or "Bunthorne's Bride"

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

Picture of first night programme

First performed at the Opera Comique, London, on the 23rd April 1881

Transfered to the newly built Savoy Theatre on the 10th October.

The exterior of Castle Bunthorne.

A group of "twenty love-sick maidens" reveal that they are all in love with the poet Reginald Bunthorne. Lady Jane tells them all that Reginald has fallen for the village milkmaid, Patience. Patience appear and confesses that she has no idea what love is (unusual girl!).

The 35th Dragon Guards arrive in the village. The maidens, all of whom were engaged to the Guards a year ago, are now indifferent...Reginald has the popular appeal now.

Bunthorne now enters and insists on reading his latest poetic composition. This pretentious rubbish draws rapturous applause from the ladies, except Patience who considers it nonsense.

Lady Angela gives Patience a brief lecture on the purity and unselfishness of love but the milkmaid points out that apart from a great-aunt she has never loved anyone since she was a baby.

"Long years ago, fourteen, maybe,
When but a tiny babe of four,
Another baby played with me,
My elder by a year or more."

Another poet, Archibald Grosvenor, appears on the scene and is shocked that Patience does not recognise her childhood friend.

Bunthorne decides to raffle himself off but before the ticket is drawn Patience offers to be Bunthorne's bride.

All the girls decide that as they have no chance with Bunthorne then they might just as well accept the proposals of the officers. All is fine until Grosvenor arrives on the scene and the girls dump the officers for this rival poet.

The second act is set in a glade. Elderly Lady Jane plays on a 'cello and tells that she has strong feelings for Bunthorne and that he had better secure her soon before her charms start to decay.

Grosvenor and Patience enter. He tells her that he is still head over heels in love with her while she insists that she must still love Bunthorne, from a sense of duty, even though it makes her miserable.

Bunthorne arrives, persued by Lady Jane. He protests that until the appearance of Grosvenor on the scene he was the one that was the most admired. He threatens to meet the poet on his own ground and beat him at it.

The three officers appear. They have abandoned their uniforms and are dressed and made up in imitation of the poets. They have their hair long and walk in stiff, constrained and angular attitudes. The ladies are impressed but are not yet prepared to commit themselves to the officers.

Patience encounters Bunthorne who assures her that he has completely changed and now models himself on Grosvenor.

Grosvenor enters, followed by the ladies and the Dragons.. He has his hair cut and is wearing an ordinary suit and hat. He swears to Patience that he will always be a commonplace young man. Patience is delighted. There is nothing preventing her from loving him now.

One of the Officers takes Jane and soon nearly everyone is now matched, except Bunthorne.

Nobody is Bunthorne's bride!

Click here for a complete libretto to Patience

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Patience Theatre Poster

The lease on the Opera Comique was soon to expire, but instead of seeking its renewal, D'Oyly Carte, ever shrewd and adventurous, determined on a more ambitious scheme. He would build his own theatre. It would one that would be especially suited to the requirements of the new school of comic opera. Soon he, Gilbert and Sullivan sat down and carefully considered the figures and to map out plans for the new playhouse.

The fourth opera was placed in rehearsal. Society, for a while, had been suffering from an epidemic of hybrid aestheticism. Under the apostleship of Oscar Wilde, a "passion for a lily" had over-mastered the conventional Englishman's love of a rose. Everybody wore pewtery grey and held a "greenery-yallery" complexion. Bright reds, scarlets, crimsons and blues were no longer popular.

So the target Gilbert chose for the new opera was Affectation. Twenty-five year old Oscar Wilde was, at the time, publishing his first slim volume of poems.

On 23rd April, 1881, at its first night in London Patience had eight encores. The critic of the Referee noticed that some of Gilbert's shots went over the heads of the audience. Despite the jokes that were missed, the Referee predicted 'lasting popularity'.

The Savoy Theatre was opened on October 10th, 1881, with a bigger and brighter Patience. The Savoy was the very first Theatre to be lit entirely by electricity. The brighter light necessitated repainting the scenery, and with a larger stage Mr Gilbert mounted the production anew.

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First night critics



"Opening with a superb scene, the Exterior of Castle Bunthorne, painted by Mr. John O'Connor with remarkable skill and introducing some charming effects, one of those quaint medieval structures in which the modern aesthetic poet delights."

Sporting Times

"End of Act t 1. General enthusiasm for cigarettes and Chartreuse at the departure bar. Everyone goes about saying, 'Hey, willow waly, O.' Nobody knows what this means, but all say, 'Aesthetic, don't cher know.'"


"(Mr. Gilbert's contribution was) certainly very funny, and, although there will not be found, perhaps, such striking passages as in Pinafore, the current of drollery and whimsical illusion runs through the entire opera."


"(Mr. Sullivan's music was) just the kind we might expect from such a fluent and tuneful composer. The instrumentation is full of graceful passages, and conducted by the composer the band did ample justice to them."


"(George Grossmith as Bunthorne) was quite in his element. He invested the character with a grotesque drollery amusing in the extreme."

Daily News

"(Miss Leonora Braham) sang with brightness of voice and refinement of style, and acted with unaffected naïveté and grace. (Alice Barnett) sustained the character of the strong-minded Lady Jane with thorough appreciation of its musical and dramatic humour."

Click here to check out the reviews for the first Australian production.

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Did you know?

When Patience became profitable D'Oyly Carte organised a picnic for everyone, with three river boats, each graced with one of the three heads of the company, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte. These picnics on the river became an annual affair and served to maintain morale in a company that was drilled and drilled to the wee hours of the morning when productions were being prepared.

The middle-aged spinster incurred Gilbert's cruel mockery in the ballad "Silver'd is the raven hair" at the beginning of Act 2. Here the corpulent Lady Jane accompanies herself on a double bass singing a grimly text alluding to her aging figure. When the song was issued separately as a drawing-room ballad the lyrics were changed. "In the twilight of our love" turned into a popular parlour ballad.

During 1880 Sullivan's share of the box-office receipts amounted to £9,988.12.6. An income of virtually £10,000 was an extraordinary level for anyone in the arts to attain. Gladstone's salary as prime minister was considerably less. It were the operettas which maintained his income. To just compose and conduct for the concert hall would never have brought him anywhere near that level.

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Behind the scenes

With the opening of the new Savoy Theatre several reforms were implemented.
In place of the cheap and common playbill for which, previously, sixpence had been charged, an artistic programme beautifully designed in colour by Miss Alice Havers was presented to everyone, "free, gratis, and for nothing". It was amusing to observe the varying expressions of surprise and gratification of men, who, after following the custom of tendering a silver coin in payment, were politely informed by the attendant that there was "no charge".

The reform of the refreshments was no less welcome; in place of the poisonous concoction of fusil-oil, excellent whiskey was provided, and pure coffee took the place of the customary chicory - and all at a reasonable tariff.

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