April 5th. The theatre was under the management of the Brough-Boucicault company and the first production in the new theatre was 'Money' by Lord Lytton. Audiences stayed away and Sardou's 'Diplomacy' was substituted the following week. On Saturday the 19th the company was privileged with the presence of the Governor and party occupying the centre box.
The Argus (in one long breath) raved over Florence Trevelyan (Mrs Brough): "Mrs. Brough has now got so well inside her character of the supposed adventuress, and is now so sure of herself in it, as to be able to to indicate its finer lights and shades and subtle half-tints with an equally decisive and delicate touch, and to embellish it with gestures that lend additional emphasis to the situation, and with nice inflexions of the voice, which give additional point to the dialogue, both gestures and inflexions appearing to arise spontaneously from the inspiration of the moment."
'Diplomacy' played for two weeks and was followed by 'Caste' by Thomas William Robertson (1829–71). [Editor's note: This successful comedy is still being played today.]
"There is not a fault to be found from start to finish, and Mr Anson, as old Eccles, is a sight which is often pitted against Toole's creations." (Scalfax)
[Editor's note: Attached to the new theatre was a small, but well fitted, hall called the Gaiety. A variety show opened this venue.]
New Bijou Theatre
'Caste' continued to draw good houses.
"Each member of the company acts skilfully, consistently and agreeably so that every detail is worked up with a precision and artistic finish." (Table Talk)
This production ran for five weeks concluding on the 30th.
'The Noble Vagabond' played to moderate audiences.
"The dialogue is interesting and tolerably smart, the plot well contrived, and the action strong, continuous and increasing in interest...Mr Warner enchains the sympathies of the audience throughout" (Table Talk)
On the 10th 'After Dark', by Boucicault, was produced.
""When Moses was young this drama was already well worn, and it shows the signs of old age in a very marked manner, but it fetches the gallery at 1s per head." (Scalfax)
"There was quite sufficient brilliancy about Mr. Warner's production to give it the attractiveness of a new play." (Table Talk) The drama for three weeks finishing on the 30th.
There was no stopping the success of 'Paul Jones'. The theatre was filled each evening and the 50th performance soon passed.
"'Boccaccio' is in steady rehearsal, but the management prefer to hold to the bird in the hand in preference to trying new flights." (Scalfax)
'My Jack' drew good houses, though it did not obtain the success of 'Robbery Under Arms'. Reviewers were rapt in the scenery which they said was the best currently on any Australian stage. On the 3rd of May 'Shamus O'Brien' made a reappearance. This is followed by 'Marvellous Melbourne', on the 10th, and 'For the Term of his Natural Life' on the 17th. On the last night of the season (23rd) there was a dramatisation of Rider Haggard's African story 'Jess' with Lily Dampier in the title role.
On the 24th the popular actor Frank Thornton opened for a season. First up was the popular 'Private Secretary'. Very good houses welcomed this actor in his final season before he headed overseas.
J.L. Toole continued his success at this venue.
"His performance permits of nothing but a roar of laughter throughout."./span>
Works this month included 'Paul Pry', 'Off the Line', 'Uncle Dick's Darling', by Thomas Robertson, and 'Domestic Economy'. By the end of the month the programme changed almost daily. The season finished on June the 5th and the company then headed for Sydney.
On June 7th Henry Edward's company returned to this theatre for a short season of twelve nights with 'Little Lord Fauntleroy'. [Editor's note: The steamer carrying the company was detained in Hobart and only managed to dock at 6pm. The company rushed to the theatre for the 8pm curtain.]
"The performance lacked animation, but is no doubt going with its previous vigour and precision now. Miss Olive Berkley was the hero of the evening, if she can be so called. Her acting has improved since we saw her first, and she has, unfortunately grown." (Scalfax)
When the season concluded the American section of the company prepared to return to their own country.
On the 21st Mrs Potter and Kyrie Bellew prepared their second Melbourne season. The first production was 'David Garrick'.
"Mrs Potter as Violet Gresham has a good opportunity for the display of those womanly qualities in which she excels, and her performance is therefore an unqualified success." (Table Talk)
'The Private Secretary' retained its exceptional popularity.
"The comedy is perfectly played, every detail been worked up with the finish, only to met with in the most skilful acting."
The last night was on the 13th and on the 14th 'Sweet Lavender', by A. W. Pinero, returned to reasonable houses. 'Mamma' was produced on the 21st for a week, then 'A Private Secretary' returned for the remainder of the season which concluded on the 4th of July.
The last nights of 'Paul Jones' were announced. The 67 night season finally ended on the 13th. On the 14th the Nellie Stewart company produced 'Boccaccio' by Franz von Suppe. This operetta had not been seen in Melbourne since 1882. Marian Burton and Nellie Stewart alternated the lead roles.
"Miss Annette Ivanova made her reappearance as Fiametta, her original part, and was even better than she was before." (Scalfax)
The popular melodrama, 'The Silver King', by Messrs Henry Jones and Henry Herman, opened on May 31st for a short season. This was first produced in London in 1882. This was followed by 'Dora' and 'The Barrister' which occupied the final week of the season.
"Miss Gracie Warner was again to the fore as the name-heroine of the first, and acted fairly well." (Scalfax)
The last night (the 20th) was given to a benefit for Charles Warner.
On June 21st 'The Flying Scud', by Dion Boucicault, was revived by the theatre stock company. The cast included E.W. Royce, Edith Blanche and Emma Gwynne. 'The Flying Scud' referred, not to a missile, but a horse. This popular melodrama was first produced in 1866 and continued to play into the early twentieth century. The work was noted for the main race which used cut-out horses circling a track at the back of the stage.
|Dion Boucicault (1820-1890) was not only a prolific playwright and actor but he was also responsible for establishing the idea of 'copyright' for dramatists in America. He was the first to receive a royalty for his plays replacing the idea of the flat fee that was so popular in his time. He wrote over 200 plays in his time, many of them witty and controversial. In September 1885 while visiting Australia he married Louise Thorndyke, a member of his company. His son and daughter (Nina and Dion, Jr), who objected to the marriage, stayed in Australia after the company returned to America.|
New Bijou Theatre
The comedy 'Joseph's Sweetheart', by Robert Buchanan, opened on the 31st of May. This was the first performance in Melbourne and opened to excellent reviews.
"Mr. Brough's Parson Adams was a most painstaking and creditable piece of acting from start to finish." (Scalfax)
It had a long run of four weeks. On the 28th 'She Stoops to Conquer', by Oliver Goldsmith, was staged. This featured Charlotte Lucie making her first appearance in Australia.
Mrs Potter and Kyrie Bellew took the leads in a superbly mounted production of 'Romeo and Juliet' on July 5th.
"Brunton's scenery was perfection of color and perspective, while the lighting, though not faultless, was far in advance of anything hitherto attempted...the characters were not, however, overpowered by their glorious surroundings, and, in every scene, it was the action of the play, not its upholstery that rivetted the attention of the spectator...Mrs Potter shows herself an actress of rare discernment and fine poetic feeling." (Table Talk)
"Mrs Potter, the Juliet of the evening, has evidently bestowed very great pains upon the character, her interpretation of which is thoroughly consistent with her conception of it." (Argus)
The Bland Holt company returned for a three month season. The first production on the 5th was 'Master and Man' by Henry Pettitt and George Sims. This was a Melbourne first.
"In the part of Jack Walton, clever, brave, and generous, Mr. Rosier made hie first acquaintance with a Melbourne audience, and the impression he created was a favourable one." (Argus)
"As for Mr. Holt himself, his humor is like the brightness of a diamond, it flashes at every turn and when least expected." (Table Talk)
New Bijou Theatre
'She Stoops to Conquer' was mounted with generous attention to scenery, costumes and detail. Reviews noted the excellent use of the orchestra playing the incidental music. The overture to 'Iolanthe' was given prior to the performance. The comedy was withdrawn after two weeks and on the 11th 'The Rocket' by A.W. Pinero (1855-1934), and 'Barbara' by Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) were played as a double bill. "Miss Lilian Seccombe made her debût in Melbourne in the part of Lillie, and gave a very engaging study of a girl wayward, impulsive and pert, while Mr. Chichester aa Cecil, contributed his fair share towards a particularly smooth and satisfactory performance." (Argus)
Even though receiving good reviews these works only played for one week. On the 16th 'The Pickpocket' was revived for six performances only.
"As a dramatic composition the piece will not bear critical analysis. The plot and the incidents are outrageously absurd and preposterously improbable. Most of the characters have no existence outside of stage land." (Argus)
"Its purpose is to create roars of laughter and this it fulfils abundantly." (Table Talk)
On the 26th Mark Melford's wildly hilarious comedy 'Turned Up' was produced.
The Age said "rarely has a performance on the stage excited so much laughter as this extremely absurd, but nevertheless irresistibly droll, concoction."
"Mr Boucicault waa always on the alert, and rattled through his part with a vivacity and fluency that never failed." (Argus)
'The Flying Scud' clocked up a successful run of three weeks. On the 12th 'The Black Country', by Charles Reade and Henry Pettitt, was mounted for the first time.
"The plot is striking and effective, but the construction is weak, and the dialogue tame." (Table Talk)
"Unstinted praise is justly due to Mr. Clyndes for a very fine performance, the quality of which was admirable throughout. Strong, earnest, and emphatic, his acting was entirely free from exaggeration. His reading of the dialogue was a pleasure to listen to." (Argus)
On the 26th the Boucicault drama 'Formosa or the Railroad to Ruin' opened.
"Whatever estimation may be passed on Formosa as a play, the actors are admittedly good, and in almost every instance work up their scenes with credible effect." (Table Talk)
"The plot is perhaps a little ingenious, but the dialogue is below mediocrity. It is difficult to understand why the drama should not have been allowed to die a natural death." (Argus)
'Boccaccio' concluded the Nellie Stewart season on the 4th.
On the 5th the George Rignold company mounted 'Now-a-days', a racing drama which had been a recent success in Sydney.
"Good audiences and hearty applause."
The play was successful enough to run for four weeks.
|Actor-manager, George Rignold (1839-1912) was born George Richard Rignall in England. He came to Australia in 1878 and after a brief tour of England and America he finally decided to settle in Australia in the mid 1880s. Her Majesty's Theatre at Sydney was built for him in 1886 which became his headquarters for nine years. Among his leading parts were Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Caliban in The Tempest, Falstaff, Bottom, Romeo and Macbeth. He was an excellent producer and he sometimes achieved the almost impossible. His production of 'In the Ranks', by Sims and Pettitt, played for 83 performances in 1887/88 and set a record for a non musical play. His last production was 'Othello' in Sydney in 1899. He died, after an operation, in Sydney.|
'Formosa' finished on August 8th.
The actor, author, George Darrell and his wife took to the boards in one of Darrell's own works entitled 'The Lucky Lot'.
"A "drama" which permits of the introduction of a castanet in the second act, of the "unparalleled sensation" of a race between "five thoroughbred steeplechasers" from Mr Carton's stables in the fourth act, and of an elaborate ballet in the fifth, at once disarms criticism, and achieves a popular success in spite of itself." (Argus)
"The surprise of the evening was Mrs Darrell whose personal beauty, sympathetic voice and graceful manners speedily made her a favourite with the audience." (Table Talk)
The play terminated on August 29th.
New Bijou Theatre
'The Balloon', by Manville Fenn and J.H. Darnley, was mounted. This was a recent success at the Strand in London and was preceded by Dion Boucicault's 'Kerry'.
"(The cast) work up the various scenes with brilliant effect, not to be gained by any but a first-class company, and then only when that company are thoroughly in sympathy with each other and used to each other's methods." (Table Talk)
"The incidents are wildly improbable, the situations grotesquely so, and the characters harmonise with the incidents and situations; but the fun is fast and furious, and people leave the theatre with aching sides, and with faces that look all the brighter for two hours of almost unrestrained hilarity." (Argus)
On the 16th 'The Glass of Fashion', by Sydney Grundy (1848-1914), was mounted.
"One of those brightly written comedies that would hold the fancy of the public for some time." (Table Talk)
"The piece, whatever the merits or demerits of its subject, could scarcely have been better interpreted. Mrs Brough played gracefully and with excellent judgment as Mrs. Trevarnon. Miss Romer filled the part of Lady Coombe with her usual care and appropriateness of expression, and Miss Pattie Browne was delightfully naive and self-possessed as Peg O'Reilly." (Argus)
Unfortyunately the work only ran six performances. On the 23rd the comedy 'The Parvenu', by G.W. Godfrey, author of 'The Queen's Shilling', was produced. This work had not been seen on the Melbourne stage for eight years.
"Spiritedly played all round, and has been well received on each representation." (Table Talk)
"Mr. Anson's Edward Ledger is one of his most artistic and finished performances,humourous without being ostensibly so, strong without exaggeration, consistent und uniformly effective." (Argus)
'Romeo and Juliet' concluded its amazing long four week run. On the 2nd 'La Tosca' was brought back for six nights.
"The kittenish element in the love passages with Cavaradossi in the first act ought to develop into almost tigerish ferocity when the victim of so much duplicity is finally brought to bay, but Mrs Brown Potter is never tigerish." (Argus)
On the 9th 'Frou-Frou', by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, was produced with Mrs Potter as Magda Gilberte.
"(This role) has given Mrs Potter the opportunity of showing how diversified are her histrionic gifts, and how artistically she can treat the development of character." (Table Talk)
"Mrs Potter s rendering of the part, although full of irritating eccentricities of voice, gesture, and movement, appeared to give unqualified satisfaction to a large body of admirers in the audience." (Argus)
On the 16th 'Mademoiselle de Bressier', by M. Albert Delpit, was produced for six nights as a stop-gap. [Editor's note: Mrs Potter gave the first presentation of this play in Australia in Sydney on May 28th.]
"ln the hands of an actress of genius, the character of Mdlle de Bressier is one of which an immense deal might be made. But Mrs Potter only indicates the possibilities of the part instead of translating them into accomplished facts. She looks the character to perfection, and her costumes are everything that could he desired. When this is said, all is said. She never gets inside her characters, and her defective methods of reading, the monotonous rising and falling inflection of her voice in almost every sentence she utters, the jerkiness of her delivery, and the absence of all real passion and its inadequate simulation when strong emotion has to be expressed, render eulogy impossible." (Argus)
On the 23rd there was the first performance on any stage anywhere of a Greek play 'Hero and Leander' especially written for Mrs Potter. [Editor's note: possibly based on the Christopher Marlowe poem]
"There is little or no attempt at analysis of character or emotions, but the play appears to have been pieced together by an expert in stage management and opportunity is given to the scenic artist to achieve a veritable triumph." (Argus)
"Mrs Potter, as in everything else she does, has made a careful study of Hero, and acts with sensitive feeling and tenderness." (Table Talk)
As usual Scalfax was more sarcastic..."If Hero would throw in a sand jig to liven up the somberness of Act II, and Leander oblige the company with a comic song, we might not object to pay full prices for a two hours' show, close upon an hour of which is made up of intervals."
On August 2nd the American Civil War play 'Held by the Enemy', by William Gillette (1853-1937), was revived..."with the scenic effects of a first production."
Reviewer Scalfax said "There was an apparent uneasiness about most of the principals. Perhaps it was want of rehearsals, or the afternoon's football matches, or a fervent wish to be somewhere else which caused it."
"Mr Rignold did as well as need be. He was vigorous and assertive, and helped the action of the play considerably, but, in an artistic sense, the work was by no means worthy of him." (Argus)
The drama only ran one week and the Rignold season concluded on the 9th.
On the 10th John F. Sheridan returned for yet another season of 'Fun on the Bristol'.
"The scenery and appointments are entirely different to the production of a few months ago, and the situations, dialogue and music are also changed." (Table Talk)
"The best that can be said for tbe entertainment, which can be in no way judged by ordinary dramatic standards, is that it appears to have lost nothing at all of its attraction by familiarity." (Argus)
'Master and Man' finished on August the 8th. On the 9th 'The Golden Ladder', by George Sims and Wilson Barrett, was produced.
"An effective play, well written, and with each character clearly, though not strongly drawn...the Scenery is the best that 'Alta' has ever painted." (Table Talk)
This production concluded on August 29th.
'Hero and Leander' had resulted in well filled houses and enthusiastic applause. The production finished on Tuesday 9th and 'Carmille' played the week out. The company then headed for Sydney.
On the 13th the Williamson and Garner Opera Company commenced a long season of operettas. Henry Bracy was engaged as director of the company. The opening work was the ever loved 'Dorothy'. This featured William Elton, Howard Vernon, C. H. Leumane, May Pollard, Clara Merivale and, fresh from England, Charles Ryley who played in the original D'Oyly Carte 'Princess Ida'.
"A very good baritone voice, which he uses skilfully, a fine appearance and a pleasant manner of acting." (Table Talk)
On the 27th 'The Mikado' returned with Maggie Moore as Katisha.
"Mrs J.C. Williamson's Katisha has never before been played or sung with so much dramatic power or feeling." (Table Talk)
The production was marred by the conductor of the orchestra abruptly leaving the company over a payment dispute and one of the violinists taking over at short notice.
New Bijou Theatre
'The Parvenu' finished on the 5th. On the 6th 'School', by Thomas Robertson, was produced.
"The characters have been allotted with discrimination and the performers acquit themselves as if their reputations were to be built on their efforts." (Table Talk)
"Mr. Boucicault gives another proof of his skill and variety as an actor of character parts in the striking portrait he presents of the dilapidated old beau, Farintosh, with his piping voice, hesitating speech, affected juvenility of manncr, purblind vision, and general feebleness of physique." (Argus)
This featured G.S. Titheradge who had been absent from the Melbourne stage for many months which explained "the warm applause that greeted his return on Saturday evening.
" The Age boldly stated "The performance will rank as one of the best yet given under the management of Messrs. Brough and Boucicault." (Table Talk)
'Fun in Bristol' continued a very successful run all through September.
"Mr. J.F. Sheridan is ably supported by Mr. John Forde, Miss Gracie Whiteford, Miss Lena Salinger, Mr. James and Mr. Hawthorne. The last named young gentleman has given such proof of his dramatic talent during the last three weeks that he has stepped into the position of a leading favourite." (Table Talk)
The fun finally finished on the 26th.
On the 30th of August there was a production of 'Alone in London', by Robert Buchanan.
"Unhesitatingly written down as an all-round success." (Table Talk)
On August 9th 'The Golden ladder', by George Sims and Wilson Barrett, was produced.
"So far as the acting in the drama is concerned, all that can be said must be in approval of those who played the different characters. Mr. Rosier as the missionary revealed his capacity as an actor in a verv satisfactory light, and Miss Maggie Knight found ample scope for her emotional powers in the part of Mrs Thornhill." (Argus)
On the 13th 'The Union Jack' was revived.
"As the sailor, Peter Fly, Mr. Bland Holt finds continual opportunity for his mirth-provoking propensities." (Table Talk)
'The Union Jack' concluded on th 26th and on the 27th 'London Day by Day', by Sims and Pettitt, hit the Australian stage for the first time.
"The drama is cleverly written and possesses all the qualifications of a sterling stockpiece...Mrs Bland Holt does her work in her usual pleasant and refined manner." (Table Talk)
"No pains have been spared in mounting tbe piece, but the scenic attist need not have given us a Gothic abbey, something like Newstead, for so familiar a Tudor structure as Hampton Court Palace. The stage manager may also be admonished to shorten the intervals between the acts in future performances." (Argus)
'Mr Potter of Texas', from the novel by Archibald Clavering Gunter, was given for the first time in Melbourne on August the 30th.
"Mrs Darrell's speaking voice is of so clear and beautiful a quality that every word can be heard all over the building, her by-play is graceful, and her acting as a whole marked by real human feeling." (Table Talk)
"There is not much scope for good acting in any of the characters except that of Lady Annerley, which is earnestly and effectively presented by Mrs Darrell. Notwithstanding an occasional tendency to over emphasis, Mrs Darrell's performance was one deserving of much praise and full of promise." (Argus)
On September the 6th 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab' played for a week.
The Age said "we should have thought that no living man could have vied with Fergus Hume in weak, trashy and pointless dialogue. Mr. Darrell beats the novelist on his own ground." (Table Talk)
"Mrs Christine Darrell was Kata Rawlins, the all-important witness, who appears on the scene at the proper moment, and the part revealed her capacity as an actress in a favourable light." (Argus)
The Darrell season concluded on the 12th.
On the 13th the dramatic Irish dramatist Hubert O'Grady (1840?-1899) opened at the theatre. The work was entitled 'Famine'.
"No comedian ever found an audience better disposed towards him, for they laughed uproariously at his jokes, simmered when he grimaced, and cheered him enthusiastically when he tumbled on the floor." (Table Talk)
After a few performances the public stayed away and the season abruptly concluded on October 2nd.
"Mr Martin Simonsen's Italian Opera season at the Royal is a decided failure. 'The Bohemian Girl' has attracted a very small portion of the public, and that portion is not very well pleased. In fact, some of it says rude things. This opera was announced for final performance on Friday, and on Saturday we were to be electrified with 'Martha', but Signor Buzzi, who was to appear as Plunket, had a cold, fell off a tram, or met with some other misfortune, and could not attend. Mr Simonsen made the necessary apologies, and announced that 'The Bohemian Girl' would be specially revived. Then the audience got up and howled, and used bad words, and likewise wanted its money returned, but therein it did not know the manager. Tonight, 'Maritana' will endeavour to rope in a payable audience, with Miss Elsa May as the young lady who 'hears it again', and Mr Jules Simonsen as the very weak-kneed representative of the roysterer who is not at all particular whom he marries. Tomorrow, Mr Simonsen the elder takes the usual benefit. As the speculation is entirely Mr Simonsen's and he gets all the profits, we fail to see why he should have a benefit. But perhaps there were no profits. It's quite likely."
(Scalfax October 20th, 1890)
On October 4th the Simonsen Opera Company took over the theatre for a short season. The cast featured Elsa May, Jules Simonsen and, New Zealander, Marie Stevenson. Operas performed were 'Maritana', 'Il Trovatore' and 'The Bohemian Girl'.
"A weak company, an indifferent chorus, and cheap mounting are not sufficient to arouse any special enthusiasm in us these hard times." (Scalfax)
Several performances were given of Charles L. Young's drama, 'Jim the Penman', by the Saint Maur company, during this period. [Editor's note: Although Martin Simonsen was one of Australia's most well-known musical and operatic impresarios he lost a lot of money in several of his ventures. After his gifted wife, Fanny, died he lost his will to live and committed suicide in November 1899.]
'London Day by Day' continued to play to good houses for four weeks.
"It is one mass of woe from A to Z, and Miss Maggie Knight has the whole alphabet of it" (Scalfax)
On Saturday the 25th 'The Land of the Living', by Frank Harvey, was produced.
"A well constructed, brightly written, full of telling situations, and the interest is continued until the very fall of the curtain...Miss Maggie Knight, as the much tried heroine, and Mr. Walter Howe, as the more tried hero, acquit themselves with the skill of performers who have mastered every detail of their business." (Table Talk)
New Bijou Theatre
The Brough and Boucicault company produced Thomas Robertson's comedy of 'Ours' on the 4th.
"There is a slowness in the action of the piece that arises from the piece itself, so that the interest is apt top centre in the methods of the performers, working out their characters rather than in the characters themselves." (Table Talk)
The play managed a three week run. On Thursday the 23rd 'Harvest', by Henry Hamilton, received its first performance in Australia with a large cast that included Maud Williamson, Fanny Enson and Emma Temple.
"The plot is simple, easy to follow, and charged with interest." (Table Talk)
'The Mikado' continued until the 10th. On the 11th 'La Mascotte' was produced.
"Miss Moore gives a thoroughly finished performance. Her singing of the music cannot be surpassed." (Table Talk)
On the 25th the long awaited production of 'The Gondoliers' received its first Australian performance.
The Argus said: "The music, without possessing the originality and freshness which characterised the earlier operas of Sir Arthur Sullivan, is as light and bright, as graceful and melodious as heretofore."
Making her first appearance at this theatre, playing Casilda.
Florence Young "possesses a clear resonant voice, articulates her words distinctly, and produced a thoroughly favourable impression." (Table Talk)
The Sheridan company produced 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' on September 27th. J.F. Sheridan played Marks the lawyer, Charles Lewis was Uncle Tom and Emma Brunton played Eliza Harris. The play finished on October 16th. On the 18th the burlesque 'Little Black-Eyed Swan' was staged.
"The dialogue is nothing more nor less than a chain of jokes of which Mr. Sheridan and Miss Jennie Lee bear the larger share...The snow Ballet, in the first act, is one of the most captivating dances that has ever been witnessed in this theatre."
The season finished on the 31st.
The first production of George Sims and Robert Buchanan's new drama 'The English Rose' was mounted on the 1st. New faces recently hired by J.C. Williamson on his recent visit to England include Lawrence Cautley and Harold Russell. There was also a return of comedian J.R. Greville (1834-1894) after a two year absence from the Australian stage.
"Well and spiritedly acted by as excellent a company as have ever appeared at this theatre."
No expense was spared as critics noted: "Here are real horses, a real Irish jaunting-car and a real stream of water flowing down the stoney channel spanned by the Devil Bridge."
The production ran most of the month.
|George Sims (1847-1922) was born in London and educated at educated at Eastbourne College. In 1872 he started writing for two journals and then later for 'Fun'. His success as a playwright was established with 'The Lights of London'. He wrote many articles on social issues but was best remembered as a playwright collaborating with many successful authors of the day. He wrote his autobiography in 1917.|
New Bijou Theatre
"Maude Williamson plays the heroine ably and artistically."
On the 8th 'Impulse' was produced.
"Every performance by this company is excellent of its kind, as befits a number of people whose artistic instincts have been developed by long association and skilful direction."
This presentation concluded on the 28th.
On the 1st of November Nellie Stewart resumed her tenancy of the Opera House for her final season before heading for England. 'Paul Jones' returned with Fannie Liddiard taking the title role.
"Her singing, as it always does, pleases everybody."
On the 20th Nellie Stewart celebrated her 29th birthday with a small function at the theatre. 'Boccaccio' was revived on the 22nd.
"It is a bright and sparkling opera when you have only seen it a few times, but when you have it thrust upon you times out of number it becomes monotonous." (Scalfax)
[Editor's note: This would be the last review by Harry Wilby Taylor, alias 'Scalfax'. He died not long after after a fall. He was only aged 32]
'The Land of the Living' continued.
"Miss Maggie Knight gives an impersonation of the heroine that is both well studied and well acted, and thoroughly life-like."
'The New Babylon' played for just a few performances at the end of this long Bland Holt season, which ended on the 14th.
On the 15th Alfred Dampier returned with a revival of 'Robbery Under Arms'.
"Mr. Dampier has strengthened the piece considerably by some cleverly introduced scenes."
This ran for just two weeks.
'The Gondoliers' continued its successful run.
"Miss Florence Young shows the rapid improvement she has been making both in singing and acting, and is an acquisition to the company."
On Saturday the 29th Elsie Cameron took over the role of the Duchess from Maggie Moore who headed over to the Theatre Royal.
"Possessing as she does a handsome presence, a pleasant and sympathetic manner, and a contralto voice of good compass, pure tone and melodious quality."
|Elsie Cameron was born on the 25th of December, 1862, in Leeds, England. She joined the D'Oyly Carte touring companies in 1881. In August 1885, she went to America to appear as Katisha in Carte's first New York production of 'The Mikado'. In 1887 she returned there to play Dame Hannah in the first American 'Ruddygore'. At the Savoy in 1890 she substituted for Rosina Brandram as the Duchess in The Gondoliers. She was hired for a twelve month contract with J.C. Williamson starting with 'The Gondoliers' in Melbourne on November 29th, 1890.|
New Bijou Theatre
'The Jilt', a sporting comedy by Dion Boucicault, opened on November 29th.
"It is a real intellectual treat to watch the different methods of each performer." (Table Talk)
"Mrs. Brough, who reappeared after an absence from this theatre of three months, met with a most gratifying reception, and proved how deserving she was of it by her charming representation of the character of Kitty Woodstock." (Argus)
This ran for two weeks. 'The Squire', by Pinero, was produced on the 13th.
"Mrs Brough's rendering of the character (Kate Verity) is as good as ever. She leaves nothing to be desired in all the purely conversational portions of the dialogue in which she is natural, various, and womanly, tender where tenderness is required and firm and dignified wherever it is necessary for the Squire to assert herself." (The Age)
"Mrs. Brough's rendering of the character is as good as ever. She leaves nothing to be desired in all the purely conversational portions of the dialogue, in which she is natural, various, and womanly, tender where tenderness is required, and firm und dignified wherever it is necessary for the Squire to assert herself." (Argus)
This work was a stop gap before the Brough-Boucicault Comedy Company Christmas production of 'Dandy Dick' which opened on boxing day.
'Arrah Na Pogue', by Dion Boucicault, opened for a short run on November 29th.
"In spite of all that Mr Grattan Riggs and Miss Maggie Moore can do, Arrah Na Pogue can only be accepted as a ghost of its former self."
The season panders out and on the 8th there are short revivals of 'The Irish Detective', 'Shin Fane' and 'Colleen Bawn'.
On boxing night the eagerly awaited pantomime was produced. This year it was 'Aladdin', or to give it its full title 'Aladdin; or, Harlequin, the Wonderful Ring, the Magical Lamp, and the Pretty Young Princess Who Loved a Great Scamp; the Fully Old Dame, and the Latest Edition of the Musical Model and Mystic Magician'. This was written and produced by E.W. Royce. The cast included Violet Varley, Florence Young, George Walton and Jennie Lee in the title role. In addition E.W. Royce played the Emperor of China.
'La Fille de Madame Angot', by Charles Lecocq (1832-1918), was revived on the 6th of December after a six year absence from the Melbourne stage.
"Miss Liddiard by her grace, her captivating ways and her sweet voice completely distances everything she has yet done." (Table Talk)
"It is scarcely necessary to say that for an acceptable representation of an opera, the first essentials are an adequate band and chorus, and in both these matters the musical director, Mr. Alfred Plumpton, is to be heartily congratulated." (Argus)
This ran until Christmas. On boxing day Herve's 'Chilpéric' opened.
The Melbourne Age said "The splendour of its present production has never before been equalled or even approached in this city."
'The Gondoliers' finished on the 19th. On the 20th 'Marjorie' was produced. The book was by Lewis Clifton and Joseph Dilley with music by Walter Slaughter (1860-1908). This work had only recently been staged in London. The cast included Frances Saville, Elsie Cameron, Henry Bracey and Howard Vernon.
"The whole opera needs further compression, while the parts cannot be said to be well written." (Table Talk)
After a few performances the Argus said: "The piece possesses most of the characteristics essential to a successful comic opera, and has consequently rather strengthened its hold upon public favour since the opening night."
'For the Love and Life' opened on the 29th of November. This was an original drama by Alfred Dampier and Garner Walch.
The Melbourne Age said: "A bold departure from the stereo-typed lines of melodrama."
"Very valuable information is given as to the danger of a liberal diet of grapes, periwinkles, and such like inviting trifles to a convalescent typhoid patient. The audience, however, would probably have been glad to exchange all the profit obtained in this way for a less complicated and more coherent plot." (Argus)
This production ran for only a week and was followed by revivals of 'Monte-Cristo' and 'East Lynne'. On boxing day 'The Phantom Ship' opened. This was a telling of the Flying Dutchman legend by Kathleen Russell (Mrs. Alfred Dampier). [Editor's note: This cast includes Bill Watkin, who secretly married Lily Dampier in 1889, allegedly without her parents’ knowledge]