Thus Far: The Story of My Life (Part 2)

Written by Madge Elliott

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In her first chapter, Madge Elliott told of her early years and her tentative steps in the world of dancing, bringing her “thus far”, to her dancing lessons with Miss Minnie Hooper, who smoothed her path to her first professional engagement, overcoming the difficulties and disappointments which are usually the beginner's fare. Now the curtain rises on Act 2. Read Part 1 of this article here»

 

I practically “grew up” in the ballet, and danced in many strange theatres with blue or crimson plush seats, much worn, gilded and fat, disconsolate plaster Cupids, invariably in need of a wash.

With my advancing youth came a better appreciation of dancing and dancers. In our dressing rooms the ballet girls often discussed the art of Pavlova and her well-known Swan Dance, which was wonderful, despite the fact that every alleged dancing teacher had taught a mimicry of it to the stolid bodies and fat little legs of her pupils.

Often I would recall the fairy tale of the Toy Ballet, wherein Pavlova was the Fairy Doll. It is impossible not to remember a little of that witchery. Lovely Adeline Genée, too, was to us a model. Pleasant memories these, and long may it be before we ring down the curtain on the old theatres with their blue and plush upholstery and begrimed plaster.

Once tidy up Eden and you will loose your progressive “talkie” serpent. He has enough of the earth to deal with at the moment, so let the trail of him be absent from some few chosen spots. Until these old theatres fall to pieces, let there be kept for players and playgoers alike some haven where music is real, where the shadow of Pavlova sways in the wings, and the faces on the other side of the footlights are flushed with a very human triumph as the curtain falls.

It would be pleasant to state here that I went straight from the ballet to principal roles in musical comedy. It would be pleasant but it would not be true. Such things happen only in novels of the theatre—and sometimes in motion picture plots.

My theatrical advance was slow, but it was steady, with hard work the motivating factor. I was never at any time an “innovation” or a “revelation” in the theatre sense. I could pass over perhaps the long gruelling days of rehearsal on dim-lit stages, and the dreary nights when I tumbled into bed tired, yes, and sometimes discouraged. While it was often irksome it was an excellent training and I was always philosopher enough to accept it along with the glamour, as part and parcel of the life of a theatrical artist.

Ultimately rewards came my way.1. The first of these was my advance from the ballet to principal dancer in the Exquisite Eight.2. And that was my beginning in musical comedy.

While playing in the recent Melbourne revival of High Jinks I was often reminded of my early days as a solo dancer for it was in this piece in its original presentation that I first fluttered across the stage without a partner, or many partners, to be exact.3.

As a member of the Exquisite Eight I played in So Long Letty, To-night’s the Night, You're In Love, and Canary Cottage.4. It was a delightful season, and our Australian and New Zealand tours were highly successful.

  • MadgeElliott 003 400px

    The Exquisite Eight, as they appeared in the “Pink and Gold Ballet” in So Long, Letty in 1915. (l to r) Madge Elliott, Winnie Tate, Eileen Wells, Beryl Ferguson, Dolly Nepean, Lucy Greenhill, Mona Ferguson and Ida Lacey.

    Punch (Melbourne), 20 April 1916, p. 607, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/14879127

Everywhere we performed Alfred Frith, Maude Fane, and the late Connie Ediss, principals in the company, were popular, and we all came in for some of the reflected glory.

  • ConnieEdiss 001

    Former London Gaiety Theatre comedienne, Connie Ediss who appeared in J.C. Williamson musicals between 1915-18.

    Photo by Rotary Photo Co., London. Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

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    British-born comedian, Alfred Frith, with a montage of his stage roles from Going Up, A Night Out, You’re In Love, Oh, Lady! Lady!, So Long Letty and High Jinks.

    Photo by Langham Studios (Melb.), Lady (Viola) Tait Collection, National Library of Australia, https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/24754638

  • MaudeFane 001

    British singer and actress, Maude Fane, who played lead roles in JCW musicals from the mid-1910s to the mid-‘20s.

    Photo by Monte Luke, Table Talk (Melbourne), 20 November 1919, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17410758

I was gradually beginning to get the “feel” of the theatre, for about this time I felt that I wanted to sing in opera, act in Shakespeare, or be concerned with art for art's sake alone. Then I found that those who were doing these things were just people like myself who had the same desires to avoid rehearsals and often “fluffed their lines” as I fluffed my dance steps. After that I felt more contented with my dancing.

One result of this new “desire”, however, was an intense longing to sing, and I was well aware that I had only “a thread of a voice”. But I persevered and ultimately managed to secure an audition before the manager of the company. He was a very kind man. He listened intently, but he thought my voice more expressed the rhythm of the tune than the stilted words. Perhaps he was right. It may be silly, from one point of view, but you must remember that the words of most songs are only things that fit in anyway. A composer frequently writes the music of a chorus, and if his lyric writer is in another town sends him, instead of the music, which the other man could not read, a skeleton something like “da di ah da ah di oh”, the song writer has to put in words that scan with that. They are frequently so silly that the vocalist is left to bear the burden and the tears. And that is the type of song I was asked to sing with my poor thread of a voice. However, I just went on singing chorus numbers and hoping.

Then came a part for me in Yes, Uncle! 5. It was not a very big part, but I felt very proud of myself when the “sides” of Nichette in that musical comedy were handed to me. It was another milestone in my life. Now, I was a real actress. My stocks soared. In a sense the part was the making of me, for the producer, liking my work, promised to remember me when roles for new plays were being cast. He was as good as his word, too, for I was assigned the part of Chi Chi in a revival of High Jinks, the Firm's next production.6. That was another step up. People began to pursue me for my autograph, for my endorsement of soap and face creams, for my help in charity benefits, and for my advice to children desirous of becoming actors and actresses. And somewhere about this time I fell In love.

I first met Cyril Ritchard when he was in the back row of the chorus. He eventually worked his way to the front, and Minnie Hooper, who had charge of the ballets, noticed a strange, gawky boy who was built on the lines of a dancer.

He said his name was Ritchard spelled with a “T”—that he was an ex-medical student of Sydney University, and, although he felt an interloper, he wanted to do big things on the stage. He smiled at Miss Hooper as he said all this; and Miss Hooper was partial to smiles.

He explained that he had been given an audition by the management when he did a reading from School for Scandal, although he really preferred Hamlet.

The management kindly indicated that there was no call for that sort of thing at the time, but would a job in the chorus suit him? ... It would ... and that is how he landed in the fourth row—back.

Miss Hooper told me all this. My dancing partner at the time was Jack Hooker, and, although we had achieved some success as a “double”, we were not physically matched, and Miss Hooper was always on the look-out for another partner for me.

She immediately suggested Cyril Ritchard and I had one of my rare fits of “temperament”. I scouted the idea and walked away feeling anything but pleased with the proposal. I did not see him again for two years, but occasionally he entered my thoughts.

In the meantime, Cyril had joined The Pink Lady company and was dancing in the ballet with Maie Baird.7. I saw him one night and he had developed into quite a physical expert. Strangely enough, the sight of him dancing with another girl gave me a twinge and I there and then regretted having refused Miss Hooper's offer to dance with him at our first meeting. However, I did not tell him so until many years later.

From the chorus of The Pink Lady Cyril was suddenly rushed to fill a big part in The Willow Tree, a Japanese play which Kathlene MacDonell was producing in Sydney.8. Unfortunately it opened on a race night and was not a success. Miss MacDonell had hysterics during the piece and walked off the stage. So Cyril returned to the chorus, this time in Katinka, where his dancing partner was Phyllis Amery, and later joined the Going Up company, of which I was a member.9.

There was nothing of the poised leading lady about me the first night I met him on the stage. I might have been an inexperienced schoolgirl all athrlll over my first affair. And Cyril, too, seemed glad to see me again, for I had learned that even in his medical student days he had sat in the “gods” of theatres just to watch me dancing in the ballet.

I was still dancing with Jack Hooker, but Cyril had other ideas. He was continually inventing new steps and dance numbers and asking me to join him. We practised in odd corners—on the stage, in dressing-rooms, and even in the auditorium. By the time we reached Auckland, New Zealand, on a Dominion tour, we had an entirely new waltz number all ready for presentation.

  • MonaFerguson 001

    En-route to New Zealand, 1919. Maude Fane with Exquisite Eight dancers, Mona Ferguson, Madge Elliott and Beryl Ferguson.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  • HughJWard 001

    Hugh J. Ward, a Managing Director of J.C. Williamson Ltd between 1911 and 1922.

    Rob Morrison Collection.

We wrote to Mr. Hugh J. Ward in Sydney for permission to introduce the dance in either Going Up or Oh, Boy! 10. We were certain of its success. But no answer came from Sydney. By the time we reached Wanganui we had given up hope and then the unexpected happened. A cable arrived instructing us to try out the new number. That little flimsy piece of paper changed our outlook from gloom to sunshine, and made us feel that life, after all, really was worth living. I had a premonition that the dance would “go”, and that it would mean something more to us than just the mere elaboration of a waltz theme for public amusement.

It proved the “hit” of the performance. I was so overjoyed that I had hysterics in my dressing-room after the show. The manager, Mr. William Russell, officially reported that with a little polish by the ballet mistress, the dance eventually might be successful. That was an entirely different reaction to our own; and it served to curb some of our enthusiasm and give us a better sense of theatrical values.

From New Zealand we travelled to Melbourne, and on arrival Mr. Hugh J. Ward, totally disregarding Cyril in the business arrangements, asked me to present the dance for his opinion. Influenza was raging at the time, and although Mr. Ward was delighted with the number we both went down in the epidemic and never appeared during the season.11. To us this was heartbreaking. We had worked hard in perfecting the routine, and its successful completion would have meant so much to us. But tragedy is an inevitable interlude in all the fun, the labour, and the romance of the stage.

It did, however, establish us on a firm business-like basis for we decided to become partners in theatrical entertainment. Whatever our sentiment towards each other might be, it never interfered with the primary cause of our association, that of business. Both of us possessed a flaming talent for the dance and a partnership would be of mutual benefit. So we shook hands on it, and the “firm” of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard was founded. The first musical play in which we appeared together as partners was Yes, Uncle! Cyril was a French officer and I was a serving maid, and we did our dance together. We did more than that. We established ourselves as something new in the dancing world. And after that we never once looked back. No more fourth-row chorus parts for Cyril. The

new “firm” was talented enough to demand its share of the spotlight, and determined enough to see that managements provided it.12.

Life was all roses and sunshine for us until there came a day when the years of hard work which had gone before began to tell on my health.

Under doctors’ orders I was about to resign from J.C.W. Ltd., and go abroad for a trip, when out of the blue came the chance of a lifetime.

To be continued…


Republished in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld), Wednesday, 3 April 1935, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182037385, The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), Thursday, 18 April 1935, p. 55, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92361296 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), Wednesday, 26 June 1935, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30092706


Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Madge Elliott earned some of her earliest press notices for her dancing in the Melbourne season of Come Over Here (adapted and produced by Frank Dix with dances by Minnie Hooper), the first revue to be staged in Australia by J.C. Williamson’s, which opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 28 March 1914. Madge partnered with Louis Victor for a “Black and White Dance” in Act 1, Scene 3, which impressed the Argus critic who listed the “Tres Moutarde” dance by Miss Madge Elliot and Mr. Louis Victor” amongst the “… dances that may be highly commended.” Madge also appeared in the featured role of “A Prisoner” in an Act 2 ensemble ballet “in the post-impressionist manner”, of which the Argus commented: “One of the leading spectacular effects is the ‘Flowers of Allah’ ballet, a measure that is quite new to us in arrangement and conduct, the performers being clothed in the weird creations of the Russian dress designer, M. Bakst, and the background intended to represent a Persian garden, being carried out in Circular-Futurist manner that visualises all scenery into big and little discs as flat as, and the colour of a half-cooked pancake.” (Monday, 30 March 1914, p. 13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article7259894)

The Australasian‘s “Queen Bee” noted in an article devoted to “Costume in Come Over Here” that: “The beautiful commingling of black and white was viewed in the dance of that name, very gracefully performed by Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Louis Victor.” (Saturday, 4 April 1914, p. 39, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143319775). While Table Talk added to the praise with the comment: “The Flowers of Allah ([by scenic artist] Leslie Board) … is very fine, and the ballet which is danced there is splendid, the descriptive dance of Charlie Stone and Madge Elliott being particularly effective.” (Thursday, 2 April 1914, p. 16, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146320344)

  • Detail from programme cover for Come Over Here, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, 1914.

    Rob Morrison Collection.

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    Madge in her Persian costume for “The Flowers of Allah” ballet. Photo probably by Talma & Co., Melbourne.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  1. The Exquisite Eight dance ensemble was established and trained by ballet mistress, Minnie Hooper as an added feature in J.C. Williamson musicals of the mid-1910s to the early 1920s.

“Gayest little JCW ballet of recent times was ‘The Exquisite Eight’, who swung out of the chorus and kicked rhythmically across the footlights. Each had light, rounded limbs and each was a beauty in her own right. Led by Madge Elliott, the team were Eileen Wells, Beryl and Mona Ferguson, Winnie Tate, Lucy Greenhill, Dolly Nepean, Ida Lacey. Dancing as one girl they were a delight to the eye.”—That Reminds Me, Smith's Weekly (Sydney, NSW), Saturday, 26 September 1942, p. 13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234590064

There were subsequent changes to the personnel over the ensuing years. Later members of the ensemble included Tessie Magner, Addie Scott, Olive Aldwyn, Myrtle Reeve, Daphne Selig and Gwen Withers. (Ref: Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 7 July 1921, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146719804)

  1. High Jinks (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach), received its Australian premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney on 6 February 1915. The 1935 Melbourne revival starring Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott played at His Majesty’s Theatre from 23 February with a further extension at the King’s Theatre from 8 to 13 March.
  1. So Long, Letty (music and lyrics by Earl Carroll), received its Australian premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney on 26 December 1915. The principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, C.H. Workman, Connie Ediss, Field Fisher, Marie Eaton and Alfred Frith. Produced by Harry B. Burcher (formerly of London’s Gaiety Theatre). Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Melbourne Age critic commented: “… an eccentric dance by Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Jack Hooker, [was] cleverly done.” (Monday, 24 April 1916, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155081837)

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    Alfred Frith with his first wife, Lucy Greenhill—a member of the Exquisite Eight.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

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    Six of the Eight in their costumes for the “Pink and Gold Ballet”. (l to r) Winnie Tate, Madge Elliott, Beryl and Mona Ferguson, Lucy Greenhill and Ida Lacey.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photos taken at the rear of Her Majesty’s Theatre during the Melbourne revival of So Long, Letty in May 1917.

To-night’s the Night (music and lyrics by Paul Rubens; additional lyrics by Percy Greenbank) – Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Melbourne, 8 July 1916.

Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, C.H. Workman, Marie Eaton, Connie Ediss, Paul Plunkett, Ethel Morrison, Field Fisher, Fred Maguire and Alfred Frith. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

Table Talk noted: “There are several specialty dances … a pas de seul ‘Night-time’, by Madge Elliott, is yet another attractive and pleasing dance measure.” (Thursday, 13 July 1916, p. 23, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146325911)

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    The Exquisite Eight as they appeared in To-night’s the Night in 1916. (l to r) Madge Elliott, Winnie Tate, Dolly Nepean, Ida Lacey, Eileen Wells, Lucy Greenhill, Beryl and Mona Ferguson. Photo by Monte Luke.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Canary Cottage (music and lyrics by Earl Carroll)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Melbourne on 24 March 1917. Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, Maude Fane, William Greene, Connie Ediss, Field Fisher, Fred Maguire, Jack Hooker and Alfred Frith. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Age commented: “Madge Elliott makes her dance with Jack Hooker in the second act one of the most graceful and charming episodes of the whole production.” (Monday, 26 March 1917, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155200203)

Following its Sydney opening at Her Majesty’s on 9 June, The Sun elaborated: “There was a flavor out of the ordinary in the duet dance of Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Jack Hooker, ‘The Cat and the Canary’, and the little story of the dance was told without its being overdone. Miss Elliott was wise in not letting the canary die in three graceful rhythmic movements; and the way in which Mr. Hooker folded up the cat (who apparently committed suicide) was naturally done.” (Sunday, 10 June 1917, p. 2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221974293) (An interpolated dance number composed by Andrew MacCunn.)

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    Jack Hooker and Madge Elliott in their ‘Cat and the Canary’ ballet costumes for Canary Cottage.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

  • Reita Nugent and Jack Hooker in their sailor’s costumes for You’re in Love.

    Mona Ferguson Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photos taken at the rear of the Theatre Royal, Adelaide during the repertory season of You’re in Love, Canary Cottage and So Long, Letty in April 1918.

You're In Love (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach and Edward Clark)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Sydney on 7 September 1917. Principal cast included Maude Fane, William Greene, Connie Ediss, Alfred Frith, Talleur Andrews and Field Fisher. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph extolled: “Miss Madge Elliott exacts homage for her exquisite ‘Rose Dance’, one of the most delightful interludes of the evening, and one of the most artistic and finished pieces of work of its kind seen here for some time. Miss Elliott has a characteristic delicacy of treatment that lifts even her ordinary dances above the commonplace. She is always original and never inartistic.” (Monday, 10 September 1917, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239379392) (Another interpolated dance number composed by the show’s Music Director, Andrew MacCunn.)

  1. Yes, Uncle! (music by Nat. D. Ayer; lyrics by Clifford Grey)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 3 April 1920. Principal cast included Miss Cecil Bradley, Gracie Lavers, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Field Fisher, Cyril Rltchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Adelaide Advertiser observed: “Miss Madge Elliott, as a studio maid, was the principal dancer of the company, and in this work she was joined by Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the combined result being most successful. Miss Elliott, in addition to being one of the foremost dancers in the Williamson group, is an excellent actress, essentially of the soubrette type, and her sentimental passages with her handsome soldier boy were most humorous. Most of the dancing of these two was of the energetic type but an interesting comparison was afforded by an illustration in the last act of the present day deliberative ‘walking’ methods.” (Monday, 5 April 1920, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62622012)

Following its Melbourne opening at the Theatre Royal on 12 June, The Age critic opined: “The comedy pivots on Mr. Alfred Frith and Miss Madge Elliott. Both are nearly perfect … As Nichette, the artist's studio maid, Miss Madge Elliott gave the audience a finished exhibition of footwork, garters, button brilliants and abandoned love making. Her fascination dance with Mr. Cyril Ritchard was the most graceful thing of the evening. Her earlier flying leap through the air on to Cyril's lap was a revelation of that patient appetite for torture which masculine knees have suffered uncomplainingly throughout the ages.” (Monday, 14 June 1920, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203710559 )

While Table Talk noted: “Cyril Rltchard and Madge Elliott score a success in ‘I Like Any Girl’, a song and dance … The beautiful dance items by Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott are a big feature, especially ‘Fascination’, which is given in the handsome white setting of the Four Arts ball. The dancers are clad in black and white as cavaliers, after the picturesque Louis XV period … Cyril Ritchard, as a smart Zouave, shows promise of developing into a smart young actor as well as dancer, and Madge Elliott as Nichette also shows gifts in the same direction.” (Thursday, 17 June 1920, p. 24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146690460)

As originally published, Madge Elliott’s narrative confused the chronological sequence of her respective performances in Yes, Uncle! and A Night Out, but this error has been corrected in the present transcription.

  1. High Jinks—Revived at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 22 April 1920. Subsequently revived at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth on 19 May 1920 and the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 11 December 1920. Principal cast included Harry Wotton, Gracie Lavers, Millie Engler, William Greene, Field Fisher, Marie Eaton, Alfred Frith, George Willoughby and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Adelaide Register noted: “Miss Madge Elliott had something more than a dancing part for she was ‘Mdlle Chi Chi’, who takes a prominent role in the comedy, and she looked sweet, sang a little, and danced with that grace which so characterises all her terpsichorean efforts.” (Friday, 23 April 1920, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62625927)

While the Sydney Morning Herald sensed a feeling of déjà vu when critiquing: “The impersonation of Mons. J. Rabelais was undertaken by Mr, Cyril Rltchard. Mr. Ritchard in the last three productions in which he has appeared has played a French part. His performance on Saturday was but a repetition of his previous ones. One of the successes of the performance was won by Miss Madge Elliott as Chi Chi, the dancer. Miss Elliott's opportunities were limited, but she availed herself of them to the full, and continues, indeed, to improve with every appearance in musical comedy parts. As was expected, in her own special line her dance with Mr. Jack Hooker was one of the features of the entertainment.” (Monday, 13 December 1920, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16879516)

  1. The Pink Lady (music by Ivan Caryll; lyrics by C.M.S. McLellan)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Sydney on 17 February 1917. Principal cast included Minnie Love, Reginald Roberts, Leslie Holland, Frank Greene, Ethel Cadman, Phil Smith, Florence Young and Celia Ghiloni. Produced by George A. Highland. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Sydney Morning Herald concluded its review: “A feature in this last act was the classic ballet of nymphs in green, blowing their reed-pipes to their stately measure, with graceful dances by Cyril Richard as Pan, and Maie Baird as Nymph.” (Monday, 19 February 1917, p. 4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15733620)

  1. The Willow Tree, written by Harry J. Benrimo and Harrison Rhodes—Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 26 January 1918. The play’s Sydney season concluded on 15 February. Produced by George Barnum.

Under the headline of “THE WILLOW TREE.” KILLED BY A GIGGLING GALLERY; the Sydney Daily Telegraph gave the full details of the play’s unfortunate opening night in its review published on Monday, 28 January 1918, p. 7:

“Within grasp of as fine an artistic achievement as she has yet placed to her credit locally, Miss Kathlene MacDonell was robbed of her triumph at the Criterion on Saturday night by the giggling inanity of a pack of gallery girls.

On previous occasions this young actress, who is our guest, has paid the penalty of too warm a popularity with certain of her unreasoning worshippers. They have clapped her and they have cheered her, when all she asked of them—when all that the stage situation demanded—was the approval of intelligent silence. On Saturday Miss MacDonell suffered that again, and bore it with womanly patience. But, in addition, there was throughout the performance a display of wanton misapprehension of the true intent of the drama presented, that found vulgar expression in a running commentary of giggling and suppressed laughter. The artist, following her lines with her accustomed intentness, bore even that, in the hope that sooner or later there would be a return to manners, even if there could be no return to intelligence. Then, at the most emotional point of the performance, where the play reached its artistic climax, some individual in the gallery found it within him to imitate the parting lovers’ kiss. The resultant laughter died for a moment, only to break out again when a bit of stage business apparently miscarried. Here it was that Miss MacDonell, reached the breaking point of her endurance, flung the mirror she was holding into the footlights, and ran sobbing from the stage. The curtain was rung down, with the audience agape at the realisation of the insult. The stage manager came to the front of the curtain. There was a woman's call from the gallery: ‘Three cheers for Miss MacDonell.’ They were given. Directing himself to the gallery, Mr. Carey said: ‘We have to thank you ladies for the fact that Miss McDonell has fainted.’ A moment later he came to the front again and asked for a doctor. A gentleman from the circle volunteered his services. All the while there were the hysterical cries of the girl whose feelings had been so bitterly outraged, and with them ringing in their ears the crowd present filed their way slowly out of the theatre.”—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239250123

The Sydney Morning Herald likewise commenced its review with a report of the evening’s upset, but also found space to note that: “The parts of Nogo and Kimura, two obsequious oily-tongued servants, were well played by Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Mr. Kenneth Brampton.” (Monday, 28 January 1918, p. 4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15789394)

  • The picturesque stage setting of The Willow Tree (1918).

    JCW Scene Books, Book 08-0039, Theatre Heritage Australia.

  1. Katinka (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Melbourne on 8 June 1918. Principal cast included Gladys Moncrieff, Florence Young, Reginald Roberts, Olive Godwin, Phil Smith and John Ralston. Produced by George A. Highland. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Argus commented: “… the dancing was an outstanding feature of the piece, the Russian dancing being supplied by Miss Phyllis Amery and Mr. Cyril Ritchard …” Monday, 10 June 1918, p. 5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1665033

Going Up (music by Louis A. Hirsch; lyrics by Otto Harbach)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 2 November 1918. The musical then played a season at His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane from 30 November before the company embarked on a tour of New Zealand, where it was played in repertory with Oh, Boy! The Melbourne season subsequently commenced at Her Majesty's Theatre on 19 April 1919.

Principal cast included Alfred Frith, Maude Fane, William Greene, George Willoughby, Field Fisher, Miss Cecil Bradley and Cyril Ritchard. Produced by George A. Highland and Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The Adelaide Daily Herald noted: “Miss Fane added another to her list of successes, ‘A Touch of a Woman's Hand’ (with chorus) and ‘Tickle Toe’, with Mr. Ritchard and ballet (the girls strikingly attired) were two of Miss Fane's most tuneful numbers … Miss Cecil Bradley made the most of her opportunities as Madeline Manners … and figured with Mr. Ritchard in two song successes, ‘I Want a Determined Boy’ and ‘Do It for Me’ … The aeroplane used in the play is built on the latest lines, and measures 22 ft. from plane tip to tip”. (Monday, 4 November 1918, p. 3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106526434)

  • GoingUp 001

    The Act 3 Hangar scene in Going Up showing the pivotal aeroplane (1918). Its construction was by Mr. Rock Phillips, who was introduced to the audience during the curtain calls for his share of the applause on the opening night.

    JCW Scene Books, Book 08-0056, Theatre Heritage Australia.

  1. Oh, Boy! (music by Jerome Kern; lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty's, Sydney on 6 July 1918. Principal cast included Fred Maguire, Gracie Lavers, Maude Fane, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Field Fisher, Connie Ediss, George Willoughby and Maud Beatty. Produced by Harry B. Burcher and Jack Haskell. Dances by Minnie Everett.

The Sydney Sunday Times noted: “The dancing in the new production is really delightful. Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Jack Hooker were almost unable to satisfy the demands made on them for their Camouflage dance …” (Sunday, 7 July 1918, p. 2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123139409)

  1. Madge Elliott’s memory proved to be faulty on this point. Although the newspaper and periodical reviews did note the absence of both Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard from the opening night of the Melbourne season of Going Up due to illness (with their roles as principal dancers being understudied respectively by Audrey Anderson and Harold Dickenson), less than two weeks later Table Talk reported in its ‘On and Off the Stage’ column that: “The ’flu has been making things decidedly difficult at Her Majesty's Theatre, difficult, that is, for the management to keep things going at the usual high standard of excellence. It has claimed as victim many of the staff, yet performances have had to go on. Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, two recent victims, have recovered and are back in harness again.” (Thursday, 1 May 1919, p. 12, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148563077)

While the ‘Play and Players’ column by “B.J.O.” in The Weekly Times reported on Saturday, 24 May 1919, p. 48, that: “An attractive feature of Going Up at Her Majesty's Theatre, of which first night patrons were deprived, is the dancing of Miss Madge Elliott. This clever and picturesque performer was indisposed on the opening night, but her work is now delighting all who witness it. The production as a whole continues to meet with a large measure of approval.”—https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222546770

In a recorded interview for Hazel De Berg in 1970, Cyril Ritchard also confirmed that he and Madge introduced their waltz duet to Australian audiences during the opening Melbourne season of Going Up and that it became a feature of the production during the ensuing tour.

  1. Following their success together in Yes, Uncle!, Madge and Cyril were also cast as a couple in the following musicals (preceded by a revival of High Jinks—see note 6.):

The Girl in the Taxi (music by Jean Gilbert, lyrics by Frederick Fenn and Arthur Wimperis)—Revived at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth on 15 May 1920. Subsequently revived at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 21 August 1920 and the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 27 November 1920. Principal cast included Miss Cecil Bradley, George Willoughby, Millie Engler, Madge Elliott, Alfred Frith, William Greene, Field Fisher and Cyril Ritchard. Produced by Charles A. Wenman. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

In its review of the Melbourne season The Age observed: “As the young daughter, Jacqueline, Miss Madge Elliott acted and danced gracefully and with considerable charm, and her musical contributions were well rendered, though the company as a whole is on the weak side vocally. Mr. Cyril Ritchard made a dashing and lighthearted French lieutenant, acting exceedingly well throughout.” Monday, 23 August 1920, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203061567

While Table Talk added encouragingly: “Madge Elliott as Jacqueline also has her chance in a more ambitious role than usual, and proves that she has other qualities in addition to dancing. One is a voice of pretty quality well worth training, and another a nice histrionic sense which promises well for her future in acting parts.” (Thursday, 26 August 1920, p. 13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146691220)

Baby Bunting (music by Nat. D. Ayer; lyrics by Clifford Grey)—Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 24 December 1920. Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Miss Cecil Bradley, Field Fisher, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Jack Haskell. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted: “A duet, ‘Boy and Girl’, with a touch of novelty in the lyric scheme, was adroitly carried out by Madge Elliott (as Phyllis Vesey) and Cecil Bradley, during which the bearing and gestures of Miss Elliott were amusingly boy-like, whilst her companion was engagingly Girlish … Madge Elliott's principal dance with Cyril Ritchard, who otherwise figures as a much harassed business partner of the extravagant Bunny, was ‘El Relicario’, and was encored amongst a storm of applause.” (Saturday, 25 December 1920, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16881668) (An interpolated dance number with music by Spanish composer, José Padilla, written in Paris in 1914 but popularised world-wide in 1920.)

Oh Lady! Lady! (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse)—Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s, Melbourne on 11 June 1921. Principal cast included Dorothy Brunton, Nancy Benyon, William Greene, Alfred Frith, Field Fisher, Jack Hooker, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Argus observed: “Dancing is an important part of modern musical plays, and in this direction Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard displayed more agility than ever. Miss Elliott also showed how elaborately a supposedly dowdy country schoolteacher could dress when she became a Paris buyer, and Mr. Ritchard acted acceptably as the usual perplexed young man of farce—in this case Willoughby Finch …” (Monday, 13 June 1921, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1765920)

A Night Out (music by Willy Redstone; lyrics by Clifford Grey)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne on 21 January 1922. The show then transferred to Her Majesty’s Theatre from 25 February 1922. Principal cast included Maude Fane, Dan Agar, Field Fisher, Cecil Kellaway, Paul Plunkett, Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Minnie Hooper.

The Argus noted: “Mr. Cyril Ritchard showed new ability by his playing of a comparatively grotesque part, the awkward youth, Maxime Paillard, and with Miss Madge Elliott (the smart maid Victorine) he took part in a pretty Pierrot ballet and in other neatly given dances.” (Monday, 23 January 1922, p. 5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4712039)

Mary (music by Louis A. Hirsch; lyrics by Otto Harbach)—Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 23 September 1922. Principal cast included Maude Fane, Roland Hogue, Ethel Morrison, W.S. Percy, Cecil Kellaway, Field Fisher, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard. Produced by Harry B. Burcher. Dances by Gene Richards.

The Adelaide Daily Herald extolled: “As Madeline Francis, Madge Elliott was a delight. Her dancing with Cyril Ritchard was an artistic revelation. Together they gave a wonderful performance combining pantomime, song and dance in their number, ‘When a Woman Exits Laughing’.” (Monday, 25 September 1922, p. 5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106679017)

Following its Melbourne opening at the Theatre Royal on 7 October, Table Talk remarked: “Madge Elliott, as Madeline Francis ‘the widow’, is by turns alluring and waspish, while she dances most graciously at every opportunity, and Cyril Ritchard as Tommy Boyd, a rich young man, is always ready to join her. They fill their roles admirably, singing and acting adequately and their dancing is always delightful.” (Thursday, 12 October 1922, p. 12, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146456648)

 

Postscript

Two years before radio broadcasting officially commenced in Melbourne, The Age reported news of an early development.

The Theatre and Wireless.

SOLDIERS IN HOSPITAL TO HEAR “A NIGHT OUT”.

Modern scientific experiment is always springing some fresh surprise on the world. One of the latest is the enabling of passengers on ocean liners hundreds of miles away at sea to listen to entertainments ashore. This latest scientific wonder is to benefit soldiers at the Anzac Hostel and other military institutions. This morning these men will listen to a full dress performance at Her Majesty's Theatre of A Night Out. Some time ago the management of this theatre conceived the idea of uniting stagecraft and wireless telephony. Experiments have now been carried out which prove the feasibility of such an idea. Mr. C. Hooke, manager of Amalgamated Wireless Ltd., is co-operating, and an elaborate scheme of instruments has been fitted up. On the stage itself the only foreign apparatus to be seen is a small megaphone and telephone attached to the side of the stage. Above the dome at the theatre, however, can be seen the masts and wires of the aerials. The megaphone is connected with a transmitter apparatus in the electric room of the theatre. From the theatre songs, pianoforte solos and other items will be flashed to their destination. This morning it is the Anzac Hostel at Brighton which is to benefit, and in addition to several items by the artists of A Night Out, the soldiers will hear Mr. Jasha Spivakovsky render his first pianoforte solo in Melbourne.

This strange form of public entertainment has already proceeded beyond the stage of experiment. Last Wednesday afternoon portions of the ordinary matinee at Her Majesty's were transmitted into the apparatus and sent out [to] broadcast. Messages were received from King Island, on the coast of Tasmania, stating that the tunes and words had been clearly heard. Ships at sea within a radius of 500 miles also heard the performance. A special receiving apparatus has been installed at the Anzac Hostel, Brighton, for the performance, which will begin at Her Majesty’s Theatre at 10.30 a.m. to-day. It is the intention of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. to give audio entertainments to various hospitals.

Friday, 31 March 1922, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205747669

  • NightOut 003

    The Act I setting for A Night Out (1922).

    JCW Scene Books, Book 08-0105, Theatre Heritage Australia.

Additional Picture References

Microfilmed newspaper photos of Madge Elliott and her fellow cast members may be viewed on-line at the indicated webpage locations for the following shows:

Come Over Here, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 23 April 1914, p. 20, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129698586

So Long, Letty, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 20 April 1916, p. 607, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page14879127

To-night’s the Night, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 27 July 1916, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17428357

Canary Cottage, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 April 1917, p. 30, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page14880216

You're in Love, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 November 1917, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17440895

You're in Love, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 7 March 1918, p. 19, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page14877710

You're in Love, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 10 April, 1918, p. 3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23524537

Oh, Boy!, Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 September 1918, p. 24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138714589

Oh, Boy!, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 12 September 1918, p. 22, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146592834

Going Up, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 24 March 1919, p. 12,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23760644

Going Up, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 July 1919, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17410183

Yes, Uncle!, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 31 March 1920, p. 41, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23760699

Baby Bunting, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 February 1921, p. 51, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page11774032

Baby Bunting, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 3 March 1921, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146718227

Baby Bunting, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 March 1921, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17659149

Oh, Lady! Lady!, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 23 June 1921, p. 22, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146719604

Oh, Lady! Lady!, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 25 June 1921, p. 46,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140260907

A Night Out, The Australasian (Melbourne), 18 February 1922, p. 31, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page11777054

A Night Out, The Critic (Adelaide, SA), 6 September 1922, p. 17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23608057

A Night Out, Newcastle Sun (NSW), 15 February 1924, p. 1, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163222065

Mary, Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 October 1922, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17422620

 

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