Trial By Jury

Potted Plot | History | First Night Critics | Did You Know? | Original Cast

Picture of first night programme

First produced at the Royalty Theatre, London, March 25th 1875

The 40 minute "Trial by Jury" followed the Offenbach operetta "La Perichole".

The scene is a court of law. Barristers, Attorneys and Jurymen are discovered.

"Hark, the hour of ten is sounding;
Hearts with anxious fears are bounding,
Hall of Justice crowds surrounding,
Breathing hope and fear-"

The case to be heard today is a breach of promise. Edwin is being sued by Angelina.

Edwin duly arrives and explains his situation. The woman who he thought he loved had become a bore and so one morning he found comfort in another.

The jurymen relate that they were the same when they were younger but they are now reformed and have no sympathy for the defendant.

All rise for the Judge who explains to all how he managed to become a judge.


The jury is sworn in and the Plaintiff arrives, proceeded by her bridesmaids in full rig.

The Judge is most taken with Angelina.

The Counsel for the Plaintiff makes his statement. With Angelina sobbing on his chest he relates an account of the vile behaviour of Edwin.

"See my interesting client,
Victim of a heartless wile!
See the traitor all defiant
Wear a supercilious smile!"

There are expressions of sympathy all round. The defendant is already the guilty party.

The Plaintiff, thinking of the heavy damages she could get, embraces the Defendant and stresses what a loss she has suffered through being jilted.

Edwin, not to be outdone, points out that he is far from being a good catch.

"I smoke like a furnace - I'm always in liquor,
A ruffian - a bully - a sot:
I'm sure I should thrash her, perhaps I should kick her,
I am such a very bad lot!"

The Judge has a good idea. Maybe they could give him a little drink to see if he would actually thrash and kick her.

There are objections - except from Edwin.

The Judge becomes impatient and announces a somewhat surprising solution.

"Put your briefs upon the shelf,
I will marry her myself!"

All rejoice.

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Enter Richard D'Oyly Carte. He was a concert agency executive, who at thirty-one was also serving as manager of the Royalty Theatre. Carte was always on the lookout for good material for use either as curtain raises or afterpieces. He wanted something to accompany Offenbach's La Périchole.

Trial by Jury Theatre Poster

Gilbert dropped in on D'Oyly Carte one day in mid-January 1875 and showed him a new libretto he had been working on. Carte suggested that Sullivan would be the man to set it. Gilbert then visited Sullivan with his manuscript and read it to him.

Sullivan recalled the occasion: "He read it through, as it seemed to me, in a perturbed sort of way, with a gradual crescendo of indignation, in the manner of a man considerably disappointed with what he had written. As soon as he had come to the last word he closed the manuscript violently, apparently unconscious of the fact that he had achieved his purpose so far as I was concerned, inasmuch as I was screaming with laughter the whole time. The words were written, and the rehearsals completed, within the space of three weeks' time."

The first announcement in the Times, in January, omitted the name of Gilbert entirely. There was no further advertisement of the new work until March 20th when the Times notice did contain Gilbert's name.

La Périchole opened on March 25th, but it was Trial by Jury which stole the evening and started the famous pair on the long road of many successful ventures.

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First night critics


"(Trial by Jury was) extremely funny and admirably composed. For once we have an original notion brought to a satisfactory conclusion."

"In Trial by Jury both Mr. Words and Mr. Music have worked together, and for the first quarter of an hour the Cantata (as they've called it) is the funniest bit of nonsense your representative has seen for a considerable time."

Daily News
"In whimsical invention and eccentric humour Mr. W.S. Gilbert has no living rival among our dramatic writers, and never has his peculiar vein of drollery and satire been more conspicuous than in a little piece entitled Trial by Jury, produced at the Royalty Theatre on Thursday evening."

Daily Telegraph
"Trial by Jury is a cantata, and, as such, is the work of...Mr. Sullivan, who, by the way, conduced the performance on Thursday night with his usual great tact and skill. After but one hearing of the piece it is scarely possible to decide upon the precise merits of Mr. Sullivan's latest work, so much is every faculty absorbed by the fun of the dialogue and situations. Nevertheless, we believe it will be found that the music to Trial by Jury is worthy the composer of Cox and Box: and, consequently, that it illustrates Mr. Sullivan's great capacity for dramatic writing of the lighter class."

Daily News
"On this occasion the dramatic and the musical composer have worked together; and so completely is each embued with the same spirit that it would be as difficult to conceive the existence of Mr. Gilbert's verses without Mr. Sullivan's music, as of Mr. Sullivan's music without Mr. Gilbert's verses. Each gives each a double charm."

The Times
"Mr. F. Sullivan's impersonation of the learned and impressionable Judge deserves a special word of praise for its quiet and natural humour."

Daily Telegraph
"Miss Nelly Bromley made the Plaintiff as interesting and attractive as possible."

Daily News
"Laughter more frequent or more hearty was never heard in any theatre than that which more than once brought the action of the 'dramatic cantata on Thursday evening to a temporary standstill."

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Did you know?

At first, because of the importance of his name, Sullivan was considered as the creator of Trial By Jury. Posters called it a dramatic cantata by Arthur Sullivan. The librettist was of little importance; in fact, on the first night's program his name was incorrectly listed as W.C. Gilbert. But it must be admitted now that the elegant format of Trial By Jury was Gilbert's conception.