Notable P

Notable P

Wednesday, 09 August 2023


Pompadour Discograhy banner

By Rob Morrison & John Hanna


Madame Pompadour Discography

The following is a partial discopgraphy representing major recordings identified to date.

With thanks to John Hanna of Vintage Sounds, we have links (in red) to the original London and Australian recordings and some cover version recordings which have been restored by John and posted on his website.

Columbia ad 1924Columbia original London cast recordings

With Daly’s Theatre Orchestra conducted by Arthur Wood

Madame Pompadour—Selection Part 1

Madame Pompadour—Selection Part 2

Daly’s Theatre Orchestra—Arthur Wood

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Matrix no. AX 282 & AX 286-2; catalogue no. Col. 965)

Carnival Time

Derek Oldham

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. A 551; Col. 3372)

Love Me Now

Evelyn Laye

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. AX 284-2; Col. 966)  

By the Light of the Moon

Evelyn Laye and Derek Oldham

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. AX 285-2; Col. 967)

Love’s Sentry

Evelyn Laye and Derek Oldham

(Rec. 11 January 1924—Mat. AX 287-2; Col. 967)

Madame Pompadour (Serenade)

Derek Oldham with chorus

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. AX 283-2; Col. 966)


Evelyn Laye and Huntley Wright

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. A 550; Col. 3371)


Evelyn Laye and Derek Oldham

 (Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. A 552; Col. 3372)

Two Little Birds in a Tree

Elsie Randolph and Huntley Wright

(Rec. 10 January 1924—Mat. A 549; Col. 3371)

Australian Recording banner 5

Columbia original Australian cast recordings

23 Columbia advertisementWith Her Majesty’s Theatre Orchestra (Sydney) conducted by Andrew McCunn

Carnival Time

Frank Webster and chorus

(Rec. 27 June 1927—Matrix no. TX 17; catalogue no. Col. O2509)

Love Me Now

Beppie de Vries

(Rec. c. 9 February 1927—Mat. WA 4819; Col. O645—recorded in London with studio orchestra) 

By the Light of the Moon

Frank Webster and Beppie de Vries

(Rec. 27 June 1927—Mat. TX 18; Col. O2510)

If I Were King

Arthur Stigant and Vera Spaull

(Rec. 27 June 1927—Mat. T 170; Col. O686)

Love’s Sentry

Frank Webster and Beppie de Vries

(Rec. 27 June 1927—Mat. TX 19; Col. O2510)

Madame Pompadour (Serenade)

Frank Webster and chorus

(Rec. 27 June 1927—Mat. TX 20; Col. O2509)


Beppie de Vries

(Rec. c. 9 February 1927—Mat. WA 4820; Col. O645—recorded in London with studio orchestra)                 

Two Little Birds in a Tree

Arthur Stigant and Vera Spaull

(Rec. 27 June 1927—Mat. T 171; Col. O686)

Cover versions by HMV (The Gramophone Company)

With the HMV studio orchestra conducted by George Byng

Carnival Time

Browning Mummery (tenor) and chorus (Kathlyn Hilliard, Nellie Walker & Sidney Coltham)

(Rec. 28 January 1924—Mat. Cc 4123-1; C 1142)

Love’s Sentry

Kathlyn Hilliard and Browning Mummery

(Rec. 28 January 1924—Mat. Cc 4124-1; C 1143)

By the Light of the Moon

Browning Mummery and Kathlyn Hilliard 

(Rec. 28 January 1924—Mat. Cc 4125-1; C 1143)


Kathlyn Hilliard and George Baker

(Rec. 28 January 1924—Mat. Cc 4122-1; C 1142)

Cover versions by Vocalion Records

(Acoustic recordings)

Love Me Now

Gladys Moncrieff

(Rec. 1926—Mat. 03633; KO5116—12” Red Label; S.100—12” Yellow Label)

By the Light of the Moon

Gladys Moncrieff and Frank Titterton

(Rec. 1926—Mat. 03640X; KO5116—12” Red Label; S.100—12” Yellow Label)

(Electric recordings)

Love’s Sentry

Gladys Moncrieff and Frank Titterton

(Rec. 1927—Mat. M0425; S.110—12” Yellow Label)


Gladys Moncrieff and John Thorne

(Rec. 1927—Mat. M0425; S.110—12” Yellow Label)

Electrola German revival cast recordings

Heut`könnt einer sein Glück bei mir machen

Fritzi Massary (star of the original 1922 production)

Ich Bin Dein Untertan, Dein Treuer

Fritzi Massary and Marcel Wittrisch

Josef, ach Josef

Fritzi Massary and (her husband) Max Pallenberg

(Rec. 10 January 1928—Mat. BK 2706; cat.: EW-35; also issued by HMV on EW-35 & Victor (US) on 4056)

In Leiebesfalle (interpolated number composed by Artur Guttmann)

Fritzi Massary

(Rec. 10 January 1928—Mat. BK 2707; cat.: EW-35; also issued by HMV on EW-35 & Victor (US) on 4056)


Josef, ach Josef and In Leiebesfalle—reissued on 7”—45 Ep in 1957 

Electrola E 40 078 / 7 EGW 8388

All four recordings included on the Lp record compilation:

Fritzi Massary—Eine Frau, Die Weiß, Was Sie Will—Die Volksplatte—1 C 048-28 048 M

and the CD compilations:

Fritzi Massary—Erinnerungen An Fritzi Massary—Preiser Records—90033 (released 1990) and Fritzi Massary—Warum Soil Eine Frau Kein Verhaltnis Haben?—Duophon—05 16 3 (released 2000)

German Cover Versions

Josef, ach Josef

Ilse Asch and Benno Kretschmer, with orchestra conducted by Carl Woitschach

(Rec. 16 September 1922—Mat. xBe 3348—Odeon 312332)


Ilse Asch, with orchestra conducted by Carl Woitschach

(Rec. 16 September 1922—Mat. xBe 3349-2—Odeon 312333)

Lied der Pompadour

Claire Waldoff

(Rec. unknown—Mat. Unknown—Polydor 14842)

Orchestral Selections

Josef, ach Josef


(Rec. 22 September 1922—Mat. 31851—Favorite 1-3178, F 459-II)

Josef, ach Josef


(Rec. 22 September 1922—Mat. 31852—Beka 31852, B 3249)

Josef, ach Josef

Marek Weber and his Orchestra

(Rec. 9 October 1922—Mat. 2-6032—Parlophon P-1387-I, Parlophone E 10083)

Josef, ach Josef

De Groot and the Piccadilly Orchestra

(Rec. 16 October 1922—Mat. Bb1971-1—HMV B 1434)

Josef, ach Josef

Orchestra, conducted by Otto Rathke

(Rec. 27 October 1922—Mat. 31916—Beka 31916, B 3416)

Josef, ach Josef Fox Trot

Vox Tanz-Orchester

(Rec. c. November 1922—Mat. 811-A—Vox 01278)

Josef, ach Josef

Vox-Orchester, with chorus

(Rec. c November 1922—Mat. 1209-B—Vox 1260)

Liebe lehrt die Esel tanzen

Vox-Orchester, with chorus

(Rec. c November 1922—Mat. Unknown—Vox 1260)



(Rec. 5 December 1922—Mat. 31954—Beka 31954, B 3156)

Heut’ könnt’ einer Glück bei mir machen

Marek Weber and his Orchestra

(Rec. 21 December 1922—Mat. 2-6143—Parlophon P 1432-II, Parlophone E 10083—Okeh 3119)

Josef, ach Josef

Dajos Bela Orchestra

(Rec. 1 November 1923—Mat xBe 3922—Odeon A 131852)


Edith Lorand Orchestra

(Rec. 4 December 1923—Mat. 2-6585, 2-6586—Parlophon P 1637-I, Parlophone E 10084)

Madame Pompadour Waltz

The Savoy Opheans, at the Savoy Hotel, London, conducted by Debroy Somers

(Rec. 8 January 1924—Mat. A 544; Col 3373)

Madame Pompadour Waltz

Albany Dance Orchestra (on later labels as The Romaine Orchestra), conducted by Debroy Somers

[Note: the personnel would have been identical to the Columbia recording made on the previous day]

(Rec. 9 January 1924—Mat. Bb 4041-1—HMV B 1764)


Edith Lorand Orchestra

(Rec. 9 January 1924. Mat 2-6640—Parlophone E 10112.)

Madame Pompadour Waltz

Edith Lorand Orchestra

(Rec. 9 January 1924—Mat. 2-6641—Parlophone E 10112)

Joseph Fox Trot Fox Trot

The Savoy Opheans, at the Savoy Hotel, London

(Rec. c. 16 January 1924—Mat. A 560-1; Col 3373)

Joseph Fox Trot

Albany Dance Orchestra, conducted by Debroy Somers

[Note: the personnel would have been identical to the Columbia recording made two days beforehand]

(Rec. 18 January 1924—Mat. Bb 4100-1—HMV B 1764)


Orchestra conducted by Johannes Lasowski

(Rec. 22 & 31 January 1924—Mat. 32279, 32298—Beka 32279/32298, B 3032)


Mayfair Orchestra, conducted by George W. Byng

(Rec. 29 January 1924—Mat. Cc 4130-1, Cc4131-1—HMV C 1141)

Love Me Now

De Groot and the Piccadilly Orchestra

(Rec. 3 March 1924—Mat Bb 4288-1—HMV B 1788)


The Grosvenor Orchestra

(Rec. c. 1924—Mat. C6261, C 6262—ACO G 15389)

Oh, Joseph! Fox Trot from “Madame Pompadour” Fox Trot from “Madame Pompadour”

Kaplan’s Melodists

(Rec. 11 December 1924 in New York City—Mat. 9904—Edison Records—51467)

Madame Pompadour Medley Waltz Intro: “Magic Moments” and “Serenade” Medley Waltz Intro: “Magic Moments” and “Serenade”

Kaplan’s Melodists

(Rec. 11 December 1924 in New York City—Mat. 9905—Edison Records—51467)

Madame Pompadour Waltz Waltz

The Troubadours; Hugo Frey—director

(Rec. 5 December 1924 in New York City—Mat. B-31482—Victor Records—19529)

Oh, Joseph!

Paul Whiteman Orchestra

(Rec. 16 December 1924 in New York City—Mat. B-31524—Victor Records—19546)

Josef, ach Josef Fox Trot

The Rose Petoesy Dance Orchestra

(Rec. unknown—Mat. Unknown—Polydor 14494)


Marek Weber Orchestra

(Rec. 21 October 1927 in Berlin, Germany—Mat. BW1266—Electrola EG-695; also issued by HMV on EG-695 & Victor (US) on 80626)

Joseph, ach Joseph

Marek Weber Orchestra

(Rec. 21 October 1927 in Berlin, Germany—Mat. BW1267—Electrola EG-696; also issued by HMV on EG-696 & Victor (US) on 80627)

Today Somebody Could Have a Lucky Day With Me

Marek Weber Orchestra

(Rec. 21 October 1927 in Berlin, Germany—Mat. BW1268—Electrola EG-695; also issued by HMV on EG-695 & Victor (US) on 80626)

Madame Pompadour Waltz

Marek Weber Orchestra

(Rec. 21 October 1927 in Berlin, Germany—Mat. BW1269—Electrola EG-696; also issued by HMV on EG-696 & Victor (US) on 80627)


Tanz-Orchester Bernard Etté

(Rec. c 1928—Mat. Unknown—Vox 8611)

Josef, ach Josef

Tanz-Orchester Bernard Etté

(Rec. c 1928. Mat—Unknown—Vox 8611)


Josef, ach Josef

Guido Gialdini (whistling)

(Rec. c. February 1923—Mat. 1432-B—Vox 6099)

Vocal Selections (in German)

Madame Pompadour highlights (backed by Die Dubarry)

Includes ‘Ein intimes Souper’, ‘Josef, ach Josef’ and ‘Madame Pompadour’

Vocals—Melitta Muszely, Rudolf Schock and Karl-Ernst Mecker

Chorus—Der Günther-Arndt-Chor

Conductor—Werner Schmidt-Boelcke


EMI-Electrola—E60 760, Electrola—WDLP 688 (10” Lp)

Also on Die Stimme Seines Herrn—26 370-7 (10” stereo Lp) released in 1987

Pompadour highlights only issued on 7” Ep—Electrola E 41 353

Madame Pompadour highlights (backed by Rose von Stambul)

Vocals—Friedl Loor, Hans Strohbauer, Peter Wehle and Traute Skladal

Choir—Wiener Operetten-Chor

Orchestra—Orchester Der Wiener Staatsoper

Conductor—Josef Drexler

Bellaphon—BWS 320 (10” mono Lp)

Madame Pompadour highlights

Vocals—Margit Schramm and Waldemar Kmentt

Eurodisc—41 305 CE (7”—45 Ep)

Madame Pompadour highlights

Vocals – Jarmila Ksirowa, Myroslawa Ladyka, Vera Westhoff, Jean Löhe and Karl-Heinz Koßler

Choir—Solistenvereinigung des Berliner Rundfunks

Orchestra—Großes Orchester Des Berliner Rundfunks*

Conductor—Otto Dobrindt

AMIGA—5 40 106 (7”—45 Ep) released in 1959

Madame Pompadour highlights

Vocals—Heinz Braemer, Jarmila Ksirowa, Jean Löhe, Joachim Hoyer, Karl-Heinz Koßler, Myroslawa Ladyka and Vera Westhoff

Orchestra—Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Conductor—Otto Dobrindt

AMIGA—7 40 023 (10” mono Lp) released in 1960

Madame Pompadour highlights

Vocals—Franz Borsos, Erich Dörner, Kurt Equiluz, Lotte Ledl and Gerda Scheyrer

Orchestra—Orchester des Wiener Rundfunks

Conductor—Max Schonherr

Cantus-Line (DA Music) CACD5.01746 F, released in 1962

Madame Pompadour highlights

Vocals—Ingeborg Hallstein, Adolf Dallapozza, Hans Clarin, Julia Migenes, Friedrich Schoenfelder, Barbara Capell, Karl Lieffen and Dirk Dautzenberg

Choir—Münchner Chorgemeinschaft

Orchestra—Mitglieder der Münchner Philharmoniker

Music Director—Wolfgang Ebert

ZDF—78 381, ZDF—TST 78 381 (12” Lp) released in 1974

Madame Pompadour highlights (in Swedish)

Vocals—Egon Larsson, Ulla Sallert and Øistein Frantzen

Orchestra—Oscars-Teaterns Orkester

Conductor—Hans Schreiber

Bonniers Folkbibliotek—BFB 1011 (7”- 45 Ep) released in 1958

Complete recording (in German)

Madame Pompadour

Vocals—Annette Dasch, Gerhard Ernst, Wolfgang Gratschmaier, Boris Pfeifer, Beate Ritter, Mirko Roschkowski, Elvira Soukop and Heinz Zednik

Orchestra—Symphonieorchester der Volksoper Wien Orchestra: Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper

Conductor—Andreas Schuller

CPO 777795-2 (CD) recorded “live” in performance in 2012 and released in 2014

Madame Pompadour Filmography

Madame Pompadour has appeared as a character in many films, but there are only a few that relate to the Leo Fall operetta.

The 1927 British silent movie version, directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Dorothy Gish, followed the storyline of the operetta, even if it did not include a soundtrack of Fall’s music (which was possibly played by the cinema orchestra in accompaniment to the film). Details may be found at: Madame Pompadour (1927) - IMDb

There is a West German TV production from which the highlights Lp derives (noted above). See: Madame Pompadour (TV Movie 1974) - IMDb

There is also a 1985 Hungarian TV version (directed by László Seregi) listed at on IMDB, with Mária Tiboldi as Mme Pompadour. See "Musical TV Theater" Madame Pompadour (TV Episode 1985) - IMDb



Wednesday, 09 August 2023

Further Resources

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Anastasia Belina & Derek B. Scott (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Operetta, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2020

Ken Bloom, American Song: Complete musical theatre companion, 2 vols. Facts On File Publications, New York, 1985

Dan Dietz, The Complete Book of 1920s Broadway Musicals, Rowman & Littlefield, London, 2019

Frances Donaldson, Freddy Lonsdale: His biography, Heinemann, London, 1957

David Ewen, The Book of European Light Opera: Plots, composers, production histories, musical highlights, and critical evaluations of 167 European light operas, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York, 1962

D. Forbes-Winslow, Daly’s: The biography of a theatre, W.H. Allen & Co., London, 1944

Kurt Gänzl, The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, 3 vols, second edition, Schirmer Books, New York, 2001

Kurt Gänzl & Andrew Lamb, Gänzls Book if the Musical Theatre, The Bodley Head, London, 1988

Evelyn Laye, Boo, to My Friends, Hurst and Blackett, London, 1958

‘Madame Pompadour’, Play Pictorial (London), vol. XLIV, no. 264, March 1924

Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson, Musical Comedy: A story in pictures, Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, 1970

Jack Raymond, Show Music on Record: From the 1890s to the 1980s, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York, 1982

Margaret Ross Griffel, Operas in German: A dictionary, Greenwood Press, New York, 1990

Derek B. Scott, German Operetta on Broadway and in the West End, 1900–1940, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2019

Robert Seeley & Rex Bunnett, London Musical Shows on Record, 1889-1989: A hundred years of London’s musical theatre, General Gramophone Publications, Harrow, 1989

Richard Traubner, Operetta: A theatrical history, Doubleday & Company Inc., New York, 1983

Robert Viagas & Louis Botto, At This Theatre: 110 years of Broadway shows, stories and stars, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, Milwaukee, 2010

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1920–1929: A calendat of productions, performers, and personnel, second edition, Rowman & Littlefield, London, 2014


Images and Sources

The 1756 painting of Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, reproduced on our Overview page, is located in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. This is the protrait referenced on the cover of the programs for Daly’s and Martin Beck theatres.

Fritzi Massary, the star of the original German production of Madame Pompadour, has been well-photographed, and many photographs available on the internet include her in her stage costumes. The National Portrait Gallery in London has a few relevant images. The image used on our Overview page is from the Stadtmuseum Berlin.

The scene from the 1930 French production of Madame Pompadour at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris is from the Encyclopédia multimédia de la comedie musicale théâtriale en France, a website dedicated to French comic opera and featuring A-Z entries on productions, composers, actors and theatres.

The portrait of Evelyn Laye as Madame Pompadour is from the J.C. Williamson collection of photographs at the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

The NLA collection includes numerous photos of the original London production of Madame Pompadour. However, several of the stage scenes, labelled as London, are in fact of the 1927 JCW staging.

Many of these same images have been reproduced in Play Pictorial (London), vol. XLIV, no. 264, March 1924. Play Pictorial has been fully digitised by Proquest and is one of the titles included in their ‘British Periodicals Collection II’, and may be accessed by cardholders via the National Library of Australia. Sadly the page scans are low grade B&W. However, most of the major Australian state libraries have hard copy collections of this publication.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, holds an extensive collection of costume drawings from the 1923 London production of Madame Pompadour.

The Daly’s Theatre program for Madame Pompadour, repoduced on our West End page is from the collection of Rex Bunnett, whose Overtures website provides a wealth of information on musicals. The flyer included in the banner at the top of the page was sourced from eBay.

Images of the 1924 Broadway production of Madame Pompadour are not easy to find. The images reproduced on our Broadway page have been sourced from eBay and from publications available via, notably Theatre Arts Monthly (January 1925). The sheet music cover is from The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at John Hopkins University. In addition to the sheet music for ‘Oh Joseph’, they also have ‘Serenade’ and ‘I'll Be Your Soldier’ (lyrics by Clare Kummer, music by Leo Fall), and published by Harms Inc., New York. Curiously, the sheet music is dated 1922. Sheet Music Warehouse also currently has copies of the music for sale.

The Performing Arts Archive, a private website for the Bayles-Yeager Online Archives, features scans of the playbill for the Broadway production of Madame Pompadour at the Martin Beck Theatre.

Interestingly, neither the New York Public Library or the Museum of the City of New York have images of the show in their online collections. There is however a small still featuring Wilda Bennett in the book At This Theatre (p.4) and according to the book’s preface ‘All photos ... are from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York’.

Images from the 1927/28 Australian production of Madame Pompadour have been sourced via Trove, e.g. The Bulletin (9 June 1927) and Table Talk (1 September 1927). The portrait of Beppie de Vries included on our Australia page is from the State Library of New South Wales. The National Library of Australia holds other portraits of her. The sheet music cover for ‘Joseph’ is also from the NLA.

Other photos of the show are from theatre programs for the 1927 production of Madame Pompadour in the J.C. Williamson collection of theatre programs: General Theatre Sequence at the National Library of Australia. This is part of an amazing resource of digitsed theatre programs held by the library. Cast lists were also sourced from these programs and from programs at the SB&W Foundation and in private collections. Copies of the programs for the premiere Brisbane season and the 1934 revival at the King’s Theatre may by found at the Australian Performing Arts Colleciton, Arts Centre Melbourne.

The photographs of the sets may be found in the JCW Scene Books, digitised by THA in 2019: Book 04-0026 and Book 08-0201. The same images are also in collections of scene books held by the SB&W Foundation, and the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne via Victorian Collections. Thank you to John Hanna for his excellent digital repair of these and other images.

Publication covers have been sourced from private collections and from various online sources, such as and Google books.

Record covers are variouly from CastAlbums and Discogs, or IMDb. Thank you again to John Hanna of Vintage Sounds, who provided the photos of the Australian record labels.


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Wednesday, 09 August 2023


By Elisabeth Kumm & Rob Morrison

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MADAME POMPADOUR Musical play in 3 acts by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham, adapted from the German. Lyrics by Harry Graham. Music by Leo Fall. Presented by J.C. Williamson Ltd. Directed by Frederick J. Blackman. Dances and ensembles invented and arranged by Minnie Hooper. Scenery by W.R. Coleman and W. Coleman Jr (based on the London models). Costumes by J.C. Williamson Ltd. Modes, Mrs. Robins (J.C. Williamson Ltd.). Uniforms by Alfred Bowley & Co., and others.


At the time Madame Pompadour opened in London, Australian newspapers had anticipated that Gladys Moncrieff would be offered the part of Pompadour. There had even been speculation that Evelyn Laye might revive the role. Interestingly, Gladys Moncrieff saw the London production of Madame Pompadour starring Evelyn Laye in 1924 while on honeymoon with her husband, Tom Power, and hoped to play the lead in the subsequent Australian production for JCW, but instead was assigned her usual lead roles in revivals of The Maid of the Mountains, The Merry Widow, Sybil, Ma Mie Rosette and The Chocolate Soldier on her return to Australia. She did, however, get to record a couple of songs from the show for Vocalion Records on her return visit to London in 1925.

In November 1925, J.C. Williamson Ltd announced Madame Pompadour as the Christmas attraction in Sydney, with rehearsals already commenced under the direction of George Highland. Marie Burke was set to play the title role, with G&S tenor Leo Darnton (making his Australian debut) as René. A copy of the script in the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne, lists: Marie Burke (Pompadour), Claude Flemming (King Louis), Leo Darnton (René), Mascot Ralston (Madeleine), Floie Allen (Mariette), Gus Bluett (Calicot), George Zoli (Maurepas), Frank Hawthorne (Poulard), John Forde (Prunier), and Lance Fairfax (Collin). Alas this was not to be. Instead, Marie Burke took the lead in the first Australian production of Katja, opening in Sydney in December 1925, while Darnton was farmed off to the Tivoli circuit for a few months prior to making his first appearance in G&S in Adelaide in April 1926.

Dutch newsreel reporting the departure of Beppie de Vries for Australia, 15 March 1927. Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid.


In February 1927, Madame Pompadour was back in the news when JCW announced the engagement of a new leading lady, Beppie de Vries, a Dutch soprano, to play the title role. Beppie was a popular star of operetta, having performed leading roles in Die Rose van Stamboul (1920), Surcouf (1921) and Gri-Gri (1925) in her native country, as well as Dutch-language versions of A Waltz Dream and The Merry Widow. In 1925, she made her debut in England, performing the lead in Bamboula at His Majesty’s Theatre in London. Prior to travelling to Australia, she had also been seen in the role of Madame Pompadour in Europe.

Beppie de Vries arrived in Adelaide per RMS Maloja from England on Sunday, 17 April 1927. Frank Tait (of Williamson and Tait) who had been abroad since August 1926 in search of new artists for Australia, travelled with her, as did English tenor Frank Webster, actor Pop Cory (who had previously performed in Australia in the first production of Miss Hook of Holland), and producer Frederick J. Blackman, who had directed the original productions of The Lady of the Rose (1922), Madame Pompadour (1923), The Dollar Princess (1925) and Katja the Dancer (1925) at Daly’s Theatre. In answer to the question “Did you engage any fresh talent while you were abroad?”, Frank Tait responded:

“I have brought out two artist who will appear in the last-mentioned play. Miss Beppie de Vries and Mr. Frank Webster, who will play the leading male part. Miss de Vries will enact the title role. ‘Madame Pompadour’ is by Leo Fall, who composed the music in ‘The Dollar Princess’. Mr. Fred Blackman, who originally staged the play in London, is going to stage it for us out here. An American artist, Miss Elizabeth Morgan, is also on her way from the United States to join us [for Tip Toes].” (The Register, 18 April 1927, p.8)

In a somewhat unusual move, J.C. Williamson Ltd. chose to give the Australian premiere of Madame Pompadour in Brisbane, rather than Melbourne or Sydney. The previous Brisbane premiere was The Lady of the Rose in 1924. Madame Pompadour was originally set to open in Sydney, but due to the ongoing success of Frasquita and Tip Toes, they opted for the Queensland capital.


The Cast

Joseph Calicot Arthur Stigant
Jacques Andrew McGhie
Landlord Stanley Odgers
René, Comte d’Estrades Frank Webster
Mariette Vera Spaull
Madame Pompadour Beppie de Vries
Maurepas Leslie Holland
Poulard Stephen Blake
Lieutenant Cornielle Charles Hawthorne
Collin William Perryman
Boucher Noel Dainton
Ambassador Andrew McGhie
Tourelle Fred Bonner
Madeleine, Comtesse d’Estrades Peggy Desmond
King Louis XV Pop Cory


















Madame Pompadour received an enthusiastic reception when it opened at His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane, on Saturday, 21 May 1927. It was played until Tuesday, 31 May 1927. The following day, the company left for Sydney.

The Sydney season opened at the Theatre Royal on Saturday, 4 June 1927. It played there until 22 June, and was transferred to Her Majesty’s Theatre, and remained there until 25 August 1927.

The first of three “live” broadcasts of the operetta were transmitted by the Australian Broadcasting Company (precursor to the later government-run Broadcasting Commission) via its Sydney station 2FC from the Theatre Royal on Friday, 24 June 1927 at 8 p.m. comprising the complete Act 1. This proved to be so successful that a further “live” broadcast by 2FC was transmitted on Monday, 8 August 1927 from Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney (also on relay to 3LO in Melbourne) from 7.56 p.m. (preceded by an introduction to ‘The Story of the Opera’ from 7.50 p.m.)  This comprised musical excerpts from all three acts, interspersed with performances by variety artists from the 2FC studios during the “book” scenes.

DeVries14 2According to a newspaper report, the 3LO radio program, which aired in Melbourne on 15 September 1927, was also broadcast in Europe, allowing Beppie to say hello to her mother

The Melbourne season followed at His Majesty’s Theatre on 27 August 1927 and ran until 4 November 1927.

Meanwhile, the company presented the first Australian productions of The Student Prince, with Beppie as Kathie, supported by James Liddy as Karl.

The company played its first Adelaide season at the Theatre Royal from 10 March 1928 to 3 April 1928  when The Student Prince was performed in that city for the first time. They then travelled to Perth, where they performed Madame Pompadour (7–13 April 1928) and The Student Prince (14–28 April 1928), returning to Adelaide for the first production of Madame Pompadour, 2–11 May 1928.

From May 1928, the company undertook a four-month tour of New Zealand, performing The Student Prince and  Madame Pompadour, with the first New Zealand production of Madame Pompadour being given at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland on 2 June 1928.

On the company’s return to Australia, they gave farewell performances of the Madame Pompadour in Brisbane (His Majesty’s Theatre, 10 September 1928) and Sydney (Her Majesty’s Theatre, 13 October 1928). On the 26 October, Beppie de Vries played Madame Pompadour for the last time in Australia. That same night, the third live radio broadcast was made from the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre (this time of the complete production), transmitted by 2FC for Act 1 (from 8 p.m.) and by 2BL for Acts 2 and 3 from 9.10 to 11 p.m.

The following day, Beppie and her husband J.F. Lebret departed Sydney per Sonoma en route for San Francisco.

During the course of the season, some of the roles in Madame Pompadour changed. The principals, Beppie de Vries, Arthur Stigant and Vera Spaull remained constant, but the part of Madeleine was also played by Adele Crane, and Herbert Browne was seen as Collin, the Pompadour’s Chamberlain. Hedley Hall replaced Leslie Holland as Maurepas, Conrad Charlton was seen as Jacques or Boucher, Mason Wood took on the role of Lieutenant Cornielle, while Poulard was played by George Lane or Kay Rodway. During the Perth season, James Liddy was to have taken over the role of René from Frank Webster, but he contracted laryngitis and Webster played the role after all. Webster was planning to leave the company to take up another engagement, but decided to stay on for the New Zealand tour. When the company returned to Australia, René was played by Russell Scott (an English actor who had been performing in America).


Musical Numbers

1. Introduction and Ensemble Calicot & Chorus
2. Song ‘Carnival Time’ René & Ladies
3. Duet ‘Love Me Now’ Pompadour & Mariette
4. Duet ‘By the Light of the Moon’ Pompadour & René
5. Duet ‘If I Were King’ Mariette & Calicot
6. Finale Act Full Company
7. Introduction and Ensemble Full Company
8. Duet ‘Love’s Sentry’ Pompadour & René
9. Sextette ‘Tell Me What Your Eyes Were Made For’ Pompadour, Madeleine & Pages
10. Serendade ‘Madame Pompadour’ René & Chorus of Soldiers
11. Duet ‘Joseph’ Pompadour & Calicot
11a. Duet ‘Reminiscence’ Pompadour & René
12. Finale Act 2 Full Company
13. Introduction
14. Duet ‘Two Little Birds in a Tree’ Mariette & Calicot
15. Finale Act 3 Full Company



 The Sets

JCW 1Act 1, The Tavern of The Nine Muses

JCW 2Act 2 Madame de Pompadour’s Reception Room at Versailles

JCW 3Act 3, King Louis XV’s Apartments at Versailles


The Reviews


“Madeleine, Madeleine, what would have happened had you not been my sister ?” So exclaims the Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV, when who finds herself in love with Rene Comte d’Estrades; Madeleine’s lawfully wedded husband. The correct answer would have been that Madame would have resisted the fascinations of the Comte, and that she would have allowed to blossom in her well-worn heart the purest and most innocent
love for Rene. Furthermore the days of her ascendency over the King would have come to an end; and, incidentally, the authors of “Madame Pompadour” would have had to seek another incident in Madame’s hectic career round which lo weave romance. In her relations with the King there was not much of this element. His love cooled aiter a year or two and Madame retained her power only by her extraordinary cleverness, the way she managed affairs of state, and, finally by actual encouragement of his debaucheries. History tells that Louis, the well-beloved, as his flatterers called him, actually wept over the Pompadour’s kindness to his various mistresses. Little of this is shown, however, in the comedy that was staged at His Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. But the trend of Madame’s activities is hinted at by the manner in which she handles matters of State. Louis XV posed as a king, but he was a mere incompetent imitator of his predecessor’s magnificence. Madame’s “affair” which provides the romance is set going by an accidental meeting in the tavern of “The Nine Muses” during carnival time in Paris, when, the King being absent from the city, she, accompanied by her maid, Mariette, is looking, for a little private fun. Here she meets Calicot, a wandering poet, who is fostering by ribald verse the already established hatred of the common people for the king’s mistress. The opening number in this fine scene is led by Calicot, who has versified their sentiments—“The Pompadour, the Pompadour, she’s such a famous lady! Her reputations—ha! ha! ha! well, anything but shady. When reduced to starvation by taxation, to provide pomp and playthings for our kings, it’s a great consolation to the nation to be spared the expense of wedding rings!” Here, too, Madame meets with Rene, and after a little delightful preliminary love making they sing the waltz duet, “Love me now,” the refrain of which is hauntingly repeated at intervals throughout the play. Mariette, too (coquettiehly and daintily played by Miss Vera Spaull), meets her man; and Maurepas, the Minister of Police, comes on the scene. He is out to trap the Pompadour, for though she is clever there is some one, he says, with drawling, self-complacency, who is just a “leetle bit cleverer.” This self-important official was cleverly portrayed by Mr. Leslie Holland. The first act works up to a fine climax, leading to the second in which, by a clever ruse, the Pompadour manages that Rene shall be in close attendance on herself. This gives an opportunity for a lively duet between Madame and Rene, and for Rene's beautiful song, “Love’s Sentry.” Mr. Frank Webster, who was making his first appearance in Australia, played the amorous Comte most satisfactorily. There was a playfulness about even his most earnest love passages that fitted in with his role of a man temporarily out for adventure; and his acting was backed by a good, resonant, well-controlled tenor voice that made all his numbers pleasing.

Above all other attractions, of course, was that embodied in Miss Beppie de Vries. It is safe to say that she did not disappoint a soul. On the contrary, she surpassed anything that could have been expected of nor, whatever flattering things may have been said before she was seen. With a voice of sufficent quality for musical comedy work, beauty, grace, a power to convey that she was playing a part when she was subtly leading others to conform to her will, and dramatic abandon in the Pompadour’s hysterical outburst in the second act, she was a radiant success. And it will be surprising if the eloquence of her hands does not find many imitators, both maid and madam, in the circles in which a value is set on such fascinating mannerisms.

To Mr. Arthur Stigant, as Calicot, fell most of the comedy. A bigger man than the text indicates, he, nevertheless, was admirably fitted to the part. Mr. Noel Dainton was courtly, as Boucher, the court painter; and Peggy Desmond (making her first appearance in Australia) also made a perfect picture.

There were a few hitches which were only to be expected at a first performance—a lady pressed an imaginary electric bell-push, a century before such things were invented, although a bell-pull hung conveniently but six inches from her hand; the chorus made its final entrance too late to hear the king announce to Madame Pompadour a promised honour, which surely he would not have done before the Court assembled, and the king himself forgot hie lines. It is an actor’s first duty to leam his part. No matter how many thousands of pounds a management may spend on a production the effect is spoiled if there are awkward breaks. The King, whose part is a very simple one, even forgot to sign two most important documents on the execution of which a climax depends. Nevertheless such slips did not mar the happiness of all who witnessed the performance on Saturday. The book, which was adapted by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham from that of authors unnamed, tells a good story, but not in Mr. Lonsdale’s wittiest vein. He is less subtle than usual, less scintillating, and occasionally is apt to, forget the period. The frocks and habiliments of the men were gorgeous. The setting of the scene in the tavern was all that one could wish; the second, that in Madame’s apartments, fell short in decorative effect of their originals at Versailles; but the third, in the King’s apartment approached more nearly to the rooms in the famous palace. The management must be congratulated on having provided an adequate orchestra under the skilled baton of Mr. Cyril Connelly, to interpret Leo Fall’s music; and it is here opportune to express a hope that this policy will be continued by furnishing the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, on ita retutn-visit, with a band that can do justice to Sullivan’s beautiful orchestration.

“Madame Pompadour” will be repeated nightly up to and including Tuesday, May 31. Matinees will be given next Wednesday and Saturday, commencing at 2 o’clock. Box plans for the entire season are now open at Paling's.

The Brisbane Courier (Queensland), 23 May 1927, p.18



From the land of schnapps, cheese and Dutch interiors comes a red-headed woman. But it’s wonderful hair, which frames the prettiest face one could wish to see even in musical comedy.

Such is Beppie de Vries, who made her curtsey to Svdnpv in “Madame Pompadour” at the Royal last night. As the mistress of a powerful king and the in spiration of an age of artistic achievement, Madame had to be something out of the ordinary run of beauty.

Beppie de Vries in the play displays a seductive art of such perfection that it is difficult to think she would have Suffered in the slightest from comparison with that lady herself. It is not surprising that in the course of her acting she makes each man she favors with her attentions talk Double-Dutch.

Beppie de Vries has, In short, a charm of manner which defies description. Her acting is excellent, and, though her singing voice is scarcely above what we have become accustomed to in a leading lady of musical comedy or comic opera, it has a flexibility which compensates.

The plot would be quite a good one even if it hadn’t fine music to run on.

Madame Pompadour, tiring rather of the Court, comes to an inn searching adventure while the King is away, hunting. She meets the Comte d’Estrades, and, having started the adventure in a romantic mood, takes no, time to fall in love with him. Her maid takes, as a partner in romance the far from romantic-looking poet, Joseph Calicot, a drunken leader of revolt.

When Maurepas, Minister of Police, discovers her whereabouts, she has, first Calicot and then. d’Estrades arrested by the guard. Later, she makes d’Estrades join the guard, and commissions Calicot to write a play oh tho occasion of her birthday. While, they are both at the palace she pretends to bo in love with Calicot to turn, away suspicion. She discovers that d’Estrades is her sister’s husband. Shortly afterwards the King returns unexpectedly.

Frank Webster, who plays d’Estrades, makes his first appearance in Sydney, and is a weloome addition to musical comedy. His acting is good, and his voice much better, than that of the usual.

As Joseph Calicot, our old friend, Arthur Stigant, is at his best. He can always be relied upon to “put across” the banal comic situations and threadbare jokes of machine-made comedy. But in “Madame Pompadour” he has a part which has been well constructed and supplied with clever lines.

Vera Spaull has a full-sized part as Marietta, the maid, and does much to make the piece. Leslie Holland plays Maurepas in his usual style.

The period of Louis XV lends itself to plenty of color, and the sets and costumes are dazzling. There are many dance scenes and much chorus work of a high order.

Sunday Times (Sydney), 5 June 1927, p.2



“Madame Pompadour”

THE first performance of “Madame Pompadour” at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, on Saturday night, was a triumph for all concerned, and at the close there was a memorable demonstration, which served as a clear indication that the new musical comedy—it really justifies the term light opera—is certain to enjoy a long and prosperous season. Miss Beppie de Vries, the new leading lady, completely captured the hearts of the audience. She is admirably fitted to portray the role of the beautiful Frenchwoman who, while she had King Louis XV at her feet, practically ruled France. Miss de Vries, who has gained a high reputation in her native country—Holland, where she is immensely popular—is tall, slender, and very attractive, with a charming accent which fits in naturally with the role. She sings pleasingly, and her acting is that of a talented and thoroughly experienced artist. Her unusual charm and vivacity were generally realised within a few minutes after her arrival with her maid at the tavern of “The Nine Muses,” and from that moment she held her audience until the final curtain descended to the accompaniment of cheer after cheer. Her undoubted success was shared by another newcomer—Mr. Frank Webster, the possessor of an excellent and well-trained tenor voice, who is also a capital actor with a very pleasing personality. He fills the role of the handsome young count who, though married, instantly falls, a, victim to the charm of the beautiful Pompadour, who has secretly come to the carnival seeking romance. She is strongly attracted to him, but discovers that he is the husband of the sister (Madeleine) whom she has not seen since she became the King's favourite. Miss de Vries’s acting at this point made it abundantly evident that she could fill a big emotional role with conspicuous success. Mr. Webster greatly pleased the audience with his fine singing of ‘Carnival Time’ and ‘Madame Pompadour,’ and was equally successful in the duets with Miss de Vries, ‘By the Light of the Moon,’ ‘Love’s Sentry,’ and ‘Reminiscence.’

AN old favourite in Mr. Leslie Holland was warmly welcomed. He cleverly impersonates the Minister of Poiice, who, to his great humiliation, is out witted by the brainy and resourceful Pompadour. Miss Vera Spaull is a dainty Mariette, and Miss Peggy Desmond an attractive Madeleine. Most of the comedy—and there is plenty of it—is supplied by Mr. Arthur Stigant as Calicot, the poet. This popular actor is inimitable, genuinely funny without that vulgarity which characterises so many of the present-day comedians. Mr. P. Cory is impressively authoritative as the King; and all the other members of the cast do their work well.

FROM a musical jaoint of view the new play is greatly superior to the majority of musical comedies. Mr. Leo Fall’s score is exceedingly tuneful, reaching a high standard; and the delighted audience warmly applauded when a laurel wreath was handed to Mr. Andrew MacCunn, the musical director, who gets splendid results from his orchestra.

Brightness is one of the outstanding features of the production, and Mr. Frank Hawthorne’s stage management bears evidence of the master hand in every detail. Many gorgeous costumes are displayed by the ladies of the company, the concluding scene especially revealing a wealth of colour and artistic grouping which provides a fitting finish to an admirable entertainment.

Sydney Mail, 8 June 1927, p.15


Bulletin Banner 1



Beppie de Vries, with the aid of pleasing music, bright settings, a capable company and a capital plot, made an outstanding success with “Madame Pompadour” at the Theatre Royal (Sydney) on Saturday; in less than no time the audience had taken the dainty red-tressed Dutch lady to its heart. The play opens with a bright carnival medley in the sort of cavernous Parisian wine cellar where there is always (on the stage, anyway) a vagabond poet. King Louis XV, having departed for four days’ hunting, his spectacular mistress, Madame Pompadour, seizes the opportunity to invade the den, with her confidential maid, in search of adventure. She finds it in the person of Rene, the Comte d’Estrades, a country gentleman who has come to town for a carnival-time spree as a tonic after a year of happy matrimony. The intrusion of Maurepas, Minister of Police, who wants evidence against Madame for his own blackmailing purposes, interferes with warm developments; but Pompadour adroitly turns the situation with an accusation against Maurepas of laxness in duty—she has come to this place to look into the seditious verses the poet Calicot has been writing about her. In the upshot, Calicot is given a chance to redeem himself by writing a play for the Pompadour’s players within a given time, his fate being merely a screen for the enlistment of Rene in the Pompadour’s guards of the household, where he is promptly put to watch over the lady's own apartments. Complications arrive with the appearance of Rene’s wife, Madeleine, who proves to be Pompadour's sister, in search of her missing husband, and the sudden return of the King, to whom the duped Maurepas exposes Calicot as the Pompadour’s lover; but the situation works out by curtain fall to the happiness of everybody except the scheming Police Minister.

* * * *

Frederick Lonsdale’s assistance to Harry Graham in adapting the “book” doubtless accounts for the dialogue being a cut above that usually encountered in musical comedy, Graham wrote the lyrics himself and Leo Fall has supplied some swinging music. The part of Rene falls to Frank Webster, a robust young man with a pleasing tenor on the light side and a capacity to be easy and loverlike. Arthur Stigant, as the poet Calicot, makes the most of comedy a bit out of the vaudeville type, and Leslie Holland is the same humorously helpless villain he has been in numberless musical comedies; Vera Spaull brightly seizes her opportunities as Mariette, maid to Madame Pompadour, who falls in love with Calicot; P. Cory gives weight and a fair measure of dignity to Louis XV., and Noel Dainton, as Boucher the Court Painter, never misses a telling point. Quaint dressing in a chorus which is kept continually on the run in the first act, and has some spectacular work later on, gives a colorful background to the principals. The management has struck a play which should prove almost as rich a goldmine as “Rose Marie.”

The Bulletin (Sydney), 9 June 1927, p.52


JCW Act 2 scene 1Scene from Act 2 with Beppie de Vries and Frank Webster (centre)



The only major Australian revival of Madame Pompadour took place in Melbourne, at the King’s Theatre, running from 30 June 1934 to 11 July 1934, with Sylvia Welling in the title role.

Sylvia Welling (1901–1982) was an English soprono, engaged by JCW to play the lead in the first Australian production of Music in the Air (which was given its premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane, on 28 June 1933—the first Brisbane premiere since Madame Pompadour in 1927). Sylvia Welling had catapulted to stardom when she replaced the late Anny Ahlers in The Dubarry in London. She subsequently appeared in the first Australia production of The Dubarry in Australia during 1934, and it was during her return Melbourne season at the King’s Theatre that it was decided to revive Madame Pompadour.

Unfortunately, it has not been possible to verify all the details of the revival, as no program has been found for the show. The cast list below was sourced from ‘The Shows of 1934’, Everyones, 12 December 1834, pp.112–118. No photos of the 1934 production have been located, though it is likely that W.R Coleman and W. Coleman Jr.’s original sets were dusted off and remounted. In fact, the Act 2, Scene 2 set for The Dubarry, depicting the house of La Marechale de France, was actually the Act 2 set from Madame Pompadour! And with Frederick Blackman once again the director, there is every likelihood that the revival was identical to the original, albeit with a new cast.

Leslie Holland (1874–1952), who played Maurepas, was the only member of the original cast to appear in the revival. London-born Holland came to Australia in 1905 and since that time had been a regular performer in musicals for J.C. Williamson Ltd. He created comic roles in the first Australian productions including The Dancing Mistress (1913), The Cinema Star (1916), The Pink Lady (1917), Theodore and Co. (1919), and The Maid of the Mountains (1921).


The Cast

Joseph Calicot Cecil Kellaway
Jacques Hilton Porter
Landlord Clifford Cowley
René, Comte d’Estrades John Dudley
Mariette Nellie Barnes
Madame Pompadour Sylvia Welling
Maurepas Leslie Holland
Poulard Lou Vernon
Lieutenant Cornielle John Dease
Collin James Patterson
Boucher Douglas Herald
Ambassador Clifford Cowley
Tourelle Cecil Pawley
Madeleine, Comtesse d’Estrades Jean Duncan
King Louis XV Richard Parry


















The Reviews

Another Peep at Louis
“Madame Pompadour” revived
Charming Songs and Period Colour

Having been the Comtesse Dubarry on Friday night, Sylvia Welling became Madame Pompadour on Saturday night. Such is the magic of the stage. But it could not have been easy for the company to translate itself in a few hours from one decade to another. “Madame Pompadour” and “The Dubarry” are so different from each other. The former is a gay, Continental musical comedy; the latter a romantic musical play. But “Madame Pompadour” is well worth reviving, if only for the music, which is very charming and melodious. “By the Light of the Moon”, “Love’s Sentry”, “Madame Pompadour”, and “Two Little Birds”, all bring back memories of that delightful season in with Beppie de Vries played Madame Pompadour. Her radiant personality made the part, and, inevitably, Miss Welling invites comparison. Beppie de Vries was more imperious and more volatile than Miss Welling is in the role. The characterisations, indeed, have nothing in common. If history be the test—and it never is in musical comedy (which had supreme contempt for fact)—Beppie de Vries we ore like the original; Miss Welling gives us a warmer, more human Pompadour. She is the woman, not the grande dame. Her acting is restrained, and her voice is charmingly used, the duets with John Dudley providing the best moments in the show. Mr. Dudley is Rene—a part which gives him manly opportunities of using his admirable voice. His acting continued to improve, becoming easier as he grows more confident, but he still makes love a trifle clumsily—a weakness we disapprove of on the stage, however much we tolerate it in real life.

The production has the colour and finish which one associated with the best Williamson presentations, the curtain going up on the tavern of the Nine Muses, where Calicot is lampooning Madame and the king. Thither goes the Pompadour is search of adventure, and becomes infatuated with Rene, a young nobleman, who has left his country wife for a little excitement in the city. The second and third acts tell how Maurepas, who thinks he is a very clever fellow, tries to bring about the favourite’s ruin. Madame, however, is “just a leetle bit cleverer”, and is able to retain the king’s affection. Richard Parry, who played Louis so well in “The Dubarry” is again the king, but his new part is a superficial sketch, and does not give him the opportunities he had before. Cecil Kellaway plays Arthur Stigant’s old part of Calicot, the disreputable bard, and goes through his lines with an easy nonchalance, which is more suited to the part he played in “The Dubarry”. The conscientious and hard-working Leslie Holland in Maurepas.

While we may complain of revivals when there is so much to see and hear, it cannot be denied that “Madame Pompadour” wears well. Most musical comedies are dead before the curtain on the last night is rung down, but after a lapse of years “Madame Pompadour” is almost as fresh as ever. The moral is that musical comedy is a poor thing without good songs.

“Madame Pompadour” will be the last production of the season at the King’s Theatre.

The Argus, 2 July 1934, p.5


Madame Pompadour
Revival at King’s Theatre

It might be presumed that the revival of Madame Pompadour, a musical comedy in three acts at the King’s Theatre, following the brilliant production of The Dubarry, has some virtue in the process of “marking time” in Australian stage enterprise. Let us hope so. But, because the pristine strength of the stage has been demonstrated by the success with which established plays have been revived successfully time and again during the last few years, it should be emphasised that success has been made possible only by expert selection and mature judgement. Madame Pompadour, adapted by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham from a Continental play, with music by Leo Fall, is too theatrical a piece to survive the test of revival. And all the delightful art and craft of a splendid J.C. Williamson Limited production could not garnish what was originally at best a mediocre entertainment.

Once the audience was lifted exultantly on Saturday evening to a Bohemian sense of life and gaiety in the tavern of the “Nine Muses”, the fat was in the fire! That scene, with the poet Calicot lampooning the king and his royal mistress, and Rene (Count d’Estrades) singing Carnival Time with a glorious chorus vital with the life that quickens the pulse, represents one of the best ensembles the theatre has vouchsafed to us. Bit too seen the plot began, with the entry of Jeanne Antoine Poisson and her maid, Mariette; with Maurepas and Poulard (the Ministers of Police of Louis XV), faultlessly costumed, playing the villains (the strutting of Maurepas and the monotonously repeated boast of his cleverness set the key in a score of dramatic artificiality), with Rene meeting Jeanne and becoming her bodyguard; and then developed with Rene’s wife, Madeline, carrying out her father’s dying wish that she go to the Pompadour when in trouble; with the police chasing Calicot and Madeline chasing Rene, and Louis returning unexpectedly, chasing both Calicot and Rene. It was all too futile in the settings of Versailles, setting confined to guilded apartments, but not the apartments in which Voltaire, Quesney, Boucher, Vanloo and Greuse figured in the circle of the Marquise de Pompadour.

As Pompadour, Sylvia Wellling sings and acts delightfully; Cecil Kellaway, as J.G. Calicot, frequently holds court in bright wit and was the “hope of his side”. But what could the most brilliant of actors do with such material? John Dudley as Rene, sometimes singing off the note in music that is seldom inspired, sang three duets with Jeanne, and their number Love’s Sentry was exquisite. Richard Parry was fine and kingly as Louise XV; and Nellie Barnes Sprightly and nimble in the dance as Mariette; Leslie Holland (Maurepas) and Jean Duncan (Madeline) were prominently cast. Frederick Blackman is the producer, and William Quintrell the musical director.

Madame Pompadour will be the last production of the season at the King’s Theatre. There is to be a matinee on Wednesday.

The Age, 2 July 1934, p.12


Wednesday, 09 August 2023


By Elisabeth Kumm & Rob Morrison

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MADAME POMPADOUR Play with music in 2 acts by Clare Kummer, adapted from the German. Music by Leo Fall. Presented by Charles Dillingham-Martin Beck. Produced under the direction of R.H. Burnside. Musical numbers staged by Julian Alfred. Orchestra under the Direction of Oscar Radin. Scenery by Willy Pogany. Costumes by Wilhelm (London).


Madame Pompadour was the first production at the newly-built Martin Beck Theatre (now Al Hirschfeld Theatre), opening on Tuesday, 11 November 1924, playing until 17 January 1925, a total of 80 performances. The play had received a two-week tryout at the Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, from 27 October 1924, with Hollywood movie actress Hope Hampton making her stage debut in the title role. Press reviews of her performance were generally good, but for various reasons, her contract was cancelled and she did not play the role on Broadway.

The Philadelphia premiere of Madame Pompadour was a glittering affair. Among the first night audience was Charles Dillingham and Martin Beck; composer Leo Fall (his first—and last—trip to America, he was to die in Vienna in September 1925); R.H. Burnside and Julian Alfred, who directed the show; scenic artist Willy Pogany; Veronica Blythe, respresenting Wilhelm of London, who designed the costumes; Albert Herter, who painted the murals of the new Martin Beck Theatre; and architect G. Albert Lansburgh.

Screenshot 2023 08 17 125124The 1,400-seat Martin Beck Theatre, West 45th Street, New York, designed in the Moorish style by G. Albert Lansburgh. From Theatre Arts Monthly, January 1925.With only a week to learn the role, Wilda Bennett was engaged to take Hope Hampton’s place. Wilda was an experienced stage actress. She was one of the leads in The Girl Behind the Gun (see Notable Productions) in 1918. On Broadway, she also performed in The Only Girl (1914), The Riviera Girl (1917), Apple Blossoms (1919). Music Box Revue (1921) and The Lady in Ermine (1922).

Clare Kummer (1873–1958), who adapted the operetta for the Amerian stage, was a well-respected and prolific composer, lyricist and playwright. Her great-aunt was the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and she was a cousin of the actor-playwright William Gillette. She wrote dozens of songs and several original musicals. She is best remembered for her play Good Gracious Annabelle (1916) on which her musical Annie Dear (1924) was based.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The controvery surrounding Hope Hampton’s dismissal was outlined in the following series of articles.


 Husband of Screen Star, Replaced in Title Role by Wilda Bennett, Says There'll Be "Fireworks."

Special to The New York Times.

PHILADELPHIA. Pa., Nov.  Hope Hampton, screen star, has been notified that her engagement as a light opera prima donna, begun here in “Madame Pompadour” two weeks ago, will end tomorrow night, at least for the present. Wilda Bennett, musical comedy star, will assume Miss Hampton’s role when the opera makes its bow to New York audiences next Tuesday.

The report that Miss Hampton received a note from the Charles Dillingham-Martin Beck management of “Madame Pompadour” telling her that she would not be used in her role longer than tomorrow night, was confirmed today by Jules Brulatour, husband of Miss Hampton.

“I really don’t know just what will happen,” Mr. Brulatour said today. “There will be fireworks, of course. Miss Hampton’s contract was not drawn with the usual two weeks clause and so far as her salary is concerned that is all right. It is a matter of fame.”


Announcement was made here on Thursday that Miss Hampton would be replaced by Wilda Bennett when “Madame Pompadour” opens here next Tuesday night. The title role in the new Leo Fall operetta calls for an experienced singer and actress and, since Miss Hampton’s experiences have been confined to the screen, some surprise was expressed by theatrical men at her original choice for the role. In Germany the part was sung by Fritzi Massary, most celebrated of the Continental prima donnas.

Since the opening of “Madame Pompadour” in Philadelphia two weeks ago reports have been reaching Broadway that another actress would come to New York in the piece, and it was said that no less than three others have been rehearsing the part. The fact that Miss Bennett is able to undertake the part on such short notice indicates that the change is not an unforeseen one.

A few days ago Mr. Brulatour, Miss Hampton’s husband, asked theatrical friends to witness Miss Hampton's performance in Philadelphia with a view to offering expert testimony in the event that the matter was taken into court.

The New York Times, 8 November 1924, p.18

* * * * * * * * * * *

Replaced In “Madame Pompadour,”
She Will Seek Damages

Max D. Steuer, attorney for Hope Hampton, the actress who last week was replaced in the leading role of “Madame Pompadour” by Wilda Bennett, said yesterday that there would be no legal action on behalf of his client leading to an interference with the opening of the show, scheduled for tonight at the Martin Beck Theatre. He said that papers would be filed, probably Wednesday, in a suit calling for the payment of damages by Martin Beck and Charles B. Dillingham, proprietors of the show, for an alleged breaking of their contract with Miss Hampton.  At the offices of Martin Beck it was said that the advertisement announcing tonight's opening with Miss Bennett in the part played on the road try-out by Miss Hampton spoke for itself and that there was no possibility of a last-minute readjustment restoring Miss Hampton to her original role.

The New York Times, 11 November 1924, p.20

* * * * * * * * * * *

He Writes Actress That She Had All the Qualifications for Mme. Pompadour Role.

Hope Hampton, the actress, who was replaced In the title role of “Madame Pompadour” by Wilda Bennett a few days before the New York opening, yesterday made public a letter addressed to her by Leo Fall, the noted Viennese composer of the score of the piece. In it Mr. Fall makes reference to and denies printed reports that one of the reasons for Miss Hampton's departure from the cast was criticism by him of her efforts.

Mr. Fall’s letter was yesterday submitted to the advertising departments of a number of New York dailies by Jules Brulatour, husband of Miss Hampton, with a request that it be printed in the form of paid advertising.

The letter follows:

“It has come to my knowledge that it has been claimed by C.B. Dillingham or Martin Beck, or both, that I adversely criticized your performance in 'Madame Pompadour’ and stated in words or substance that you were incapable of singing and acting, either or both, the leading role.

“I beg to assure you that never in any way did I do so. Quite the contrary is the fact. After observing you in rehearsal I stated that you would make a most satisfactory Madame Pompadour and probably as good as any who performed the part and much better than some who were playing it satisfactorily, but it was necessary to rehearse you in the part somewhat differently than the rehearsals were then proceeding. I desired to make suggestions in that regard, and, to my great astonishment, they were rejected in their entirety.

“I saw and heard a part of your performance in Philadelphia. I then reiterated what I had said, that you had all the qualifications necessary for the making of a splendid Madame Pompadour, but that you had not been properly rehearsed. My criticisms were not at all directed to you, but on the contrary, were directed to the book, the lyrics, the way the music was being played, some of the acting and the business of the performance.

“I regret very much that you should have been misinformed and trust that if it occasioned you any discomfort you are now entirely relieved.”

The New York Times, 15 November 1924, pg.16


Having been denied the opportunity for a New York debut, Hope Hampton’s dream of becoming a diva of light opera on Broadway was finally achieved in 1927, when she starred in the Sigmund Romberg operetta My Princess. Alas, the show only achieved 20 performances at the Shubert Theatre.


The Cast

Madame la Marquiese de Pompadour Wilda Bennett
Louis XV, King of France Frederick Lewis
Rene, The Count D’Estrades John Quinlan
Madeleine Eva Clark
Belotte* Wanda Lyon
Joseph Calicot Florenz Ames
Maurepas Oscar Figman
Poulard Louis Harrison
Prunier Edgar Kent
Collin Henry Vincent
Boucher Raymond Cullen
Tourelle Curt Peterson
The Austrian Ambassador Edgar Kent
The Lieutenant Elliott Stewart

















*In the British adapatation, this character, Madame Pompadour’s maid, was called Mariette. The role of Belotte was also played by Leeta Corder.


Musical Numbers

Introduction and Ensemble Chorus
‘Oh! Pom-Pom-Pom-Pompadour’ Calicot & Chorus
‘Carnival Time’ Rene & Grisettes
‘Magic Moments’ Pompadour & Belotte
‘By the Light of the Moon’ Pompadour & Rene
‘One Two and One Two Three’ Belotte & Calicot 
Finale Company
Introduction and Ensemble Collin & Chorus
‘I'll Be Your Soldier’ Pompadour & Rene
‘Tell Me What Your Eyes Were Made For’ Pompadour, Madeleine, Belotte & Grisettes
‘When the Cherry Blossom Falls’ Calicot & Belotte
‘Serenade, Madame Pompadour’  Rene & Male Chorus
‘Oh! Joseph’ Pompadour & Calicot
‘Reminicence, Madame Pompadour’ Pompadour & Rene
‘Entrance of the King’ Company
Finale Company





















Sets and Costumes

Sadly there are few images in the public domain of the 1924 American production of Madame Pompadour. As the opening spectacular at the new Martin Beck Theatre, both the theatre and the show must surely have been well photographed.

One of the few images is a drawing by Willy Pogany of the Act 1 set. Reproduced in Theatre Arts Monthly (January 1925), the captions reads:

Willy Pogany’s sketch for the first-act setting of Madame Pompadour, the operetta by Leo Fall, which has opened the new Martin Beck Theatre ... The scene is a cellar cabaret of the Bohemian Paris of the eighteenth century, The Stable of the Muses.  At the left Pogany makes amusing use of a stairway which seems to carry the actors off overhead.

Willy Pogany (1882–1955) was a Hungarian artist, best known for his illustrations of children’s fairytales. He emigrated to America in 1914 and expanded his focus to include stage and costume designs. In addition to his work for the Metropolitan Opera, he designed sets for numerous Broadway shows, including The Magic Melody (1919), Madame Pompadour (1924), Earl Carroll’s Vanities (1925), When You Smile (1925), Florida Girl (1925) and Queen High (1926). In 1926, he created the murals—“Lovers of Spain”—for the Herbert J. Krapp-designed Royale Theatre (now Benard B. Jacobs Theatre) on West 45th Street. From the 1930s, he worked in Hollywood as an art director on films.

Pomp set 1924Willy Pogany’s Act 1 set for Madame Pompadour. From Theatre Arts Monthly, January 1925.

The costumes for the production were designed by London-based Wilhelm (1858–1925). Born William John Charles Pitcher, he created his first costume designs in 1877. His earliest commissions were for the pantomimes of Sir Augustus Harris at Drury Lane. He also designed the costumes for some of the original Gilbert and Sullivan operas, including Iolanthe (1882), Princess Ida (1884), The Mikado (1885) and Ruddigore (1887). In addition he worked on costumes for many London musicials, including A Runaway Girl (1898), A Spring Chicken (1905). The New Aladdin (1906), Tom Jones (1907), The Arcadians (1909) and The Mousme (1911). As well as the London productions that transferred to Broadway, he designed costumes for many original shows, such as The Lady of the Slipper (1912), The Yankee Princess (1922) and Stepping Stones (1923). His costumes for Madame Pompadour were among his last commissions before his death in March 1925. Many of his original drawings may be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (mainly designs for pantomimes and Gilbert & Sullivan operas). He also sent many of his designs to Australia, including those for A Runaway Girl (1898) which are at the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.


The Reviews

Madame Pompadour

Philadelphia, Oct. 28.

After several premieres greeted rather coldly, this city had a “first night” of real distinction last evening when Leo Fall’s latest musical play, presented jointly by Charles Dillingham and Martin Beck, opened at the Forrest.

“Madame Pompadour” looked as sure-fire as a new show can possibly look on its opening night. The performance went off like clock-work, the final curtain was down at 11:10, and the end of the first act was greeted by applause that, even disregarding the obvious “friends in the rear”, was not a bit uncertain in its approbation.

“Madame Pompadour” is one of the most beautifully staged productions that has ever visited this city; the period and the costumes were of course conducive to that. There are two settings, one in a Bohemian resort, and the other the boudoir of the king’s favorite. The story concerns the nocturnal ramblings of Pompadour through Paris streets, her meeting a handsome (though married) man in the inn, making of him a soldier in her regiment, and finally of her predocament when Louis XV discovers this same gentleman in Pompadour’s bedroom. In the end the lover returns to his wife, and Pompadour is showing every indications of finding a new “sweetie” in the person of a member of her guard.

There was almost as much interest at the opening concerning the abilities of the prima donna as there was of the show itself. Hope Hampton, making her stage debut, was visibly nervous in her opening scene and showed it in her first song, but she quietened as she went along and by the end of the act was a success. Her voice is undoubtedly just a trifle light for the difficult score, but her notes are sweet and have a warmth and attractiveness about them. She has a few “cute” mannerisms that might be dropped, but they by no means mar her performance.

The cast is splendid throughout. John Quinlan sings the leading role opposite with much feeling and has a comedy zest as well. Florenz Ames scores heavily in the chief comedy role, that of Calicot, a down-at-the-heels poet. He has built his characterisation with patience and skill. Oscar Figman is effective as the minister of police, and Louis Harrison is even better as his assistant.

Wanda Lyons, the second feminine lead, has a dandy personality and a good voice. Her scene and song with Ames in the first act got the greatest applause last night. Frederick Lewis, who does not sing at all, was engaged to play Louis XV. He appears only at the end, but he makes the role stand out.

Four girls, Janet Stone, Elaine Palmer, Irma Bartlett and Dorothy Krag, had specialties that whizzed across, especially a cambination of “Katinka” and the “Wooden Soldiers”, in which Miss Stone was immense.

The music was beautiful, with outstanding musical numbers “Magic Moments”, the catchiest piece; “One, Two, and One, Two, Three”, “I'll Be Your Soldier”, “Serenade, Madame Pompadour”, and a couple of march finales.

The end of the first act is a corker. The last act is a real innovation, and may or may not go. The play ends on action instead of a musical ensemble and there is no happy clinch. It’s a corking bit, but may be a bit unusual for some of the mob.

With the action quickened in a couple of spots in the second act, the first is o.k. as it stands. “Madame Pompadour” looks like a wallop despite the none-too-inspired book of Clare Kummer. Some of the numbers she has translated delightfully, but in attempting to remove the ultra-raciness she has made certain portions rather milk-and-water.

The fine work of the principals pretty nearly obliterated that.  WATERS.

Variety, 29 October 1924, p.18

Veterans Find Production at Martin Beck Theatre More Beautiful Than Those Abroad,

In reporting the dual festivities in Forty-fifth Street last night it must first be set down that Martin Beck has presented the town with one of its handsomest playhouses. It is just a bit to the west of Eighth Avenue, and marks the first encroachment of the theatre district upon that territory. It is called the Martin Beck.

By way of acquiring something sufficiently lustrous for the occasion, Mr. Beck, with the assistance of Charles Dillingham, crossed over to foreign parts and brought back the far-famed “Madame Pompadour." This is the operetta which, largely by reason of Leo Fall’s score, has been popping up all over Europe in recent seasons, getting in the way of American tourists. Last night’s audience was filled with veterans of other productions—folk who had viewed it in Budapest and Berlin, in London and Vienna.

They reported, practically unanimously, that it never had been given quite so beautiful a production as it had received at the hands of the Messrs. Dillingham and Beck, One who has witnessed none of the previous productions felt also that this must be the finest of them. It is a handsome production of an operetta, that will make its greatest appeal on its score—perhaps to a greater degree here than elsewhere. For Clare Kummer has made a pretty uninspired adaptation of the book. From beginning to end there is hardly a shred of humor.

Most of the good things are reserved for the second act. Here, in the boudoir of Mme. Pompadour, the chorus girls donned white wigs, and so did Wilda Bennett. All of them responded gloriously, and none more so than Miss Bennett, who was never quite so pretty before. In this act, too, occurred a good comedy song entitled “Oh, Joseph,” and there was also a sweep of incident and a certain savor that the first act distinctly lacked.

The operetta dramatizes an anecdote in the life of the favorite of Louis XV.—carries her for an act to a resort of Paris Bohemia, where the object of her adoration is discovered. Somehow, it was not a particularly convincing love affair—even operetta demands a certain semblance of credibility. Accordingly it was hardly a poignant moment when finally she relinquished him—the program is at pains to point out that the lady was “keen-brained and ambitious”—in favor of his Majesty the King.

But there is a consistent richness in Leo Fall’s score, and the fifteen numbers, with the many reprises, well repay one for the evening. The music, also, is well enough sung. The difficult title-role, after some rapid reshuffling of prima donnas, fell at the last moment to Wilda Bennett. She gave a vivacious and generally competent performance, and one which is certain to be even better when she has got past the uncertainties of the early performances.

John Quinlan, in the opposite role, sings well, but his casting for the part immeasurably weakens the love story. Wanda Lyon is appealing as the maid of Pompadour, and Florenz Ames, Louis Harrison, and Oscar Figman do their several bests with Miss Kummer’s leaden dialogue. Only an occasional lyric showed a flash of comedy.

The New York Times, 12 November 1924, p.20

* * * * * * * * * * *

Madame Pompadour

If Clare Kummer, in making the American adaptation of Leo Fall’s Viennese operetta, had substituted enough comedy in the book to compensate for some of the effects that undoubtedly were lost in the expurgation, Madame Pompadour might easily rank as one of the best operettas to come along in several seasons. If, in addition, it could have been possible to put the two chief roles in the hands of Eleanor Painter and Walter Woolf, the event even might have made some interesting theatrical history.

There is no intention to disparage the efforts of Wilda Bennett nor those of John Quinlan. Considering the brief space of time she had in which to prepare for her extremely difficult role, Miss Bennett rose to the occassion in noble style. Quinlan sang admirably.

But Miss Painter would have been more glamorous as Madame Pompadour, and Woolf would have held the audience spellbound with romantic illusion in every one of his scenes.

It amounts to the difference between a successful event and an eventful success.

The story of Madame Pompadour is one that cannot be delineated quite as fully and frankly on the American stage as it can and was on the Continental stage. The glorifying of court “favorites”, which has always been a delectable pastime abroad, is superseded here by the glorification of the human form en masse. Nevertheless, the former holds enough attraction for our classes to enable it to get by pretty well, especially when served as apitizingly as Madame Pompadour is.

An unusually absorbing plot holds the suspence at a proper temperature all the way thru the piece. The music is real music, rich and joyous and sweeping, much after the style of the Viennese waltzes that are so well liked on this side. The spacious settings and the colorfully costumed men and women of the company combine in creating many attractive pictures—artistic ensembles that appear to be the result of accident rather than design. But there is Julian Alfred’s name on the program to testify that these ensembles are not accidents.

These depended upon for the comedy are Florenz Ames, who plays the part of Calicot, a bibulous poet; Oscar Figman, in the role of Maurepas, the Minister of Police, and Louis Harrison, as Poulard, his assistant. They do all that could be expected with the material provided them and incidentally show that they could do a whole lot more if the opportunities were there. The best bit of comedy in the performance is a song number. Oh, Joseph, in which Ames and Miss Bennett participate.

Wanda Lyon takes special honors for her comeliness, her delightful singing and the generally fascinating manner in which she fills the bill as Pompadour’s maid and ally. Frederick Lewis portrays the King with credit. Eva Clark does an ingratiating bit. Edgar Kent handles two roles most acceptably and Henry Vincent, Elliott Stewart, Raymond Cullen and Curt Peterson are satisfactory in the little that is required of them. Also worthy of mention are the charming grisettes, especially the one—Janet Stone, if the eye caught alright—who injected something extra enjoyable in the way of a dance along about the end of the first act. The chorus is beautiful to look upon.

Reverting to the principal players, Miss Bennett appears uneasy and in difficulty with her voice during the early part of the evening, a situation that will doubtless be overcome when she is more accustomed to her role. In the second act she was much more at home. The practice indulged in by Miss Bennett of lifting the shoulders and thrusting the head forward could be eliminated to her advantage. As a whole, however, she cuts a pretty dashing figure as Pompadour. Quinlan, too, scores very strongly. His voice is excellent and he has good control of it. Only a certain matter of appearance—of magnetic personality—keeps him for achieving the full possibilities of his role.

The scenery, designed by Willy Pogany, is a notable feature in itself. Its chief beauty lies in its spaciousness, and in the fact that there are no clashes of harsh colors. The cellar scene, which forms the set for the first act, is an artistic representation, and Pompadour’s boudoir, the second act, is a deliberately designed affair. Also praisworthy are the attractive costumes worn by both principals and chorus. R.H. Burnside’s staging of the production is thoroly excellent, and Oscar Radin directs the orchestra with proper feeling. The esprit that is an essential part of Madame Pompadour remains intact in the music, whereas in the book it was largely killed in the process of adaptation.

There remains to be said something adequate—not an easy matter—about the new Martin Beck Theater, which had its formal opening simultaneously with the Broadway premiere of Madame Pompadour. Beck’s playhouse is more than just a theater. The unprecedented extremes to which he has gone in providing for the comfort and convenience of his patrons, as well as the imposing beauty and simplicity, combined with utility, both inside and out, makes it stand out as a momument, a shrine, a vertiable temple to Thespis.  DON CARLE GILLETTE.

The Billboard, 22 November 1924, p.10

* * * * * * * * * * *

Madame Pompadour

“Madame Pompadour” is a disappointment.

Widely fames and long heralded, much was expected, for it possesses many qualities in its favor. It presented one of this rare instances, such as only an assured entertainment, like a Sousa or a Metropolitan opera diva can command, of having been “sold” to the critics almost before they came into Martin Beck's new and beautiful theatre. With a reputation, already earned, on the continent and through its London production, plus a time-honored respect for the composition of Leo Fall, “Madame Pompadour”, the famous courtesan of history, bespoke of very likely libretto material.

As presented in that artistic oasis west of Eighth avenue and 45th treet, it disclosed a cast that could not cope with the delicate Vienna strains of Fall; an unfunny “book”, and a gorgeous production. That scenic and sartorial flash in both acts cost Messres. Dillingham and Beck a pretty penny, obviously a bit more that other European-touted productions, “Hassan”, which A.L. Erlanger and Dillingham sought so unsuccessfully to introduce on this side, but there is a parallel in each case of a sensational foreign success proving a disappointment here.

Whatever the merits the libretto of Schanzer and Welisch possessed remained a secret in the Clare Kummer translation. The comedy was dull and the action ditto.

Wilda Bennett was naturally the cynosure of all ears and eyes in view of the Hope Hampton experience following the Philadelphia premiere and for other reasons. To state Miss Hampton could hardly have done worse by the title role should not be misinterpreted as cansite comment. For a role as difficult as this, it is no more than to be expected the principal songstress must be possessed of some voice. Miss Bennett certainly is nlessed with pulchritude and a pleasant musical comedy soprano. But the difficult Fall score called for a brillian casting.

“Inside stuff” has it that Fritzi Massary, who created the role on the continent in German, was available for the American production and that she could handle it in English. Evelyn Laye, who did the part in London, while not parring Miss Massary, was also spoken of favorably.

Nor was Miss Bennett the only one at fault. John Quinlan, in the principal male role, was shy on personality, besides sounding flat off and on. Forenz Ames strived hard to lighten the tenor of the proceedings, proving the only comedy relief. although physically miscast as the bibulous poet, Calicot, played more in the spirit of a buffoon.

Wanda Lyon as the Pompadour’s personal maid was a beautiful personality highlight throughout the proceedings. Louis Harrison as the minister of police's assistant was pleasing in the little bit he did, as was Frederick Lewis as Louis XV, the King of France. One dreaded that Mr Lewis might burst into song and spoil his favorable impression.

The first act is set in the “Stable of the Muses”, a converted cellar cabaret which has become the haunt of Bohemian Paris. It is in this cafe that the inebriated poet contrives and sings his derogatory songs anent Pompadour. The latter, incognito, accompanied by her personal maid, is bent on a night of adventure here since the king and his entourgae are absent. Rene, a country nobleman, is also seeking to forget his family differences with his proud young wife, and the inevitable of both meeting happens.

Madame Pompadour is faced with some of the sarcastic ditties that are sung about her by the masses. To extricate the poet, for the sake of her maid, she orders him to write the birthday masque in honor of Louis XV. Rene, who sides with the hapless rhymester, is also punished by being pressed in the service.

The new recruit in the second acts is elected to remain stationed outside Pompadour's boudoir. The climax has the king returning unexpectedly and Pompadour explains the compromising situation of Rene in her bedroom as a ruse to reconcile him with his wife, who happens to be the famous courtesan’s sister.

The production is massive and eleborate. The period costuming is a great flash and a pretty picture.

The score is by far the most appealing factor of the production. Some of the melodies are not entirely unknown over here already. “Magic Moments”, “I'll Be Your Soldier”, and the “Madame Pompadour” serenade are particularly outstanding of an exceptionally tuneful and melodious score, which fetched numerous recalls for the featured numbers. “Oh! Joseph”, by Pompadour and Calicot, was the comedy highlight, a number more to the taste of the performers, with some clever lyrical phrasings to distingish it.

“Madame Pompadour” may eke out something chiefly on the strength of the Fall score and the production, but as theatrical entertainent it does not merit a prolonged stay. The likelihood is, naturally, that Beck and Dillingham will seek to “plug” it for a run at Beck’s own house.  ABEL.

Variety, 29 October 1924, p.18

* * * * * * * * * * *

In 1928, it was announced that Beppie de Vries, fresh from success in Australia would play Madame Pompadour on Broadway. Alas this was not to be. The saga is told in the follow articles from the New York Times.


Beppie De Vries, Dutch Prima Donna, to Sing Title Role.

A revival of “Madame Pompadour,” in which the title role will be sung by Beppie De Vries, a Dutch prima donna; is promised for the latter part of the season by J.F. Lebret, a Dutch producer. The cast, aside from Miss De Vries, will be American. Miss De Vries, who is at present in New York, will pay a visit to Amsterdam before the start of rehearsals, which are scheduled for January.

J.C. Williamson, Ltd., of Australia, who have recently been presenting the operetta in that country with Miss De Vries as its star, will be associated with Mr. Lebret in the American production.

The New York Times, 11 December 1928, p.40

* * * * * * * * * * *

Beppe De Vries on Way Here.

Beppe De Vries, Dutch prima donna, who made her Broadway debut about two years ago, will arrive tomorrow on the Statendam from Holland. In a letter to a friend, Miss De Vries recently said that she expected to appear soon in “Dorine,” an adaptation of a German musical show. It is also possible that she will be seen in the Frederick Lonsdale version of “Madame Pompadour,” a project which she first announced three years ago. Last April Miss De Vries appeared in a road tryout of “Accidentally Yours” which was withdrawn after a brief engagement.

The New York Times, 30 October 1931, p.26

* * * * * * * * * * *

 She Will Appear in New Version of “Madame Pompadour.”

Beppe De Vries, the Dutch prima donna, will appear early next month under the management of her husband, J.P. Lebret, in the Frederick Lonsdale-Harry Graham version of Leo Fall's operetta, “Madame Pompadour.” The adaptation used seven years ago in the Broadway presentation, which had a run of eighty performances, was the work of Clare Kummer. With the Lonsdale-Graham libretto, the operetta was performed for 469 times in London.

The New York Times, 7 November 1931, p.24


Wednesday, 09 August 2023

West End

By Elisabeth Kumm

Banner 5a


MADAME POMPADOUR Musical play in 3 acts by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham, adapted from the German. Lyrics by Harry Graham. Music by Leo Fall. Presented by George Edwardes (Daly’s Theatre) Ltd. Produced under the direction of Frederick J. Blackman. Scenery by Alfred Terraine and Joseph & Phil Harker. Costumes by Comelli. Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Wood.


Following the sucessful revival of The Merry Widow, which ran at Daly’s Theatre in London for over two years, James White (an English financier and speculator who had acquired a controlling intrest in Daly’s Theatre in 1922) was looking around for a new musical play to take its place.

According to D. Forbes-Winslow in his ‘biography’ of Daly’s Theatre, producer Frederick J. Blackman saw Madame Pompadour at the Berliner Theater in October 1922 and was so impressed that he immediately telegraphed White to join him in the German capital. After watching the first act, he acquired the piece for the English stage.

White engaged Frederick Lonsdale to adapt the original libretto, with lyrics by Harry Graham. The two men had previously collaborated on The Lady of the Rose (1922) for White, and would go on to work on Katja the Dancer (1925) and Lady Mary (1928). Sadly for White, though the musicals produced at Daly’s during his reign proved popular, he overstretched himself financially and in June 1927 he committed suicide, aged 49.

Madame Pompadour opened at Daly’s Theatre on 20 December 1923, with Evelyn Laye in the title role. It ran until 31 January 1925, 461 performances. The principal characters were played by:


King Louis XV Bertram Wallis
René, Comte d’Estrades Derek Oldham
Maurepas Leonard Mackay
Poulard Leonard Russell
Prunier Fred Pedgrift
Collin Edmund D. la Touche
Austrian Ambassador Louis Harrison
Lieutenant Donald Mather
Boucher Noel Colne
Tourelle Desmond Roberts
Jacques Stanley Rendall
Calicot Huntley Wright
Madeleine, Comtesse d’Estrades Enid Stamp Taylor
Mariette Maisie Bell
Madame de Pompadour Evelyn Laye

















The star of The Merry Widow was a young English actress Evelyn Laye (1900–1996). Prior to playing Sonia in this revival, she had been seen at the London Pavilion in Phi-Phi (1922) and before that had achieved some success as Madeleine Manners in Going Up (Gaiety Theatre, 1918) and as Bessie Brent in a revival of The Shop Girl (Gaiety Theatre, 1920). In 1951, Evelyn Laye performed in Australia with her husband Frank Lawton for J.C. Williamson Ltd., appearing in Bell, Book and Candle by John Van Druten.

The principal male role of René was played by Derek Oldham (1887–1968), an English tenor. Best remembered as a Gilbert & Sullivan singer (he was a leading member of the D’Oyly Carte Company, 1919–1922 and 1929–1930), he also performed leading roles in numerous musical comedies during the 1920s. These included the London premieres of Whirled into Happiness (1922), Rose Marie (1925) and The Vagabond King (1927), and the long-running revival of The Merry Widow (1923).

Bertram Wallis (1874–1952), who played the non-singing role of King Louis XV had been a major star of musical comedies. Performing alongside Isabel Jay in Miss Hook of Holland (1907), King of Cadonia (1908), Dear Little Denmark (1909) and The Balkan Princess (1910), he became a popular postcard actor. In the period following WWI, he stepped away from the romantic leading man roles in favour of character parts.

The principal comedy role was played by Huntley Wright (1869–1943), a musical comedy veteran. From 1896 to 1905 he was the comedy lead in all the musicals staged at Daly’s Theatre, including The Geisha (1896), A Greek Slave (1898), San Toy (1899), A Country Girl (1902), The Cingalee (1904), The Little Michus (1905) and See-See (1906). He was back at Daly’s in 1921, when he was seen in Sybil (1921), The Lady of the Rose (1922) and Madame Pompadour (1923).

During the course of the run, some roles changed, notably that of Mariette, Madame Pompadour’s maid. The role had originally been allocated to Ivy Tresmand, but she found it ‘insufficiently exciting’ and withdrew in favour of Kitty Attfield. With the show about to open, Kitty succumbed to influenza and Maisie Bell, a member of the chorus, was called on to take the part:

“I only had yesterday and a few hours the day before to learn the part, and I had to learn three duets, the dialogue, and the songs. It was very hard on Mr. Huntley Wright, who had studied all his songs and business with the other girl, but he was very kind to me and helped me through. At first I felt so nervous I wished I had never gone on the stage at all, but now that I have done it all right I feel quite confident again. It was the chance of a lifetime, and I am awfully glad it came. I have only been on the stage three years.” (Westminster Gazette, 22 December 1923, p.3)

Although Maisie Bell was commended for her performance, by January 1924, the role had passed into the hands of the more experienced Elsie Randolph. With the offer to play opposite Jack Buchanan in a new musical comedy, Toni, Elsie left the company, and in April 1925 Eve Gray took on the role. Eve Gray (1900–1983) was an English-born Australian actress. Anecdote had it that within three days of her arrival in London she was offered the role of Mariette. Eve Gray would go on to become a film actress appearing in some fifty films between 1927 and 1938.



Musical Numbers

1. OPENING CHORUS Calicot & Chorus
2. SONG AND CHORUS René & Chorus ‘Carnival Time’
3. DUET Pompadour & Mariette ‘Love Me Now’
4. DUET Pompadour & René ‘By the Light of the Moon’
5. DUET Mariette & Calicot ‘If I Were King’
6. FINALE Pompadour, René, Calicot, Maurepas, Poulard, Lieutenant & Chorus
7. OPENING CHORUS Maurepas, Collin, Tourelle, Boucher & Courtiers
8. DUET Pompadour & René ‘Love’s Sentry’
9. TRIO Pompadour, Mariette & Madeleine ‘Tell Me What Your Eyes Were Made For’
10. SERENADE René & Soldiers ‘Madame Pompadour’
11. DUET Pompadour & Calicot ‘Joseph’
12. REMINISCENCE Pompadour & René ‘Madame Pompadour’
13. FINALE King Louis, Pompadour, René, Maurepas, Collin, Huntsmen, Soldiers & Courtiers
15. DUET Mariette & Calicot ‘Two Little Birds in a Tree’


The Sets

nla.obj 154730540 1Act 1, The Tavern of The Nine Muses (Alfred Terraine). National Library of Australia, Canberra.

nla.obj 154730946 1Act 2 Madame de Pompadour's Reception Room at Versailles (Joseph & Phil Harker). National Library of Australia, Canberra.

nla.obj 154730946 1Act 3, King Louis XV's Apartments at Versailles (Alfred Terraine). National Library of Australia, Canberra.

The Costumes

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a collection of drawings by Attilio Comelli as part of the Emile Littler Archive. Most of the costume drawings pertaining to Madame Pompadour are of Court Ladies and various unidentified female characters. A couple of the designs are costumes for Mariette and Madeleine. Others are clearly the riding costumes worn by some of the ladies in the Act 2 hunting scene.






The Reviews


Madame Pompadour

Audiences who go to Daly’s do not trouble themselves about the historical sense, nor about probability or improbability of conduct. They go with the enthusiasms of past, first nights in their veins, ready to acclaim the latest successor in the long line of musical plays for which this theatre is famous.

And so last Thursday there was applause all the way at Daly’s, and at times uproarious applause. The audience was delighted with the sensuous lilt and charm of the music, with the good singing and the acting very much above the musical comedy average with the staging and dressing, picturesque in the Tavern of the Nine Muses with elegant in Court apartments. With these attractive things provided, the truth of the central character did not matter to the audience. How Jeanne Antoinette Poisson le Normant d’Etioles, Marquise do Pompadour, shapes in the unnamed piece by Adolph Schanzer and Ernest Walisch deponent sayeth not, but probably the concept was as little like the “left-handed queen” who ruled not only France’s king but France itself for many years as Dr. Fall’s music is alien to the mid-eighteenth-century manner. The music is of the now familiar Viennese school, which, while it has lost its pristine freshness of a decade or two ago, has not for that. reason got any nearer to the Louis Quinze period.

No statement is made as to the year in which the action is laid, but here is no “petite Etioles,” who, angling to become un moreau de roi, caught the king at the Paris ball. She is here Marquise de Pompadour, the most powerful woman in France. Yet our authors or adaptors take her to an inn of ill-repute, where—not to put too fine a point upon it—she wants to have “a night out.” The motley frequenters of the inn are very anti-Pompadour, and their pet rhymester, Joseph Calicot—a sort of burlesque Gringoiro—entertains them with a ribald ballad about the king’s mistress. When she appears no one recognises her, not even René, Count d’Estrades. René has left his young wife, Madeleine, not because he has ceased to love her, but because, in the Palais Royal farce fashion, he wishes to make a night of it. The marquise and the count meet. He makes immediate love to her if that is quite the word and she gives him an assignation, “by the light of the moon,” an hour hence. But she has not reckoned with Maurepas, the Minister of Police, who has followed her to the inn, spies upon her in this promiscuous amour, and then publicly declares who she is, hoping by these means to disgrace her with the king. At this exposure the discomfited René joins in the refrain of the scurrilous verses that Calicot has just sung in her presence. The Pompadour takes matters with a high hand. René and Calicot are placed under arrest. But a new light breaks in on René when he finds that his sentence is to be enrolment in her own Guards, and Calicot is placated as well as relieved at the news that he is to become a Court dramatist.

Absurd as it all is, this first act has movement and also plenty to please the ear and the eye. The second act shows the Pompadour getting on with her adventure, if not quite in the speedy way that she intended at the inn. She orders the lieutenant of the Guards to place René on sentry duty for twelve hours outside her apartment, and having sufficiently plagued him, she tells him to await her in an inner room. Meantime she diverts herself with a second lover in Calicot, who, a very unwilling victim, yet finds her blandishments iiresistible. For his benefit she dresses up, in a daring costume, in the character of Potiphar’s wife, to whom she makes Calicot play Joseph. Why, with René waiting for her in another room, she should trouble about Calicot is of course that sort of thing that no one can understand outside musical comedy. In the midst of those diversions two awkward circumstances arise. A young- girl seeks an interview, and it turns out (1) that she is the sister of the Pompadour—a sufficiently remarkable coincidence—and (2) that she is the wife of René, which is the long arm with a boomerang effect. The other circumstance is the unexpected entry of Louis at the instance of Maurepas. The Pompadour satisfies Louis that Calicot—miserably and dilapidatedly emerging from a coffer in which he had secreted himself—is not her lover, as Maurepas alleges; but about René the king is not so easily persuaded. She explains that her sister Madeleine has come to her in search of the runaway René, and that René has sought from her a captaincy in her Guards, and that she is merely bringing the two together. With the sceptical Louis hiding behind the curtains René and Madeleine meet, and their conversation is more or less convincing. Louis wants to know whether Madame had thought of giving the count a place in her bodyguard; and she replies that she might have done so had she not been keeping the place for Louis. He calls her a rogue, which may be described as faire une politesse.

The Pompadour is frankly a show part, and one by no means sympathetic. Miss Evelyn Laye sings it brilliantly and plays it with an energetic pleasantness. She has some attractive numbers, particularly “Love Me Now,” which has a waltz refrain with a seductively broken rhythm; the duet with René, the melodious “By the Light of the Moon” and “Love’s Sentry,” a spirited duet in march time. In portions of the love songs Miss Laye is inclined to overact;  especially in some passages of the “Moon” song is there an abandon that might be much modified. Miss Laye also overacts in the scene where the Pompadour learns that René is married to Madeleine, for the count is no more than a chance acquaintance, and this tragic distraction of his loss is so much beating of the air. Miss Laye has personality, but it does not subdue itself to the part, or one might say rise to the part. What characterisation there is and there is not much is in the modern manner. Tho characterisation lacks colour and distinction, and it is also deficient in humour, for which musical comedy smiles and complacencies are not an equivalent. But the character itself is a travesty. Mr. Derek Oldham has this advantage in his part—that he has no great figure of history to sustain. He is just the backsliding husband of farce, and a mean one at that. But Mr. Oldham has the right touch of romance, and his René is as well acted as he is well sung. His serenade, admirably given, is perhaps the best number in the score. Mr. Bertram Wallis makes a masterful Louis Quinze, which that weak and libertine king was not. It is a strong and impressive performance, no doubt according to the intentions of the authors, whatever the history-book, if consulted, might say to it. Mr. Huntley Wright gets humour out of what is not very humorous as the boastful poetaster, and his ditty in style poissard is very cleverly done. Mr. Leonard Mackay, as the heavily official Maurepas, and Mr. Leonard Russell, as the assistant, are a comical pair. Mr. Noel Colne gives a glimpse of Boucher needless to say, the Pompadour was a friend of the arts as of literature—and other minor parts are neatly filled by Messrs. Fred Pedgrift, E. de la Touche, Louis Harrison, Desmond Roberts, and Stanley Rendall. Miss Maisie Bell, taking up Miss Kitty Attfield’s part at a day’s notice, acted very creditably as Mariette. Miss E. Stamp Taylor, as the very suddenly-discovered sister of the Pompadour, is duly countrified in manner, so much so as to make one surprised that the courtier-like René should ever have married so rustic a beauty. The not exacting music, under Mr. Arthur Wood, has ample justice done, to it by the accomplished Daly’s orchestra, and the mis-en-scene, with sets by Alfred Terraine and Joseph and Phil Harker, and dresses designed by Comelli, have a happy sense of the period that is, not so happily, peculiar to them.

The Stage (London), 29 December 1923, p.10



There can be no doubt of the popular success of “Madame Pompadour” at Daly’s Theatre; and that in the circumstances, at the season, is the main consideration. The first-night audience was distinguished and enthusiasti. The music had a good deal of charm and an interesting likeness to that of the period—a very innocent form of imitation. Then the production is extremely beautiful, and no doubt perfectly accurate. But here we may let the consideration history rest, as we forbear from comment on the journalist who describes the pompadours lover as the Grand Monarque! France chose the oddest names for its kings, and the odd name of Louis Quatorze was the Well Beloved. At any rate, Mr. Bertram Wallis’ imposing of comic opera heroes is nothing like him, so far as know. He is just a handsome, admired figure as usual. So, Miss Evelyn Laye is a prima donna of ever-increasing charm and popularity. But of all the “historical” figures that have strutted across our stage late, Louis and the Pompadour are the least historic; and the procession may now very well stop. Louis, of Daly’s, is referred as puppet king. He is, but he was not. Mr. Derek Oldham is the actual hero of a perfectly conventional story of comic opera intrigue. The acting success is emphatically that of Mr. Huntley Wright as a quaint little revolutionary poet.

The Era (London), 26 December 1923, p.6

Tavern of the Nine Muses 1Act 1 scene, Tavern of the Nine Muses, with Evelyn Laye as Madame Pompadour (centre). National Library of Australia, Canberra.




“Madame Pompadour,” which was produced at Daly’s Theatre last night, is an adaptation by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham of a play not named, the lyrics are by Harry Graham, and the music by Leo Fall.

It was a success, and the chief feature of the evening was the personal triumph of Miss Evelyn Laye.

There is a biography of Mme. de Pompadour in the program which is a little Indiscreet, because it tells us that the Pompadour reigned with “grace and decorum.” The second of these qualities is entirely absent from her carrying on in this play.


She makes violent love to one man. while another is waiting for her a few yards away. The first lover is a young man to whom she has taken a violent fancy and enrolled in her bodyguard. He happens to be the husband of her sister. None of the characters really behave well, even according to the rules of musical plays.

The book is effective, however, and better written than most.

Miss Evelyn Laye—or the author for her—makes Mme. de Pompadour a feather-headed coquette with a gift of repartee. In the scene where, astonishingly costumed, she tries to attract the unwilling poet, her comedy was delightful, while in the scene where she realises that her lover is her sister’s husband, her unsuspected dramatic power brought the house down.


Mr. Derek Oldham as the brother-Inlaw sang excellently; his serenade, “Madame Pompadour,” was musically the best thing of the evening Mr. Huntley Wright was most entertaining as the rebel poet turned courtier. Mr. Bertram Wallis was an imposing King, and some of the company pronounced French well, others in a way which might imperil the Entente.

Leo Fall’s music is typically Viennese. There is a great deal of piquant scoring, and the finales are well built up, but there is nothing in it which will take the town by storm. A.K.

Daily News (London), 21 December 1923, p.5

Memories of PompadourEvelyn Laye—Daly’s Theatre (prior to its demolition in 1937)—Arthur Wood

Memories of Madame Pompadour

Leading lady, Evelyn Laye recalled her starring role in the show in the following excerpt from her autobiography.

“… Jimmy White, to whom I was under contract, dumb-founded me one day by telling me he was sending me with my father [one-time stage manager, Gilbert Laye] to Berlin, to see a famous German star, Fritzi Massary, playing the title role in an operetta, Madame Pompadour.

“Ah’m relying on your judgment, luv,” he told me briefly. “No one else thinks you could play that, but ah do. Let me know. If you say yes, bah gum, we’ll do it.”

I had never been out of England before, and the excitement of crossing the Channel and travelling on a continental train was wonderful, let alone the exciting reason for the journey.

Mother saw us off at the station; Father bought one of those books which proclaim they tell you how to speak German in a day, and assured both of us that there was “nothing to be frightened of” in foreign travel!

In Berlin we had a wonderful reception at the theatre where I watched Fritzi Massary with awe. She was gay, she was polished, she had joy in her; and she played the stupendous part of Madame Pompadour quite flawlessly.

I saw her performance twice before I plucked up courage to wire Jimmy White:

“I long to play it, and will work terribly hard not to let you down.”

We returned to London, and the weeks flew in a daze of rehearsals, singing lessons, costume fittings.

The character of Pompadour, the bewitching courtesan, fascinated me, and I went to France, and to Versailles, to walk in the places where she had walked, and to try to capture some sense of the atmosphere and period of this beautiful scheming mistress of Louis XV.

One of my crinoline dresses, so heavy that Kate my dresser twice fell down the stairs while carrying it, was an exact copy of a painting of La Pompadour by the French artist, Boucher. Made of true oyster satin, which is in fact grey, with the faintest elusive touch of pink in it, it was hand embroidered with over 2,000 pearls, sequins and baguettes.

Till the moment the curtain went up on the First Night of Madame Pompadour the nervousness, the excitement, the well-wishers and the flowers were the same as for any other First Night, and already I had fourteen First Nights, little and big, behind me.

But this one was different. There was a tremendous amount of money invested in the show; it was an extravagantly ambitious undertaking resting largely on me. Though, by now, I was very well known, no one believed I was capable of such an exhausting and demanding role, except Jimmy White.  And, because I was well known, this First Night could do one of two things—it could show me as a nice, blonde, little musical comedy actress trying to outplay her limitations—or it could make me a star.

For the first time in my life the producer had to hold my hand in the wings, and give me a little push to send me on. I was paralysed with fright.

And at the final curtain I knew for the first time, too, the supreme thrill that an audience can give any actor—a moment’s hush before a thunder of applause.

There were endless curtain calls, and the stage was covered with flowers.

The next morning a telephone call from the theatre sent me leaping out of bed. In a dolorous voice, Terry, the office sergeant said, “Miss Laye, the guvnor wants you to come down at once ... he seems in a very peculiar mood.”

“But it was a success, a wonderful success,” I argued to myself in the taxi, nervous and apprehensive. What could have gone wrong?

With a strained funereal look, Terry took me to Mr. White’s office.

Jimmy was at his desk, writing, as I went in. He didn’t look up. With his left hand he fumbled to open a drawer, and then, head still bent over his papers, he pushed a small case across the desk towards me.

As I sat there he growled without looking at me, “Take that, kid.” I opened it. Inside, in its deep red velvet frame, was an onyx vanity case, studded with diamonds, bound in platinum, with a fine platinum carrying chain.

I gazed at it and my eyes flooded with tears. Jimmy looked up. “Aye,” he said gruffly, “that’s yours, kid. Ah’m bluddy proud of you,” and very swiftly he went back to his writing.

I looked at the most fabulous present I had ever yet received, and knew what each winking diamond told me. I was a star.

From Boo, to My Friends, Evelyn Laye, [Hurst & Blackett, London:1958], pp.67 - 69

BBC broadcast

In later years Evelyn Laye and Derek Oldham reprised their original stage roles under producer, Desmond Davis in a radio version of Madame Pompadour (adapted by Howard Cunningham), which was broadcast by the BBC Home Service on Friday, 20 June 1941 from 9.35 to 10.45 p.m., with the BBC Theatre Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Mark H. Lubbock.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Arthur Wood, who became Daly’s resident conductor under James White’s management, related the following anecdotes in an article published in The Sphere in October 1937, in which he reminisced about his tenure at the theatre.

“The stories about Jimmy White’s career are as varied, and very nearly as fantastic, as the Arabian Nights, and the strange thing is that most of them are true. But the commonest, that he was illiterate, is all wrong.  He never lost his Lancashire accent (I think he went out of his way to cultivate it) but at the same time he was one of the most widely read men I have ever met …

He started life as a bricklayer in Rochdale, saved some money with it and bought—of all things—a quarter share in a circus. Having sold that out at a profit, he bought and sold cotton mills, and within a remarkably short space of time he was a millionaire. Then he took over Daly’s [in 1922], and I moved in with him. I had been there before, but now I was resident conductor …

It may seem a strange thing to anyone not connected with the theatre, but up to this time [1923] I had never been backstage at Daly’s while the curtain was up. You must remember that the conductor’s place is in the orchestra pit, and if he does his job properly he stays there. The running of the show from the other side of the footlights is often a mystery to him.

During Madame Pompadour, the piece with which we followed The Merry Widow, I did go behind, however. In the middle of the show I was handed a note telling me that Mr. White wanted to see me urgently, and so I handed over the direction of the orchestra to my deputy and dived through the bolt hole under the stage.

As I reached the stage level someone said; “Can’t stop, old man. Cue in a moment,” and I caught a glimpse of Huntley Wright hurrying towards the wings. After him sped his dresser, a powder puff in one hand, and the inevitable glass of port in the other.

They used to say that you could tell exactly where the play had got to by the amount of port left in Huntley Wright’s glass. He invariably started the evening with it full, and moistened his lips before each entrance. After the piece had been running for a week or so, he got it timed so well that he finished the last drop a moment before his last cue.

I went on to White’s office, wondering what could be urgent enough to justify calling for me just before the first act finale, to find him with his feet on his desk. “Arthur,” he said “if you want to make a bit of money, back all my horses this week.”

I backed the horses, but it was the bookies who made the money.

From “Daly’s in the Palmy Days” Told by Arthur Wood, The Sphere (London), 16 October 1937, p.98


Evelyn Laye

Silent film footage from 1924, by British Pathe, features scenes from the London production of Madame Pompadour with Evelyn Laye:


Another film, also from 1924 , ‘The Stars As They Are—Miss Evelyn Laye’, shows Evelyn Laye ‘at home’ and arriving at the theatre in her chauffeur-driven car.


Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Further Resources


Selected Bibliography

Charles Castle, Noël, W.H. Allen, 1972

Stephen Cole, Noël Coward: A Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood, 1994

Noël Coward, Collected Sketches and Lyrics, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd, 1931

Noël Coward, Play Parade, William Heinemann Ltd, 1934

Noël Coward, Present Indicative, William Heinemann Ltd., 1937

Barry Day, Coward on Film: The cinema of Noël Coward, Scarecrow Press, 2005

Barry Day (ed.), The Letters of Noël Coward, Methuen, 2007

Barry Day (ed.), Noël Coward on (and in) Theatre, Alfred A. Knopf, 2021

Noël Coward, Noël Coward: Autobiography, a collected edition consisting of Present IndicativeFuture Indefinite and the uncompleted Past Conditional, with a introduction by Sheridan Morley, Methuen, 1986

Philip Hoare, Noël Coward: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1998

Russell Jackson, Noël Coward: The playwright’s craft in a changing theatre, Methuen Drama, 2022

John Lahr, Coward the Playwright, Methuen, 1982

Cole Lesley, The Life of Noël Coward, Jonathan Cape, 1976 (Published in the USA as Remembered Laughter: The Life of Noël Coward, Random House, 1976)

Cole Lesley, Graham Payne & Sheridan Morley, Noël Coward and His Friends, Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd., 1979

Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson, Theatrical Companion to Coward: A pictorial record of the theatrical works of Noël Coward, with an appreciation of Coward’s work in the theatre by Terence Rattigan; updated by Barry Day and Sheridan Morley, second edition, Oberon Books, 2000

Sheridan Morley, A Talent to Amuse: A biography of Noël Coward, 1969

John Parker (ed.), Who’s Who in the Theatre: A biographical record of the contemporary stage, twelfth edition, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd, 1957

Elizabeth Sharland, The British on Broadway, Barbican Press, 1999

Elizabeth Sharland, A Theatrical Feast: Sugar and spice in London’s theatreland, Barbican Press, 2001

Oliver Soden, Masquerade: Noël Coward, Orion, 2023

J.C. Trewin, Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson, The Turbulent Thirties: A further decade of the theatre, Macdonald, 1960


Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Revivals - Australia

nla.obj 154675944 1Hal Thompson, Jane Conolly, Marie Ney and Richard Parry in Private Lives, 1940. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

It is an interesting phenomenon that in Australia many plays and musicals seem to enjoy more revivals than they do in their native land. We saw this with Kissing Time. In London, from 1940 and 1999, there have six major revivals of Private Lives. On Broadway, five. In Australia (Melbourne and Sydney), during the same period, no less than eight!

Revival 1

The first Australian revival took place in 1940, coinciding with Noël Coward’s first visit ‘down under’, which was undertaken as part of the war effort to raise funds for the Red Cross. He would return to Australia in 1963 to oversee the direction of his musical Sail Away for J.C. Williamson Ltd.

While Coward was in Melbourne, Private Lives opened at the King’s Theatre on 7 December 1940. It played in that theatre until 21 December, and on 23 December transferred to the Comedy Theatre, where it played a further two weeks, closing on 11 January 1941.

In addition to his scheduled Red Cross Matinees, on 17 December 1940 a special Noël Coward Matinee was held at the King’s, when following the performance of Private Lives, the playwright presented ‘several items from his repertoire’. The proceeds of the event were donated to the Lord Mayor’s Greek War Victims’ Fund.

After three weeks in Melbourne, the Private Lives company headed to Sydney, where they undertook a month-long engagement at the Theatre Royal, from 22 February to 21 March 1941.

The cast for this revival comprised:

Cast 1940



Private Lives at the King's

Ironical, as it may seem for a public which has never seen The Vortex in professional performance, Private Lives, a brilliant example of Noël Coward’s pungent wit and facile satire, received its second Melbourne production since 1933 at the King’s Theatre on Saturday evening. The reception accorded the play by a capacity house was fitting tribute to the superb craftsmanship of its creator, who is now in Australia.

Marie Ney interpreted Amanda in quick, nervous style, which should adapt itself to the mind of the audience. With Elyot on the terrace she expressed true feeling, and her singing of Some Day I’ll Find you was softly melodious. Her humor lacked sophistication at times. Hal Thompson, a little harsh in his vehemence, imparted to Elyot a verve which will strengthen. Both Miss Ney and Mr. Thompson, however, must time the second act exchanges so as to pave the way for the brilliant last scene.

As Sibyl, Jane Connolly was very well cast; Richard Parry, as Victor, mistook pompous inanity for effeminacy in the flat. Hope Slessor was effective as Louise.

Ways and Means was given as a curtain-raiser (the belief dies hard that every audience must have its fill), with Gwenyth Izzard, John McDougall, Catherine Duncan, Frederick McMahon and Ethel Gabriel also in the cast.

William Constable’s settings for Private Lives were exquisite.

There will be matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.

The Age (Melbourne), 9 December 1940, p.8



To a patron whose recollections go back to that incredibly remote period (theatrical historians insist that it was only the year 1930) when “Private Lives” first dazzled London theatregoers, and who has always resented the easy criticism that the play would be “simply nothing, my dear, without Noël and Gertrude Lawrence,” it was gratifying to see how triumphantly it survived at the King’s on Saturday night.

It would be difficult to think of two players less like the original Elyot and Amanda than Mr. Hal Thompson and Miss Marie Ney, but a character to which a dramatist has imparted vitality—whether it be an Elyot, an Amandna or a Hamlet—acquires new interest in the hands of a new Interpreter.


Miss Ney’s Amanda is most successful in her more tempestuous moods. At other times her quick, nervous delivery of lines which seem to call for more languid treatment, and her deliberately gauche movements, as when she sits straddle-legged on a chair, suggests a charming gamine intent upon being naughty rather than the worldly-wise Amanda with a heart “jagged with sophistication”.

For a playgoer who has admired Mr. Coward as Elyot to be able to announce that he thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Thompson’s performance in the part is in itself a tribute to that actor. This was a more boisterous Elyot, a less suave and silky Elyot, an American playboy rather than a type which gives us the quintessence of pre-war Bond Street and Deauville. We missed the hand of irony in the velvet glove, but Mr. Thompson’s Elyot has a charm of his own and plants his lines with unerring precision.

And how good the lines are! For years before the war the London stage was littered with plays by bright young men who imagined they had mastered the knack of writing Noël Coward dialogue; but this remains a secret only to its inventor, who with a cool eye surveys the gay and worthless little world of which he writes and with a swift pen pricks off the masquerade.


“Private Lives” is very much a duet in floodlight, but Miss Ney and Mr. Thompson receive able support from Miss Jane Conolly and Mr. Richard Parry, and these and others also get gaily through “Ways And Means”, presented as a curtain raiser. Although little more than a music hall sketch, “Ways nnd Means” reveals its author’s inimitable touch, but it certainly is not improved by the substitution of one of the oldest and cheapest “trick” endings for the typical Noël Coward line which should bring down the curtain.

The Herald (Melbourne), 9 December 1940, p.10

Revival 2

The second major Australian revival took place 10 years later at the Palace Theatre in Sydney when Cyril Ritchard and Marge Elliott reprised the roles that they had originally played on radio in 1933 and reprised on radio for the ABC in 1951. According to newspaper reports, the revival was a somewhat rushed affair. They had just a fortnight to prepare the show. Cyril Ritchard directed and William Constable designed the sets.

Cast 1951

The season at the Palace opened on 19 June 1951 and was originally limited to six weeks, but ended up playing until 6 September 1951.

This production did not go on tour.

“A.A.”, the critic in the Sydney Morning Herald (20 June 1951), distinctly cold about the play and the playwright, had some kind words to say about the players.


There were times, during last night’s production of “Private Lives” at the Palace Theatre, when the vitality and accomplishment of the leading players made Noel Coward’s stale sophistication look almost fresh and sparkling.

Nothing in the play however, suggested that he could be called now a profound humorist or even a clever social satirist. Like most of his comedies, it seems to have been conceived in a mood of rather grim gaiety, as though he was feverishly determined to laugh, no matter what the cost.

But he completely lacked ironical detachment towards that crazy couple, Amanda and Elyot, who jerk through monosyllabic gloom, ecstasy, and hysteria.


Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott handled the brittle, light lipped talk and frivolous emotional hiccoughing with a well-timed appreciation of the play's jazz rhythm. Miss Elliott flogged things along a bit too furiously, and occasionally was no match for her partner’s crisp delivery and nimble movement. Nevertheless, her warm charm held the part together nicely.

Although Mr. Ritchard often played lackadaisically, he very properly treated the dialogue and characters as a forced and flippant joke, imparting an artistry to the telling that was seldom in the content of it. Now and again Bettina Welch rushed on to the stage looking lovely even against the back ground of surprisingly shabby sets. Leonard Bullen bounced around quite capably, and Audrey Teesdale contributed some amusing French to the proceedings. The audience lolled back deliciously drugged with nostalgia for the whirling, madcap twenties.

Madge and Cyril’s return to Australia in 1951 was essentially a private visit to catch up with their respective Sydney-based family members, however they also undertook a number of radio broadcasts for the ABC, including the Saturday Playhouse presentations of Private Lives on 23 June, Terence Rattigan’s Harlequinade on 30 June, and Frederick Lonsdale’s The Last of Mrs. Cheyney on 7 July. As the stage revival was a “rushed affair” and took place concurrently with the ABC broadcasts, it may be that the radio productions preceded and, indeed, inspired the JCW revival of the Coward comedy. The radio play was produced by Frank Harvey and adapted as a one-hour play by David Nettheim, but no listing of who the supporting players were was given in The ABC Weekly. It seems the play was pre-recorded, as repeat broadcasts were given on the ABC regional stations on Tuesday, 3 July 1951.


Revival 3

A few years later, from 27 September 1954, a Melbourne-only production was staged by the Union Theatre Repertory Company at the Union Theatre at Melbourne University. Presented as part of a five-play season, Private Lives was performed for only two weeks. John Sumner directed. Sets were designed by the Staff of the Union Theatre Workshop, and Maree Tomasetti’s Act 2 costume was designed by Beth Brown.

Cast 1954

Geoffrey Hutton in The Age (28 September 1954) recorded:

When we were very much younger Private Lives seemed the smartest funniest comedy of the day. Last night the Union Theatre Repertory Company made it seem as funny as ever … Working with a small and beautifully rehearsed cast, he [John Sumner] has produced the high finish which this carefully veneered comedy demands … The contrasting couples are nicely played, with Maree Tomasetti and Alex Scott as the sophisticated and Sylvia Reid and Paul Maloney as their disgruntled and abandoned spouses.

And the strength of the company shows clearly in a brilliant little sketch by Zoe Caldwell as a bewildered and highly emotional French maid.

Revival 4

The fourth major production also took place in Melbourne at the Russell Street Theatre. This was the city’s newest theatre. Established under the auspices of the Council of Adult Entertainment (CAE), it had opened in July 1960 with the revue Look Who’s Here! presented by John Sumner’s Union Theatre Repertory Company; to be followed on 30 August by a season of ballet performed by the Victorian Ballet Guild. Private Lives was the third attraction at the Russell Street Theatre. Directed by CAE’s resident drama officer Harold Baigent, it played a four-week season from 21 September to 29 October 1960. The cast comprised:

Cast 1960

Of the cast, Melbourne-born June Clyne (1922–1967) was probably the best known at the time. On stage since 1940, she had made her professional debut in Laburnum Grove in 1948, the first play to be produced on tour by the CAE. Since that time, she had played supporting roles opposite Clifford Mollison (Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary? and Don’t Listen Ladies), Diana Barrymore (Light Up the Sky), Melvyn Douglas (Time Out for Ginger), Jessie Matthews (Larger Than Life), Peter Gray (The Little Hut), and Dulcie Gray (Tea and Sympathy). In 1955, she had performed the role of Amanda, opposite the Elyot of Hector Ross, when Private Lives played a short season at Theatre Royal in Adelaide.

Revival 5

Eight years later, in Sydney, Phillip Productions Pty. Ltd. and Harry M. Miller convened a season of two Coward plays: Present Laughter and Private Lives, the two comedies playing on alternate weeks at the Palace Theatre. Both plays shared a cast. The leading lady, Rosemary Martin, had performed Amanda in London, when the comedy was staged by Hampstead Theatre Club in 1963. According to the program notes, when negotions were underway for the present season, Noël Coward suggested that Rosemary Martin be engaged, having seen her performance at Hampstead.

The plays were directed by Anthony Sharp, with sets by Leslie Walford, costumes by Lloyd Studios, and lighting by Arno Leinas.

Present Laughter opened on 7 August 1968 and Private Lives a week later, on 14 August. The final performance of Private Lives was given on 12 October 1968.

The cast comprised:

Cast 1968

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald (16 August 1968), H.G. Kippax observed:

The production at the Palace falls short of the play’s desserts. Yet, so irresistible is the Coward brio and (one must quickly add) so buoyant at least one important performance, that it will be a sad heart that cannot rejoice at this very welcome revival.

The director, Anthony Sharp, has set the comedy firmly but not too obtrusively in the twenties, to which it belongs. The twitter of a palm-court orchestra, the swirl of a floral-patterned gown, the length of a cigarette holder, the stately idiocies at arm’s length of two-step and tango—these evoke the period and pay out the little bonus of nostalgia which time has added to Mr. Coward’s generous dividends.

Of the acting he was somewhat circumspect. He liked Rosemary Martin, but was somewhat cool towards Stuart Wagstaff:

One can imagine a more lovable Amanda (passion and tenderness are understated in this production); but vocally this exuberant and inventive performance is immensely satisfying. Only Miss Googie Withers in Australia can caress or tease a vowel as Miss Martin does, to make a word throb with sly malice or threaten with mischief. To say all of which is to give one unanswerable reason why this show should not be missed.

…. Here complaints begin: because although Mr. Wagstaff acts with Miss Martin attentively and with considerable varying charm, and although in his easy-going way he lets no possible laugh-line elude him, there is a lack of devil—of the “killer instinct”, both in the performance and the character performed—that is at odds with all that should be brittle, tense and surprising in the duets with Amanda.

Revival 6

The sixth major revival took place in 1976, when Susannah York was on a starring tour, under the auspices of J.C. Williamson’s. The play was directed by Robert Chetwyn; with sets and costumes by Kenneth Rowell.

Opening at the Theatre Royal in Adelaide on 7 December 1976, the production then toured to Melbourne (Comedy Theatre, 15 October 1976) and Sydney (Her Majesty’s Theatre, 17 November 1976). The tour concluded on 18 December 1976.

This production represented the last play to be staged by JCW. The cast comprised:

Cast 1976

Sally White in The Age (18 October 1976) was somewhat circumspect about the production.

I am old-fashioned enough to rather enjoy Private Lives’ slight and gently paced style. But this production does not quite work. Director Robert Chetwynd wavers uneasily between the recreation of Coward in his time and an attempt to get the sort of cheap laugh that comes from looking at absurd, old photographs.

… Susannah York as Amanda and Barrie Ingham as Elyot move with professional aplomb through their paces. Their timing is sure, their delivery articulate but they play too much for laughs, too little for the balancing poignancy.

… Kenneth Rowell’s sets and fine-lined costumes are dashing and clean and ever-so-slightly cold. Lighting designer Melvin Condor should never have been allowed to have such blatant disregard for the script that Act One, supposedly bathed in moonlight, had all the glare of an early morning before a summer scorcher.

But for all its faults, Private Lives remains a graceful way to say farewell.

While Sally White saw the production as a ‘graceful farewell to an era’, Jack Hibberd, in his review for Theatre Australia (November/December 1976), was less than complimentary, using his review as an opportunity to get stuck into JCW and the snivelling behaviour of the audience.

It was a bizarre experience sitting amongst a phalanx of moist-eyed matrons as they identified totally with the Vogue-like world of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. They complimented the sets, sighed voluptuously at the handsome men, applauded Suzannah York before she had uttered a line, and clacked their dentures whenever fortunes took a turn for the worse.

One of the most ludicrous aspects of the star system is that it is largely a hoax … Not that Susannah York and Barrie Ingham are imposters or hacks. They give polished and adroit performances in the familiar euphonious English manner. Ultimately, however, these performances are easy and provocative, something unimaginable from great actors, even with material as brittle and insubstantial as Private Lives. Having seen Barrie Ingham bring off suburb performances in The Relapse and The Winter’s Tale, it was rather a shock to see him lounge through the stuff as if on a theatrical vacation.

… For JCW, however, it is a death-croak, a final mawkish look over the shoulder at halcyon days, days when they were more in touch with the public and the fickle sands of the entertainment trade. Australia has changed swiftly and radically in the Seventies, less snivelling towards Overseas, more orientated within its own cultural selfhood, more content to scrutinize its own absurd navel, these factors JCW have seemingly ignored, clinging to old habits and formulae, hence their demise.

Revival 7

Private Lives 1987John Bartholomew, Anna Lee, Amanda Muggleton and Dennis Olsen in Private Lives, Sydney, 1987.
From Trust News, December 1986,

In 1987, Peter and Ellen Williams presented a revival of Private Lives at the Opera House Playhouse in Sydney, with Peter Williams as director. The Art Deco inspired set was designed by Doug Kingsman, with costumes by Christopher Essex. The comedy ran from 19 February to 28 March 1987. Presented under the title ‘Essential Coward’, it was followed by a revival of Blithe Spirit from 2–25 April.

The cast comprised:

PL 1987 1

Reviewing the play for the Sydney Morning Herald (1 March 1987), Mick Barnes observed:

This is a robust and riotous Private Lives that embellishes Coward’s wit, style and elegance with a touch of bawdy comedy, yet retains the essential flavour that has the author recognised as The Master in the more than 40 years he dominated the English theatre.

Of the players, he noted:

He [Peter Williams] has matched a vital Amanda Muggleton against Dennis Olsen, a superb comedy actor who can impart poise and grace with the twitch of an eyebrow, who delivers the perfect put-down with a mere change of modulation. They play their roles as lovers, adulterously reunited, with a brio that explodes in a fight scene memorable as sheer chaotic madness.

In an interesting aside, in an interview given at the time of the production, Amanda Muggleton confided that she was ‘destined from the womb to be Amanda Prynne’. Just prior to her birth, her parents were attending a production of Private Lives and her mother leaned across to her father and declared: ‘Charles! If this is a little girl I am going to call her Amanda, because she is so naughty.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February 1987)

The success of this production saw it revived at the Opera House Playhouse in 1990. The cast now comprised:

PL 1987

Revival 8

The seventh major Australian revival was a joint venture between the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and the Sydney Theatre Company (STC).

Opening at the Fairfax Studio at the Victorian Arts Centre (now Arts Centre Melbourne), it enjoyed a six-week season, playing from 5 January to 17 February 1996. The play was directed by Roger Hodgman; with sets by Shaun Gurton; costumes by Vanessa Leyenhjelm; and lighting by Jamieson Lewis.

A key element of this production was the design of Amanda’s Paris apartment which was inspired by the work of Eileen Grey. Her domestic interiors and furniture designs epitomise the early 1930s, the period in which this revival was set. Similarly, Vanessa Leyenhjelm’s costumes were streamline and Pamela Rabe’s Act 1 dress for instance could easily have been designed by Molyneux.

Cast 1996

Lewis Fiander was well-versed in the Coward ethos, having played ‘The Master’ in the Sheridan Morley tribute Noël and Gertie opposite Patricia Hodge at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London, which premiered on 26 August 1986.

When the play transferred to Sydney, the cast had altered slightly:

Cast 1997

Performed at the Wharf 1 Theatre from 15 October 1997, Private Lives transferred to the Playhouse at the Opera House on 27 December 1997, closing on 17 January 1998.

Steven Carroll in The Age (21 January 1996) complimented Roger Hodgman’s ‘smooth production’, saying his ‘direction is tight, true to the script; functional without being adventurous’. Of the leads, he observed that Elyot and Amanda were ‘superbly played’ by Lewis Fiander and Pamela Rabe. ‘Those Coward accents are as snappy as the shutting of their silver cigarette cases, their social poise as cool as their cocktails, their timing and delivery hitting just the right tone of perfunctory dismissiveness.’

When the play reached Sydney in October 1997, James Waite in the Sydney Morning Herald (18 October 1997) was less ecstatic about the play. He thought the production though ‘fresh and charming’, was not a ‘convincing masterpiece’. He felt that Shaun Gurton’s set had been ‘shoe-horned’ into the Wharf Theatre, and that Vanessa Leyonhjelm’s costumes, though ‘sometimes fabulous’ were at other times ‘ridiculously busy and attention-seeking’.

Of Pamela Rabe, he was in no doubt of her skill as an actress, describing her as a ‘delightful Amanda’ and ‘an actor capable of embodying true sophistication’, with ‘a bite to draw blood on some of Coward’s better lines’. He was also complimentary of Tony Sheldon’s Elyot, saying he ‘gives one of his best, certainly most disciplined and concentrated, performances’.

Further revivals

Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, 22 September 2012—11 November 2012, with Zahra Newman and Toby Schmitz

Southbank Theatre, Melbourne, 25 January 2014—8 March 2014, with Nadine Garner and Leon Ford (Melbourne Theatre Company)


Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Revivals - Broadway

3990885Donald Cook and Tallulah Bankhead in Private Lives, 1948. Photo by Vandamm. New York Public Library, New York.

Revival 1

Presented by John C. Wilson, directed by Martin Manulis, and with scenic design by Charles Elson, the first Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives took place seventeen years after Coward himself introduced Elyot Chase to New York audiences. The new Elyot for this production was Donald Cook. Amanda was portrayed by Tallulah Bankhead.

The play opened at the Plymouth Theatre on 4 October 1948, following a year-long tour with Bankhead and Cook as the leads. The New York season ran for eight months, closing on 07 May 1949, after 248 performances.

Cast 1948 NY

With this production, Therese Quadri was reviving her role of Louise, the maid, having created the role in the 1931 Broadway production.

Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the play in the New York Times (5 October 1948) was full of praise for the production, especially Tallulah Bankhead’s performance.

Unpinioned from the two-headed eagle that last seized her in New York,* Our Tallulah is in full cry again—no holes barred in Mr. Coward’s sinful escapade ... bellowing, strutting and mugging, but also looking very rapturous and coquettish when it suits her ... No one can make the transition from high to low comedy quite as impulsively as she can, and always in the interest of a good performance ... Under Martin Manulis’ direction, the performance is taut and racy, and the third act in particular is shrewdly arranged. Charles Elson, the scene designer, has housed Mr. Coward’s evil notion in becoming splendor. To withstand a full-guaged Bankhead performance, the scenery has to be sturdy, also. For Our Tallulah is in top form in an expertly written antic.

*Tallulah had previously been seen on Broadway as the Queen in The Eagle Has Two Heads in 1947, hence the allusion in Atkinson’s opening comments

Revival 2

The next Broadway revival took place in 1969 at the Billy Rose Theatre. Produced by David Merrick, directed by Stephen Porter,  with scenic and lighting design by James Tilton, and costumes by Joe Eula and Barbara Matera Ltd., it opened on 4 December 1969, tranferring to the Broadhurst Theatre on 27 April 1970. It closed on 30 May 1970 having achieved 198 performances.

Interestingly, in June 1968, Private Lives played a week-long off-Broadway season at the Theater de Lys, with Elaine Stritch as Amanda and Russell Nype as Elyot. Stritch and Nype had previously performed together in Leroy Anderson’s 1958 Broadway musical Goldilocks, for which Nype had won a Tony Award. The production was a huge flop. By all accounts Stritch was in fine form—‘refreshingly unlyrical and un-British’ wrote Dan Sullivan in the New York Times (20 May 1968)—it was Elyot that was the problem. In fact Nype was Stritch’s third Elyot since rehearsals began. According to Stritch, ‘she couldn’t carry the show alone’ and Nype ‘couldn’t cut Coward’. (New York Times, 23 June 1968)

The cast for the 1969 revival comprised:

Cast 1969 NY

According to Clive Barnes in the New York Times (5 October 1969), Stephen Porter’s production of Private Lives was ‘gorgeous’, ‘dazzling’ and ‘sweetly elegant’. As Amanda, Tammy Grimes was ‘outrageously appealing’, playing the role with a ‘mid-Atlantic twang, which sounds just right and terribly, terribly twenties’. Brian Bedford’s Elyot was a ‘delight’, ‘He plops words into space with the diffident deliberateness of a man tossing pebbles into a pool’. Tammy Grimes won a Tony Award for her performance.

Revival 3

In 1975 John Gielgud brough his 1972 London production to Broadway. Produced by Arthur Cantor by arrangement with H.M. Tennent Ltd. Sets were by Anthony Powell, and costumes by Germinal Rangal and Beatrice Dawson. Lighting was by H.R. Poindexter. Following try-out performances in Los Angeles and Boston, the play opened in New York at the 46th Street Theatre on 6 February 1975, where it played until 26 April 1975, notching up 92 performances.

Cast 1975 NY

Under the heading ‘Private Lives, Still Surprising, Returns’, Clive Barnes in the New York Times (7 October 1975) was full of praise for John Gielgud’s direction and the acting of two leads. He pronounced Maggie Smith ‘a perfectly adorable and poutingly naughty Amanda’, while John Standing ‘made Elyot into a sort of lounge lizard with a darting tongue, a confidently smooth-scaled complexion and a usefully useless manner’.

Maggie Smith was awarded the Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance as Amanda. This was not Smith’s first Coward play in the USA. In 1971 she had played Gilda in Design for Living at the Center Theatre in Los Angeles, with Robert Stephens as Otto and Denholm Elliott as Leo. And in 1977, she was Judith Bliss in a revival of Hay Fever at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.

Revival 4

Eleven years later Elizabeth Theatre Group, a production company organised by Hollywood movie star Elizabeth Taylor and Zev Bufman, staged a new revival of Private Lives as a vehicle for Taylor and her ex-husband Richard Burton. Directed by Milton Katselas, with sets by David Mitchell, costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge, and lighting by Tharon Musser, it opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on 8 May 1983. It closed on 17 July 1983 after only 63 performances.

Cast 1983 NY

By all accounts this revival was nothing more than a ‘calculated business venture’. As Frank Rich (New York Times, 9 May 1983) goes on to say: ‘In this version ... there’s no attempt to mine the gold beneath the text—or to make the most of the on-the-surface dross. Instead we get an intermittent effort by the stars to create the fan-magazine fantasy that their own offstage private lives dovetail neatly with Coward’s story of a divorced couple who rekindle their old passion after meeting by chance on their second honeymoons.’ While Burton’s mellifuous delivery scored him a few laughs, Taylor managed to mangle most of her lines, her voice either a ‘campy screech’ or a ‘Southern-accented falsetto’. The story of this ill-fated revival is well documented in Richard Laxton’s 2013 tele-movie Burton & Taylor, with Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as the stars.

Revival 5

In 1992 Joan Collins brought her London production to Broadway. Produced by Charles H. Duggan by arrangement with Michael Codron, it featured an entirely new supporting cast and crew. Arvin Brown was now the director, with sets by Loren Sherman, costumes by William Ivey Long, and lighting by Richard Nelson. Running for just 37 performances, it played at the Broadhurst Theatre from 20 February 1992 to 22 March 1992.

The cast comprised:

Cast 1992 NY

According to Frank Rich in the New York Times (21 February 1992), Joan Collins disappointed as Amanda. She lacked the necessary sex appeal and her vocal range was narrow. Nevertheless, despite her limitations as an actress, she was ‘mildly bitchy’ and ‘good natured’. Simon Jones as Elyot gave a ‘totally neutered farcical performance’ thereby ‘robbing his leading lady of an erotic partner with whom she might alternatively spark and spar’. All in all, Arvin Brown’s production, though content with ‘mining the work’s superficial details’, was brisk but mononous.

Further revivals

Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York, 28 April 2002—1 September 2002, with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman

Music Box Theatre, New York, 17 November 2011—31 December 2011, with Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross


Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Revivals - West End

Hammond and ClementsKay Hammond and John Clements as Amanda and Elyot. Photo by Alexander Bender. From Theatre World, December 1944, p.24.

Revival 1

Private Lives received its first London revival in November 1944 when it was staged at the Apollo Theatre under the direction of John Clements, with Clements and his wife Kay Hammond as the leads. The season commenced out of town with a tour that saw the play performed at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle (10 July), Lyric Theatre, Edinburgh (17 July), Theatre Royal, Glasgow (14 July), Her Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (31 July), Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool (7 August), Opera House, Manchester (14 August), New Theatre, Hull (21 August), Prince of Wales, Cardiff (28 August), Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth (11 September), New Theatre, Oxford (18 September), Opera House, Leicester (25 September), New Theatre, Northampton (9 October) and Grand Theatre, Blackpool (16 October).

Ahead of the London production, The Tatler (11 October 1944) observed:

New Team-Work in “Private Lives”

Kay Hammond and John Clements Re-Live the Roles Created by Gertrude Lawrence and Noël Coward

Just fourteen years after its original presentation at the Phoenix Theatre, Noël Coward’s Private Lives is to be revived. The parts of Amanda and Elyot, created so unforgettably by Gertrude Lawrence and the author himself, are to be played by Kay Hammond and John Clements, and West End playgoers are to be given another chance of enjoying the wit and craftsmanship which have made this comedy generally acknowledged as one of Mr. Coward’s greatest successes. The play has been touring the provinces, and is due to come to London at the end of this month. At the dress rehearsal, which was played to an all-military audience, Mr. Coward made a preliminary speech in which he said that if he had been invited to name successors to the parts originally played by Miss Lawrence and himself in Private Lives, he could not have chosen better than the two people now standing behind the curtain “in a state of frozen misery laced with defiance.” Kay Hammond has been a Coward heroine since the summer of 1941, when she created Elvira, the ghost-wife in Blithe Spirit. John Clements (last seen in They Came to a City) is directing the production, and the parts played originally by Adrianne Allan and Laurence Olivier will be taken by Peggy Simpson and Raymond Huntley.

The London cast comprised:

Cast 1946

On tour the role of Sybil was played by Lesley Brook.

Private Lives held the stage at the Apollo from 1 November to 8 June 1946, transferring to the Fortune Theatre on 10 June. The final performance was given on 20 July 1946. A total of 717 performances.

During the course of the run, the roles of Amanda and Elyot were also played by Googie Withers and Hugh Sinclair. In his autobiography Life with Googie (1979), John McCallum recalled: ‘Private Lives is still Googie’s favourite play, and Amanda is her favourite part. It is witty and spirited, and in addition to getting all the comedy out of the part Googie also brought a sincerity and warmth to it ... Googie told me later that she used to look forward all day to going to the theatre at night to play Amanda. And that is something which is rare in the theatre.’ McCallum also noted Withers’ admiration of Noël Coward, saying he ‘gave her more direction in three words that many other directors had given her in three weeks’.


On Wednesday last H.M. Tennent, Ltd., and John C. Wilson presented here a revival of the comedy by Noël Coward.

After the first performance one was told separately by both professional and amateur play goers that no play recently revived after a long interval seemed to them so little “dated.” This view runs counter to the general opinion of theatre-goers, but it is worth considering. In one sense at least the minority view has justification. Unless memory falls, there is not a single reference in the text of “Private Lives” to world affairs or personalities. Elyot, Amanda, Victor, and Sybil live in a peace-time world of leisured luxury, with every chance to travel abroad. Otherwise, the story of the play, such as it is, might have been as easily set in the London of 1944 as the Paris of 1930. The next question, in considering the play as a modern work, is whether the characters could exist in the Europe of today. No dogmatic answer is possible. The divorced couple who come together again and alternately coo and quarrel until one quarrel ends in a rough-and-tumble fight all over the furniture and floor are indeed typical of Mr. Coward’s creations before he discovered the virtues of “this happy breed” of middle-class English people. But it is only necessary to read the columns of the popular Press, and to study the queer human stories which they throw up even in this sixth year of total war, to guess confidently that people such as Elyot and Amanda may well be carrying on in precisely the same way to-day. And the cynic is even more certain that it the war ever ends the re-actions of peace will produce precisely similar types over again. Patrons of this revival, therefore, need not necessarily regard “Private Lives” as a period-piece, as a study of people, however essentially worthless, whose way of life has gone for ever. It is virtually certain, on the contrary, that such considerations will not occur to the mind of the average man or woman revelling in this slight but irresistible frolic.

It is almost certainly the best and wittiest of the author’s cocktail comedies, although the last act is inevitably something of an anti-climax. For we never doubt that Elyot and Amanda will once again become partners in amity after their scrap. Incidentally. Mr. Coward seems to have regarded his final curtain with peculiar satisfaction. At any rate, he used almost an identical device to round off his “Present Laughter,” seen in London only last year.

The production at the Apollo reaches the West End after a longish tour, and the company have had plenty of time to bring their performances to the high state of polish which they have in fact attained. John Clements, whose perfectly-timed production doubtless owes much to the original presentation at the Phoenix in 1930, plays the old Coward part in almost precisely the old Coward manner—easy, assured and impudent. Elyot thoroughly deserves every insulting epithet that is hurled at him (with cushions and ornaments) by Amanda and (without these accompaniments) by Amanda’s deserted second husband, Victor, and his own deserted second wife, Sybil. Yet it is the author’s—and the actor’s—achievement to make the man rather charming in his way. Certainly, we never have a dull moment in his company. Kay Hammond, as the new Amanda, may lack just the ultimate touch of provocative audacity which Gertrude Lawrence achieved 14 years ago. But her delicious, petulant, husky manner is alone sufficient to account for Elyot’s continued attraction by this naughty but most charming magnet. In his curtain speech on the first night Mr. Coward referred to Miss Hammond as his “dear Blithe Spirit.” She is indeed the ideal actress to carry on the Coward comedy tradition. Her performance in this revival is as attractive as it is amusing. Raymond Huntley, whom we have come recently to associate mainly with rather serious parts, often in Mr. Priestley’s plays, shows the soundest sense of humour as the solemn, humourless dog, Victor, while Peggy Simpson sobs her way conscientiously through the part of Sybil, who is so basely treated by Elyot but is driven ultimately to strike her protector, Victor. Yvonne Andre is a realistic French servant in the new revival. Gladys Calthrop’s decor is as attractive as ever. Acknowledging the enthusiastic first-night reception, Mr. Coward put on an excellent extra turn on his own account. In the manner of an old man, he recalled nostalgically the original production, talked of his “ageing eyes,” and of his former squabbles with the dramatic critics, and regretted that poor old Gertie Lawrence could not have come along in her bath-chair to revive ancient memories.

The Stage, 9 November 1944, p.1

Tom Tit 1944Tom Titt once again captured the antics of Elyot and Amanda. From The Tatler and Bystander, 15 November 1944, p.198.


Mr. John Clements and Miss Kay Hammond succeed in renewing an old theatrical delight, and there need be no false note in the enthusiastic applause which comes to them by right. But it would be a mere politeness to pretend that they succeed perfectly in their extraordinarily difficult task and to spare them the comparisons. Comparisons are inevitable, for Elyot and Amanda are not so much characters in a play as “turns” devised by Mr. Coward for himself and Miss Gertrude Lawrence. Fresh readings of character are barely conceivable. Mr. Clements is practically bound to impersonate Mr. Coward, and this he does remarkably well. Naturally he lacks something of the speed which Mr. Coward can impart to a sudden flippancy, the intensity with which a highly individualized kind of bickering remark is apt to be flung across the stage. That is to say little more than that he lacks the precise hue of a personality not his own. But he is suave, he can preserve his amiability through jealous tantrums and the free fight on the sofa, and in the sentimental passages he has skill in embellishing speech with silence.

Miss Hammond and he are well matched, she succeeding no less well than he in overcoming inevitable difficulties rather greater than his. When Amanda is wayward (and the intervals in her waywardness are of an astounding brevity), and when Amanda is petulant (which is pretty often), Miss Hammond has a brilliant sparkle. It is only in the transitions from sentiment to capricious speculation that her lightness of movement is in doubt. At any rate, both players handle their nonsense amusedly and both are highly amusing, while poor Miss Peggy Simpson and poor Mr. Raymond Huntley do wonders with necessary appearances which are not even “turns”. When the play was new, it was just one more revelation of Mr. Coward's unsurpassed gift for combining entertainment with nothingness. Now it is scarcely less entertaining and it has also the taking air of being a period piece. It reflects a now incredibly remote day when it was theatrically fashionable to be not quite adult and to flourish with mocking self-pity, souls which were “jagged with sophistication.” Theatrical fashions are apt to cling to periods, and so plausible is the reflection which Mr. Coward cast in this and other comedies that it would not be surprising if dramatists of the future, wishing to set a play in the nineteen twenties, were to accept his authority as naturally as they would go to the Restoration dramatists for their ideas of the Restoration.

The Times, 2 November 1944, p.6


Revival 2

The next major London revival took place in 1963, the play opening at the Hampstead Theatre Club on 24 April 1963, with Rosemary Martin and Edward de Souza as the on-again, off again couple. It transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre, running from 3 July 1963 to 4 January 1964.

This modern dress production was directed by James Roose-Evans; with sets by Christian Kurvenal and costumes by William Rothery.

The cast comprised:

Cast 1963


Hampstead Theatre Club: Private Lives.

Those who, not having seen them or having done so but not having enjoyed them, still are curious about Mr. Noël Coward’s earlier plays, should take care not to miss Mr. James Roose-Evans’s production of Private Lives. It recaptures the element that has often been missing from revivals, especially those which emphasized the outward signs of the play’s period. That is the element of disciplined gaiety, of delight on the author's part in exercising his wit and indulging his love of life in a manner worthy of them. Mr. Roose-Evans has deliberately got away from “period”. Amanda (Miss Rosemary Martin) here wears slacks at dinner. The Duke of Westminster’s yacht, which Elyot (Mr. Edward de Souza) identifies, has become Mr. Aristotle Onassis’s. The effect of modern dress is to abolish the significance of dress, and to invite us to consider the couple not as creatures of an epoch but as timeless figures of fun pinned down by one man’s intermittent wit. Miss Martin really draws us inside Amanda’s mind during the long duologue in Act Two.

The Times, 26 April 1963, p.6


The Hampstead Theatre Club’s delightful modern dress revival of “Private Lives” which opened last week, emphasises the agelessness of this irresistible comedy. Like some priceless ornament Mr. Coward’s piece is simply to be looked at, enjoyed, and admired for its artistry; serious effort on behalf of the on looker is not demanded, and in the theatre today this is a novel experience.


Dismissing ghosts of illustrious predecessors, Edward De Souza as Elyot Chase and Rosemary Martin as Amanda Prynne both give performances of exceptional merit. They handle the cascading conversation adroitly, and give moving performances in the second act, which deals almost exclusively with the subtleties of their relationship. Unavoidably in the shadows thrown by these two dominant characters, Roger Booth as Victor and Sarah Harter as the whimpering Sibyl are nevertheless perfect foils. Direction by James Roose-Evans keeps the play springy, and shows technique of a high rating. Christian Kurvenal’s setting for Amanda’s Paris flat won a burst of spontaneous applause on the first night; indeed the airy luxury apartment is completely realistic, and this designer’s skill makes the Hampstead stage look about thrice its normal size.

The Stage, 2 May 1963, p.13

Revival 3

Another decade would lapse before the next major West End revival. This took place at the Queen’s Theatre, opening on 21 September 1972, and transferring to the Globe Theatre on 2 July 1973, finally closing on 26 January 1974. This production was directed by John Gielgud. The set was designed by Anthony Powell, with costumes by Beatrice Dawson, and lighting by Joe Davis. The central characters were played by husband-and-wife team Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens. Reviews of their performances and of John Gielgud’s direction were positive, but privately, the production was fraught. Irving Wardle in his review in The Times (22 September 1972) called Smith and Stephens ‘beautifully matched’ but in reality their marriage was on the rocks and by April 1973 John Standing had replaced Stephens as Elyot. John Standing (b.1934) was the son of Kay Hammond (who played Amanda in the 1944 London revival) and her first husband Sir Ronald George Leon.

Maggie Smith received the Variety Club’s Best Actress Award for her performance. In 1964, Smith had been seen in the Noël Coward directed National Theatre revival of Hay Fever at the Old Vic. Smith played Myra Arundel, alongside a starry cast that included Edith Evans as Judith Bliss. Four years earlier, in 1960, she had played the role of Jackie Coryton for television when Hay Fever was presented as ITV’s Play of the Week. Edith Evans played Judith Bliss in the version also.

The cast for the Queen’s Theatre comprised:

Cast 1972

On 30 July 1973, at the Globe Theatre, the cast changed again. Jill Bennett took over as Amanda, with Geoffrey Palmer and Pinkie Johnstone as the new Victor and Sybil. Although many critics felt Jill Bennett was miscast (‘The sophistication of the time ... seemed to elude her’, wrote one critic), the play enjoyed an extended run.

The Gielgud production was also performed on Broadway in 1975.

Revival 4

On 18 March 1980, Private Lives was revived at the Greenwich Theatre in outer London. This production, directed by Alan Strachan, with sets and costumes by Peter Rice, and lighting by Nick Chelton, transferred to the Duchess Theatre from 16 April 1980.

The cast comprised:

Cast 1980

Peter Hepple, reviewing the play for The Stage (13 March 1980) pronounced Aitken and Jayston ‘quite superb’, going on to say: ‘The former is a marvellous Coward heroine, tall and elegant, able to make slightly outlandish fashions look just right and getting the most out of every line. Michael Jayston, though inevitably trailing some echoes of Coward himself, is an admirable partner, crisp and assured.’

Revival 5

A decade later, Private Lives received its fifth West End revival, when it opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 19 September 1990 with Joan Collins as Amanda and Keith Baxter as Elyot. Presented by Michael Codron, the play was directed by Tim Luscombe; with designs by Carl Toms; and lighting by Leonard Tucker. The comedy played a week at the Theatre Royal, Bath, 4–15 September, prior to opening in London.

A rare stage appearance for Collins, who was best known as a TV actress, according to the program notes, her appearance in Private Lives was ‘the fulfillment of a secret dream … a dream she has had since her days as a drama student’.

The cast comprised:

Cast 1990

Under the heading ‘All that glitters is not gold’, Peter Hepple, writing for The Stage (27 September 1990), felt that, despite having the glamorous Joan Collins as one of the leads, the revival at the Aldwych ‘doesn’t get the real star treatment it so richly deserves’. Collins made a ravishing leading lady—‘it is easy to see why her Amanada should have captivated both the dashing, mercuriel Elyot and the pompous, very English Victor’—but ‘her voice is not very strong and her sentences have a habit of trailing off.’ While ‘Keith Baxter is a more jovial Elyot than one might expect, lacking something in acidity’. Carl Toms’ set on the other hand was described as a ‘masterpiece’.

Further revivals

Lyttelton Theatre, London, 7 May 1999—6 September 1999, with Juliet Stevenson and Anton Lesser

Albery Theatre, London, 21 September 2001—3 March 2002, with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman

Hampstead Theatre, London, 22 January 2009—28 February 2009, with Claire Price and Jasper Britton

Gielgud Theatre, London, 3 July 2013—21 September 2013, with Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens 

Toby Stephens is the son of Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens and thus, was following in his parent’s footsteps in playing the same role that his father had in the 1972 revival. This revival originated as a transfer of the 2012 Minerva Theatre production at the Chichester Festival Theatre complex. See for further details

Donmar Warehouse, London, 7 April 2023—27 May 2023, with Rachael Stirling and Stephen Mangan


Wednesday, 17 May 2023

West End

Lawrence CowardThe second act ‘curtain’ of Private Lives, 1930. From Theatre World, December 1930, p.180.

The first production of Private Lives was presented under the management of Charles B. Cochran. It opened out of town at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh on 18 August 1930. A five-week tour followed that saw the play performed in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Southsea.

On 24 September 1930, it reached London, where it opened at the newly constructed Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road. Opening night was a glittering affair and the new theatre was launched by Cochran with a ‘fanfare of uniformed trumpeters’. Stalls tickets were a record £2 (£130 in today’s prices). The first night audience attracted a range of stars, from Mrs. Patrick Campbell to H.G. Wells.

The scenery and interior decorations were designed by G.E. Calthrop. Scenery constructed by Loveday and Higson. Painted by Alick Johstone. Lighting effects by The Strand Electric & Engineering Co. Furniture by J.S. Lyon, Ltd. and John Holliday & Sons. Floral decorations by Windram. Gramophone supplied by His Master’s Voice Co., Ltd. Miss Gertrude Lawrence’s gowns by Molyneux. Miss Adrianne Allen’s gowns by Reville.

Private Lives played at the Phoenix until the 20 December 1930, being withdrawn at the height of its success, much to the chagrin of the producers and audiences who flocked to the theatre. Coward insisted that he would remain in the play for no more than three months each in London and on Broadway: ‘If I play the same part over and over again for a long run, I get bored and frustrated and my performance deteriorates.’

The cast on tour and in London was as follows:

Cast 1930

Laurence Olivier, who played Victor, was twenty-three at the time, and was still at the outset of his career. He had enjoyed some success with the Birmingham Repertory Company and drew good notices in the West End, notably as Stanhope in the first production of Journey’s End (1928). In 1929 he made his first appearance on Broadway playing Hugh Bromilow in Murder on the Second Floor. A notorious giggler, Coward claims to have cured him of his condition during the London run of Private Lives. According to biographer Cole Lesley, proof that Larry had overcome his affliction came when he and Noël enjoyed a spot of improvisation: ‘He [Larry] had a line which ran, “A friend of mine has a house on the edge of Cap Ferrat”; Noël quickly ad-libbed, “On the edge?” “Yes,” Larry said firmly, “on the very edge.” And looked Noël straight in the eye. His cure was complete. What is more he got a big laugh; and the line was slightly changed and incorporated into the play.’

Adrianne Allen, who had just become Mrs. Raymond Massey, was the same age as Olivier. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she made her stage debut in Coward’s Easy Virtue (1926) at the Duke of York’s Theatre, playing the small role of Nina Vansittart. Later the same year, at the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead, she appeared in the premiere of another Coward play, The Rat Trap. Honing her craft in repertory, she also played ingenue roles in the West End, including Mabel Worthington in Potiphar’s Wife (1927) at the Globe, and Madge Carson in the triller The Devil’s Host (1928) at the Comedy.

Olivier and Allen were perfect for the supporting roles of Victor and Sybil. Though Coward had dismissed the roles as ‘little better than ninepins’, he later admitted that they needed to be attractive and interesting people, otherwise Amanda and Elyot would not have considered marrying them.

Reviews in the London papers were mixed, but most agreed that Noël and Gertie on stage was a perfect combination. The reviewer in The Tatler (22 October 1930) captured some of their charm:

The acting of Mr. Coward and Miss Lawrence is quite perfect. I lack both space and superlatives to do justice to its delicate timing and a hundred subtle touches, sung, spoken, or merely looked. Mr. Coward’s enigmatic maddening smile and heartless mock-gravity would incite an archangel to murder. Not a line was wasted, not a gesture missed its mark. Miss Lawrence, with whole gamuts of humour, glamour, and witchery at her finger-tips, unfolds a range of comedy which is an inspired blend of gifts natural and acquired … These two, with their intuitive sense of theatre, play with words as sunshine with rippling water.

As biographer Sheridan Morley put it: ‘Together they created a potent theatrical magic, and there was an indefinable chemistry in the public meeting of their two personalities which ensured that each inspired the other to be infinitely better.’


The Reviews




The obvious comment about last night’s play at the King’s Theatre is that Mr. Noël Coward has done it again, “it” being the presentation of a play written and produced by himself with the author portraying one of the principal characters, and the production resulting in entertainment which was almost vociferously applauded. In a curtain speech Mr. Coward rejoiced that a play of his should be instrumental in introducing Miss Gertrude Lawrence to the legitimate stage in this country, and there is every reason to assume that the public will heartily endorse such a sentiment. That the audience was eager to evince appreciation was evident from the ready laughter which greeted commonplace quips in the opening minutes, but the comedy soon got into its stride and commenced providing excellent humour and dramatic action. By some it may be considered that the second act duologue is unduly prolonged. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, but Miss Lawrence and Mr. Coward never faltered in their naturalness. Their conversation, squabbles, tenderness, and right royal row were compellingly interesting, and very necessary to give a hearing on the characters of two tantalising but never tiresome people. This premiere of the latest Coward comedy, “Private Lives,” judging by the reception accorded, was an unqualified success.

Edinburgh Evening News, 19 August 1930, p.2

Tom TitScene from Act 1 by Tom Titt. The Tatler, 22 October 1930.


Noël Coward Acts in His Own Play at London’s New Theatre



A new theatre, the Phoenix, a new play by Noël Coward, “Private Lives,” and a floor full of celebrated or fashionable people who had paid £2 for their seats made a distinct theatrical “occasion” last night.

All the scene was set, in fact, for a dazzling triumph, and we had been led to expect something, startling. Alas! the result was a little disappointing. “Private Lives” is not a dull play, though it has dull patches, but, on the other hand, it is by no means a brilliant play. It is Noël Coward at his second best, trying to make a lot out of a little. Nothing much happens. A divorced couple, when they have both married again, find themselves on their respective honeymoons in adjoining rooms on the terrace of an hotel. They fall in love again and run away to Paris, where for a whole act they are either bickering or spooning. They end up with a flaming row, when they break tables and roll on the floor. The play is by turns sentimental and sophisticated, and there is even a little love song (a la Ivor Novello) to melt the hearts of the antagonists at appropriate moments. Noël Coward himself plays one principal part and Gertrude Lawrence the other. It is a tribute to their skill that we do not get tired of them sooner. Miss Lawrence especially is delightful both to look at and to listen to. But the play is undeniably thin.

Daily Mirror, 25 September 1930, p.2


The red and gold adornments of the auditorium of the new house in Charing Cross Road and Phoenix Street form the setting in which is placed Noël Coward’s so-called intimate comedy satirically entitled “Private Lives,” which reached London on September 24 after its production, on August 18, at the King’s, Edinburgh. It may be said to point to a not altogether agreeable reversion to Mr. Coward’s “Fallen Angels” manner, for the notorious double-drunken scene for the two women in that play has now a sort of parallel in the equally unedifying cat-and-dog fight between one divorced and re-married couple that ends the second act of the play in a way as startling even to a sophisticated modern audience as it is to the other couple, who are shown beginning the same game as the curtain finally falls. Whether decent people do behave in such unseemly fashion even in moments of emotional excitement, is a question left for us to decide by Mr. Coward, who, as an actor, has gained vastly in suavity and command of light comedy since he was last seen in town. He has done some of his most attractive work as a composer in the writing of a very taking valse song, with haunting and often-heard refrain, “Some Day I'll Find You,” rendered most engagingly by Mr. Coward and his partner of greatness, Miss Gertrude Lawrence, in the roles of Elyot Chase and his former wife, Amanda, who had divorced him five years before the action opens on the terrace of an hotel at a French seaside resort. Here, adjoining suites are occupied by the two honeymooning couples Elyot and his second wife Sybil, and Amanda and her second husband Victor Prynne. The author has rung the changes very ingeniously and divertingly upon the jealousy motive, Sybil continually annoying Elyot by harping upon the theme of comparison with his former wife, and Victor similarly exasperating the obviously vile-tempered Amanda by referring to her relations with Elyot. Thus, after both the Chase and the Prynnes have indulged in huffs, Elyot and Amanda, meeting again upon a by no means Browningesque balcony, effect, a speedy redintegratio amoris, and on the spur of the moment fly off together to Paris. There, in Amanda’s flat, takes place the battle-royal, rightly described by Sybil as disgusting and degrading, the tail-end of which is witnessed by Mrs. Chase and Mr. Prynne, who had seemingly followed in pursuit of the fugitives. In the course of a very vulgar row (a term justly applicable to the affair), Amanda smashed a gramophone record upon Elyot’s head, and the couple knock over the lamp, the table and a chair, besides violently smacking one another’s faces, before rolling over a couch and tumbling together upon the floor in most unadmired disorder. Possibly this disgraceful exhibition of bad manners gave the cue to Victor and the both dull-witted and rather vinegarish Sybil for a similar display of low-life tantrums after a cleverly written breakfast scene for the re-assorted party of four next morning, eked out with small talk which Mr. Coward makes his characters use with mirthful effect. His witty dialogue is studded with allusions to his recent travels out East. Then, as Victor and Sybil are starting their jangle, Elyot and Amanda slip out apparently on another quest of happiness as eloping exponents of the surprises of divorce.

It is all ultra-modern, we presume, and much to the taste, seemingly, of the smart audiences thronging into the new Phoenix, with piquant contrast provided by the ornate art decoration and elaborate reproduction of famous paintings attributed, respectively, to such distinguished Russian hommes-de-theatre as Theodor Komisarjevsky and Vladimir Polunin. Mr. Coward, with histrionic resources completely under control, and Miss Lawrence, playing with delightful and almost Gallic finesse as the frankly cynical Amanda, are being received with acclamation. The more ordinary and not so nimble- brained Victor and Sybil are having capital treatment from Mr. Laurence Olivier, with traces of his Stanhope style, and from clever Miss Adrianne Allen, with Miss Everley Gregg, good as the amazed and auspicious French maid Louise. “Private Lives” is produced by the author, and the general stage director for Mr. Cochran is Mr. Frank Collins, aided by Mr. Gerard Clifton and Miss Audrey Pointing.

The Stage, 2 October 1930, p.16

Tom Titt

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