Claude Bantock

  • BANTOCK, Claude (1875-1921)

    English actor. Né Claude Ronald Bantock. aka CR Bantock. Born 16 September 1875, London, England. Brother of Leedham Bantock (actor) and Granville Bantock (composer). Died 23 June 1921, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, aged 45.

     On stage in Australia from 1900 performing in musical comedy for JC Williamson Ltd.

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, page 222.

  • Clara Clifton: From England’s provincial theatres to the Australian stage (Part 2)

    In Part 1 BOB FERRIS traced the early theatrical career of Clara Clifton from the English provincial theatres to her first performance in Australia with the George Edwardes’ production of Kitty Grey. Part 2 continues the story from Clara’s engagement with Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company and her 1904 debut success in The Orchid through to The Little Michusin 1906.

    Veronique 2Clara Clifton as Emerance in Veronique, 1905. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.Following hersuccessful and popular performance as ‘Brightie’ in the George Edwardes Gaiety Company’s production of Kitty Grey, Clara was engaged by J.C. Williamson for the 1904 season of the Royal Comic Opera Company.

    Clara’s first appearance with the company was in The Orchid which had enjoyed enormous success at London’s Gaiety Theatre during 1903. Described as a spectacular attraction with brilliant scenery and costumes with gay and attractive music from the pens of Caryll, Monckton and Rubens and lyrics by Ross and Greenback, it played for the first time in Australia at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 29 October 1904. The show enjoyed  capacity audiences throughout its three month season which extended over the Christmas and New Year period.

    Typical of musical comedies, the plot of The Orchid posed no challenge for the audience.1 Essentially, it involved the hunt and rivalry between British and French politicians to secure a ‘special’ orchid which had been cultivated by the gardener at a Horticultural College. Marital mix-ups, romantic attraction between the various characters, together with a bevy of young female college students, coloured the storyline. 

    A notable feature of the production was the number of comedians in the cast, from old favourites, George Lauri (as Meakin the College gardener) and Claude Bantock (Aubrey Chesterton) to a new company member, W.S. Percy (Comte Raoul de Cassignat) who had been the lead comedian with Pollard’s Opera Company for many years.  Between them, and Clara, they provided numerous comic interludes. The cast also included Florence Young as Josephine Zaccary, a teacher at the College, and Evelyn Scott as Lady Violet Anstruther, the College principal pupil. Clara played the part of Caroline Vokins, and as the buoyant, amorous Vokins she was an unqualified success.

    In several scenes Clara appeared alongside George Lauri and the matrimonial manoeuvring and the love scenes between the two were described as rich in comicality.2 Clifton and Lauri would go on to regularly perform together in J.C. Williamson’s musical comedies and they formed a successful partnership, often providing much of the humour.

    Opening night reviews were full of praise for Clara’s performance. The opinion of the Age critic was typical: ‘Her methods are admirable. Her stage presence commanding, and her artless trick of tempting the audience to laugh with, not at, proved irresistibly infectious. She has two of the most “catchy” songs in the piece, “Advertisements” and “Fancy Dress”, for both of which she received the well-merited compliment of a double encore, and at all points she quickly established herself as a firm favourite.’3

    With her jovial personality, sense of humour and infectious habit, if annoying to some, of laughing at the end of her lines, Clara quickly established a rapport with Melbourne theatre lovers, and the enthusiastic reception she received on her first performance with the Royal Comic Opera Comedy company was noted by Playgoer of Punch. As J.C. Williamson once remarked, while Australian audiences were in many ways the best in the world, they were most difficult to please, but ‘when an Australian audience likes you their applause is genuine’.4 And they certainly liked Clara!

    After a three month season in Melbourne, The Orchid played in Sydney and Perth, where new songs, ‘In My Time’ and ‘Only Fancy Me’ were added to Clara’s repertoire. Two years later, in April 1907, when The Orchid was performed at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide and at Geelong and Ballarat, Clara was described as a clever and versatile actress, a perfect artiste, inimitable in the role of Caroline Vokins. Her two songs, ‘In my Time’ and ‘Fancy Dress’, were smart character sketches and deservedly encored.5

    On 7 January 1905 an enthusiastic audience was at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne for the revival of the ever popular Florodora. It was a lavish stage spectacular with a new and capable cast, strong chorus and ballet, but it ran for only a short season and while there was a smattering of praise for some individual performances, the critics generally felt that the 1905 production was a disappointment.

    Clara was cast in the role of Lady Holyrood, an announcement which was viewed with some misgivings in theatrical circles as she was to play a young widow, fashionable, cold and cynical, attributes thought foreign to a comedienne who was full of humour and a sense of fun. 

    Also, when a musical was revived, audiences and critics invariably made comparisons of the performances of the cast and of the production itself with earlier shows. This was true of Florodora, and in particular, Clara’s role as Lady Holyrood, the part which Grace Palotta had been well-praised for in the earlier George Edwardes’ 1900 production. In applauding Palotta’s charm and graceful performance, the Age wrote: ‘… Florodora without a Lady Holyrood—and without a particularly good Lady Holyrood to boot—is unthinkable.’6

    Against this backdrop how did Clara fare in 1905?

    The magazine, Table Talk of 12 January left its readers in no doubt, writing that Clara Clifton was decidedly out of her element as Lady Holyrood and that she lacked the chic necessary for the part, and does not give the expression of the smart society woman. The review concluding that while she looks pretty and wears beautiful clothes, she was a pleasing Lady Holyrood, but not a representative of the ‘smart set’.7 Peter Quince writing for Punch was more gracious, noting that her performance, though lacking the grace that marks the ‘Caste of Vere de Vere’, is a decidedly meritorious performance, and her clear enunciation both in dialogue and singing is a treat to listen to.8

    While there was a diversity of opinion from other critics, the tenor of their comments was generally prejudiced by comparisons to Palotta’s earlier performance, as opposed to judging Clara on her performance. The Critic, for instance, wrote that Miss Clara Clifton as Lady Holyrood:

    seemed at the outset alarming, considering the proportions of the comedienne and the class of work in which she has excelled here.  She set about winning the audience in the first place by her frocking. It was sumptuous and sported with an idea of dignity. This is what Miss Clifton strove to maintain in her Lady Holyrood role all through the show. Where her fascinating predecessor shone for grace, this large, pleasant comedienne aimed at dignity … Where this Lady Holyrood fell short was in the spiced and often wicked wit which gives a relish to some of the dialogue. There is no acidity in Miss Clifton’s voice, and no vinegar in her expression. So the malicious worldling’s humour lost its sting. The big, kindly, good-tempered face of the player discounted the malice of the Holyrood remarks.9

    Moreover, the Critic provides another example of how reviews of the time were happy to comment on Clara’s physical appearance.

    Whether these critiques had an effect on Clara is unknown, but she would have taken some comfort from Peter Quince’s opinion that in comparing the two actresses he had no hesitation in saying that Miss Clifton was a better actress—measured upon points—than Miss Palotta.10

    Indeed, when Florodora was performed at Her Majesty’s, Sydney for a six night season beginning on 12 May 1906, Clara was an undeniable success as Lady Holyrood. Reportedly, Sydney theatre patrons found her in fine voice and her saucy and snappy ‘When I Leave Town’ and her songs in the second Act—‘Tact’ and ‘I’ve an Inkling’ and ‘I Want to Marry a Man I Do’ which Clara sang with Tweedlepunch (George Lauri) and Cyrus Gilfain (Fred Leslie) were very popular and encored more than once.

    Perhaps the ambivalent Melbourne reviews provided the challenge to Clara to rework the role of Lady Holyrood as her own because the Sydney season prompted excellent reviews, such as that in the The Australian Star (Sydney) of 14 May which wrote: ‘the honours of the evening were carried off by Lady Holyrood who broke away from the “traditions” of the part which had been left by Miss Grace Palotta … Those who had predicted that Miss Clifton would cut a poor figure as Lady Holyrood were very much out in their reckoning.’11

    Following the Melbourne season of Florodora the charming musical comedy, The Geisha returned to Her Majesty’s Theatre in mid-January 1905 with Florence Young in the lead role of O Mimosa San the chief Geisha and with George Lauri as Wun-hi the Tea House proprietor. Clara was cast as the statuesque society dame, Lady Constance Wynne, a visitor to Japan, and it was said that her usual jovial humour gave some life to an otherwise colourless part. In particular, her by-play when George Lauri performed ‘Chin Chin Chinaman’ was roundly applauded.12

    Clara’s growing stage popularity (often touted as the ‘Goddess of the Gods’) was acknowledged when the visiting American impersonator Alice Pierce, well known for her impersonations of leading actresses, included an imitation of Clara in her repertoire when appearing at the Tivoli Theatre in May 1905. According to reviews, Pierce’s mannerisms and voice of Clara (with her irritating drawl) were splendid and her recital of familiar lines from The Orchid, ‘Where’s My Rupert’ and ‘It isn’t the money I want, it’s the man’ were readily recognised by the audience.13

    In late May of 1905 a Grand Matinee Performance by the Royal Comic Opera Company in aid of their Sick Fund14 was held at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney with a performance of Florodora and a selection of items from The Orchidand The Cingalee. Several members of the company performed, including Clara who appeared as Lady Holyrood, and together with Claude Bantock and Margaret Thomas she contributed to other items on the program. Clara was also involved in a similar program at a special matinee in early June in aid of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children.

    Clara was not part of the cast which performed The Cingalee during April and October 1905 and some reviews noted this with regret and surprise after her strong showing in The Orchid. Was her absence because of the wealth of female talent available—Margaret Thomas, Ivy Scott, Evelyn Scott, Rose Musgrove and Alexia Bassian—and it was difficult to cast them all? Or perhaps, there was no suitable role for Clara—was she already being type-cast? There was also a suggestion that a planned return to London, which didn’t eventuate, was the reason for her omission.

    Prior to staging Veronique in Melbourne there was a gap in the Opera Company’s programming schedule around late October 1905 and management decided to revive The Orchid for a short run; a choice possibly influenced by the availability of audience favourite, Clifton and her success in the role of Caroline Vokins. The show and Clara’s reappearance was enthusiastically welcomed by theatre patrons.

    The Company performed Andre Messager’s  comic opera Veronique for the first time in Australia at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 11 November 1905 and in Sydney at Her Majesty’s the following January. Described as a modernised opera bouffe, the plot revolves around Helene de Solanges, a rich heiress, who in the guise of Veronique a flower girl working at the fashionable Parisian florists of Monsieur and Madame Coquenard, sets out to captivate Count Florestan de Valiancourt. Helene is assisted in her escapade by her aunt and chaperone, Emerance, Countess de Champ Azur, the role played by Clara.

    Opinions were mixed on Clara’s performance as Emerance. For some, she acquitted herself capably, played the role with great spirit and read the character of a modern, wise, worldly woman with insight. Others thought she was somewhat disappointing, afraid to be too unrestrained, and did not present the lofty type of beauty needed for a Countess, although playing the character with composure.

    The review in Table Talk on Clara’s performance in the Melbourne show was particularly pertinent.  It noted there was a sameness about Clara’s acting, and that the Countess was played to a certain extent as a second edition of Caroline Vokins.15

    In early December 1905, The Girl From Kay’s replaced Veronique at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne to excellent reviews with the press generally agreeing that the present cast had out-sung, out-danced and outperformed the George Edwardes Gaiety Company’s production the previous year.

    Clara had a small role in this production but presented as an imposing, handsome Mrs. Chalmers. In the Edwardes’ production, Maud Hobson played Mrs. Chalmers and Punch’s Peter Quince wrote that comparisons with previous productions, however odious were inevitable but noted that ‘Miss Clara Clifton, as Mrs. Chalmers, need no fear of comparison that may be instituted’.16

    FL16157156Advertising postcard for The Girl from Kay’s. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

    The musical moved to Sydney, opening on Boxing Night, 1905, and the following July it was successfully staged at the Theatre Royal Adelaide where one reviewer wrote that Clara could not have been surpassed as the hysterical lachrymose Mrs. Chalmers.17

    After an absence of some ten years, the musical farce The Shop Girl, almost burlesque to some, was again performed in Australian theatres. It opened in Sydney on 3 March 1906, playing for five weeks before moving to Adelaide’s Theatre Royal in July and later to Melbourne for a six-night run at Her Majesty’s Theatre, beginning on 27 October.

    In The Shop Girl, Clara returned to one of her familiar roles as Ada Smith, a part in which she was well versed from her time on the English provincial theatre circuit.

    As Ada it was said Clara acted with ‘archness and vivacity’ and presented as a youthful Mrs. Malaprop from the workhouse, comely to look upon, with a slow, amiable smile, and an innate sense of humour. Her rendition of the laughing song ‘Class’ was the hit of the show.18 19 In ‘Class’, Clara included several topical observations, with one in particular singled out for comment by the Sydney Daily Telegraph— it was a moral lecture about certain society peccadilloes, and even a dig at the man who goes to the theatre to study ‘the psychic effect of the high kick’.20 Perhaps Clara was alluding to the questionable tone of parts of the script.

    When The Shop Girlplayed its short season in Melbourne, Clara’s humour was at its best, her innumerable faux pas, often played along with by fellow performers, had the house in fits of laughter.

    Clara was back at Her Majesty’s, Sydney in the role of Madame Michu in Andre Messager’s comic opera The Little Michus which held its Australian premiere in early June 1906. It played for seven weeks before moving to Adelaide as the opening production for the season at the Theatre Royal and then to Melbourne. 

    As with Veronique, the intent of The Little Michus was to educate theatre patrons away from farcical musical comedy towards opera bouffe. Unlike the usual plotless musicals, The Little Michus had a coherent storyline, introduced fewer features typical of comic musicals and a tighter script which allowed little latitude for the comedians to improvise. This ‘new direction’ drew comment from the Melbourne Argus which thought that the comic skills of Lauri, Bantock, Percy, Leslie and Clifton were sadly missed and that they were all but lost as far as singing and dancing was concerned.21

    Little Michus spread smlCharacters in The Little Michus. Photos by Talma. (left) Andrew Barrie collection, (right) National Library of Australia, Canberra.  

    The musical had Clara as Madame Michu with Claude Bantock as Monsieur Michu, the couple had been entrusted with looking after General Des Ifs daughter Blanch Marie in return for a sum of money which they used to open a shop. While bathing his own daughter Marie Blanch, Michu mixes the babies up and is unable to tell them apart. Difficulties arise when the girls grow up—the General wants the return of his long separated daughter, and romantic feelings between the girls, a young army officer and a shop assistant complicate matters, but after much toing and froing the relationships are satisfactorily resolved.

    Although her part as Mme Michus was of minor interest Clara played the role in her usual effective style and together with Claude Bantock as the elderly Michus gave the audience many humorous moments. Clara also made a series of hits during the performance and her item, ‘If you happen to stop as you pass our shop’, received tremendous applause.22

    The Little Michusfinished its Melbourne season in early September with Punch noting that the principals in the production, which included Clara, ‘have added to their reputation as sterling artists.’23


    To be continued



    1. Plots in musical comedies were somewhat fanciful and existed to provide structure for the songs and to give each of the principals an opportunity to show off their comic and vocal skills. (‘Florodora’, Elisabeth Kumm, Theatre Heritage Australia, 25 June 2015)

    2. Argus (Melbourne), 31 October 1904, p.6

    3. Age (Melbourne), 31 October 1904, p.6

    4. The Stage: What it Demands of the Actor, the Author, and the Manager: An Interview with J.C. Williamson—Part III, The Bookfellow, vol 1, no. 5, 31 January 1907, p.16

    5. Ballarat Star, 30 April 1907, p.5

    6. Age (Melbourne), 17 December 1900, p.6

    7. Table Talk (Melbourne) 12 January 1905, p.17

    8. Punch (Melbourne), 12 January 1905, p.26. The expression ‘Vere de Vere’ is found in Tennyson’s poem Lady Clara Vere de Vere. Quince uses the expression to imply that Clifton was lacking the class of an aristocratic person.

    9. Critic (Adelaide), 11 January 1905, p.17

    10. Punch (Melbourne), 12 January 1905, p.26

    11. The Australian Star (Sydney), 14 May 1906, p.3

    12. Table Talk (Melbourne), 26 January 1905, p.20

    13. Evening News (Sydney), 1 May 1905, p.8 and The Australian Star,1 May 1905, p.2

    14. The Fund was established by members of J.C. Williamson’s Comic Opera Company with members contributing 3d per week and when a member was ill a doctor was provided and £1 given to the sufferer. The Fund was supplemented with proceeds from an annual matinee performance by the company. The Fund Committee consisted of Messrs G. Lauri, Hugh J. Ward, F. Leslie, C. Kenningham, Coventry and Carroll.

    15. Table Talk(Melbourne),16 November 1905, p.17

    16. Punch (Melbourne), 14 December 1905, p.36

    17. Register (Adelaide), 27 July 1906, p.7

    18. Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 1906, p.10

    19. According to one source Clifton borrowed ‘Class’ from The Silver Slipper. See The Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, Kurt Gänzl, Second Edition Vol 3, p.1851. Schirmer Books 2001. Connie Ediss performed ‘Class’ in the 1901 production of The Silver Slipper.

    20. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 March 1906, p.9

    21. Argus (Melbourne), 13 August, 1906 p.6

    22. Critic (Adelaide), 25 July 1906, p.1

    23. Punch (Melbourne), 13 September 1906, p.36

    With thanks to

    Andrew Barrie, a grandson of Andrew Barrie of Talma fame; Claudia Funder, Research Coordinator, Collections Arts Centre Melbourne; Elisabeth Kumm

  • Clara Clifton: From England’s provincial theatres to the Australian stage (Part 3)

    BOB FERRIS concludes his appraisal of the career of musical comedy performer Clara Clifton.  Part 3 charts her appearances with J.C. Williamson's Royal Comic Opera Company, from her role as Mrs. Girdle in the 1906 production of The Spring Chicken through to her performance in The Lady Dandies and her retirement in late 1908.

    The Melbourne racing season was well underway and on Victorian Derby Night, 3 November 1906, The Spring Chicken had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, with later performances in Adelaide starting on 6 April and Sydney on 8 June 1907 and a revival in Melbourne for Show Week the following August.

    The plot of this musical was simple, although some thought the storyline improper. Gustave Babori (Reginald Roberts) a staid lawyer and dutiful husband in winter is involved in flirtatious exploits and infidelity in the springtime, a practice which his dutiful wife, Dulcie (Olive Morell in her first appearance in Australia) wants to stop. There are endless complications—Babori falls in love with a client, Baroness Papouche (Alma Barber) who is seeking a divorce and he is also infatuated with Rosalie (Florence Young) a ‘playful’ French maid. He is aided in his amorous adventures by his father in-law, Mr. Girdle (George Lauri), who is similarly incline.

    Clara played the part of Mrs. Girdle, the mother-in-law of Babori, a character role which suited her burlesque skill perfectly. Her performance was the subject of another cleverly drawn sketch.1

    Mrs Girdle drew upon her experience of men and her female guile in dealing with her own flirtatious husband to benefit the ladies in their endeavours and to finally reconcile the parties. Clara’s rendition of ‘I Don’t Know, But I Can Guess (what I don’t know of Babori, or any other man, I can guess)’, a pointed reference to the philanders, was according to the Argus review one of the most lilting airs of the piece (and) the keynote of the whole production.2 And the Leader wrote that the song would have startled the moral purists out of their propriety.3

    The Bulletin, however, in a biting comment, thought there was a lack of spice in the performance and that it was ‘not counteracted by the cloying sweetness of mother-in-law Clara Clifton … Charmingly chubby and coyly arch in her appeal to audiences, this ingratiating lady, regarded in the light of a pickle for devilled son-in-law, is sadly deficient in mustard, pepper and vinegar. ’4

    While Clara’s comic skill was often acknowledged, little was said of her singing, although of her Mrs. Girdle performance in Sydney it was said that she sings very prettily and was also referred to as the ‘silver-voiced’ actress.5

    According to the Leader there was a special feminine interest in the musical because the costumes were of the height of fashion—or what would be the fashion next week.6 Clara was fastidious with her stage wardrobe, which was splendid; she dressed as a fashionable society woman. Likewise, her off-stage attire was most elegant. The fashions seen on stage were often copied by stylish women and many in the social set attended the theatre merely to see what was in vogue.

    Reviews of performances and ‘Ladies Pages’ in daily newspapers often devoted space to an actress’s wardrobe and the quality of her dress. Clara’s wardrobe was regularly singled out for comment including in her role as Mrs. Girdle in The Spring Chicken where it was noted that Clara’s handsome personality was more pronounced by two effective toilettes: ‘the second an exquisite gown of white brocade, the corsage draped with white chiffon and lace, a trail of bright crimson roses just giving the necessary touch of color, a couple of dark roses worn in the becoming grey hair.’7 The ensemble can be seen in the Talma postcard above.

    Almost twelve months to the day when last in Melbourne, The Girl from Kay’s was again performed at Her Majesty’s, playing for a week in early December 1906. As a finale to the performance on 17 December, a number of popular selections from some of the Company’s previous musicals were performed, including a rendition of ‘Zo Zo’ from Kitty Grey by Clara, the song which first gave her prominence in Australia.

    Two days later the company left on the Riverina for a tour of New Zealand with a repertoire of performances scheduled in major cities through to Easter 1907. The season opened at the Wellington Opera House on Boxing Day evening with a performance of The Orchid and Clara ‘easily stepped into the good graces of patrons, and she bids fair to become a warm favourite with New Zealand audiences... If it were possible, the audience would have had her sing “In My Time” all night to them’.8

    During the tour, the illness of George Lauri gave W.S. Percy the opportunity to play Meakin (the gardener) in performances of The Orchid at Christchurch and the press reported that his scenes with Miss Clifton were full of spontaneity and fun. 9

    After a successful run at the London Apollo Theatre the previous year, The Dairymaids had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday, 7 September 1907. The musical had been eagerly anticipated by Melbourne theatre patrons and the show attracted full houses throughout its season.

    In this farcical musical, Clara played Lady Brudenell who had established a model dairy for the well-being of young ladies. Two of the dairymaids are her wards, Winifred and Peggy, played by Florence Young and Fanny Dango. It was Dango’s first performance in Australia and she also played the part of the chief Sandow girl.10 Emma Temple, in her first appearance with the Comic Opera Co., played Miss Penelope Pyechase the severe and pedantic schoolmistress. Besides the frolicsome dairymaids, there are naval officers, Brudenell’s flirtatious nephews and a gymnasium scene involving many young attractive ladies in clinging white gowns, doing various ‘Sandow’ exercises.11

    The script, according to Punch, provided few opportunities for Clara to excel in what was described as a chanceless, thankless role. Moreover, as a capable vocalist Clara was not given the opportunity to sing, other than in chorus work, a shortcoming in the production which also applied to other well-known singers in the cast: Reginald Roberts, Alma Barber and Claude Bantock.12

    The Melbourne Herald, however, considered Clara’s performance a great triumph, writing of ‘her wonderful skill in getting en rapport with her audience’ and that ‘she uses melodramatic phrases with almost perfect melodramatic enunciation and gesture’, concluding that ‘the part suits her to a nicety, and her style has improved since we first had the pleasure of seeing her in Melbourne.’13

    Some four months later The Dairymaids played in Sydney for the first time on 1 February 1908 for a six-week season. As in the Melbourne production, Clara was said to be handsome and dignified as Lady Brudenell, with reference again being made to her singing—what little vocal work was attributed to the role was rendered with the artiste’s usual care.14

    20230315 135958 1Clara Clifton as Lady Brudenell, with Alma Barber (Helene) and Arthur Crane (Captain Fred Leverton). Photo by Talma. Courtesy of Andrew Barrie.

    Writing on the Sydney show for Punch, ‘The Don’ felt The Dairymaids had suffered in comparison with The Girls of Gottenberg, the previous production at the theatre. It was, he said clumsily constructed, the comedy was fifth rate and the music commonplace and monotonous. On the contrary the reviewer said it was unnecessary to write anything about Clara’s character as ‘whatever the piece or the part, she is always Clara Clifton. “Semper Eadem” [always the same] is her motto, and she never shifts from her moorings’.15

    With her public popularity Clara’s private life often caught the attention of the press and any titbit, sometimes less than flattering, was newsworthy. For instance, the Critic wrote: ‘Miss Clara Clifton goes riding into the country on fine days. Being no light-weight, she has to use great judgement in selecting a trusty steed. She generally finds him.’16 And the Bulletin also weighed in with an invasive passage: ‘the latest footlighter to turn to the “d.f. villa …” is Miss Cara Clifton. That genial soul, what time she isn’t impersonating ladies of various qualities, is enthusiastically playing housewife in a nest at Albert Park. Nowadays the imported busker frequently shows an amiable leaning towards domesticity, and modestly avoids the unblinking observation of public tables-d’hote.’17

    Clara wrote an indignant denial and demanded the statement contradicted. The Bulletin reluctantly agreed, but not without a final barb— ‘Miss Clifton doesn’t cook her own chop in her own domicile. She hangs out at the Old White Hart, Melbourne.’18

    Due to ill health, Clara could not take her role as Mrs Privett when Alfred Celier’s popular pastoral comic opera, Dorothy opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 20 July 1907 and was replaced by Pressy Preston. Clara returned to the role when the comic opera played for a week’s run in Melbourne the following October, Preston stayed on for the Melbourne production in the lesser role of Lady Betty.

    Clara’s role of Mrs. Privett, the sister of Squire Bantam, was that of a comely, middle aged widow and reviews of her performance were mixed. The Age, for instance, commented that she ‘went through her appointed task on conventional lines, but never once looked as though she felt them to be either appropriate or convincing.’19 Whereas Table Talk wrote that she was a superb Mrs. Privett and was the perfect foil to George Lauri’s, Lurcher which enabled him to fully realise the humorous possibilities of the piece.20 This comment was echoed by the Bulletin which wrote: Lauri and Miss Clifton got full allowance of applause and delighted guffaw for their buffoonery as Lurcher and Mrs. Privett. 21 And the Gadfly said of her role that she loses more of the Clara than usual and assumes a good deal more of the character.22

    The Royal Comic Opera Co’s next attraction was the military musical comedy The Girls of Gottenbergwhich had its first Australian performance at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne on 26 October 1907, in a season which coincided with the Cup racing carnival. There was a packed house on opening night and most numbers were encored by an enthusiastic audience, many who were no doubt buoyed by a successful day at the races. Following its very successful run in Melbourne the musical moved to Sydney as the Christmas holiday attraction.

    The musical was an extravaganza of colour from the military uniforms to the costumes of the chorus girls and the dressing of the principals. A cast of some thirty characters included most of the Company’s principal players, with Clara in the role of Clementine, the Burgonmaster’s daughter. Of particular note was the appearance of the Comic Opera tenor Reginald Roberts after an absence of 18 months in America, as Otto Prince of Saxe-Hildesheim an officer in the Blue Hussars.

    The storyline concerned two regiments, the Red and Blue Hussars, both which are languishing in Rottenberg where there is only one girl. Both groups want to be transferred to Gottenberg where there are plenty of beautiful, fun-loving girls at a military college. The Kaiser choses the Red Hussars but then enters Max Moddelkopf (George Lauri) a trickster who impersonates a special envoy, switches the orders to have the Blue troops transferred to Gottenberg. Throw into the mix a prince, the burgomaster and daughter, an innkeeper and daughter and a General and his daughter and plenty of romantic intrigue.

    As Clementine, Clara’s was once more a buxom and attractive lady with her humorous persona at its best and her song ‘You Know How Shy I Am’ and her duet with George Lauri, ‘Birds in the Trees’ were redemanded by the audience. In one of Clara’s comic sketches the audience was ‘almost broken up when she bundled Adolf, the Town Clerk (W.S. Percy), almost onto the footlights for daring to interfere between father and daughter’.23

    From about the 1907 season of the Opera Co., or possibly earlier, some theatrical scribes had noted a changing role for Clara and that despite her being a vast favourite with musical comedy audiences, she was being restricted to minor character roles. The reviewer for the Melbourne Leader for instance, in a backhanded compliment, thought that Clara as Clementine had been given more prominence than she has recently been afforded, 24 and the correspondent for the British Era magazine thought that ‘Miss Clara Clifton a veritable idol to both sexes of playgoers, had too little to do as the Burgermeister’s daughter, but it was good vocal and histrionic ballast in a ship freighted with frivolity’.25

    The ‘too little to do’ comment was also noted by ‘The Don’ of Punch in his review of The Lady Dandies when he wrote that Clara as Egle (and Evelyn Scott as Liane ) have little or nothing to do, 26 a view echoed elsewhere—Miss Clara Clifton as Egle has nothing to do with the action of the piece (but does brighten the third act with her song).27 And as a throw-away line, Miss Clara Clifton as Egle and Miss Evelyn Scott as Liane, are also in the cast.28

    The Lady Dandies, a comic opera of the French Revolutionary days during the infamous Directoire, began its season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 21 March 1908 and was later transferred to the Theatre Royal in early April before its final performance on 9 May. Clara played Egle the flirtatious young wife of her gout ridden old husband, Des Gouttieres (Arthur Hunter), secretary to the Directors.

    Lady Dandies resizeFrom Melbourne Punch, 23 April 1908, p.18

    Shortly after the season finished Clara was on board the RMS Britannia for a five-month holiday in England, leaving Sydney on 6 June 1908, with the stated intention to return to Australia in time for the Christmas production of The Duchess of Dantzic. When interviewed on her return on board the RMS Orotava in Perth, Clara reiterated her intention: ‘I am now travelling direct to Sydney for the purpose of joining the “Duchess of Dantzic” Co.’29

    But her return to the stage did not eventuate. Clara’s role as Egle in The Lady Dandies was her last with the Royal Comic Opera Company.

    Clara retired and soon after married George Cartwright on Monday, 15 February 1909 at Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne. 

    George Cartwright was educated in England and had work experience at the Woolwich Arsenal before he came to Victoria in 1901, aged 21 to work at the Colonial Ammunition Company in Footscray. The following year he was appointed its Manager. The company played a prominent part in Australia’s World War 1 activities.30

    The Cartwrights had two sons and a daughter and resided on Beaconsfield Parade, St. Kilda, with a rural property near Officer, Victoria.

    Little was heard of Clara following her marriage. On one occasion Table Talk of March 1912 noted that Clara had emerged from retirement for one day to work at a Theatrical Carnival in East Melbourne in aid of the Theatrical Charities Fund31 and Punch, the following year, referred to Clara and her husband being among guests attending the opening of the new Auditorium concert hall in Collins Street with appearances by Madame Clara Bolt and Mr. Kennerly Rumford.32

    Clara died on 13 March 1940, she was predeceased by her husband who died on 24 January 1937.

    Silver box compositeSterling silver jewellery box presented to Clara Clifton by the Royal Comic Opera Company on her retirement in late 1908. Courtesy of Gavin Mould.

    Clara Clifton the English stage actress was full of vivacity, humour and charm. She began her career as a teenager performing in pantomimes, graduating to plays and musical comedies on the English provincial theatre circuit and later in South Africa. In 1904, in a bold and courageous move she travelled, unaccompanied, to Australia, to ply her craft and soon found engagement with J.C. Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company. Over the next five years Clara performed in most of the company’s musical comedies: The Orchid (her role as Caroline Vokins arguably her finest), Florodora, Veronique, The Geisha, The Girl From Kay’s, The Shop Girl, The Little Michus, The Spring Chicken, The Dairymaids, Dorothy, The Girls of Gottenberg and The Lady Dandies, often as an outstanding low comedienne, and generally applauded for her clever, comic character sketches. 

    At the time Clara was a huge favourite with musical comedy audiences throughout her relatively short career in Australia. But for an actress once cherished with warm affection, little is known about her today and she is worthy of better recognition. She deserves to be remembered.



    1. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 June 1907, p.7

    2. Argus (Melbourne), 5 November 1906, p.5

    3. Leader (Melbourne) 10 November 1906, p.22

    4. Bulletin (Melbourne), 6 December 1906, p.11

    5. Sunday Sun, 9 and 23 June 1907, pp. 2 and 3

    6. Leader (Melbourne), 3 November 1906, p.22

    7. Critic (Adelaide), 10 April 1907, p.4

    8. Referee (Sydney), 9 January 1907, p.12 & 16 January 1907, p.12 and Manawatu Standard, 22 January 1907, p.4

    9. Christchurch Press, 19 February—report in Port Melbourne Standard, 9 March 1907, p.4

    10. Fanny Dango was specifically engaged by Williamson to take the part of Peggy and she quickly became a favourite of local audiences.

    11. Eugen Sandow promoted physical culture through weight training, attracting many students including young women.

    12. Punch (Melbourne), 12 September 12, 1907 p.36

    13. Herald (Melbourne), 5 November 1906, p.4

    14. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February, 1908, p. 6

    15. Punch (Melbourne), 6 February 1908, p.33

    16. Critic (Adelaide), 19 September 1906, p.9

    17. Bulletin (Melbourne), 19 September 1907, p.21

    18. Bulletin (Melbourne), 3 October, 1907, p.21

    19. Age (Melbourne), 21 October 1907, p.9

    20. Table Talk (Melbourne), 24 October 1907, p.21

    21. Bulletin (Melbourne), 24 October 1907, p.8

    22. Gadfly (Adelaide), 23 October 1907, p.8

    23. Herald (Melbourne), 28 October 1907, p.3

    24. Leader (Melbourne), 3 November 1907, p.33

    25. The Era (London), 1 February 1908, p.21—Amusements in Australia

    26. Punch (Melbourne), 9 April, 1908, p.39

    27. Australian Star (Sydney), 23 March 1908, p.2

    28. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 March 1908, p.4

    29. Daily News (Perth), 17 December 1908, p.1

    30. Punch (Melbourne), 3 August 1916, p.6

    31. Table Talk (Melbourne), 28 March, 1912, p.10

    32. Punch (Melbourne), 29 May 1913, p.37


    Thanks to

    Shirley & Stephen Rieger

    Gavin Mould