Florence Young

  • 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

  • Fanny Dango—The Soubrette’s Stage Career in Australia (Part 1)

    Fanny Dango banner(left) W.D. & H.O. Wills ‘Actresses’—Miss Fanny Dango. (right) W.D. & H.O. Wills ‘Stage and Musical Hall Celebrities’—Fanny Dango. Author’s collection.

    BOB FERRIS takes a look at the career of Fanny Dango from her early work in England through to her 1907 Australian debut in J.C. Williamson’s, The Dairymaids to her performance in The Belle of New York.

    Very popularthemes for collectors of cigarette cards are actresses and stage performers. A number of choice sets on this theme were issued in Australia in the early 1900s, including ‘Actresses (Talma)’ by the Melbourne company Sniders and Abrahams; Actors and Actresses ‘WALP’, an anonymous set issued by several companies; and two series of ‘Stage and Music Hall Celebrities’ (portraits in oval and portraits framed), issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills between 1900–05. Fanny Dango is card number 35 in the framed set of 50 cards. Wills also issued a set of ‘Actresses’, 100 unnumbered cards between 1903–10 which feature a Who’s Who of stage actresses of the period, including Fanny Dango.1

    Fanny Dango was born Fanny Rudge on 20 October 1878 in Birmingham, England. She was one of the five Rudge sisters who all appeared on the stage under assumed names—Letty Lind (Letitia Rudge),2 Lydia Flopp (Lydia Rudge), Millie Hylton (Sarah Rudge), Adelaide Astor (Elizabeth Rudge) and the youngest sister, Fanny. In a 1909 interview with Melbourne’s Table Talk magazine, Fanny said, ‘In our family we all followed my sister Letty on to the stage; that is the girls not the boys. We all appeared under different names. I think our idea was to make our own way on merits, without any help from Letty and it was not until we began to get on a bit that it leaked out we were sisters.’3

    Fanny Dango was a nascent actress and an exceptional dancer with appearances in several pantomimes on the London and Provincial theatre stage. Her catalogue of pantomime performances is impressive from her debut at the Prince of Wales Theatre in her home city of Birmingham in December 1894 (shortly after her 16th birthday) with a small part as ‘Chinese Dolly’ in Dick Whittington. From 1901 to 1905, she appeared in five successive Christmas pantomimes: Gulliver’s Travels at the Avenue Theatre, London, 1901–1902 (as Glumdalclitch); Dick Whittington at the London Hippodrome, 1902–1903 (as Alice, opposite the Dick of Ruth Lytton), Santa Claus Junior at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 1903–1904 (as See Mee); in Dick Whittington, Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, 1904–1905 (as Alice, opposite the Dick of Hetty King); and Aladdin, Theatre Royal, Birmingham, 1905–1906 (as Princess So Shi, opposite the Aladdin of Ada Reeve).4

    Fanny was also actively involved on the musical stage. As well as performing in touring productions such as The Geisha (1896, as Tommy Stanley), Three Little Maids (1903, as Hilda Branscombe), San Toy (1904, in the title role), and A Girl on the Stage (1906, as Lady Isabel), she also created several roles in new London productions or took over roles. Original roles included Juanita in Florodora (Lyric, 1899, and Angela Gilfain on tour), Millicent Ward in The Silver Slipper (Lyric, 1901, and on tour), Antoinette in The Medal and the Maid (Lyric, 1903), and Yvette in The Spring Chicken (Gaiety, 1905). In London, she was also seen in A Runaway Girl (Gaiety, 1898), replacing Marie Fawcett as one of the two Miss Hakes; in Little Miss Nobody (Lyric, 1899), replacing Lydia West as Tiny Triplet; and in The Love Birds (Savoy, 1904), replacing Louise Raymond as Lillie de Jones.

    Fanny Dango was vivacious and a charismatic young actress and danced exquisitely. J.C. Williamson saw the early promise of her becoming a favourite of Australian theatre patrons and he engaged her in England to play the part of Peggy Sabine in the Royal Comic Opera’s production of The Dairymaids.5 This was some achievement for Fanny to play the part which had previously been performed by Australian-born Carrie Moore with outstanding success in the 1906 Apollo Theatre production.

    Fanny sailed to Australia on the P & O RMS Mongolia which left Marseilles on 19 July 1907 and arrived in Melbourne on 26 August, leaving the same day for Sydney to commence rehearsals. She made her Australian debut in The Dairymaids as Peggy Sabine and the chief Sandow girl at Her Majesty’s Theatre Melbourne, on 7 September 1907 and later in Sydney, opening at Her Majesty’s some four months later, on 1 February 1908.

    Brief details of her engagement with the Royal Comic Opera Co. are recorded in a hand-written note, dated the day of her debut performance: 52 weeks on a salary of £20 per week and £25 during pantomime performances. An added note renewed her engagement for 52 weeks from 5 September 1908. Possibly a more formal contractual letter exists (somewhere).

    The Dairymaids came to Australia with a glowing reputation following a successful run at London’s Apollo Theatre and while it played for several weeks in Melbourne and Sydney it failed to get the same accolades. Punch, for example, noted that the show ‘is one of those tuneful and pleasing productions … without any great claim to special merit’6 and The Bulletin said ‘the piece on closer inspection will never look as clever as it looked in the London notices’.7

    Central to the storyline, Peggy and Winifred (Florence Young) two of the dairymaids are wards of Lady Brudenell (Clara Clifton) who has established a model dairy for the well-being of young ladies. The first Act takes place at the dairy but with the arrival of Brudenell’s nephews (Sam—Fred Leslie and Frank—Reginald Roberts) who fancy the wards, and some naval officers, she sends the maids off to Miss Penelope Pyechase’s (Emma Temple) academy and gymnasium which becomes the setting for Act 2.

    Fanny and FredFanny Dango (Peggy) and Fred Leslie (Sam) in The Dairymaids. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    The critics generally agreed that what success the play enjoyed was largely due to the performance of Fanny whose singing and dancing duets with Fred Leslie in ‘The Other One’ and ‘They All Lived Happily Afterwards’ were praised as excellent, as were ‘The Language of Love’ and ‘Mary and Jane’: ‘she came through with éclat’, wrote one,8 and another more moderate but still complimentary, reported that: ‘Miss Fanny Dango, the newcomer, has plenty to do and does it satisfactorily, with a small singing voice and a fair amount of “go”.’9

    In what was to become a consistent theme from the theatre reviews, Fanny’s voice was said to be pleasing but not robust, but adequate for musical comedy—her merit ‘lies nearer her toes than her tongue’.10 Any vocal defects in her performance were covered up with some artful stage management in her song and dance routines, especially ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Apothecary, Ploughman, Thief’ where the characters of the song, appropriately dressed, gave her support as did the chorus girls, dressed in white cashmere gowns, lifting dumbbells in the gymnasium scene as Fanny sang of the merits of physical exercise in her rendition of the ‘Sandow Girl’. Both songs were chiefly remembered for the ‘ornamental frills that flap about them’.11

    Sandow GirlsFanny Dango (centre) and a group of Sandow Girls in The Dairymaids. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

    As in Melbourne, the Sydney production was carried by Fanny and Leslie. The introduction of a novel marionette act into the gymnasium scene where the movements of the figures were realistically simulated was well received by Sydney audiences.

    On her debut performances in both Melbourne and Sydney, Fanny was variously described by the fawning press as a ‘bright little creature’; ‘piquant’, ‘graceful and clever’; ‘vivacious’; ‘dainty, petite and sprightly’, and [one who] ‘acts and sings so coquettishly’. Together with her blazing red gold tresses, Fanny’s favouritism with local audiences was assured.

    Fanny’s next appearance with the company was The Girls of Gottenberg in which she played Mitzi the Innkeeper’s daughter. The musical opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 1 September 1907 and after a long and successful run was performed as the Christmas attraction in Sydney at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

    In an improbable storyline, two regiments the Red and Blue Hussars are languishing in Rottenberg where there is only one girl. Both regiments want to be transferred to Gottenberg which has a girls’ military college, and the Reds are selected. In a storyline twist, Max Moddelkopf (George Lauri), valet to Prince Otto of Saxe-Hildesheim (Reginald Roberts), a lieutenant in the Blue Hussars, switches the orders to have the Blue Hussars transferred to Gottenberg. And, of course there is romance. Otto is betrothed to his cousin Elsa (Florence Young in Melbourne/Olive Godwin in Sydney) but they have not seen each other since their childhood. Elsa is a student at the college, and she persuades Mitzi to change places and as the maid at the inn Elsa flirts with her unknown betrothed and finally wins him over. The situation was explained with lots of song and dance.

    According to the Melbourne Herald, it is in these scenes that Fanny enhanced her reputation as a talented performer; her acting and particularly her dancing was again seen as her strengths. Fanny’s songs, ‘Titsy, Bitsy Girl’, ‘Berlin on the Spree’, and ‘Two Little Sausages’ (a duet with George Lauri), were hits of the show as was ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ which she sang with Reginald Roberts and George Lauri. While her voice was, again, light she overcame this with distinct articulation. However, the Herald doubted whether Fanny’s singing voice could successfully sustain the arduous singing role of an operatic heroine.12

    Lady Dandies(left) Fanny Dango with Reginald Roberts, and (right) Florence Young in The Lady Dandies. From Town and Country Journal (Sydney), 15 April 1908, p.41.

    The comic opera The Lady Dandies had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s Sydney on 21 March 1908 and was later transferred to the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, on 16 April. Fanny played the part of Illyrine the married, divorced and remarried heroine of the piece. The setting for this light opera is Paris after the Revolution and the Reign of Terror with ‘Les Merveilleuses’ (Lady Dandies) celebrating with joyful dancing, music and revelry. The play centres on Illyrine who believing her husband Dorlis (Reginald Roberts) is dead, re-marries. But Dorlis has been away at war and returns to renew the relationship. Despite numerous complications the couple are re-united.

    This was Fanny’s first part in light opera, and her role as Illyrine required more singing ability than her previous soubrette parts had demanded. While she received praise for her singing of ‘I’m Sorry’ and her duet with Roberts, ‘It Might Have Been’, generally reviews of her performance were disappointing—especially her rendition of the ‘Cuckoo Song’ with critics of the view that her voice was not strong enough for such an important number. ‘The Don’, for example, in Punch wrote that Fanny ‘was again seen rather than heard’,13 and a similar view was expressed by the Daily Telegraph: ‘Illyrine is an engaging figure but her limitations of voice handicap her in such an important number as the ‘Cuckoo’ song... with its difficult intervals and its choral refrain it requires a fully equipped voice … the effect was generally disappointing’.14

    The Bulletin was more generous, noting that the song was a little beyond her range and ‘hardened critic, as this paper is, it refuses to rebuke her for attempting that little which is too much’.15

    Fanny’s next role was a chic French maid, Sidonie in the American musical, The Prince of Pilsen produced by J.C. Williamson’s newly formed Musical Comedy Company which opened at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 30 May 1908, running for 6 weeks, and later played in Adelaide and then in Melbourne.

    The plot centres around mistaken identity. Hans Wagner, a Cincinnati Brewer (Charles Loder) arrives with his daughter, Nellie (Amy Murphy) at a Nice hotel and is taken to be the Prince of Pilsen (George Whitehead); the brewer plays along enjoying the attention. The real Prince, travelling incognito, arrives and accepts the situation in good humour. Among other arrivals is Mrs. Crocker (Olive Goodwin) with her maid Sidonie, a widow from New York in pursuit of a title. The many mix-ups that arise are readily solved with plenty of mirth, songs and dance, helped by the Prince being smitten with Nellie at first sight.

    The show had been an outstanding success in America and Williamson had specially engaged George Whitehead and Charles Loder from the American production to be principals in the local show. Due to illness Fanny did not appear until late-June, but on her return, she was warmly welcomed and her introduction of a new song ‘Mr. Schneider’ and dance into the program was generously applauded.

    When The Prince of Pilsen finished in Sydney on Friday 10 July, The Red Mill, a Dutch musical by Henry Blossom and Victor Herbert opened the following Saturday. Said to have more to do with mirth than music the piece concerns Con Kidder (John Ford) and Kid Conner (Fred Leslie) two American tourists ‘doing’ Europe who run into trouble when unable to pay their bill for board and lodging at the Red Mill inn in a small Dutch town.

    Ford had come from America with a reputation as a comedian and outstanding dancer to play Con Kidder, Fred Leslie, in his first appearance with the Musical Comedy Company, played the travelling companion, Kid Conner, Charles Loder was Willem, Keeper of the Red Mill and Fanny played the part of Tina, the innkeeper’s daughter, a dainty, pretty barmaid.

    While the principal attraction of this farcical piece is the low comedy carried by Ford and Leslie with their absurd disguises and eccentric dancing there were other fine performances. Fanny was praised for her rendition of ‘Mignonette’ and for her contribution to ‘Whistle It’ with Leslie and Ford.

    Following its success in Sydney The Red Mill opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 29 August 1908 which happened to coincide with the arrival of the American fleet of sixteen warships into Hobson’s Bay, viewed by many thousands of Melburnians as the vessels docked at Port Melbourne. The spirit of the occasion had buoyed the opening night audience and they were treated to a unique celebration. At the finale of the first act the orchestra played a selection of American tunes, including ‘Marching into Georgia’, ‘Old Folks at Home’, ‘Way Down on the Swannee River’ and ‘The Star-spangled Banner’. Then at the last curtain call the whole company joined cast member George Whitehead on stage as he sang ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ to the rapturous applause of the standing audience. This was followed by Olive Godwin singing the National Anthem with the audience joining in.

    As to the Melbourne performance, it was admired by the critics particularly the parts played by Ford, Leslie and Fanny. And, contrary to repeated criticism that Fanny’s voice lacked strength, on this occasion it was thought that her voice had strengthened and sweetened since earlier performances.16

    The hectic schedule for the members of the Musical Comedy Company continued and from Melbourne, The Red Mill played for two nights in Geelong at Her Majesty’s Theatre, followed by a performance at the Crystal Theatre, Broken Hill and then enjoyed a successful short run at Adelaide’s Theatre Royal in mid-October.

    At the Theatre Royal Fanny was again the audience favourite, she ‘was dainty and debonair … and as frolicsome as a kitten, while she danced leisurely and with grace’ wrote the Advertiser. Her renditions of ‘Mignonette’ and ‘If You Love But Me’ were well received and she held her own in the quartet ‘Go While the Going is Good’ with Olive Godwin, Ford and Leslie.17 The song ‘Whistle It’ had to be lengthened by three or four verses due to the calls for several encores.

    The Prince of Pilsen played for a brief, one week run in Adelaide before heading to Melbourne as the principal attraction during the Melbourne Cup racing carnival. The musical received another enthusiastic reception and as audiences had come to expect, Fanny’s dancing was excellent and her songs were well received, particularly ‘Bedtime in the Zoo’ with the background of roaring wild animals was encored. Her duets ‘Keep it Dark’ with Jimmy the Bellboy (John Ford) and ‘Back to the Boulevards’ with the French waiter (Fred Leslie) added to the production.

    In keeping with past practice of staging a musical during the Melbourne racing carnival, The Prince of Pilsen made its long-anticipated appearance on 29 October, with the opening night at the Princess Theatre before a packed house. But, for seasoned theatregoers, the ‘Pilsen’ has no special attraction, wrote the Bulletin. Although, fortunately, the review continued, ‘the majority of the players are quite interesting. Fanny and Leslie were singled out in this regard … there is soubrette Fanny Dango with her dainty dancing, and her feet play marvellously into the hands of clever Fred Leslie. Fanny Dango puts brains into her feet, so to speak, and dances with her head, in a manner of speaking’.18

    While Fanny’s performance was applauded by the critics, one review noted the similarity between the different impersonations she had played.19 This seemed an odd comment as the characters Fanny played and the way she played them had established her reputation and favouritism with Australian audiences.

    Belle of NYPoster for a American production of The Belle of New York, c.1901. Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

    Williamson’s Musical Comedy Company closed its season at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre with a six-night revival of The Belle of New York, which opened on 5 December 1908. Fanny was well placed in the part of Fifi Fricot a little Parisienne and she made a startling first appearance as the ornament on a huge wedding cake, ‘an entrance which cannot make the production any gayer’.20 Commenting on the same scene the Argus said the audience was in entire sympathy with Fifi’s father Henry Bronson (Edmund Sherras) ‘who wanted to take off a piece of “the dear little peppermint ear”.’21

    In this bright piece there were several memorable musical numbers including ‘La Belle Parisienne’ by Fanny.


    To be continued



    1.One of the companies that issued the ‘Walp’ set was the British American Tobacco Co. Fanny also appears on several British card sets, including Gallaher Ltd., ‘Latest Actresses’ and ‘Actors and Actresses’ by Lambert & Butler.

    2. Letty Lind was well known in Australia having performed in Melbourne and Sydney with Nellie Farren and Fred Leslie and the London Gaiety Burlesque Company in 1888.

    3. Table Talk (Melbourne), 21 October 1909, p. 13

    4. In the 1905 Christmas pantomime Dick Whittington, Fanny as the principal girl sang, ‘Geisha and the Coon’ (a song that also featured in the 1903–04 pantomime Santa Claus Junior), ‘Ma coal black coon’ and the popular ‘My Irish Molly O’, all were well received by the audience.

    5. Being Letty Lind’s sister no doubt added to her appeal. This was something Fanny had to contend with during her early career.

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

    7. The Bulletin (Sydney), 12 September 1907, p.8

    8. The Herald (Melbourne), 9 September 1907, p.6

    9. The Bulletin (Sydney), 2 September 1907, p.8

    10. The Bulletin (Sydney), 26 December 1907, p.8

    11 The Bulletin (Sydney), 6 February 1908, p.8

    12. The Herald (Melbourne), 28 October 1907, p.5

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

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

    15. The Bulletin (Sydney), 26 March 1908, p.2

    16. The Argus (Melbourne), 31 August 1908, p.5

    17. Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 October 1908, p.9

    18. The Bulletin (Sydney), 5 November 1908, p.9

    19. The Age (Melbourne), 2 November 1908, p.11

    20. The Herald (Melbourne), 7 December 1908, p.4

    21. The Argus (Melbourne), 7 December 1908, p.9


  • Little Wunder: The story of the Palace Theatre, Sydney (Part 5)

    Palace banner

    In Part 5 of the Palace Theatre story exploring the lows and highs of the little theatre’s fortunes, ELISABETH KUMM finds 1903 to be a highly successful year, with the production of some of the biggest hits of Broadway and the West End.

    J.C. williamson took over the lease of the Palace Theatre in December 1902, but due to the success of his Royal Comic Opera Company in Melbourne he decided not to open in Sydney until Boxing Day night.

    In the meantime, on the afternoon of Monday, 22 December 1902, Williamson made the Palace available to Dolly Castles, a young Melbourne singer who was making her professional debut in Sydney ‘before a few professional musicians and connoisseurs’. Sixteen-year-old Dolly was a younger sister of the celebrated soprano Amy Castles. The previous week, on 16 December, the two sisters had participated in the Grand Festival of Sacred Music at St Mary’s Cathedral. In addition to singing principal roles in Graun’s Te Deum, Dolly also sang ‘Viae Sion lugent’ from Gounod’s Gallia. For her recital at the Palace Theatre, she chose the ‘Jerusalem’ aria from Galliaand Tosti’s ‘Good-bye’. Described as having ‘a resonant soprano of firm, pure quality’, Williamson championed the young singer and arranged for her to appear in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane prior to her departure for Paris to study under M. Bouhy.1

    On Friday, 26 December, the Royal Comic Opera Company opened at the Palace in a revival of Dorothy, first seen in Australia in 1887 with Leonora Braham in the title role. With this revival Florence Young was playing Dorothy for the first time in Sydney, with Celia Ghiloni as Lydia, and Maud Chetwynd as Phyllis. Two new leading men, Reginald Roberts and Harold Thorley, were Geoffrey Wilder and Harry Sherwood respectively, with George Lauri reprising his old role of Lurcher. The conductor was Leon Caron, with scenery by George Gordon. Dorothywas performed until 9 January 1903.

    The following evening Planquette’s comic opera Paul Jones was revived with Florence Young in the title role, supported by Reginald Roberts as Rufino de Martinez, Hugh Ward as Don Trocadero, George Lauri as Bouillabaisse, Maud Chetwynd as Chopinette, Celia Ghiloni as Malaguena, and Carrie Moore as Yvonne. As the Sydney Morning Heraldreminded audiences, ‘Paul Jones is probably one of the most successful of comic operas ever produced in this country, and the revival will bring pleasant memories to playgoers of 10 or 12 years ago’ when Marian Burton created the ‘trouser’ role of Paul Jones in Australia.2

    Overflowing audiences greeted the Royal Comic Opera Company at every performance during their all-too-short season. Paul Jones was withdrawn after only fourteen performances to make way for farewell productions of The Mikado (24–30 January), Robin Hood (2–6 February), and The Geisha(7–20 February).

    On 21 February 1903 the Palace Theatre erupted with laughter when George Broadhurst’s The Wrong Mr. Wrightwas produced in Sydney for the first time. It was presented by George Willoughby and Edwin Geach, who had just concluded a successful ten month tour of Australia and New Zealand. According to newspaper reports, Willioughby and Geach had taken over Charles Arnold’s company and had been so successful that their ‘receipts even exceeded those of Mr. Charles Arnold’s phenomenal tour with What Happened to Jones, a record that would make many managers envious’.3

    Like Broadhurst’s other farcical comedies, The Wrong Mr. Wright, as the title suggests revolves around mistaken identity, whereby a stingy businessman, after being frauded of $5000 by a trusted employee, engages detectives to capture the thief. He offers a reward, but when he hears that the culprit is at Old Point Comfort, he decides to go to the resort in disguise and capture the criminal himself, thereby saving the reward. He assumes the name of Mr. Wright, which also happens to be the alias of the thief. At the resort, completely out of character, he falls head over heels for a young lady, and starts spending money recklessly in an attempt to impress her. It so happens that the lady is a detective eager to earn the reward, and she assumes that he is the thief.

    Wrong Mr Wright Flashlight Act 3Scene from Act 3 of The Wrong Mr. Wright, 1902

    The Wrong Mr. Wrighthad first been performed in Boston in 1896, with Roland Reed and Isadore Rush in the leading roles. They played a month at the Bijou Theatre in New York from 6 September 1897, prior to taking it on tour throughout the USA along with other Broadhurst comedies. When it was first performed at the Strand Theatre in London in 1897 with Thomas A. Wise and Constance Collier in the leads, it ran for almost a year.

    At the Palace Theatre, The Wrong Mr. Wright played for a month. The lead roles were performed by George Willoughby as Singleton Sites, with Roxy Barton as Henrietta Oliver, closing on 20 March 1903.

    The following evening, On and Offwas performed for the first time in Sydney. This was a French farce adapted by an unnamed hand (possibly Catherine Riley) from Le contrôleur des wagon-lits by Alexandre Bisson. The story defies summary but it concerns an unhappy husband, George Godfray, who attempts to escape the clutches of his overbearing parents-in-law by pretending to be an inspector of railway sleeping cars.

    The play was considered a comedy hit in New York, running for three months at the Madison Square Theatre during 1898/1899, with E.M. Holland as Godfray, Amelia Bingham as Madeline (his wife), Maggie Holloway Fisher as Mme Brumaire (the mother-in-law), and Katharine Florence as Rose Martel (the other woman). The play was even more successful in London at the Vaudeville Theatre where it played for seven months from December 1898, with George Giddens, Elliott Page, Elsie Chester and Lucie Milner in the leads.

    In Sydney, it was performed three weeks, from 21 March to 9 April 1903, with George Willoughby as the down trodden husband, supported by Roxy Barton, Roland Watts-Phillips and Ethel Appleton.

    On Saturday, 28 March 1903, Willoughby and Geach hosted a Grand Combination Charity Matinee in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Drought Fund which saw The Players supported by Nellie Stewart and members of the Willoughby and Geach Company in The Ironmaster and The Grey Parrot.

    With the final performance of On and Offon 9 April 1903, the Willoughby and Geach season came to a close.

    Following the presentation of a Sacred Concert on 10 April for Easter, J.C. Williamson was once again lessee, opening a season of comedies with Are You a Mason?—for the first time in Australia. This comedy was adapted by Leo Ditrichstein from the German play Logen Bruderby Carl Laufs and Kurt Krantz.

    Williamson’s New Comedy Company was a top notch one, with West End comedian George Gidden as Amos Bloodgood, the role he created when the play was first performed in England.

    The fun begins when Frank Perry (played by Cecil Ward) promises his new wife (Ethel Knight Mollison) that while she is away on a visit he will become a Mason. However, during her absence, he goes out on the town and fails to fulfil his promise. On her return, rather than tell her the truth, he pretends that he has done what she has asked. When his in-laws arrive, he discovers that his father-in-law (Amos Bloodgood, played by George Giddens) is in exactly the same predicament. So when his wife’s unmarried sister starts courting a real Mason, the two pretend Masons are at risk of being exposed.

    Are You a Mason?was first performed in New York at Wallack’s Theatre on 1 April 1901, with Thomas A. Wise as Amos Bloodgood, May Robson as Caroline Bloodgood, John C. Rice as Frank Perry, Esther Tittell as Eva Perry, and Leo Ditrichstein as George Fisher. This production ran for 32 performances. It was subsequently revived at the Garrick Theatre in August 1901 with a similar cast, where it ran for an additional month.

    The London production, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 12 September 1901 (transferring to the Royalty Theatre on 31 March 1902), ran for a side-splitting seven months.

    Night OutHotel scene from the London production of A Night Out, 1896, performed in Australia as Oh! What a Night! George Giddens as Joseph Pinglet is sixth from the right. Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. From The Tatler, 28 August 1907, p.185.

    The Comedy Company’s next offering was Oh! What a Night!on 23 May 1903. Adapted from the French farce of Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres, it was described in the advertising as ‘one of the funniest, wittiest, cleverist, brightest, sauciest, quaintest comedies ever written’.4

    Originally performed as L’Hôtel du Libre échange in Paris in 1894, the play had many outings on the English speaking stage. It was seen in New York as The Gay Parisians(1895) and in London as A Night Out (1896), the same title given to the 1920’s musical comedy version adapted by George Grossmith and Arthur Miller, with music by Willie Redstone. More recently it formed the basis of Peter Glenville’s comedy Hotel Paradiso (1956) and John Mortimer’s A Little Hotel On the Side(1984).

    It is probable that Oh! What a Night!was actually A Night Out under a new title, with George Giddens reprising his original character of Joseph Pinglet. It played until the end of the Williamson comedy season on 5 June 1903.

    The following evening, Saturday, 6 June 1903, saw the reappearance of Maggie Moore, Williamson’s former acting partner and ex-wife. Her opening piece was Struck Oil, the well-known comedy vehicle that she and Williamson performed when they made their Australian debuts in 1874. Maggie revived her ‘original, inimitable, and altogether remarkable impersonation’ of Lizzie Stofel, while Williamson’s old role of John Stofel, the Dutch shoemaker, was now played by John F. Ford.5

    Struck Oil played for a fortnight. On Saturday, 20 June 1903, Maggie introduced a brand-new character to Sydney audiences: The Widow From Japan, a farcical comedy by Charles J. Campbell and Ralph M. Skinner. Audiences were promised:

    Those who desire to be convulsed with hearty laughter and to be charmed with interesting episodes should not miss seeing this great Comedy Drama, which is one of those productions wherein Miss MOORE’s versatile powers find their fullest scope. In the title role she has a character that could not be more original had it been created for her.6

    With these Australian performances, it seems that this play was being performed for the first time. Maggie had purchased the Australian rights for this and other new pieces while visiting America in 1902.

    The Widow From Japan played for one week. It was followed by Way Down South; or, A Negro Slave’s Devotion (27 June–3 July 1903) and Killarney(4–10 July 1903). In Way Down South, Maggie ‘blacked up’ to play a faithful servant, Aunt Miranda, ‘her Great Negro Impersonation’. Described as a domestic comedy drama in five acts by P.B. Carter, this piece was being performed in Sydney for the first time. ‘New songs’ were performed as well as ‘dances, glees, and Negro Specialties’, including the ‘cake walk’.7

    Maggie’s final offering was Killarney, a ‘romantic, and picturesque Irish drama in four acts’ by an unnamed author, in which she played the Irish colleen Kathleen O’Donnell, affording her the opportunity to sing several appropriate songs including ‘Ireland, I Love You’ and ‘Killarney’.8

    With the departure of Maggie Moore, J.C. Williamson once again took over the direction of the theatre, introducing Daniel Frawley and his company of American players. Frawley’s troupe comprised some 20 artists, including the ‘brilliant young actress’ Mary Van Buren. The company had been founded in 1899 and had been touring the USA, Asia, India and New Zealand, prior to making their Australia debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 30 May 1903. They brought with them a vast repertoire of plays, having acquired the touring rights to high profile Broadway and West End successes including Arizona(1899) by Augustus Thomas, Madame Sans Gene(1895) by Victorien Sardou, and Secret Service (1893) by William Gillette.

    Daniel Frawley and company commenced their six-week Sydney season on Saturday, 11 July 1903. Their opening gambit was the much anticipated Arizona, a play by Augustus Thomas. From its first performance in America, this play captured the popular imagination; a story teaming with ‘ranchmen, cowboys, Mexicans, Chinamen and other figures of life in the territory’.9 The hero of the play is the handsome Lieutenant Denton of the 11th Cavalry who woos one of the daughters of Henry Canby, the sun-weathered ranch-owner, and saves the reputation of the other. Theodore Roberts created the role of Henry Canby when the play premiered at the Grand Opera House in Chicago in June 1899. After an unprecedented season of three months, the play toured around America for a year. When it eventually reached New York in September 1900, it notched up a further 140 performances at the Herald Square Theatre. In February 1902, Roberts appeared in the first London production at the Adelphi Theatre (transferring to the Princess’s in April 1902), where it ran for 119 performances.

    This piece had received its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne the previous month, with Daniel Frawley as Lieutenant Denton, Jeffrey Williams as Henry Canby, Mary Van Buren as Estrella, and Eva Dennison as Bonita.

    Due to the limited number of nights scheduled for the Sydney season, a weekly change program was introduced beginning with Madame Sans Gene (1–7 August 1903). Victorien Sardou’s play, first performed in Paris in 1894 with Madame Rejane in the title role, focuses on Napoleon’s relationship with a former laundress, Catherine Hubscher, aka Madame Sans Gene. This play first appeared on the English stage in a translation by J. Comyn’s Carr in 1895 with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. The same year, in America, Henry Charles Meltzer adapted the play for Kathryn Kidder and Augustus Cook. In 1899 Frawley secured the Pacific Coast rights to the Meltzer version and on 3 September 1899 played Napoleon for the first time in at the Burbank Theatre, Los Angeles, supported by Mary Van Buren.

    The company’s next offering was In Paradise (8–14 August 1903), adapted by B.B. Valentine from Les Paradis, a farcical comedy by Messrs Billhaud, Henequin and Carré. On its first Australian presentation in Sydney, it featured Daniel Frawley as Raphael Delacroix, an artist, with Mary Van Buren as Claire Taupin, a Modiste, and Harrington Reynolds as Pico, a lion tamer. Enough said.

    The following week saw a return to form with the Australian premiere of Brother Officers(15–21 August 1903), a military comedy-drama by Leo Trevor. Charting the trials and tribulations of a successful army man from a low class family, this piece enjoyed considerable success at the Garrick Theatre in London in 1899 with Arthur Bourchier as Lieutenant John Hinds VC and Violet Vanbrugh as The Baroness Roydell. When the play was given its American premiere in San Francisco (7 August 1899) and New York (16 January 1900), the leads were played by Henry Miller (William Faversham in New York) and Margaret Anglin, the roles now played by Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren.

    Another Australian premiere followed with the 1893 drama The Girl I Left Behind Me(22–28 Aug 1903) by Franklin Fyles and David Belasco. Set on a small army base in Montana, against a backdrop of tension between the army and the local Indian tribe, the play focussed on the love story between Lieutenant Edgar Hawkesmore and Kate Kennion, the general’s daughter. Running for over 200 performances at the Empire Theatre, New York, in 1893, with Frank Mordaunt and Sidney Armstrong as the lovers, the play went on to achieve a similar success at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1895 with William Terriss and Jessie Millward. For the Sydney production Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren played Edgar and Kate.

    The penultimate offering was a revival of the Civil War spy drama Secret Service (29 August–4 September 1903), with Daniel Frawley as Lewis Dumont (alias Captain Thorne), a Union spy who infiltrates the ranks of the Confederate army and falls in love with Edith Varney (Mary Van Buren), the  daughter of a Confederate general. This play created a sensation on its first production, making an instant celebrity of actor-playwright William Gillette, who created the role of Dumont when the play was first performed in New York in October 1896. The drama enjoyed huge success throughout the USA and England. The first Australia production in August 1899 had featured Thomas Kingston and Henrietta Watson in the principal roles.

    The final week of the Frawley season saw a revival of Augustus Thomas’ romantic American drama In Missoura (or In Missouri as it was titled here) (5–10 September 1903). This play had first been performed in Australia by Nat C. Goodwin and his company in 1896. Goodwin created the character of Jim Radburn, an unsophisticated but tender hearted Sherriff, when the play was first performed in America in 1893. As Radburn, Daniel Frawley played the role ‘with a quiet, convincing force that left little to be desired’, with Mary Van Buren as Kate Vernon, the object of his affections.11

    The season terminated on Friday, 11 September 1903 with a revival of Arizona, also by Augustus Thomas.


    To be continued



    1. Freeman’s Journal(Sydney), 27 December 1902, p.28;  Daily Telegraph(Sydney), 10 January 1903, p.6

    2. TheSydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1903, p.7

    3. The Australian Star(Sydney), 30 January 1903, p.8

    4. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1903, p.2

    5. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1903, p.2

    6. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1903, p.2

    7. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1903, p.2

    8. Advertisement, TheSydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1903, p.2

    9. The New York Clipper, 17 June 1899, p.304

    10. Amy Arbogast, p.30

    11. TheSydney Morning Herald, 7 September 1903, p.3


    Amy Arbogast, ‘Rural life with urban strife’, Performing the Progressive Era: immigration, urban life, and nationalism on stage, edited by Max Shulman & J. Chris Westgate, University of Iowa Press, 2019, pp.17-34

    Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994

    William W. Crawley (ed.). Australasian Stage Annual: an annual devoted to the interests of the theatrical and musical professions, J.J. Miller, Melbourne, 1902-1905

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

    J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014


    The Australian Star (Sydney), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Tatler (London)

    Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

    Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/


    J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html

    With thanks to

    John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Les Tod

  • ROBERTS, Reginald (1874-1965)

    English actor & vocalist (tenor). Né Robert Reginald Halford. Born 1874, London, England. Son of Robert Halford (Hal Forde) and Emily Packer. Married (1) Madge -- , 1895, London, England, (2) Florence Young (de facto), (3) Emily -- , 1950. Died 24 April 1965, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, aged 91.

    On stage in England and America from 1889. Australia from 1902 as leading man in musical comedies with Florence Young.

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, page 222.

  • YOUNG, Florence (1870-1920)

    Australian actress & vocalist. Née Florence Maude Young. Born 2 October 1870, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Daughter of Henry Henrard Young (jeweller) and Elizabeth Tonkin. Sister of Millie Young (actress), Gladys Young (actress), Harry Young (actor), Fred Young (stage manager). Married Robert Campbell Rivington, 8 February 1897, Melbourne, VIC, Australia (div. 1912), (2) Reginald Roberts (de facto). Died 11 November 1920, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

    On stage from 1890, performing in musical comedy and pantomime, having studied singing with Madame Lucy Chambers.

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, page 188.