Following the departure of Daniel Frawley’s company on Friday, 11 September 1903, The Players commenced a six night season from 12 September, performing the A.W. Pinero comedy Dandy Dick for their first three nights and concluding with Sydney Grundy’s drama Sowing the Wind for their final three nights.
On Thursday, 17 September, the Musical and Dramatic Profession tendered a Testimonial Matinee Performance to Mr. W.J. Wilson (1833–1909). The seventy year old scenic artist, who was recovering from a long illness, had experienced a long career in Australia, having arrived in Melbourne from England in 1855. A mixed program was presented with members of the various Williamson, Anderson, Holloway, and Rickards’ companies participating.
Saturday, 19 September saw the return of George Willoughby and Edwin Geach’s company with a new farce Mistakes Will Happen by Grant Stewart. Presented by special arrangement with Charles Arnold, the farce had first seen the light of day in June 1898 when it was given a trial run by the stock company at the Grand Opera House, St Paul, Minneapolis. By August it had been taken up by producer Jacob Litt and toured successfully for several years with Charles Dickson in the lead. It finally reached New York on 3 March 1902 where it was performed by the stock company of Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. Jacob Litt’s production didn’t reach New York until 14 May 1906 when it played a week’s season at the Garrick Theatre with Charles Dickson as Tom Genowin.
The play concerns an impoverished actor (Tom Genowin) who is seeking a backer for a play he has written; Dorothy Mayland, an actress, whom Tom has secretly married; Mr. And Mrs. Hunter-Chase who both have their own reasons for wanting to see the play produced—the former is in love with Dorothy and the latter is an aspiring actress. A key scene in the play is one where two rooms—a carriage-house (below) and a hayloft (above)—are both represented on the stage so the audience can see the action in the two rooms simultaneously; with Tom meeting Mrs. Hunter Chase in the hayloft for acting lessons, and the Dorothy meeting with Mr. Hunter Chase in the carriage-house for a play reading; at the same time the Chase’s coachman has a rendezvous with the maid.
This piece had its Australian premiere at the Melbourne Bijou at Easter 1903 with seasons in Adelaide and Brisbane to follow. The play proved something of a riot, especially the shenanigans of the carriage-house scene. The cast for the first Sydney production included George Willoughby as Tom Genowin, Roxy Barton as Dorothy Mayland, Tom Cannam as Mr. Hunter-Chase, Miss Roland Watts-Phillips as Mrs. Hunter-Chase, Edwin Lester as William Hawley (the coachman) and Mabel Hardinge-Maltby as Linda Kurtz (the maid). In their review, the Sydney Morning Herald echoed the newspapers in the other capitals when it said: ‘Mistakes Will Happen proved to be marked success. [The] authors have certainly introduced almost the maximum of hilarity into the play, and have furnished a strong tonic for elevating depressed spirits and overcoming the most pronounced fit of the blues. The dialogue is racy, the incidents developed in the course of the plot are beyond even the suspicion of coarseness, and the funny situations follow so rapidly that the audience presents a fine illustration of “laughter holding both its sides”.’1 It played util the end of Willoughby and Geach’s all-too-short season on 9 October.
The theatre remained dark for the next few nights pending Mary Fitzmaurice Gill’s season. A young Australian actress who had played leading roles with the companies of Bland Holt and William Anderson was returning to Sydney following an extended New Zealand tour to perform with her own company. Her initial offering, Man to Man on 17 October, was being presented by arrangement with George Rignold. A drama of convict life, the play included numerous sensational scenic effects including a railway collision, the Portland Prison, and an escape during a fog. Miss Fitzmaurice Gill’s leading man was Albert Gran, who had made his Australian debut as Lord Jeffreys in Nellie Stewart’s production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury the previous year.
Plays that followed included The French Spy (24 October), The Bank of England (7 November), The Prodigal Parson (21 November), finishing with East Lynne, for one night only on 27 November.
The next attraction, which opened on 28 November, was Miss Cleopatra, a farce in three acts, adapted from the French by Arthur Shirley, with Australian-born actress-vocalist Maud Lita, in the title role. This play had first been performed in London in 1891 under the title Cleopatra, when a single performance was given at the Shaftesbury Theatre at a benefit matinee for W.H. Griffiths, with Maud Milton as Cleopatra. As the leading character is a prima donna, Maud Lita (an operatic contralto) introduced a number of songs which were performed with great verve, but unfortunately, despite her many accomplishments, houses were poor, and the season ended on 11 December.
Another period of closure followed.
At Christmas, Albert Gran returned, this time supported by members of The Conservatoire. Two double bills were presented: Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy (23 December) and The Moth and the Candle and Comedy and Tragedy (24 December). Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy were both early non-musical plays by W.S. Gilbert, while The Moth and the Candle was Gran’s own adaptation of Ouida’s novel Moths.
New Zealand theatrical manager George Stephenson’s American Musical Comedy Company opened on Boxing Night, Saturday, 26 December 1903, with American vaudevillians Charles J. Stine and Olive Evans making their first appearances in Sydney.
The opening gambit, Mama’s New Husband, a three-act farce by Edwin Barber, revolved around the newly re-married Mrs. Pearly Brood (Margaret Marshall), who has concealed from her much younger husband, Henry Brood (Charles J. Stine), that she has a 17-year-old daughter—and when that daughter Maimie Dimler (Olive Evans) arrives home unexpectedly from boarding school, her mother persuades her to dress as a young girl in spite of numerous suitors hovering about—a premise reminiscent of Pinero’s 1886 farce The Magistrate, but the similarity ended there. During the action of the play twenty musical numbers were introduced, along with ballets and dancing. This piece had its first performance in America in September 1901 and shortly after Stine and Evans acquired the rights to the play and took it on tour. Having commenced their current tour in New Zealand and Tasmania, this piece had been given its Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, on 6 August 1903.
A month later, Saturday, 30 January 1904, the same company performed Brown’s in Town, a three-act comedy by Mark E. Swan. Resembling a Broadhurst farce (What Happened to Jones, etc.), this play dealt with a mismanaged elopement whereby a young couple lead their parents on a merry chase—and like The Wrong Mr. Wright, the title character does not exist. Similar to Mama’s New Husband, songs and dances were dotted throughout, including a burlesque on the Florodora Sextette (‘Tell Me, Dusky Maiden’)—and what the play lacked in plot, it made up for in movement. According to the publicity it was toured by ten companies in America during 1902—and one run by Frank Hennessy, cleared over £30,000.2 It seems this play was first performed in December 1898 in Minnesota, with Edward S. Abeles as Dick Preston, Kathryn Osterman as Letty, and James O. Barrows as the father-in-law Abel Preston. It reached New York in February 1899 and played at the Bijou Theatre for a fortnight with the same cast. According to the reviews J.J. Rosenthal, the manager of the Bijou, didn’t think much of the play and pulled the plug after a fortnight.3 It fared much better in the provinces.
Brown’s in Town had it Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, 12 August 1903, with Charles Stine as Abel Preston and Olive Evans as Letty Leonard, the same roles they played in the Sydney production. The farce seemed to please Sydneysiders and held the stage at the Palace for four weeks. The season closed with a short revival of Mama’s New Husband from 24 to 26 February 1904.
On 27 and 29 February, The Players presented Captain Swift by Charles Haddon Chambers; returning on 30 and 31 March with Tom, Dick and Harry. And on 28 March, for one night only, Albert Gran, supported by Linda Raymond, presented Mary Queen of Scots.
Pending the re-appearance of the Willoughby and Geach combination for the Easter season, the Palace was given a lick of paint and refreshed. The company’s latest offering was the American farce A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sydney Wilmer and Walter Vincent. According to the publicity this piece had enjoyed huge success in London, New York and on the Continent. It had its Australian premiere on 5 March at the Melbourne Princess where it played to packed houses for three weeks. With George Willoughby as Jack Thorndyke, the fun of the piece lay in the hero’s claims to his sweetheart that he is an adventurous backwoodsman. During the play’s two week run, hundreds of people were reportedly turned from the doors. Postcards featuring scenes from the play were available for purchase. The final few nights of the season saw a revival of What Happened to Jones.
On Saturday, 23 April 1904, the Perman troupe arrived with the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood. Written by W.J. Lincoln, with original music by C.G. McIntosh, it was an entirely Australian creation, with an Australian setting and a finale featuring a patriotic tableau with each of the Australian states attired in glittering costumes. First performed in Melbourne at Christmas 1903, it had toured to Adelaide, Ballarat, Geelong and Brisbane prior to its Sydney opening. The principal characters were played by Harry Shine (Dame Trot), Bella Perman (Red Riding Hood), Maud B. Perman (Boy Blue) and Edith Maitland (Marjorie Daw). Two editions of the pantomime were given prior to its closing three weeks later on 13 May.
Tom Nawn’s Polite Vaudeville Company made their first appearance in Australia on 14 May 1904 under the direction of J.G. Rial (previously associated with the World’s Entertainers). This was Tom Nawn’s second visit to Australia. In 1902 he and his wife, Hettie Nawn, had been on the bill at Rickards’ Tivoli, when their playlet One Touch of Nature was performed in Australia for the first time. This same piece was included on the bill at the Palace, along with a line-up of American vaudeville acts including Pete Baker (America’s premier monologue entertainer and German dialect comedian), The Musical Johnstons (for years the Xylophone novelty with Sousa’s band), Dorothy Drew (singing comedienne in a repertoire of Negro melodies), The Tossing Austens (comedy juggling and eccentric pantomime specialty), Katherine Dahl (the brilliant lyric artiste in a repertoire of ballads), Hiawatha Troubadours (introducing original American Indians songs and legends) and Mirrored Melody (producing effects which greatly enhance the enjoyment of descriptive songs). Also on the program was Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope showing one of his most recent films, the $12,000 The American Train Robbery. Running 11 minutes, this film was directed by Edwin S. Porter and starred Justus D. Barnes as the head bandit. Today it is considered one of the earliest American narrative films, introducing many new cinematic techniques including double exposure, cross cutting, tracking shots and location shooting.4
During the season the bill changed to include some new performers and sketches. On 28 May, for example, the sketch Shipmates was performed for the first time; on 6 June Pat and the Genii, a comedietta seen during Tom Nawn’s 1902 visit was revived; and on 18 June, the new three-act feature play The Mishaps of Mr. Dooley, written by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne and based on his ‘Mr Dooley’ newspaper columns was performed for the first time. Dooley was a fictional Irish bartender whose voice Dunne used to comment on national affairs.5
Sadly for Nawn, audience numbers at the Palace declined due to the ‘plethora of entertainment’ elsewhere, and the season came to an abrupt end on 30 June. By the following Monday, Tom Nawn was ‘ploughing his way to the land of Stars and Stripes’.6 Fortunately for many members of his company, they were offered positions at Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre.
J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries
The Palace was once again dark, but only for a short time. Another company of Americans was on its way.
Meanwhile, The Players returned with the double bill of My Little Girl and Charley’s Aunt on the 7 and 8 July; and on the 13 and 14th of the month Frau Elsa Buhlow presented A.W. Pinero’s The Ironmaster in aid of the Kindergarten Union & German Benevolent Society.
The next big attraction was the American Travesty Stars, a company of 38 performers, with Harry James as musical director and W.S. Combs as general manager. This company was modelled on the Weber and Fields company in New York. Joseph M. Weber and Lew M. Fields were a highly successful pair of ‘Dutch comics’, so successful that in 1896 they opened their own theatre on Broadway, the Weber and Fields Music Hall. There they produced a series of vaudeville burlesques: The Geezer (1896), Pousse Café (1897), Hurley Burley (1898), Whirl-I-Gig (1901), Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900), Hoity Toity (1901), Twirly Whirly (1902) and Whoop-Dee-Doo (1903); each show crafted to showcase their particular brand of knock-about comedy.
The company in Australia, headed by Clarence Kolb and Max Dill, had been granted permission to present the Weber and Fields’ repertoire, and had been doing so on the West Coast of America since 1901. The other principals in the company were Barney Bernard, a Jewish dialect comedian, who played the roles created by David Warfield on Broadway; Maude Amber and Winfield Blake, the leading lady and leading man, who doubled for Lillian Russell and DeWolf Hopper; and Lillie Sutherland, the soubrette, who performed Fay Templeton’s roles.
The company’s first offering in Australia was Fiddle-Dee-Dee which opened on Saturday, 16 July 1904. Written by Edgar Smith, with music by John Stromberg, it had originally been performed on Broadway in September 1900, with Joe Weber as Michael Krautknuckle, Lew Fields as Rudolf Bungstarter, DeWolf Hopper as Hoffman Barr, David Warfield as Shadrach Leschinski, and Lillian Russell as Mrs. Walford Meadowbrook.
Described as ‘A Potpourri of Dramatic “fol de roll” in Three Exhibits’, Fiddle-Dee-Dee was greeted by an overflowing house. With no plot to speak of, audiences were promised an entertainment abounding with original musical numbers, a large chorus of shapely girls, witty dialogue delivered with kaleidoscopic rapidity, all presented with the dash and vim of a first-rate American company ‘The scenery, costumes and the paraphernalia have never been excelled for originality, and such a large company of superb comedians who tear the English language into shreds and reconstruct it in a manner that is extremely funny. They keep their audiences in a continual paroxysm of laughter during the time given up to their quaint sayings, happy repartee and dialogue work.’7
The piece lived up to the hype and audiences were not disappointed. It even included a travesty of the Florodora Sextette.
Fiddle-Dee-Dee played until 12 August. The next offering was Hoity Toity, described on the bills as ‘A Giddy Little Skit on Things Dramatic and Otherwise in Two Selections’, it was another mirth-filled burlesque extravaganza by Smith and Stromberg. First performed in New York in September 1901, this piece had a slight plot to tie together its ‘olio portion’. It involved a man who takes his daughters to Monte Carlo to find rich husbands for them. Instead they meet ‘sauerkraut’ millionaires and decide to start a bank, swapping the delicatessen counter for a teller’s bench. ‘Raising the money’ became one of Weber and Fields’ most famous sketches. When a customer arrives at the bank, Weber (Kolb) asks ‘Put in or take out?’ Of course everyone takes out until the bank is hopelessly broke.
The company’s final offering was the double-bill of Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café which opened on 17 September 1904. Described respectively as a ‘dramatic impossibility’ and a ‘conundrum’. In the first piece Dill played the inventor of a machine for ‘throwing living pictures on the naked air’, while Kolb was an architect who had designed a gaol ‘with all the comforts of home’. In the second piece, Barney Bernard is the inventor of a mechanical doll, La Pooh Pooh (an obvious parody of La Poupee, the comic opera by Audran), with Kolb and Dill as his two backers. These two short works provided a fitting end to a highly popular season which closed on 6 October 1904.
With the departure of the Travesty Company, things quietened down a bit. The Players returned for two nights with J.M. Barrie’s The Professor’s Love Story on 7 and 8 October. On the 11th and 12th of the month, Frau Elsa Buhrow made her re-appearance in Cyprienne (a translation of Sardou’s Divorcons) in aid of the Ashfield Infants’ Home. (Frau Buhrow had presented the same piece at the Palace back in September 1901.) And on 13th and 14th, The Players presented Haddon Chambers’ The Idler. Another long period of darkness descended on the theatre, punctuated by a production of the comic opera Giroffle-Giroffla on 14 November, performed by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society.
Finally, on Saturday, 10 December 1904, the American Travesty Company made a welcome return, bringing with them a weekly change program. The line-up remained the same with the exception of the Maude Amber and Winfield James who had been replaced by Celia Mavis and Edwin Lester. Hoity Toity was the first of the revivals, followed by Fiddle-Dee-Dee on 17 December, and Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café on 24 December.
The season ended on 30 December—and the little theatre fell dark once more—pending the arrival of William Anderson’s Dramatic Company on 22 April 1905.
In a curious footnote, it seems that despite the full house and patrons being turned away from the door, the tour was not a financial success for the American Travesty Company. In February 1905, an article appeared in Sydney’s Sunday Sun headed: AMERICAN TRAVESTY STARS: Back in ’Frisco. “THICK-HEADED AUDITORS IN THE ANTIPODES!”. According to the report members of the company felt that much of their material was lost on Australian audiences who didn’t understand American humour and syntax. And as for any financial reward, it seems the manager, Henry James, was the only one who profited from the tour. He was said to have returned to the US sporting a diamond pin. The article also mentioned the conspicuous absence of Maude Amber and Winfield Blake during the return season at the Palace. She had a falling out with James and he was suing her for breach of contract.8 Another article that appeared in The Critic around the same time confirmed that the company had been asked to play the final three weeks at the Palace without pay—and that Miss Amber and Mr. Blake had refused to act and had sued James for damages.9
To be continued
1. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1903, p.4
2. Auckland Star, 11 August 1903, p.3
3. New York Times, 28 February 1899, p.7
6. Truth, 3 July 1904, p.1
7. Sydney Star, 13 July 1904, p.7
8. Sunday Sun, 26 February 1905, p.5
9. The Critic, 22 February 1905, p.23
Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994
Felix Isman, Weber and Fields, their tribulations, triumphs and their associates, Boni and Liveright, 1924
Anthony Slide, The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, University of Mississippi, 2012
Auckland Star, The Australian Star (Sydney), The Critic (Adelaide), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, Punch (Melbourne), The Sydney Morning Herald, Truth (Sydney)
Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/
Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html
Library of Congress, Washington, DC., https://www.loc.gov/
New York Public Library, New York, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/
John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod
J.C. williamson took over the lease of the Palace Theatre in December 1902, but due to the success of his Royal Comic Opera Company in Melbourne he decided not to open in Sydney until Boxing Day night.
In the meantime, on the afternoon of Monday, 22 December 1902, Williamson made the Palace available to Dolly Castles, a young Melbourne singer who was making her professional debut in Sydney ‘before a few professional musicians and connoisseurs’. Sixteen-year-old Dolly was a younger sister of the celebrated soprano Amy Castles. The previous week, on 16 December, the two sisters had participated in the Grand Festival of Sacred Music at St Mary’s Cathedral. In addition to singing principal roles in Graun’s Te Deum, Dolly also sang ‘Viae Sion lugent’ from Gounod’s Gallia. For her recital at the Palace Theatre, she chose the ‘Jerusalem’ aria from Gallia and Tosti’s ‘Good-bye’. Described as having ‘a resonant soprano of firm, pure quality’, Williamson championed the young singer and arranged for her to appear in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane prior to her departure for Paris to study under M. Bouhy.1
On Friday, 26 December, the Royal Comic Opera Company opened at the Palace in a revival of Dorothy, first seen in Australia in 1887 with Leonora Braham in the title role. With this revival Florence Young was playing Dorothy for the first time in Sydney, with Celia Ghiloni as Lydia, and Maud Chetwynd as Phyllis. Two new leading men, Reginald Roberts and Harold Thorley, were Geoffrey Wilder and Harry Sherwood respectively, with George Lauri reprising his old role of Lurcher. The conductor was Leon Caron, with scenery by George Gordon. Dorothy was performed until 9 January 1903.
The following evening Planquette’s comic opera Paul Jones was revived with Florence Young in the title role, supported by Reginald Roberts as Rufino de Martinez, Hugh Ward as Don Trocadero, George Lauri as Bouillabaisse, Maud Chetwynd as Chopinette, Celia Ghiloni as Malaguena, and Carrie Moore as Yvonne. As the Sydney Morning Herald reminded audiences, ‘Paul Jones is probably one of the most successful of comic operas ever produced in this country, and the revival will bring pleasant memories to playgoers of 10 or 12 years ago’ when Marian Burton created the ‘trouser’ role of Paul Jones in Australia.2
Overflowing audiences greeted the Royal Comic Opera Company at every performance during their all-too-short season. Paul Jones was withdrawn after only fourteen performances to make way for farewell productions of The Mikado (24–30 January), Robin Hood (2–6 February), and The Geisha (7–20 February).
On 21 February 1903 the Palace Theatre erupted with laughter when George Broadhurst’s The Wrong Mr. Wright was produced in Sydney for the first time. It was presented by George Willoughby and Edwin Geach, who had just concluded a successful ten month tour of Australia and New Zealand. According to newspaper reports, Willioughby and Geach had taken over Charles Arnold’s company and had been so successful that their ‘receipts even exceeded those of Mr. Charles Arnold’s phenomenal tour with What Happened to Jones, a record that would make many managers envious’.3
Like Broadhurst’s other farcical comedies, The Wrong Mr. Wright, as the title suggests revolves around mistaken identity, whereby a stingy businessman, after being frauded of $5000 by a trusted employee, engages detectives to capture the thief. He offers a reward, but when he hears that the culprit is at Old Point Comfort, he decides to go to the resort in disguise and capture the criminal himself, thereby saving the reward. He assumes the name of Mr. Wright, which also happens to be the alias of the thief. At the resort, completely out of character, he falls head over heels for a young lady, and starts spending money recklessly in an attempt to impress her. It so happens that the lady is a detective eager to earn the reward, and she assumes that he is the thief.
The Wrong Mr. Wright had first been performed in Boston in 1896, with Roland Reed and Isadore Rush in the leading roles. They played a month at the Bijou Theatre in New York from 6 September 1897, prior to taking it on tour throughout the USA along with other Broadhurst comedies. When it was first performed at the Strand Theatre in London in 1897 with Thomas A. Wise and Constance Collier in the leads, it ran for almost a year.
At the Palace Theatre, The Wrong Mr. Wright played for a month. The lead roles were performed by George Willoughby as Singleton Sites, with Roxy Barton as Henrietta Oliver, closing on 20 March 1903.
The following evening, On and Off was performed for the first time in Sydney. This was a French farce adapted by an unnamed hand (possibly Catherine Riley) from Le contrôleur des wagon-lits by Alexandre Bisson. The story defies summary but it concerns an unhappy husband, George Godfray, who attempts to escape the clutches of his overbearing parents-in-law by pretending to be an inspector of railway sleeping cars.
The play was considered a comedy hit in New York, running for three months at the Madison Square Theatre during 1898/1899, with E.M. Holland as Godfray, Amelia Bingham as Madeline (his wife), Maggie Holloway Fisher as Mme Brumaire (the mother-in-law), and Katharine Florence as Rose Martel (the other woman). The play was even more successful in London at the Vaudeville Theatre where it played for seven months from December 1898, with George Giddens, Elliott Page, Elsie Chester and Lucie Milner in the leads.
In Sydney, it was performed three weeks, from 21 March to 9 April 1903, with George Willoughby as the down trodden husband, supported by Roxy Barton, Roland Watts-Phillips and Ethel Appleton.
On Saturday, 28 March 1903, Willoughby and Geach hosted a Grand Combination Charity Matinee in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Drought Fund which saw The Players supported by Nellie Stewart and members of the Willoughby and Geach Company in The Ironmaster and The Grey Parrot.
With the final performance of On and Off on 9 April 1903, the Willoughby and Geach season came to a close.
Following the presentation of a Sacred Concert on 10 April for Easter, J.C. Williamson was once again lessee, opening a season of comedies with Are You a Mason?—for the first time in Australia. This comedy was adapted by Leo Ditrichstein from the German play Logen Bruder by Carl Laufs and Kurt Krantz.
Williamson’s New Comedy Company was a top notch one, with West End comedian George Gidden as Amos Bloodgood, the role he created when the play was first performed in England.
The fun begins when Frank Perry (played by Cecil Ward) promises his new wife (Ethel Knight Mollison) that while she is away on a visit he will become a Mason. However, during her absence, he goes out on the town and fails to fulfil his promise. On her return, rather than tell her the truth, he pretends that he has done what she has asked. When his in-laws arrive, he discovers that his father-in-law (Amos Bloodgood, played by George Giddens) is in exactly the same predicament. So when his wife’s unmarried sister starts courting a real Mason, the two pretend Masons are at risk of being exposed.
Are You a Mason? was first performed in New York at Wallack’s Theatre on 1 April 1901, with Thomas A. Wise as Amos Bloodgood, May Robson as Caroline Bloodgood, John C. Rice as Frank Perry, Esther Tittell as Eva Perry, and Leo Ditrichstein as George Fisher. This production ran for 32 performances. It was subsequently revived at the Garrick Theatre in August 1901 with a similar cast, where it ran for an additional month.
The London production, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 12 September 1901 (transferring to the Royalty Theatre on 31 March 1902), ran for a side-splitting seven months.
The Comedy Company’s next offering was Oh! What a Night! on 23 May 1903. Adapted from the French farce of Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres, it was described in the advertising as ‘one of the funniest, wittiest, cleverist, brightest, sauciest, quaintest comedies ever written’.4
Originally performed as L’Hôtel du Libre échange in Paris in 1894, the play had many outings on the English speaking stage. It was seen in New York as The Gay Parisians (1895) and in London as A Night Out (1896), the same title given to the 1920’s musical comedy version adapted by George Grossmith and Arthur Miller, with music by Willie Redstone. More recently it formed the basis of Peter Glenville’s comedy Hotel Paradiso (1956) and John Mortimer’s A Little Hotel On the Side (1984).
It is probable that Oh! What a Night! was actually A Night Out under a new title, with George Giddens reprising his original character of Joseph Pinglet. It played until the end of the Williamson comedy season on 5 June 1903.
The following evening, Saturday, 6 June 1903, saw the reappearance of Maggie Moore, Williamson’s former acting partner and ex-wife. Her opening piece was Struck Oil, the well-known comedy vehicle that she and Williamson performed when they made their Australian debuts in 1874. Maggie revived her ‘original, inimitable, and altogether remarkable impersonation’ of Lizzie Stofel, while Williamson’s old role of John Stofel, the Dutch shoemaker, was now played by John F. Ford.5
Struck Oil played for a fortnight. On Saturday, 20 June 1903, Maggie introduced a brand-new character to Sydney audiences: The Widow From Japan, a farcical comedy by Charles J. Campbell and Ralph M. Skinner. Audiences were promised:
Those who desire to be convulsed with hearty laughter and to be charmed with interesting episodes should not miss seeing this great Comedy Drama, which is one of those productions wherein Miss MOORE’s versatile powers find their fullest scope. In the title role she has a character that could not be more original had it been created for her.6
With these Australian performances, it seems that this play was being performed for the first time. Maggie had purchased the Australian rights for this and other new pieces while visiting America in 1902.
The Widow From Japan played for one week. It was followed by Way Down South; or, A Negro Slave’s Devotion (27 June–3 July 1903) and Killarney (4–10 July 1903). In Way Down South, Maggie ‘blacked up’ to play a faithful servant, Aunt Miranda, ‘her Great Negro Impersonation’. Described as a domestic comedy drama in five acts by P.B. Carter, this piece was being performed in Sydney for the first time. ‘New songs’ were performed as well as ‘dances, glees, and Negro Specialties’, including the ‘cake walk’.7
Maggie’s final offering was Killarney, a ‘romantic, and picturesque Irish drama in four acts’ by an unnamed author, in which she played the Irish colleen Kathleen O’Donnell, affording her the opportunity to sing several appropriate songs including ‘Ireland, I Love You’ and ‘Killarney’.8
With the departure of Maggie Moore, J.C. Williamson once again took over the direction of the theatre, introducing Daniel Frawley and his company of American players. Frawley’s troupe comprised some 20 artists, including the ‘brilliant young actress’ Mary Van Buren. The company had been founded in 1899 and had been touring the USA, Asia, India and New Zealand, prior to making their Australia debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 30 May 1903. They brought with them a vast repertoire of plays, having acquired the touring rights to high profile Broadway and West End successes including Arizona (1899) by Augustus Thomas, Madame Sans Gene (1895) by Victorien Sardou, and Secret Service (1893) by William Gillette.
Daniel Frawley and company commenced their six-week Sydney season on Saturday, 11 July 1903. Their opening gambit was the much anticipated Arizona, a play by Augustus Thomas. From its first performance in America, this play captured the popular imagination; a story teaming with ‘ranchmen, cowboys, Mexicans, Chinamen and other figures of life in the territory’.9 The hero of the play is the handsome Lieutenant Denton of the 11th Cavalry who woos one of the daughters of Henry Canby, the sun-weathered ranch-owner, and saves the reputation of the other. Theodore Roberts created the role of Henry Canby when the play premiered at the Grand Opera House in Chicago in June 1899. After an unprecedented season of three months, the play toured around America for a year. When it eventually reached New York in September 1900, it notched up a further 140 performances at the Herald Square Theatre. In February 1902, Roberts appeared in the first London production at the Adelphi Theatre (transferring to the Princess’s in April 1902), where it ran for 119 performances.
This piece had received its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne the previous month, with Daniel Frawley as Lieutenant Denton, Jeffrey Williams as Henry Canby, Mary Van Buren as Estrella, and Eva Dennison as Bonita.
Due to the limited number of nights scheduled for the Sydney season, a weekly change program was introduced beginning with Madame Sans Gene (1–7 August 1903). Victorien Sardou’s play, first performed in Paris in 1894 with Madame Rejane in the title role, focuses on Napoleon’s relationship with a former laundress, Catherine Hubscher, aka Madame Sans Gene. This play first appeared on the English stage in a translation by J. Comyn’s Carr in 1895 with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. The same year, in America, Henry Charles Meltzer adapted the play for Kathryn Kidder and Augustus Cook. In 1899 Frawley secured the Pacific Coast rights to the Meltzer version and on 3 September 1899 played Napoleon for the first time in at the Burbank Theatre, Los Angeles, supported by Mary Van Buren.
The company’s next offering was In Paradise (8–14 August 1903), adapted by B.B. Valentine from Les Paradis, a farcical comedy by Messrs Billhaud, Henequin and Carré. On its first Australian presentation in Sydney, it featured Daniel Frawley as Raphael Delacroix, an artist, with Mary Van Buren as Claire Taupin, a Modiste, and Harrington Reynolds as Pico, a lion tamer. Enough said.
The following week saw a return to form with the Australian premiere of Brother Officers (15–21 August 1903), a military comedy-drama by Leo Trevor. Charting the trials and tribulations of a successful army man from a low class family, this piece enjoyed considerable success at the Garrick Theatre in London in 1899 with Arthur Bourchier as Lieutenant John Hinds VC and Violet Vanbrugh as The Baroness Roydell. When the play was given its American premiere in San Francisco (7 August 1899) and New York (16 January 1900), the leads were played by Henry Miller (William Faversham in New York) and Margaret Anglin, the roles now played by Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren.
Another Australian premiere followed with the 1893 drama The Girl I Left Behind Me (22–28 Aug 1903) by Franklin Fyles and David Belasco. Set on a small army base in Montana, against a backdrop of tension between the army and the local Indian tribe, the play focussed on the love story between Lieutenant Edgar Hawkesmore and Kate Kennion, the general’s daughter. Running for over 200 performances at the Empire Theatre, New York, in 1893, with Frank Mordaunt and Sidney Armstrong as the lovers, the play went on to achieve a similar success at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1895 with William Terriss and Jessie Millward. For the Sydney production Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren played Edgar and Kate.
J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington, Washington, DC
The penultimate offering was a revival of the Civil War spy drama Secret Service (29 August–4 September 1903), with Daniel Frawley as Lewis Dumont (alias Captain Thorne), a Union spy who infiltrates the ranks of the Confederate army and falls in love with Edith Varney (Mary Van Buren), the daughter of a Confederate general. This play created a sensation on its first production, making an instant celebrity of actor-playwright William Gillette, who created the role of Dumont when the play was first performed in New York in October 1896. The drama enjoyed huge success throughout the USA and England. The first Australia production in August 1899 had featured Thomas Kingston and Henrietta Watson in the principal roles.
The final week of the Frawley season saw a revival of Augustus Thomas’ romantic American drama In Missoura (or In Missouri as it was titled here) (5–10 September 1903). This play had first been performed in Australia by Nat C. Goodwin and his company in 1896. Goodwin created the character of Jim Radburn, an unsophisticated but tender hearted Sherriff, when the play was first performed in America in 1893. As Radburn, Daniel Frawley played the role ‘with a quiet, convincing force that left little to be desired’, with Mary Van Buren as Kate Vernon, the object of his affections.11
The season terminated on Friday, 11 September 1903 with a revival of Arizona, also by Augustus Thomas.
To be continued
1. Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 27 December 1902, p.28; Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 January 1903, p.6
2. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1903, p.7
3. The Australian Star (Sydney), 30 January 1903, p.8
4. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1903, p.2
5. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1903, p.2
6. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1903, p.2
7. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1903, p.2
8. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1903, p.2
9. The New York Clipper, 17 June 1899, p.304
10. Amy Arbogast, p.30
11. Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September 1903, p.3
Amy Arbogast, ‘Rural life with urban strife’, Performing the Progressive Era: immigration, urban life, and nationalism on stage, edited by Max Shulman & J. Chris Westgate, University of Iowa Press, 2019, pp.17-34
Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994
William W. Crawley (ed.). Australasian Stage Annual: an annual devoted to the interests of the theatrical and musical professions, J.J. Miller, Melbourne, 1902-1905
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
The Australian Star (Sydney), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Tatler (London)
Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html
John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Les Tod
Following the final performance by the Hawtrey Comedy Company on 13 July 1901, actor-manager Robert Brough (of the Brough Comedy Company) took on a short lease of the Palace Theatre. Rather than producing a season of plays, he introduced British magician Charles Bertram to Sydney audiences.
Known as the ‘Court Magician’ or the ‘Royal Conjurer’, Bertram was a master of sleight of hand, appearing before Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 23 occasions.1 Bertram’s Australian visit was part of a world tour that also took him through India, China, Japan, New Zealand and America. Robert Brough, who had had been performing with his dramatic company in India and China, had seen one of Bertram’s shows and agreed to manage his Australian visit.
Following a short season in Melbourne (8 June 1901), Bertram visited Bendigo and Wagga Wagga en route for Sydney, opening at the Palace Theatre on 20 July 1901. Announced initially for ‘twelve nights only’, he stayed on for an extra week, during which time he introduced some new illusions including ‘The Vanishing Lady’. Yet despite his cordial welcome in Sydney, his overall Australian tour was not deemed a success. His skilful manipulation of cards, flags, rings and flower pots was better suited to a drawing room and too small for audiences accustomed to watching much larger shows.2
The author of several books, Bertram wrote a comprehensive account of this tour which he called A Magician in Many Lands.3
Following Bertram’s departure, Henry Lee and J.G. Rial took over the Palace with a season of ‘polite vaudeville’, opening on 10 August 1901. Their company, known as the World’s Entertainers, had been formed in America and comprised a number of clever and accomplished variety turns. Key among them was Henry Lee (seen at Palace in 1896 with Phil Goatcher’s Stars of All Nations company), who impersonated ‘Great Men, Past and Present’. Through the use of lighting and changes in costume, he morphed from Shakespeare to Bismarck, to Tennyson, to King Edward VII and Pope Leo XIII. Other artists included the acrobatic comedians Kelly and Ashby who stunned audiences with their billiard table act; Josephine Gassman from Louisiana who sang songs supported by two ‘quaint and diminutive’ piccaninnies; and Charles R. Sweet, the ‘musical burglar’ who amused with humorous ditties and anecdotes. Edison’s latest movie camera, the Projectoscope also made an appearance. All in all it was deemed a ‘capital’ bill of entertainment.4
On the final night of the season, 30 October 1901, photographer Talma took a flashlight photo of the audience.5
With the vaudeville season over, the theatre was made available to amateur groups and others pending the return of Charles Arnold and his company on 26 December 1901.
Arnold, who had played two previous seasons at the Palace opened with a revival of Hans the Boatman, a sentimental play with songs that he had first performed in Australia in the 1880s. Hans was followed by a reprisal of plays from his current repertoire: What Happened to Jones and Why Smith Left Home. Mid-way through the season, on 18 January 1902, he presented a new play, The Professor’s Love Story by J.M. Barrie.
The Professor’s Love Story first saw the light of day in New York in 1892 when it was produced at the Star Theatre, with E.S. Willard in the lead. It seems it had originally been written for Henry Irving who turned it down. Believing the play to be worthless, Barrie subsequently sold the American rights to Willard for £50. After touring the play successfully for two years, Willard eventually brought it to London (opening at the Comedy Theatre in June 1894), by which time Barrie had acquired an agent who secured a flat-rate royalty for the play that also covered any future American (and presumably Australian) performances.6
Charles Arnold obtained the colonial rights from E.S. Willard and The Professor’s Love Story was performed for the first time in Australia at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne in June 1900.
Like so much of Barrie’s work, The Professor’s Love Story is a quixotic piece. Its central character is a Scots physicist, Professor Goodwillie, who falls in love with his secretary, but unaware of why he feels the way he does, he consults a physician. Critics and audiences were delighted by Arnold’s performance. The Sydney Morning Herald for instance observed:
Mr Charles Arnold showed himself a light comedian who could touch the pathetic stop with a sure hand, and his portrait of the old-young professor was true to the picture drawn by the author … [He] played throughout with extreme quiet and refinement, showing with much simplicity of manner the professor’s entire unconsciousness of his love for Lucy. His professor was, indeed a man of many winning and endearing qualities.7
Arnold was supported by Dot Frederic as Lucy, with other roles filled by Inez Bensusan, Hope Mayne, Agnes Knights and George Willoughby.
The close of the Sydney season on 12 February 1902 brought Arnold’s 96 week Australian tour to an end. During that time it was estimated he had played before 750,000 people. He was also said to have netted £24,000 from the tour, £4000 of which went to George Broadhurst, the author of What Happened to Jones, in royalties.8
In a sad footnote to the tour, November 1901 also saw the beginning of the second wave of bubonic plague in Sydney, with cases peaking in February/March 1902.9 Two members of Arnold’s company succumbed, Sallie Booth on 27 February and Ada Lee (a younger sister of Jennie Lee) on 1 March. Miss Booth had played Alvina in What Happened to Jones and Lavinia Daly in Why Smith Left Home, and Ada Lee had been seen as Helma in What Happened to Jones and Effie in The Professor’s Love Story.
On 15 February 1902 the World’s Entertainers returned for an extended season, with new artists having arrived from America on 8 February. They were now under the management of J.C. Williamson, Lee and Rial. In addition to Henry Lee, Charles R. Sweet, Josephine Gassman and Arthur Nelstone, new acts included Bunth and Rudd (eccentric comedians); The Marvellous Lottos (novelty cyclists); Carl Nilsson’s Troupe (in their Original Flying Ballet); George Lyding (American tenor); Mdlle Ilma De Monza (Parisian singer); and Mdlle Adele (‘The Lady with the Wonderful Fingers’).
Over the next four months the line-up changed with artist swapping between the Palace in Sydney and Bijou in Melbourne, or going on tour. Some local artists also joined the company including Violet Elliott, often referred to as the ‘Lady bass’. The World’s Entertainers filled the theatre for four months, closing on 28 May 1902.10
Frank Thornton was one of the most popular comedians to ever visit Australia, making his fifth trip ‘down under’ in 1902. During previous visits he had introduced some well-known farces including The Private Secretary, Charley’s Aunt, The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown and The Bookmaker. On this visit, he had two new plays: Facing the Music by J.H. Darnley and A Little Ray of Sunshine by Mark Ambient and Wilton Heriot.
He also brought with him his London Comedy Company of eight players: Vera Fordyce (leading lady), Phoebe Mercer (aristocratic old ladies), Leonie Norbury (ingenue), Katie Lee (character), Joseph Wilson (comedian), Alex Bradley (principal juvenile), Galway Herbert (juvenile), J.H. Denton (character), and Frank Wilson (stage manager). Katie Lee was perhaps the best known of these players being a sister of Jennie Lee and the late Ada Lee.
Thornton commenced his tour in Melbourne on 3 May 1902 with the Australian premiere of Facing the Music, relocating to the Sydney Palace on 31 May.11
Like so many farces, Facing the Music has an absurd plot. It involves two ‘John Smiths’, one a curate and the other the owner of racehorses, two ‘Mrs John Smiths’, a Colonel Duncan Smith, and two housekeepers.
First performed in the English provinces during 1900 with Thornton as Mr John Smith, Thornton also produced the first London production at the Strand Theatre (10 February 1900) with James Welch as the star.
Facing the Music proved something of a hit with Sydneysiders, playing for six weeks at the Palace, but it was withdrawn prematurely to make way for the first Australian production of A Little Ray of Sunshine on 19 July 1902. This comedy was in a different vein to Facing the Music. Rather than relying on broad humour for laughs, it was more of a character piece, and closer in sentiment to a morality tale than a knock-about farce. It had been a success in London, with W.S. Penley as Lord Markham, an eccentric millionaire who having deserted his family as a youth returns to the family seat and through various acts of benevolence helps them into become better people.
A Little Ray of Sunshine played until the close of the season on 7 August. Although not as engaging as its predecessor, it seemed to please much of the audience.
In August, J.C. Williamson Ltd. sub-leased the theatre from Messrs Lee and Rial for a four months period . Once again the Pitt Street venue was coming to the rescue of a company that had lost its usual theatre due to fire. In 1899 with the destruction of the Tivoli, Harry Rickards turned to the Palace. Now JCW was in need of a new venue following the burning of Her Majesty’s Theatre in March. Williamson’s maintained two Sydney theatres, Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street, and the Theatre Royal in Castlereagh Street. With one theatre out of action they needed somewhere to present their new raft of musical comedy attractions.
JCW’s first offering was San Toy, an original musical play by Edward Morton, with music by Sydney Jones. San Toy had its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne in December 1901 and since that time it had toured throughout Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. When it arrived in Sydney, only one of the original twenty-seven principals remained, namely Ernest Mozar, who played Lieutenant Harvey Tucker.
The key roles were now performed by Rose Musgrove as San Toy (replacing Carrie Moore); Lillian Digges as Dudley (in place of Grace Palotta); Fred H. Graham as Li (rather than George Lauri); Arthur Crane as Captain Bobby Preston (for Charles Kenningham); Charles Trood as the Emperor of China (instead of Hugh J. Ward); and Lulu Evans as Poppy (succeeding Florence Young). Fred H. Graham had also taken over from Spencer Barry as stage director.
San Toy had its initial performance at George Edwardes’ Daly’s Theatre in London in October 1899, with Marie Tempest in the title role. It held the stage for over two years during which time the lead was also played by Florence Collingbourne. The musical’s oriental setting provided the opportunity for superb costumes (designed by Percy Anderson) and settings (painted by Hawes Craven and Joseph Harker), the latter being copied from London models by JCW resident scenic artists John Gordon and George Dixon.
The next production was a revival of The Belle of New York, a musical comedy that had first been seen in Australia during 1899 with a largely American cast headed by Louise Hepner. At the Palace, it played from 13 September 1902 to 7 October 1902, with Lillian Digges as the Belle.
On 3 October a potentially fatal accident occurred when a member of the audience fell from the gallery balcony into the stalls. Miraculously no-one was below and he survived the fall suffering only from shock and a fractured knee.12
The final offering for the present season was The Messenger Boy, which was being performed in Australia for the first time. Due to the elaborate preparations necessary for the production, the opening night was postponed from the Saturday to the following Wednesday, 8 October 1902.13
Featuring a book by James T. Tanner and Alfred Murray, lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank, and music by Ivan Caryll and Lionel Monckton, The Messenger Boy had first been performed at the Gaiety Theatre in London during February 1900 following a try-out in Plymouth. With principal roles played by Edmund Payne, Harry Nicolls, Violet Lloyd, Maud Hobson and Connie Ediss, the musical was a ‘runaway success’, playing for 429 performance.
The Australian production featured artists from JCW’s comic opera company: Fred H. Graham as Tommy Bang (the Messenger Boy), Arthur Crane as Clive Radnor, Arthur Lissant as Hooker Pasha, Lillian Digges as Nora, Blanche Wallace as Lady Punchestown, Rose Musgrove as Rosa, and Fred H. Graham as the stage director.
The exotic locales in which the musical was set gave JCW scenic designer John Gordon the opportunity to impress with scenes of London, Brindisi, Cairo and Paris.
With the departure of the JCW company, William Anderson took over as sub-lessee and manager. He launched his season with Cyrano de Bergerac on 1 November 1902, with American Henry Lee (formerly seen with the World’s Entertainers) in the title role, and Eugenie Duggan as Roxane. This was the debut of Edmund Rostand’s play in Sydney. First performed in Paris in 1897, the play was adapted for the English-speaking stage in 1900 by Stuart Ogilvie and Louis N. Parker, with Richard Mansfield creating the title role in America and Charles Wyndham in the UK.
Anderson’s company had premiered the play at the Melbourne Bijou in August 1902, with Lee as Cyrano and Janet Waldorf as Roxane. It featured elaborate costumes designed and executed by Messrs Lincoln, Stuart & Co., and scenery by John Little and Alfred Tischbauer (Alta).
It seems Henry Lee prepared the text himself. ‘Lee’s is a bad translation, in which much of the point and relish of the comedy was lost’, wrote one critic, ‘Probably the Sydney gallery would have been just as uneasy had the play been well done, but I must claim for them that the Cyrano of the performance leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.’14
In fact the behaviour of the gallery so incensed Lee that on opening night he stopped the play during the last act to address the audience, declaring: ‘This is my first appearance in Sydney in drama, and were it not that I am under engagement to Mr Anderson, and am in honour bound to fulfil my contract, it would be my last appearance.’15 The following Monday, Lee called in sick with gout and Edmund Duggan took over. Despite suggestions that Lee would be back, he was not, and the planned four-week season came to an abrupt close at the end of the week. As a result, William Anderson had to rush in a new show: Walter Melville’s melodrama The Worst Woman in London. As the titular character, Frances Vere, Eugenie Duggan was at her evil best, and with a plot brimming with dastardly acts of blackmail, murder, arson and robbery, audiences were kept on the edge of their seats. With Anderson’s lease ending on 28 November 1902, The Worst Woman in London was withdrawn at the height of its success.
To be continued
1. Advertisement, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1901, p.2
2. Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, p.112
3. Charles Bertram, A Magician in Many Lands, G. Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1911. Bertram died in 1907 (aged only 53) and the book was finished by his wife.
4. The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1901, p.3
5. The Evening News (Sydney), 30 October 1901, p.1. Unfortunately the photo does not seem to be extant.
6. Denis Mackail, The Story of JMB, p.203
7. The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 1902, p.5
8. The Critic (Adelaide), 22 February 1902, p.13; Brisbane Courier, 22 February 1902, p.9
9. The first wave of plague occurred in Sydney between January and August 1900, with 103 deaths. The second wave, which lasted six weeks, claimed 39 lives. See The History of Plague in Australia, 1900–1925.
10. For more information on the World’s Entertainers, see Australian Variety Theatre Archive, https://ozvta.com/international-tourists/
11. The Princess Theatre was required by George Musgrove’s company.
12. The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1902, p.11
13. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 October 1902, p.4
14.The Critic (Adelaide), 29 November 1902, p.13
15. Punch (Melbourne), 13 November 1902, p.31
Charles Bertram, A Magician in Many Lands, G. Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1911
Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 1869–1914, Oxford University Press, 1994
JHL Clumpston & F. McCallum, The History of Plague in Australia, 1900-1925, Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Health, 1926
Denis Mackail, The Story of JMB, Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1941
Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, edited and published by Gerald Taylor, 1980
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
The Critic (Adelaide, SA); Brisbane Courier (QLD); The Evening News (NSW); Punch (Melbourne); The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Judy Leech, Les Tod
Rickards’ tivoli company made their last appearance at the Palace on 19 January 1900. With their departure, short-lease seasons resumed at the theatre, ranging from single performances to one or two week seasons. They included Victor the conjuror; the Sydney Comedy Club; the Sydney Liedertafel (who premiered a new opera by Alfred Hill called Lady Dolly), and McAdoo’s Georgian Minstrels (with a variety programme and performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). During February 1900, the tragedian Walter Bentley was using the theatre for rehearsals prior to taking his company on an extended tour around Australia.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, manager Skinner was making arrangements for significant alterations to the theatre to make it suitable for large-scale dramatic presentations.
In May 1899 Adams had purchased the premises of Gowing Brothers, tailors and outfitters, which occupied the corner of Market and George streets, part of which backed onto the Palace Theatre. In addition to consolidating his property holdings on the block, it also gave him the opportunity to expand the rear of the Palace Theatre. Minor works had been undertaken in mid-1899 when the stage was increased by a few feet. Now it was proposed to increase the depth of the stage by a further sixteen feet, making it 46 feet deep. Other changes to the auditorium and the widening of the proscenium by two and a half feet, would provide better views of the stage, allowing for increased seating capacity of the theatre. While still one of the smallest theatre in Sydney, the house could now seat over 1,300 patrons. Contracts were struck with builder Alexander Dean, and James Bull Alderson, the architect, was engaged to draw up the plans. Alderson had been responsible for the design of Adams’ Marble Bar in 1891.1
Sometime in 1901 Adams and Skinner commissioned the firm of Melbourne-based metalworker James Marriott to design a new verandah and portico to the Palace Hotel and Palace Theatre. These drawings, dated 1901, are at the State Library Victoria. It is not clear if these designs were carried out, but the new wrought iron canopies may have been proposed ahead of the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York who arrived in Sydney on 27 May after opening the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901.
With the re-working of the interior complete, the Palace could now welcome a wider range of companies. The plan was to open with a comedy season by Charles Arnold and company on 9 June 1900, but Arnold’s plans changed and the date was pushed back to 28 July, though this too was altered and he was expected to open in late August following the completion of his Melbourne and Adelaide seasons.
To bridge the gap, Johnstone Sheldon’s War Lecture (with limelight views) occupied the theatre for a week from 30 June, and Boar War films, under the direction of Messrs Wyld and Freedman, were screened from 28 July to 21 August 1900.
Charles Arnold’s company finally opened at the Palace on 25 August 1900, launching their comedy season with What Happened to Jones. Arnold was well-known to Australian theatregoers, having made two previous visits, during the 1880s, and again in the 1890s with Hans the Boatman, Captain Fritz and other plays.
For his third tour, he brought with him several new comedies. The first, What Happened to Jones, a three-act farce by George Broadhurst, had been performed in New York in 1897, with George C. Boniface as Jones, the travelling salesman who disguises himself as a cleric in an attempt to escape the police. Having purchased the British and Colonial rights, Charles Arnold first produced the play at the Grand Theatre, Croydon on 30 May 1898 (with himself as Jones), prior to opening at the Strand Theatre in London on 17 July 1898, where it played for 325 performances. With the conclusion of the London season, he took it and other plays to South Africa. He arrived in Australia in April 1900, opening at the Melbourne Princess’s on the 18th of the month. The play proved a huge success and played an unprecedented eight weeks or 52 nights (76,000 people). Arnold was said to have made £5000, with the nightly receipts eclipsing all previous records for the theatre (with the exception of the Bernhardt and London Gaiety Burlesque seasons of 1895).2
In Sydney, What Happened to Jones played to full houses for seven weeks. It closed on Wednesday, 17 October 1899, the occasion of its 54th night, thereby eclipsing Melbourne by two performances! As a result of playing Jones for the full term, Sydney did not get to see The Professor’s Love Story, which had been given its Australian premiere in Melbourne.
With the conclusion of the Arnold season, the company departed for New Zealand, via Hobart.
Pending the arrival of the Hawtrey Comedy Company in December, the theatre remained dark, with the exception of a few one-off performances. The most notable was the world premiere on 1 November 1900 of Thou Fool by the Rev. George Walters, author of Joseph of Canaan. The play was being performed for copyright purposes, with the prospect of producing it in London (though this does not seem to have happened). The play was staged by Philip Lytton, who also played the leading role. He was supported by a cast of amateurs.
The next play at the Palace was A Message from Mars, a fantastical comedy-drama in three acts by Richard Ganthony, which was being performed for the first time in Australia on 22 December 1900. This play had been a huge hit in London, and was still playing at the Strand Theatre when the Australian production opened.3 The play was a morality tale, not unlike Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, whereby a selfish man is reformed after a visitor from Mars appears to him in a dream and shows him the effect of his actions on the people around him. When the play opened in London, the principal characters were played by Charles H. Hawtrey (Horace Parker), Arthur Williams (Tramp), Jessie Bateman (Minnie Templer) and G.S. Titheradge (Messenger from Mars).
The Hawtrey Comedy Company was managed by Charles Hawtrey’s brother William F. Hawtrey, who also played the role of the tramp in A Message from Mars. Hawtrey had been working in Australia since 1897 as stage manager for Williamson and Musgrove’s Dramatic Company, but on the dissolution of the partnership had returned to England to arrange the current tour. The role of Horace Parker was played by Herbert Ross, Ruby Ray was Minnie Templer, and the Messenger from Mars was portrayed by Henry Stephenson, who had understudied the role in London. With the conclusion of the Australian season, Stephenson would join Charles Hawtrey in New York, making his Broadway debut in the role of the Messenger.
Ahead of the company’s arrival scenic artist Harry Whaite recreated the London scenery.
The play proved a huge success in Sydney and played to packed houses for eight weeks.
To mark the new year 1901 and the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia, Sydney’s building were decked with lights. The illuminations along Pitt Street were considered particularly striking:
Tattersall’s Hotel and the Palace Theatre were prettily lighted up with electric lights, small coloured globes outlined the windows; over the verandah in the centre of the building was a transparency scene representing Her Majesty the Queen; above this likeness were the words ‘Our People, One Destiny’, underneath a representation of the British coat of arms, supported by the Australia coat of arms with the words ‘The Crimson Thread of Kinship Sealed with Australian Blood’.4
From The Arena (Melbourne), 28 September 1901, p.12
The second play of the Hawtrey season was Tom, Dick and Harry, a three-act farcical comedy by Mrs Romualdo Pacheco, described as a ‘hyper-inflated farcical version of The Comedy of Errors’ involving three identical red-headed men: one pair of twins and another who for reason of his own copies their appearance. First produced in New York in 1892 under the title Incog, it starred Charles Dickson, Louis Mann and Robert Edeson as Tom, Dick and Harry, with Clara Lipman as Mollie Somers. When Charles H. Hawtrey produced the play in England he changed the title and relocated the setting from San Francisco to Margate. The first production took place at the Theatre Royal, Manchester in August 1893, and it opened in London at the Trafalgar Square [Duke of York’s] Theatre in November 1893. In London, the complexity of the plot with three identical characters, confused audiences and when the play was sent on tour, Charles Hawtrey hit on the idea of adding an additional scene that showed the bogus twin applying his make-up.5 The play later formed the basis for the 1908 musical Three Twins.
Tom, Dick and Harry was performed for the first time in Australia at the Palace on 23 February 1901. The cast included Herbert Ross, O.P. Heggie and Philip Lytton as the eponymous Tom, Dick and Harry, with W.F. Hawtrey as Colonel Stanhope, and Roxy Barton and Ruby Ray as Molly [sic] Somers and Daisy Armitage. Also on the bill was the one-act play A Highland Legacy by Brandon Thomas (the author of Charley’s Aunt), with W.F. Hawtrey as Tammy Tamson MacDonnel. This Scots trifle, first performed in London in 1888, saw W.F. Hawtrey as a Scottish laird who disguises himself as an old Highland retainer in order to discover the character of an estranged nephew who stands to inherit a substantial fortune.
The double-bill played to packed houses at the Palace until the end of the season on 29 March 1901.
The following evening saw the return of Charles Arnold with the comedy Why Smith Left Home. This piece, like What Happened to Jones, had been written by George Broadhurst. In England, the title role had been created by Maclyn Arbuckle at the Grand Theatre, Margate, 27 April 1899. Arbuckle would go on to star in the first London (Strand Theatre, 1 May 1899) and New York (Hoyt’s Theatre, 2 September 1899) productions.
First produced by Charles Arnold during his South African tour, Why Smith Left Home was given its Australian premiere at the Palace Theatre on 30 March 1901. The farce concerned a newly married couple who decide to spend their honeymoon at home, but are unable to get any time together when their house is filled with noisy servants and visitors. The roles of Mr and Mrs Smith were played by George Willoughby and Agnes Knights, with Charles Arnold as Count von Guggenheim and Dot Frederic as Julia. Smith was played until 3 May 1901.
With the departure of Charles Arnold, there was a change of pace at the Palace.
On 4 May 1901, G.H. Snazelle presented Our Navy. This was not a play, but an illustrated lecture on the capabilities of the British Navy. Rather than simply a catalogue of achievements and a description of the Navy’s arsenal, Snazelle’s ‘lecture’ included anecdotes and songs delivered in his own inimitable way. The illustrations were provided in the form of a projected film made by G. West and Son of Southsea, which was made on board HMS Jupiter during manoeuvres. Snazelle was well known to Sydney audiences having toured Australia in the early 1890s, presenting his one-man show Music, Song and Story. The possessor of a fine baritone voice, during his first visit he also sang with the Royal Comic Opera Company, notably as Bouillabaisse in Paul Jones, alongside Nellie Stewart and Marion Burton.
Snazelle’s entertainment held the stage at the Palace for five weeks.
On 27 May 1901, the Hawtrey Comedy Company returned to the Palace. A Message from Mars and Tom, Dick, and Harry were revived for the first four weeks of the season, and on 15 June 1901, they presented a new three-act farce, In the Soup by the late Ralph R. Lumley.
In the Soup concerned an impoverish junior barrister, Horace Gillibrand, who after marrying takes on an expensive London apartment. In order to maintain its upkeep and deceive a visiting uncle, the apartment is sub-let to a number of different tenants, the play culminating in an riotous dinner scene in which sleeping powder is added to the soup. Following a ‘tryout’ at the Opera House, Northampton in August 1900, a revised version of the farce was brought to London later the same month. Comedian James A. Welch (who would go on to score a huge hit in When Knights Were Bold) played one of the lead roles, supported by John Beauchamp, Audrey Ford and Maria Saker.
In Sydney, the role of the barrister was played by Herbert Ross, with W.F. Hawtrey as Monsieur Moppert, one of the tenants, Henry Stephenson as the peppery uncle, and Ruby Ray as Mrs Gillibrand. The farce, which had played for over a year in London, proved just as popular with Sydneysiders and played until the end of the season on 13 July 1901.
To be continued
1. Australian Star, 6 January 1900, p.3; Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1900, p.4
2. Evening Journal, 2 July 1900, p.3
3. A Message from Mars was performed at the Avenue Theatre, 22 November 1899 to 30 March 1901, transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre, 6 April 1901 to 20 April 1901, a total of 544 performances.
4. Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1901, p.14
5. Charles Hawtrey, pp.245-246
Guide to Selecting Plays, Samuel French, 1913
G.S. Edwards, Snazelleparilla, Chatto & Windus, 1898
Charles Hawtrey, The Truth at Last, Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1924
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1890–1899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014
The Arena (Melbourne); Australian Star (Sydney, NSW); Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA); Sydney Mail (NSW); Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)
With thanks to
John S. Clark, Judy Leech
On Christmas Eve 1896, George Adams opened his little vaudeville theatre in Pitt Street, Sydney, amongst much fanfare. ‘With regard to decorations, the theatre has no equal in Australia, and possibly it is superior to any building of its kind in London’, wrote one paper. Scenic artist Phil Goatcher, who designed the auditorium in a spectacular Indian style, was also the first lessee. But lack of experience as a theatre manager and arguments and law suits with his business partner, spelled disaster for the enterprise. ‘For a few nights it drew large audiences, and then a bit of a frost set in.’1
After only six weeks, Goatcher’s lesseeship of the Palace Theatre came to an abrupt end. George Adams turned to Harry Rickards, striking a three-year lease with Australia’s undisputed King of Vaudeville. For Rickards this was an opportunity to secure a monopoly in this class of business, look at expanding his empire, and at the same time fend off any competition. But could Sydney support two variety theatres?
Without any interruption to programming, Goatcher’s company made their final appearance on 29 January 1897, and the following evening, Harry Rickards’ company took over the stage, with Rickards’ brother John C. Leete as General Manager.
While a couple of Goatcher performers joined the ranks of the new company, most were drawn from Rickards other theatres, the Sydney Tivoli and Melbourne Opera House.
Grand Opening Night on Saturday, 30 January 1897, was a great success and boded well for the new venture. ‘Mr Harry Rickards has reason to feel satisfied with the result of his initial performance at this bright little playhouse on Saturday night’, wrote the Evening News. ‘From a financial as well as artistic standpoint it was a gratifying success.’2
The line up boasted a number of popular artists, seen before at the Tivoli, including American illusionist Carl Hertz, supported by his wife Mdlle D’Alton, and champion whistler Frank Lawton in his ‘The Whistling Waiter’ sketch. Other artists were Australian serio-comic Florrie Forde (singing ‘Oh Harris, Ain’t it Nice in Paris’ and ‘I am an Innocent Dickie Bird’); grotesque dancers and acrobats The Three Delevines; American sketch duo Albert Bellman and Lottie Moore; mandolin artists, the Winterton Sisters; child serio-comic and dancer Little Alma Gray; and Ada Colley, the Australian Canary. Of the newcomers, there was Edgar Granville, an English character comedian who delighted audiences with several songs, including ‘I Haven’t Got it Out Yet’ and ‘This Life is But a Derby’, and ‘Tiddle-ee-wink, what d’ye Think of Me’, which he sang, dressed in widow’s weeds!
Three weeks later, armed with photos of his new theatre, Rickards left for England and Europe to recruit enough new talent to fill the bills at his three theatres.
Over the next three months, the programme at the Palace changed, with new artists joining the bill. From England came vaudevillian all-rounder Will Crackles; C.H. Chirgwin (‘The White-Eyed Musical Kaffir’); serio-comic and dancer, Jessie De Grey; and comedian Harry Shine. Among the locals there was soprano Florrie Esdaile; dancers Lucy Cobb and Millie Osborne; and ‘the clever contralto’ Hettie Patey.
The vaudeville season closed on 3 April 1897 ‘pending the new engagements now being made by Mr Rickards in Europe and America’.3
While waiting for his brother to return with the new artists, John C. Leete oversaw a varied programme of entertainment at the Palace. From 17–30 April 1897, star violinist Ovide Musin gave a series of concerts, and from 1 May, John Gourlay and Percy St John’s Musical Comedy Company presented a short season of plays, including Gourlay’s musical farcical comedy Skipped by the Light of the Moon. With the conclusion of the Gourlay season on 29 May, the Palace closed, and remained so until Rickards’ return from overseas in August 1897.
Rickards’ plan was to run the Palace along new lines from the Tivoli, with completely different entertainments at his two Sydney theatres. During the break, the Palace stage was enlarged by six feet to accommodate some of the new acts.
Among the novelties secured by Rickards was the Biograph—an early motion picture projector—billed as the ‘very latest and most wonderful invention’ and the ‘marvel of the Nineteenth Century’. Rickards was said to have paid £3,000 to secure the sole Australian rights for six months. In an interview, he described it as being ‘a great advance upon Lumière’s Cinematographe’, which Carl Hertz had introduced to Tivoli audiences in 1896.4
Made and operated by the American Biograph Company, the projector was the invention of Herman Casler (1867-1939). Unlike Edison’s Kinetograph, which used 35 mm gauge film, Casler’s Biograph employed 68/70 mm sprocket-less film which produced an exceptionally large and clear image. From September 1896 it was being presented at vaudeville houses in America, and in March 1897 it was included on the bill at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in London for the first time. It would remain an attraction at the London Palace until 1902.
Rickards’ Biograph-Vaudeville Company re-opened the Palace on Monday, 23 August 1897. The first night programme comprised twelve short films including ‘President McKinley Receiving the Result of His Election, ‘Union Square New York, ‘The Falls of Niagara’ and ‘The Horseless Fire Engine’. This last named film, which showed a New York fire engine ‘snorting out volumes of smoke and raising clouds of dust’ as it races off to a extinguish a fire, was one of the most popular and repeated on subsequent nights by popular demand.5
The Biograph was just one of the highlights of a packed programme. Opening night also saw the first Australian appearance of Fanny Wentworth, an English pianist, vocalist and character entertainer, who introduced the song ‘The Little Tin Gee-Gee’; the return of Lilian Tree, an operatic prima donna, who had previously been seen in Australia with the Simonsen Opera Company; Master Arthur Sherwood, a boy mezzo-soprano; illusionist Professor Charles Marritt; and Australian popular favourite, operatic and character vocalist Fanny Liddiard. The Biograph-Vaudeville combination ran until 30 September 1897.
A season of American musical comedies by Charles H. Hoyt followed on 2 October with A Bunch of Keys, featuring another of Rickards’ recent acquisitions, Addie Conyers, supported by Fannie Liddiard, Lottie Moore, Albert Bellman and George Lauri. This was not Conyers first Australian appearance, she had been seen in 1892–93 as a member of the London Gaiety Burlesque Company.
Binks the Photographer followed on 20 October, with William Gourlay, Addie Conyers, Minnie Everett, Marietta Nash and George Lauri, but it lasted only a week. It seems American plays were not a popular choice and audiences stayed away. The musical comedy season came to an abrupt end on 26 November 1897—and with it, Harry Rickards’ lease on the Palace.
With audience numbers at the Tivoli in decline, Rickards soon realised that Sydney couldn’t profitably support two vaudeville houses. He reluctantly decided, after eleven months, to give up his lease on the Palace and devote his energies to the management of the Tivoli and the Opera House in Melbourne.
With Rickards’ early departure, George Adams’ representative Harrie Skinner was given the task of finding a suitable tenant for the theatre, and soon communications were being issued to leading English, American and European agents and managers.
In order to keep the ‘lights on’ between seasons, the theatre was made available to amateur groups such as the Lotus Club and Sydney Comedy Club.
From 8 October 1898–9 December 1898, the theatre played host to an extended season by the 29-year-old American magician Dante the Great, who was making his first appearance in Australia. Hailed as ‘the greatest magician living’, Dante lived up to the hype and enthralled audiences with his ‘original experiments in sleight-of-hand’. He also performed a number of elaborate tricks including ‘The Marvellous Bicyclist’, wherein his assistant Mdlle Edmunda (the stage name of his wife Virginia Eliason] ‘cycles through the air, upside down, in and out, backwards and forwards, in complete defiance of all the laws of gravitation’. In another trick, ‘The Beggar’s Dream’, Mdlle Edmunda, wearing rags, is placed under a canopy on a platform, and almost immediately her rags vanish and she is wearing a magnificent evening dress. Dante kept audiences spellbound for two months.6
Skinner’s next big coup was the engagement of Orpheus Myron McAdoo, an American singer and minstrel impresario, who was making a return visit to Australia.
McAdoo was a big draw card, having cemented a position as a favourite with Australian concert-goers since his first trip in 1888 with Fisk’s Jubilee Singers. He made a second extended visit with Fisk’s company in 1892 and remained on until 1895 with his own company, McAdoo’s Jubilee Singers. McAdoo had a deep voice, described as an ‘A-flat basso profundo’.
National Library of Australia, Canberra.
The McAdoo company opened at the Palace on Saturday, 17 December 1898, for an initial three weeks, but ended up staying for two-months. The company specialised in singing plantation songs, jubilee choruses and glees. Favourite songs included ‘Steal Away to Jesus’, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘Hear Dem Bells’. In addition to McAdoo, the principal members of the company were Mattie Allan McAdoo (Mrs McAdoo), billed as ‘the only lady tenor’—her rendition of ‘Come into the Garden, Maude’ was warmly encored; and Susie B. Anderson—described as ‘America’s Black Melba’—who sang the ‘Queen of the Night’ aria from The Magic Flute.
The current season ended on 28 January 1899 and in March 1899, McAdoo departed for America to organise a full-size African-American minstrel troupe. He placed recruitment advertisements in the Indianapolis Freeman informing prospective artistes: ‘The Palace Theatre, Sidney [sic], is the handsomest and most complete vaudeville house in the world.’7
During McAdoo’s absence, the Lands Department Draftsmen's Association gave a performance of Farnie and Lecocq’s operetta The Sea Nymphs on Friday, 10 May 1899. The following night, Dante returned for a four-week season (11 March 1899–8 April 1899), bringing with him a raft of new illusionistic wonders.
In June 1899, McAdoo returned with his new company, the Georgia Minstrels and Alabama Cakewalkers. They opened at the Palace on the seventeenth of the month. The first part of the entertainment resembled an ordinary minstrel show, ‘but the numbers introduced were greatly above those in the usual minstrel show’, including comic songs and dances. One of his leading recruits was the singer Flora Batson, known as the ‘coloured Jenny Lind’. Another was William Ferry, a rubber-boned performer known as ‘The Human Frog’. The second part of the bill introduced the ‘Cakewalk’, which saw the complete company strutting about the stage amid ‘rousing roars of laughter’ from the audience.8
Two weeks into the season, a rival minstrel company opened at the nearby Criterion Theatre. The presence of two similar outfits in Sydney proved challenging for McAdoo, and after struggling on for a further fortnight, he closed his season at the Palace on 12 July 1899 and embarked on an extended tour of the regions.
Mitchell Library Performance Program Collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
In the early hours of Monday morning on 11 September 1899, fire broke out in Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre in Castlereagh Street. The building was entirely gutted, destroying valuable sets, costumes and personal belongings. Rickards had only recently purchased the freehold of the building, having leased it since 1893. Fortunately the theatre was insured, but only for half its value. Though Rickards was in England at the time of the fire securing new acts, manager Leete lost no time in finding a new venue and the following day the company re-opened at the nearby Palace at a matinee performance. As one journalist put it:
The pretty little Palace Theatre—one of George Adams’ white elephants—will now have a chance to return the owner some interest on the outlay in its construction and elaborate decoration, which was carried out on a scale that no one but a ‘sweep promoter’ could stand.9
Rickards’ company remained at the Palace for five months, while the Tivoli Theatre was being rebuilt. To save costs, they reused the Tivoli programme covers.
Artists who appeared at the Palace at this time included the London comedian and raconteur G.W. Hunter; the world renown Polish juggler Paul Cinquevalli (said to be one of the highest-paid entertainers ever engaged by Rickards); opera singer Signor Jesse Brandani (who interrupted his walking tour of the world to appear for a few nights); character vocalist Tom Costello; and the Russian specialty performers the Newsky Family; along with numerous old favourites such as Little Alma Gray.
The Tivoli company gave their last performance at the Palace on 19 January 1900. As the new Tivoli was still not complete, Rickards relocated his company to the Criterion Theatre pending the launch of his new variety theatre on 12 April 1900.
With Rickards out of the way, Adams had big plans for the Palace.
To be continued
1. Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), 6 April 1897, p.4.
2. Evening News (Sydney), 1 February 1897, p.3.
3. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 April 1897, p.6.
4. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 August 1897, p.6.
5. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1897, p.3.
6. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 October 1898, p.9.
7. Bill Egan, African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand, p.72.
8. Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1899, p.8.
9. Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 5 October 1899, p.24.
Gae Anderson, Tivoli King: Life of Harry Rickards, Vaudeville Showman, Sid Harta Publishing, Glen Waverley, Vic, 2008.
Bill Egan, African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand: A history, 1788-1941, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2019.
Frank Van Straten, Tivoli, Thomas C. Lothian, South Melbourne, Vic, 2003.
Charles Waller, Magical Nights at the Theatre, Gerald Taylor Productions, Melbourne, 1980.
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW); Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW); Evening News (Sydney, NSW); Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA), Sydney Morning Herald (NSW); Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic)
John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Bill Egan, Frank Van Straten
When the palace theatre at 351 Pitt Street in Sydney opened on Friday, 19 December 1896, it was heralded as one of the most beautiful theatres in the southern hemisphere. ‘A dazzling spectacle of Oriental luxury and richness’, ‘As gorgeous as an Indian temple’ and ‘Like a transformation scene from a pantomime’, were just a few of the phrases used to describe this little gem.1
The interior of the new theatre was indeed magnificent, designed in the Indian style, predating the atmospheric theatres of the 1920s. The design was the work of English-born Phil Goatcher (1851-1931), best known as a scenic artist, having worked principally in Melbourne on set designs for Williamson, Garner & Musgrove.
The Palace Theatre was the brainchild of George Adams (1839-1904) of Tattersall’s lotto fame. During the early 1890s, he had completely rebuilt and refurbished his Tattersall’s Hotel on Pitt Street, and in 1895 embarked on the second stage of the redevelopment that saw the design and construction of an 800-seat variety theatre.
When Adams’ hotel re-opened in January 1892 it was admired for the richness of its finishes and the luxuriousness of its appointments. One of the key elements was the redecoration of the main bar, being decked out in marble and glass and relaunched as the Marble Bar. It quickly became one of the most fashionable destinations in Sydney.
The Palace was the seventh new theatre to be opened in Sydney in the space of a decade, the other theatres being the Royal Standard (1886, reworking of the Foresters’ Lodge), Criterion (1886), Her Majesty’s (1887), Garrick (1890, replacing the Academy of Music), Lyceum (1892) and Tivoli (1893, reworking of Garrick).
For Adams, money was no object, and by 1895, he had assembled a talented team of designers to work on the theatre development, giving them carte blanche to let their imaginations runaway with them and create something remarkable. Both the architect, Clarence Backhouse (1859-1930), and the principal interior designer, Phil Goatcher, had worked together before, on the design of the Lyceum Theatre in Pitt Street, directly opposite Adams’ hotel. Backhouse had also been the architect for the Garrick Theatre (1890) and had undertaken remodelling works on the Criterion Theatre in 1892.
In early 1896, after six years in Melbourne, Phil Goatcher had given up his job as head scenic artist at the Princess Theatre. At the suggestion of Arthur Garner (1851-1934), who had left the partnership of Williamson, Garner & Musgrove, Goatcher decided to try his luck as a theatre manager. With no written agreement, the two men arranged to take on the lease of the Palace Theatre. For Goatcher, the Palace was the most ambitious project he had even been involved with—and what could be better than to become manager of the theatre that showcased his talent as a designer. Goatcher borrowed money from Adams which he gave to Garner to spend on securing music hall ‘acts’ for their new theatre. In February 1896 Garner left for England and America, leaving Goatcher behind to work on the theatre. When he returned, eight months later, relations between him and Goatcher began to sour.
To complicate matters, the new partners had also taken out a short lease at the Lyceum Theatre, where from the 26 December 1896, they presented the Irish-American comedian Charles F. McCarthy in the cross-dressing farce Lady Blarney.
Around this time, Goatcher developed an interest in decorative pressed metal and was keen to explore ways to use this product in interior design settings. Forming a strategic alliance with the Sydney-based Wunderlich company (founded in 1887 by German-born Ernest Wunderlich) he was appointed head of their Decorating Department, creating designs for pressed metal panels and other decorative items. Presumably this was a consultative role rather than a full-time appointment, but it gave him the opportunity to work closely with Wunderlich on several high profile projects. Key among them was the Palace Theatre (1896), the W.H. Paling & Co.’s music store in George Street (1896), and at the Singer Sewing Machine showroom in the Queen Victoria Building (1898).
On account of the Palace opening later than originally planned, Garner arranged for the new artists to perform in Melbourne prior to making their Sydney debut. In Melbourne, Garner placed advertisements in the press indicating the new company was under his management. Goatcher was furious, for it was his money that Garner had used to engage the artists. He struck Garner’s name off his advertisements for the new Palace Theatre and placed Harrie Skinner in the role of manager and treasurer. Just a few days before the theatre’s opening, Garner threatened Goatcher. Goatcher took out an injunction against Garner. Garner was bound over by the court and ordered to stay away from Goatcher for a period of six months.
The Palace Theatre fronted on to Pitt Street on a block 56 feet wide and 125 feet deep. Its imposing facade was in the Queen Anne style, a ‘handsome red brick front, with the lower storey in white glazed brick on a polished trachyte base’. The roof was of red French tiles, surmounted by a ‘lofty and imposing tower, rising almost 100 feet from the street level’.2 A feature of the facade was four classical figures representing dancing girls, each ‘gracefully posed, and bearing in her hands a quaint-looking instrument symbolic of music’.3 Almost life-sized, these terracotta figures were modelled by sculptor Nelson Illingworth after designs by Phil Goatcher. Illingworth also prepared a number of models for keystones in the interior of the building.
The main vestibule and corridors were richly decorated, with allegorical figures representing poetry and composition adorning the ceilings and walls. A double marble staircase, sporting elaborate candelabra, lead to the main second-storey foyer and dress circle. The foyer, described as an ‘exquisite’ chamber, was decorated with bevelled mirrors, ornate plaster mouldings and elaborate painted ceiling executed by Phil Goatcher.
The auditorium was a feast of Oriental luxury in elaborate Indian style and considered an artistic triumph for Goatcher. All the decorative elements to the boxes and proscenium were made from embossed zinc, while balcony fronts, capitals and consoles were of perforated zinc. The groined ceiling and dome were also constructed from metal. The Indian theme was enhanced by the placement of a ‘Buddha’ figure at the apex of the proscenium arch. The private boxes—four on each side of the stage—resembled ‘small Indian temples, with cupola-shaped roofs, arched fronts, and ornate tracery’.4
The custom-designed Wunderlich panels were manufactured in the company’s Redfern facility.
From ‘The Wunderlich Patent Ceiling and Roofing Company, Limited: A Visit to the Works’, Sydney Mail, 24 October 1896, p.875
From Wunderlich Illustrated Catalogue, Sydney, 1899. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Peacock blue and gold predominated in the auditorium, from the upholstery on the comfortable American ‘fauteuil’ seating in the dress circle to the magnificent plush and satin of the drop curtain. Made entirely of needlework, this drop curtain replaced the traditional painted act drop. Of intricate Indian design, it was said to contain ‘eleven miles of gold Russian braid, and over 3500 pieces of satin’.5
It was claimed that the ‘Indian’ design adopted for the auditorium had never been employed before, though theatre historian Eric Irvin and others have pointed out that the design had previously been used at the Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado.6
The dressing rooms, music room and property rooms were situated in the basement, as was the engine room. Refrigerating chambers, also located in the basement, ensured good air flow to all portions of the building. The theatre was the first building in Sydney to have its own generator, capable of powering over 4000 lights (i.e. in the theatre and the adjacent hotel). In the auditorium, the lights were hidden behind stained glass screens in the balcony fronts and dome to reduce glare.
At the commencement of construction, the theatre was announced to hold some 1500 people: 500 in the stalls, 250 in the dress circle and 750 in the upper circle; though by the time of opening, this number seems to have been somewhat reduced to between 800 and 1000.
This beautiful new theatre was launched on Friday, 19 December 1896. True to form, Adams’ held a ticket sweep for the opening night which saw patrons placing bids for their seats.
Mitchell Library Performance Program Collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Billed as the Stars of All Nations company, the headline act was R.G. Knowles (1858-1919), an American music hall comic, who had achieved success in London; and Henry Lee, a lightning change artist who impersonated celebrities from Gladstone to Shakespeare. Others included specialty acts such as the Three Delevines (grotesque dancers and pantomimists), Winifred Johnson (Mrs R.G. Knowles, banjo-soloist), Lottie Moore and Albert Bellman (song and dance artists), Clotilde Antonio (ballerina and hand-balancer), the Sisters Winterton (mandolinists and dancers), as well as a boy violinist and a lady tenor.
‘Everywhere the eye is dazzled with the beauty of the place, and absolutely nothing has been omitted to secure the comfort of the patrons of the house’, reported the Referee. ‘The programme for the opening night, even if it occasionally was wanting in quality, certainly was never lacking in quantity.’7
In the opening weeks it seemed the Palace was doing well. ‘This pretty house of entertainment is filled nightly with delighted audiences, who thoroughly enjoy the excellent variety entertainment provided by Mr Goatcher’, wrote the Daily Telegraph .8 Earlier, in Melbourne, readers were informed by Table Talk: ‘With McCarthy at the Lyceum and Stars of All Nations at the Palace Theatre, he [Goatcher] is raking in the almighty dollar by the shovel-full. … more fresh faces are on their way to Goatcher’s Palace.’9
On Saturday, 9 January 1897, Goatcher’s ‘delighted audiences’ were captured in a flashlight photograph of the auditorium taken by C.H. Kerry and Co. This picture, and others, were reproduced in the Sydney Mail, 23 January 1897, and subsequently in Wunderlich’s 1899 illustrated catalogue.
But it seems, you can’t believe everything you read. Goatcher’s tenure at the Palace Theatre lasted just a month and a half. By the end of January, his Stars of All Nations company had disbanded and Goatcher himself was said to have fled Sydney. Within days he had set sail for New Zealand, having (apparently) been engaged to decorate a theatre in Wellington.
Clearly the lines in Table Talk were exaggerated puffery. According to a piece in the Champion, George Adams’ was ‘disgusted’ with the way his theatre had been mismanaged. He blamed Arthur Garner for engaging predominately American artists ‘which managers ought to know does not please Australians’. Garner, the article said ‘toured the world to choose this feeble combination at great expense’. He was ‘once a member of the Firm [Williamson, Garner & Musgrove], but his own theatrical experiences and those of others seem to have taught him nothing’.10
Adams’ turned to Harry Rickards to help get the new theatre back on its feet.
Meanwhile Phil Goatcher returned to Australia, and following another legal stoush with Garner, where he was sued for £3000 for breach of agreement, he filed for bankruptcy. Goatcher remained in Sydney for the next decade, re-joining J.C. Williamson’s as a senior scenic artist and continuing to take on private commissions decorating public buildings and shops. In 1899 he married (his second wife) and in 1906, on account of a bronchial condition, relocated to Western Australia.
To be continued
1. Sunday Times, 20 December 1896, p.2
2. Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1896, p.5
3. Evening News, 5 June 1896, p.5
4. Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 1896, p.5
5. Australian Town and Country Journal, 26 December 1896, p.36
6. See Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, p.292. Also, Ailsa McPherson, in her entry on Goatcher for the Dictionary of Sydney (2010) says: ‘It can be assumed that Goatcher drew extensively on his own experience in his decoration of the Palace, since the decor strongly resembled that of the recently completed Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado.’ A 2017 article by historian Wendy Rae Raszut-Barrett in drypigment.com lists the lead scenic artist on the Broadway Theatre project as Thomas G. Moses, supported by Ed Loitz, William and Charlie Minor, and Billie Martin.
7. Referee, 23 December 1896, p.7
8. Daily Telegraph, 14 January 1897, p.3
9. Table Talk, 1 January 1897, p14
10. Champion, 30 January 1897, p.3
Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre, Hale & Iremonger, 1985
Ailsa McPherson, ‘Goatcher, Philip W.’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/goatcher_philip_w
Ailsa McPherson, ‘Palace Theatre’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008, https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/palace_theatre
Craig Morrison, Theatres, WW Norton & Company, 2006
Philip Parsons (ed), Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Ross Thorne, Palace Theatre Pitt St: A Photo Essay, www.rossthorne.com/downloads/Palace_theatre.pdf
Ross Thorne, Theatre Buildings in Australia to 1905: from the time of the first settlement to the arrival of cinema, Architectural Research Foundation, University of Sydney, 1971
Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar, Part 231: Thomas G. Moses and the Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado, drypigment.net, 7 October 2017, https://drypigment.net/2017/10/07/tales-from-a-scenic-artist-and-scholar-acquiring-the-fort-scott-scenery-collection-for-the-minnesota-masonic-heritage-center-part-231-thomas-g-moses-and-the-broadway-theatre-in-denver-color/
Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, Travels of A Scenic Artist and Scholar: John C. Alexander, Frank R. Alexander, and the Broadway Theatre, drypigment.net, 23 November 2020, https://drypigment.net/2020/11/23/travels-of-a-scenic-artist-and-scholar-john-c-alexander-frank-r-alexander-and-the-broadway-theatre/
John West, Theatre in Australia, Cassell, 1978
Wunderlich’s Patent Embossed Metal Ceilings: Illustrated Catalogue, Sydney, 1899
Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW); Champion (Melbourne, Vic); Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW); Evening News (Sydney, NSW); Referee (Sydney, NSW); Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW); Sydney Mail (NSW); Sydney Morning Herald (NSW); Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic)
John S. Clark, Mimi Colligan, Ian Hanson, Judy Leech, Simon Plant, Les Tod