Thursday, 12 December 2019 08:15

C.H. Workman in Australia (Part 3)

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workman 1200Theatre programme detail - Elisabeth Kumm Collection; Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, from The Silent Showman, Michael & Joan Tallis, Wakefield Press, 1999.

With the Sydney season of The Girl in the Taxi a resounding triumph, J.C. Williamson’s New English Musical Comedy Company then moved on to Melbourne, where the musical comedy was due to commence its run at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday, 24 October 1914. In the lead-up the Melbourne theatre-going public had been well primed with advance publicity over the preceding weeks, both proclaiming the success that the production had enjoyed in the New South Wales’ capital and also heralding its imminent arrival to entertain audiences at JCW’s flagship theatre in Victoria’s capital city. Various snippets of theatrical gossip pertaining to its cast members were also accorded space in the numerous local Press columns devoted to the performing arts and its practitioners:  

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THE PLAY AND THE PLAYERS

One of the London critics mentioned of C.H. Workman, the comedian of “The Girl in the Taxi,” soon to be seen in Melbourne: “He is one of the few who can be a comedian and artistic at the same time.” One of the “Gipsy Love” Company at Melbourne Her Majesty's, referring to this, paid his fellow-artist a great compliment when he said: “Workman is delightful to look at. All the time he is getting in little bits of ‘business’ that are most effective, and yet he is never obtrusive. His acting is perfect, and he keeps the character in the picture all the time. Even in the finale you can see the audience watching Workman. It might well be said of him that 'every little movement of his has a meaning all its own’.”

(Public Opinion (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 October 1914, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583911 )

Prior to its re-opening time was taken to fine-tune the show. English ingenue, Gwen Hughes was recast in the eponymous supporting role of the taxi girl herself, ‘Rose Charcot’, while local favourite, Melbourne-born actress, Dorothy Brunton now took over the role of ‘Jacqueline’(possibly as a response to the lukewarm reviews that Miss Hughes had received in the part from the Sydney Press).

To further promote the musical comedy in the week leading up to its premiere JCW’s Press agents also arranged a publicity stunt, whereby a young lady wearing a hat trimmed with a lace veil was driven in a taxi cab round and around the fashionable Melbourne city Collins Street shopping precinct known as “The Block” to attract the attention of pedestrians, while one-line “teasers” appeared throughout the Amusements columns of the respective daily newspapers proclaiming: “Look Out For the Girl in the Taxi Along The Block”, “The Masked Girl in the Taxi Will Be Along The Block This Morning” and posing the question: “Who is the Masked Girl in the Taxi Along The Block?”    

  • Contemporary advertisements featured in Her Majesty’s Theatre programme, c. 1914.

    Author’s Collection.

Following its opening night the assorted critics of the Melbourne Press re-echoed the rhetorical “bouquets” bestowed on the production by their Sydney counterparts.

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HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE — THE GIRL IN THE TAXI.

Laughter, free and unrestrained, was the dominant note on Saturday night, when The Girl in the Taxi was produced at Her Majesty's Theatre. For the best part of three hours the audience laughed—laughed till sides ached and were moist—laughed till thoughts of war and stressful times were temporarily forgotten. Not that the story of the new piece is original or the situations unfamiliar—indeed, many a French farce might be regarded as the immediate forerunner of The Girl in the Taxi—but so many things happen, and happen so comically, and the play is so exceedingly well done by the New English Musical Comedy Company, that there was nothing left for an appreciative audience to do except to laugh frankly and unreservedly. It must be admitted that the general trend of the humor is what the aunts and uncles of the penultimate generation would have defined as “very French,” but there are those of us who prefer the artificial atmosphere of plays of the “Pink Dominoes” order to many of the serious but sordid problem plays so dear to the heart of the repertory enthusiast. The situations and the characters of The Girl in the Taxi are alike impossible—and this very impossibility should be sufficient to disarm the criticism of the “unco guid.” It is good to laugh—and sometimes good to forget the outside world. On Saturday night the audience did both, and happily was the better for the fact.

Musically considered the new piece is not important. The composer, Jean Gilbert, has none of the distinction we associate with Leo Fall, Oscar Straus or Franz Lehar in their best work, but, nevertheless, his music is real comic opera music. Most of it goes in at one ear, to pass out of the other easily enough; but a few waltz measures remain in the memory, while it is refreshingly free from vulgarity. The orchestra was not large enough to do full justice to the instrumental score (1), but the general effect of the orchestration was pleasantly piquant, and by no means devoid of that refined humor possible only to an accomplished musician.

The story deals with the peccadilloes of practically every character in the play. Baron Dauvray is a paragon of virtue—at home!—and brings up his son, Hubert, in the way he should go. His nephew Rene—a dashing lieutenant in the French army—encourages Hubert in his determination to shake off the restrictions of the parental abode, and being in love with Dauvray's daughter Jacqueline, arranges that Hubert shall take charge of Suzanne (an old flame of the lieutenant's) at a private supper party for two that same evening. Now Suzanne is another paragon—at home; and her husband the scent manufacturer, Monsieur Pomarel, is as unsuspecting as is the Baron's wife, Delphine; and as both Dauvray and Suzanne are the most accomplished of hypocrites, and as the second act takes place in the very “Parisian” restaurant known as the Jeunesse Doree, it is easy to foretell the probable course of events. All the delinquents meet each other in embarrassing circumstances. The Baron finds his son with Suzanne. Hubert finds his father with a lady—whom the latter met in a taxi—and who proved afterwards to be the wife of Professor Charcot, a friend of the family—Rene and Jacqueline also are concerned in the general exposure, while Monsieur Pomarel (ferocious in his military garb) runs riot with a drawn sword in his hand [in] what time he searches for his somewhat large-hearted wife, Suzanne. All very ludicrous, very impossible, and very “French”—but, in this instance, very well done. And there are two waiters, Alexis and Emile, either of whom would make the fortune of any restaurant proprietor in the world. Alexis is a philosopher without any illusions, and Emile is—an oddity. Alexis has many funny things to say, and Emile many funny things to do, while both of them were responsible for much hearty laughter on Saturday night. Alexis—in his role of philosopher—defines an optimist as a man who does not care what happens—as long as it happens to others; and a pessimist as a man whose hard fate it is to live with the optimist. His remarks—portentously delivered—are received by Emile with a deference that borders on the reverential—and which is genuinely comical. What is generally the fatal last act of French farce is in the present instance kept abundantly alive by the introduction of Alexis into the peaceful, well-ordered home of the Baron—as the new butler—the morning after the eventful night at the restaurant! Of course the erring come off scot free, and equally of course the virtuous are hoodwinked—but in this type of play the audience expects as much, and would be woefully disappointed were it otherwise.

As the Baron, Mr. W.H. Rawlins was excellent, he has unction and the easy methods of the experienced actor. Both as the hypocrite of the first act and the gay man of the world of the second, he was entirely convincing, and won the immediate approval of the audience. Mr. C.H. Workman played Monsieur Pomarel with complete success, and, although the part does not offer him those opportunities which would enable him to exhibit his fine talents to their full advantage, he proved himself a most accomplished artist. Mr. Workman comes to Australia with a distinguished reputation, and his finished work was apparent in his every movement on Saturday night. Hubert found a very good exponent in Mr. Fred Maguire, and Rene was well played by Mr. Percy Claridge, who appeared in place of Mr. Paul Plunket—the latter having injured his knee.

Mr. Field Fisher gave an inimitable performance as Alexis, and shared with Mr. W.H. Rawlins the chief honors of a laughter provoking evening. As Emile, the admiring underling of Alexis, Mr. Chris. Wren showed himself to be a thoroughly capable eccentric comedian, and Mr. D.J. Williams was well cast as Professor Charcot.

Miss Maggie Jarvis played the part of Suzanne with marked ability. She was always charming and piquant, and though her singing voice is occasionally nasal and unequal to the demands of the music, she is a distinct acquisition to the Australian comic opera stage. Her performance on Saturday night was an important element in the success of the new piece. Miss Gwen Hughes, as the girl whom the Baron met in the taxi, had not very much to do, but did what she had to do quite satisfactorily, and Miss Dorothy Brunton was well suited in the part of Jacqueline. Less important roles were capably fitted by Mr. Hugh Huntley, Misses Millie Engler and Helen Hobson. Mr. Victor Champion was the musical director, and all things went smoothly under his experienced direction. The play was produced by Mr. Charles A. Wenman, the ballets were arranged by Miss Minnie Hooper, and Mr. Redge Carey was the stage manager.

In The Girl in the Taxi, presented as it is by an admirable company, J.C. Williamson Ltd. should find one of the most successful pieces of recent years.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 October 1914, p. 12, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190670729

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(1) The original orchestra parts for The Girl in the Taxi (which are still extant in the J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials at the National Library of Australia, https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/42505853), reveal that the musical was scored for 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello, bass, flutes, oboe, clarinets, bassoon, horns, cornets, trumpets, trombone, bass trombone, drums and harp, thus a minimum of sixteen orchestral players upwards.

  • Flyer issued for the Melbourne season, c. October 1914, with Gwen Hughes (erroneously captioned as ‘Gladys’) pictured as ‘Jacqueline’ before her replacement in the role.

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

 

PLAYS AND PLAYERS

By B.J.O.

French farce is chiefly notable for the reckless manner in which practically all the characters set out to compromise themselves, and then seek to extricate themselves by either distressingly crude or elaborately, but none the less obviously, false explanations. “The Girl in the Taxi,” which was staged in the presence of a crowded house at Her Majesty's Theatre on October 24, is really a French farce with musical trimmings. The latter, for which Jean Gilbert is responsible, are somewhat thin, but always tuneful and catchy; while there is about the dialogue of the new piece a snap and brightness reminiscent of that in “The Merry Widow,” and not usually met with in modern musical comedy. Furthermore—it seems almost too daring to be true—“The Girl in the Taxi” actually has a continuous plot, and more remarkable still—a plot which retains its interest in the third act, for at this late stage, which is usually devoted to explanations and the sorting out of all available couples with a view to matrimony, a new and amusing development is brought to notice. So that right up to the fall of the final curtain, the piece at least succeeds in avoiding dullness.

Those responsible for the naming of “The Girl in the Taxi” were evidently actuated by a desire to gratify the taste of British entrepreneurs for titles which include the word “girl.” As a matter of fact, a girl who is understood to have just stepped from a taxi-cab strolls on in the second act but she has about as much real bearing on the story as the occupation of Ostend by the Germans has on the situation in Europe. However, this irresponsible naming is in keeping with the play itself. Nobody on the stage is serious for more than a minute at a time, there being gratifying absence of sentimental ditties and semi-serious love passages. The “story,” of course, is charged with love-making, but the tender passion is treated not as “the noblest frailty of the mind” (as Dryden had it), but rather as the most amusing. The situations do not demand description, for they can be imagined by anyone with even a bowing acquaintance with French farce, since one French farce differs from another in only the same degree as next Sunday is likely to differ from last Sunday. But there is a brightness and snap about the dialogue of “The Girl in the Taxi” which makes it an entertainment, whereas so many productions of its class are merely a punishment. Allied to the play's verbal smartness is very catchy, although, for the most part, rather thin, music, composed by Jean Gilbert, and including yet another waltz tune, “Lilt that's Lazy and Dreamy and Hazy,” which seems threatened with immediate popularity.

Interpreting “The Girl in the Taxi” is a company which, with one exception, is new to Melbourne, and which contains two genuine artists in Mr C.H. Workman and Mr Field Fisher. Mr Workman supplies excellent comedy as Monsieur Pomarel, and Mr Fisher, on broader lines, presents an entertaining impersonation of a head waiter, full of wise saws and ultra-modern instances. Miss Maggie Jarvis, who appears as Suzanne, a giddy young person, who, by unrevealed methods, has annexed a prize for virtue offered by Professor Charcot, is a vivacious actress, but her voice lacks sweetness. She has a capital duet with Mr Workman, “The Happy Marriage,” another with Mr Maguire, “Not Too Fast and Not Too Slow,” and a solo, “Now Let the Toast Go Gaily Round,” but the most popular number in which she has a share is “Suzanne,” in which her partners are Messrs Percy Claridge (who took the part of Rene at short notice in place of Mr Paul Plunket, who had injured his knee), W.H. Rawlins, and Fred Maguire. Mr Rawlins does well as Baron Dauvray, whose theory of heredity is summed up in the phrase, “Once a turnip, always a turnip,” Mr Maguire is equal to all requirements, as the Baron's son, Hubert, and so is Miss Millie Engler, as the Baroness, whose simple faith in her husband and son is almost too good to be true. Other performers calling for favorable notice are Miss Dorothy Brunton, Miss Gwen Hughes, Mr Chris Wren, and Mr D.J. Williams. The staging and dressing are excellent, and admirable work is done by chorus and orchestra, under the experienced direction of Mr Victor Champion.

Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 October 1914, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121116244

An edited version of the same critique also appeared in The Herald on 26 October 1914, p. 2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242290115

  • Theatre programme for the Melbourne season issued in late-November 1914. Most of the cast members, in fact, were not ‘Direct from the Lyric Theatre, London’, but had been recruited from British impresario George Edwardes’ various UK touring companies.

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.

 

Extracts from other Melbourne press reviews

MUSIC AND DRAMA

“The Girl in the Taxi.”

Book and music of this diverting Palais Royale farce are about equal in merit, and together make a most amusing “night out,” especially when done so much justice to by the excellent company that presented it for the first time at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night, in the presence of a splendid house that enjoyed the gay old story so cleverly redressed and ingeniously set amidst taking tunes, good rhythms, sweet valse refrains, dashing melodies and an abundance of first rate comedy.

It is a very simple plot reminiscent of Johann Strauss’s queen of operettas “Die Fledermaus,” otherwise “Night Birds,” with here and there flavourings of Offenbach, as, for instance, in the musical trifle “Not Too Fast and Not Too Slow,” in the charming melody “Suzanne,” and in the “Wine Song.”

… In a company strong in comedians Mr. C.H. Workman, as Monsieur Pomarel, a trusting scent manufacturer, proves himself an artist of undoubtedly high quality and finished method. He is hoodwinked and made the scapegoat of others in the same way as the foolish husband of Congreve and Wycherly days. A very quaint duet and accentuated dance with Miss Jarvis, “The Happy Marriage,” served to introduce him, and it was easily the most artistic thing of the evening, with its buoyant music and dainty flute trills. Mr. Workman’s clever comedy also helped the hilarity of the restaurant scene whenever it seemed inclined to halt, and altogether he proved himself an actor of discrimination, humour and tact. His wife, Suzanne, is most brightly taken by Miss Maggie Jarvis, who is gifted with a sprightly archness and acting qualities that help her to realise the mercurial qualities of the deceptive Suzanne. Her typical light vibrative soprano voice was all sufficient to do justice to the music apportioned her, which she sang with expression and feeling, especially noticeable in the wine song, “Now Let the Toast Go Round,” with its high range and valse refrain … Another comedian of marked merit is Mr. W.H. Rawlins, whose contribution of philosopher and night bird is the happiest of mixtures—for the audience, and with a fund of dry humour he keeps the ball rolling as much by his reserved levity as by his delectable lines, such as “I know enough to know what not to know” and “If you find you can’t be good be careful anyway,” which are really questions of art and not of morality. Miss Millie Engler adds the necessary touch of charming and refined comedy which is so essential a set-off to the strenuous and dangerous methods of the farceurs. It is, perhaps, the most difficult character to realise in the cast, but Miss Engler reconciled its absurdities with the skill of a finished actress.

In Mr. Field Fisher’s head waiter at the Jeunesse Doree we have a concrete study that is absolutely faithful to life. It is not only his make-up, carriage, and deportment that Mr. Fisher suggests so cleverly, but his estimate of gay mankind, especially those who frequent the night club. He is a world-weary philosopher, melancholy and reflective, with a dignity that can easily be wounded, suffering undoubtedly from much high living, and able at a glance to “sum up” in a pithy sentence each frequenter of the club no matter how plausible his tale. As his acrobatic understudy with concertina trousers, Mr. Chris Wren endures a wonderful kick out that simply amazes. Miss Dorothy Brunton is a bright and vivacious daughter of the Dauvrey household, and Mr. F. Maguire is equally buoyant as a son of the same family. Mr. Paul Plunket having injured his knee, Mr. Percy Claridge filled his place as Rene most creditably, and smartly taken were the Professor Charcot of Mr. D.J. Williams, his wife by Miss Gwen Hughes, and Marlette, the Dauvray maid, by Miss Helen Hobson. All the appointments and scenery are excellent, and by the favour with which the comedy was received there should be a good run in store for it.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 26 October 1914, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10813877

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Amusement is the sole and all-sufficient incentive for The Girl in the Taxi. And that this purpose is fully achieved, the laughter of audiences at Her Majesty's impresses beyond all chance of contradiction. The music of Jean Gilbert is bright and inspiring, and the fun of the farce is of the old style, which finds entertainment in the peccadilloes of others, and especially in the hypocrisy with which they are concealed. We know the kind of thing from memories of Pink Dominoes and A Night Out, and The Girl in the Taxi may claim descent from the same origin. Fun of this sort has just to be accepted in the spirit In which it is offered, without any sense of moral responsibility or meaning, and with only a midriff appreciation of its humor. A piece of this kind has to be played with facility and smartness, or it is apt to lose its scintillating quality. Fortunately, there is no reason to fear any mishap of this sort with a company so well suited to its requirements. The appreciation of the public since the opening night is the best testimony of success.

… The new company is a very capable combination. The sprightly Suzanne is played by Miss Maggie Jarvis, who sings prettily and acts piquantly. Her voice is of light quality, with a tendency to nasal intonation, but is generally adequate to requirements, and enables her to get through with credit the considerable share of vocal exercise which falls to her lot. Mr. C.H. Workman, as Pomarel, proved himself a clever and humorous artist, well able to extract every ounce of fun out of the possibilities of the part. Nothing could have been better than the duet and dance with Miss Jarvis to illustrate The Happy Marriage, and in the character of the indignant husband in the second act he was inexpressibly amusing. As the elder Dauvray, Mr. W.H. Rawlins shows discrimination and a fine appreciation of the diversities of human nature. In the character of the youthful scion of the house, Mr. Fred Maguire displayed all the buoyancy and assertiveness of his years. Mr. Paul Plunket, through an accident, was unable to appear as Rene. but his place was well taken by Mr. Percy Claridge. The waiters scored among the highest in the field of fun, and Mr. Field Fisher as Alexis was entitled to foremost consideration. His whole treatment of the part was an artistic study, justifying its being regarded as an example of high art. The second waiter was also made by Mr. Chris. Wren a distinctive character. Miss Dorothy Brunton was well placed as the lively Jacqueline. Miss Gwen Hughes was Mrs. Charcot, the girl in the taxi, and Mr. D.J. Williams, her husband, the professor. Other parts were played by Miss Millie Engler and Miss Helen Hobson. Credit must be given to the orchestra, under Mr. Victor Champion, the chorus and the management. The Girl in the Taxi is assured of appreciation.

      

Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 October 1914, p. 37, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92034967

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… “The Girl in the Taxi” has the advantage of being well acted, on the comedy side especially, for the comedians are artists who are content to interpret the roles allotted to them as they are drawn, and to endeavor to endow them with a feasible personality, instead of burlesquing and making them grotesque caricatures. Fidelity to type is half the secret of the success of this play.

As the Baron Dauvray, the pompous autocrat at home, the elderly gay Lothario abroad, W.H. Rawlins proves himself a capable and artistic actor, with a fund of humor of his own. Then in C.H. Workman, as Monsieur Pomarel, the scent manufacturer, so mild, conventional and trusting in private life, and a very tiger and gay dog when he gets his military uniform on, we have an interpreter with real artistic instinct. He never once essays to make the role unduly prominent, nor to invest it with too pronounced comedy. He draws a personality who might be met at any time, a trifle eccentric, and with a blind faith in his pretty wife. Mr. Workman is endowed with an agreeable voice, dances gracefully, and has an alert and attractive manner.

Again, in the head waiter, Alexis, Field Fisher gives a veritable little character study. As the second waiter, Emile, Chris Wren just misses the effect. He, as so often in our productions, gives just a little too much of everything—his clothes are too baggy, his walk and mannerisms overdrawn. As Felix, the third waiter, Mr. Hugh Huntley is well advised in endowing it with realistic personality.

The son of twenty, who wants to see life but is handicapped by his limited pocket money—five shillings a week—and his lack of knowledge how to start, is well and unaffectedly depicted by Mr. Fred Maguire.

Rene, the lieutenant, with a reputation for fastness, but with a sincere desire to settle down, was undertaken at short notice by Percy Claridge, owing to Paul Plunket having injured his knee. He made a gratifying success in the circumstances. D.J. Williams satisfactorily portrayed Professor Charcot, the one and only apparently really straight-going man in the professor's set.

Suzanne, the young wife, so demure and prim, who wins a morality prize, yet has a past and is by no means averse to indulging in a fling again as soon as her husband is away on military duty, is effectively treated by Miss Maggie Jarvis, who has a piquant and winning personality, is a dainty and charming actress and makes the most of a small and rather nasal but clear light soprano voice.

Miss Millie Engler is pleasing as the Baroness, with gracious, polished manners. She invests the part with a maternal touch, and succeeds in creating a lovable, gentle and withal trusting housewife—a little narrow and circumcised [sic] in view, as housewives are apt to be. [A “Freudian slip” perhaps? Evidently the reviewer meant “circumscribed”.]

Miss Dorothy Brunton is bright and pleasing as Jacqueline, her daughter. But she should guard against getting into a rut; she is inclined to make all her roles similar in personality, business and appearance. Miss Gwen Hughes as Rose Charcot, the girl who steps in one door of a taxi as the baron steps in the other, and then consents to sup with him; and Miss Helen Hobson as Mariette, the maid, round out a more artistic and effective cast than we have had for a long time in Melbourne.

Under the direction of Mr. Victor Champion the orchestra is well managed, and all the choruses and concerted items are handled artistically.

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 29 October 1914, p. 10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146329287

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THEATRES, &c.

While watching—and more notably perhaps after seeing—“The Girl in the Taxi” and her frivolous friends at Her Majesty's on Saturday evening, one approves of the old conclusion that if other people knew us as well as we know ourselves much that is conventional, irksome, and superfluous in social life would disappear; friendships such as commonly occur in comic opera would be more easily, more agreeably established, conversation be pruned of its prefixes, harmony of its overtures and the lighter side of life generally be relieved of much that is redundant. Burns put it quite the other way in—

‘O wad some Power the giftie gi’e us

To see oursel’s as others see us!'

but nothing would be gained thus; on the contrary, a great deal of suspicion, ill-feeling, and prejudice created. When you see the correct idea illustrated at Her Majesty's any night this week, all doubt as to the correct standpoint is removed, the domestic fowl of daylight becoming a brilliant singing night bird, you are carried in spite of prudence or propriety to the conclusion, “All this is entirely after my own heart. It is life, breezy, scintillating, inspiring; but with the ‘ífs’ not as they should be I shall not mention it at the dinner table.” If the conditions precedent were as they might be, there would be no need to mention it or to do anything but book seats for the performance.

Quite a lot of the happy sort of philosophy which is more suitable for thought than conversation, and which is never fully revealed in English translations of the more sparkling French comedies, is promoted by acquaintance with this taxi girl. But to be candid, it is all better considered afterwards than during the progress of the piece, because the easy current of one’s thought is often diverted by laughs which are sometimes chuckling, significant, half repressed, sometimes given liberty in an unrestrained “Ha, Ha!” Of the musical side it is enough to say that that it is pleasantly rhythmic, and sometimes reminiscent, and that the words have sometimes more point than the score. A good deal of the conversation is clever, much of it wise in matters that concern the great world. If you can imagine an idea, a self-revelation, a confession illustrated in song and supper by players who sing sufficiently, who speak clearly, even when they seem to veil their meaning, and who frisk delightfully with each other, and indirectly with the audience, there is or ought to be quite sufficient inducement to lose no time in visiting Her Majesty’s.

… It was rather a surprise to find a man of Mr. C.H. Workman's experience and reputation in the rather eccentric part of the respectable perfumier, who is cuffed, bluffed, and rebuffed by everybody, a sort of human football in the gay game, at whom everybody, including his sprightly wife, Suzanne, has a kick. But Mr. Workman has all the detail of this particular business at his finger ends. He had a happy introduction in the first duet with his wife, one of the best items in the piece, and when the romp at the restaurant might have become wearisome it was his qualities as a comedian, his sense of stage values, and his appreciation of effective byplay that kept things humming. Mr. Workman is quite clearly a finished artist in this form of light entertainment. Like many another artist who has excelled in it, he may eventually pass on to legitimate comedy. Miss Maggie Jarvis (the gay wife) is bright, arch, and distinctive, though her light soprano voice, with a certain nasal peculiarity, is not the best part of her stage equipment. Another comedian who at once became a favourite was Mr. W.H. Rawlins as the happy hypocrite, Baron Dauvray, hampered to some extent by a wife who is “not only as good as she is, but as good as she ought to be.” The Baron, who seems to be all prudence and propriety at first, is like the moon brightened by contact with another orb—“The Girl in the Taxi.” Like Mr. Workman, he is a finished singing comedian. His songs have every point, musical and dialective, revealed; his acting is always delightful. And, as if two good comedians were not sufficient for any musical comedy, this one and the company that interprets it is enriched in a third—Mr. Field Fisher, as head waiter at the Jeunesse Doree. Because the gladsome restaurant is such a feature in musical comedy there has been great inducement to create entertaining waiters. They form quite a little stage gallery of their own, and Mr. Fisher's waiter is one of the best portraits in the collection. He gives his services to the guests and his reflections to the audience, and in either capacity is excellent. He is reinforced and aided by Mr. Chris. Wren, another kind of waiter. Miss Millie Engler, as the confiding wife of the gay Baron, finds her opportunity on the comedy side—realises it too. To the detail of this sparkling creation Miss Dorothy Brunton, Miss Gwen Hughes, Miss Helen Hobson, and other ladies and gentlemen of this new Williamson organisation give every assistance. We are content to dance light-heartedly as they set the tune, and lovers of musical comedy may be assured that the herald trumpets have not sounded a too extravagant note.

The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 October 1914, p. 30, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143290360

  • Paul Plunkett, Dorothy Brunton and Field Fisher.

    Caricatures published in the Truth (Melbourne, Vic.), “MUMMERANDOM”, 31 October 1914, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119785200; centre portrait from JCW theatre programme, c. 1913, Author’s Collection.

The season successfully launched to critical acclaim and audience approbation, J.C. Williamson’s efficient staff of Press agents continued to keep the Melbourne dailies and weeklies supplied with a constant stream of theatrical tid-bits promoting the company’s latest productions.

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THE PLAY AND THE PLAYERS

C.H. Workman, the comedian in “The Girl in the Taxi” at Her Majesty's, takes pride in the fact that he is not superstitious about the number 13. “As a matter of fact,” he says, “I consider 13 of good omen in connection with “The Girl in the Taxi.” The piece ran in London for 13 months, there are 13 of us in the cast, and we had a magnificent season in Sydney, and a jolly good time all round. We are a very happy family, we 13; and I couldn't wish for a happier time than I have enjoyed with ‘The Girl in the Taxi,’ which has indeed turned out to be a real joy ride.”

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Years ago Clyde Fitch wrote “The Girl with the Green Eyes.” Field Fisher, the comedian of “The Girl in the Taxi,” now at Her Majesty's, has a suggestion for a comedy that might be entitled “The Man with the Green Eyebrows,” with himself as the hero—or victim, rather. The circumstances are these: Mr. Fisher, instead of wearing false eyebrows in “The Girl in the Taxi,” which are always ticklish things, has adopted the expedient of merely soaping over his own eyebrows. He has been doing this, for some considerable time, and lately he had noticed a change coming. To his consternation, some days ago his eyebrows turned a beautiful canary colour, and now they are green. He has tried half-a-dozen different chemicals to bring the colour back, but the green remains. If anyone happens to see a man in the street with green eyebrows and a worried look he will know that it is Field Fisher.

Public Opinion (Melbourne, Vic.), 29 October 1914, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583516

  • Proscenium of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, showing stage boxes and orchestra pit, 1911.

    HMT Archive.

Charles Workman also took time in his daily schedule to give an in-depth interview to the weekly periodical Table Talk, in which he also gave his candid opinion for the reason behind the failure of Sir W.S. Gilbert and Edward German’s Fallen Fairies at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1909.

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

The Interviewer.

C.H. WORKMAN OFF THE STAGE.

A COMEDIAN WHO IS ALSO AN ARTIST.

One morning a call is made at Her Majesty's Theatre to have a chat with Mr. C.H. Workman, the comedian who has won such an enviable position for himself on the London stage.

"Mr. Workman told me to say he is waiting in his dressing-room," and so the journey across the big stage—a very cold and grey expanse in the daylight—and through the big iron door at the other side is made. A friend offers to find Mr. Workman, but returns, declaring he is not there. Back to the door keeper, who assures us Mr. Workman said he would be there. So once more we invade the stage, and this time Mr. Workman really is discovered. He emerges from his dressing room and advances to greet his caller in a rather reserved but alert way. This is characteristic of him, as is discovered later.

Where to sit and chat is the first consideration, and the foyer is decided upon as being cooler than the dressing-room. But on the way one of the boxes is passed, and it looks inviting, so we settle down there and talk, while a staff of cleaners dust and polish seats and Mr. Workman asks permission to smoke as he settles down, explaining he is an inveterate smoker, so feels more comfortable with a cigar. He has a certain well-groomed, well set-up air which just escapes being dapper, but there is something too virile and yet easy about him to be exactly dapper, yet he has the spruce, well-turned-out look which just suggests it.

Grey-eyed and well-featured, he is typically English in appearance, and he has an attractive speaking voice, low-toned and full, yet quiet.

It is learned that it is only by a sort of chance we have had the luck to see this favorite of London in Australia. Some time ago he had throat trouble, which left ill-effects, and his doctor said to him one day: “If I did not know it was not possible for you to get away, what I would order for you is a long sea voyage.” So when the offer came for this engagement in Australia, Mr. Workman closed with it, thinking the voyage would thoroughly set him up.

“We let our house to an American, with our own servants there. We are very proud of our home; we have not had it very long. For years I used to be on tour so much that we had no chance to make one. When I was in London we had a flat. But for some years now nearly all my work has been in London, and we made a home at Hampstead, and have spent time and money over it. There is a garden, and I do a lot of work in it, for I am fond or gardening. It is beautiful there, and you would never guess it was so near London. As you travel out to it you can feel the change of atmosphere distinctly. After the outbreak of war we had word to say our tenant was going back to America at once, and we have felt worried about the house, but we have just heard that they secured another tenant. So that is satisfactory.

“Yes, Mrs. Workman is here with me; also our boy. Oh, no. We could not leave him behind. That would be impossible. I made a complete model of the stage at the Savoy for him. He has a play-room to himself, and I built the stage there, exactly to scale.”

“You do not wish, like so many actors, to keep your boy from the stage?”

“It would be no use. He is born for it, and is interested in everything about it. I did ask the headmaster of his school not to encourage him to recite or to foster his inclination that way. But he told me that it was useless to try and repress it, that he was the life of the school and had undoubted talents.

“Yes, he will start with better chances than I had. I began as a chorister without any influence. No, my people are not theatrical at all, though I come from a musical family. My brother is one of the finest organists in Liverpool.

“One day I was picked to play a comedy role. The manager said, ‘You are a singer, not a comedian.’ I said, ‘Yes, but I am not tall enough to play the parts I should want to, so I prefer to qualify as a comedian,’ and I have been playing the comedy roles ever since.

“Before I went on the stage I had studied singing for ten years with my brother, and it is to that thorough training I attribute much of my success. My brother used to make me practise the scales on the finals of words ‘ed,’ ‘ent;’ and that kind of thing. Therefore it came quite natural for me to give attention to the endings of words, and so I could rattle off patter songs distinctly. And I enjoy quite a little reputation for my patter songs.”

Mr. Workman is so keen and enthusiastic about his work, and views it in such an impartial, outside sort of way, that he is one of the few who can talk “shop” and make it interesting to the outsider. There is not a bit of side or affectation about him. He tells of the years he was with the D'Oyley Carte [sic] Opera Company, playing Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and the wonderful experience it was, as Gilbert was such a splendid producer.

“That must have been splendid training.”

“The very best,” he emphatically affirms.

“Look at—” And he instances a string of names of English artists who have gone from Gilbert and Sullivan to the dramatic stage, and are now at the top of the tree. “They were all Savoyards.” (The Savoy Theatre, it must be remembered, was the home of Gilbert and Sullivan opera.)

“Gilbert knew so well what he wanted, and he was a martinet. He saw the whole thing mentally, and would have it done exactly that way. He would explain his views and tell you how he wanted it done. You might have your own ideas, but it was no good; they had to go. I have seen him go over a part again and again, trying to get just the effect he desired. You might explain your idea, and he would listen. He would watch you give a part your way, then he would say: ‘Yes, I have no doubt you would make a great success for yourself that way, but it is out of the picture. You can't see it from the front; I can. Now will you try it for the success of the whole, not the individual.’ And he was right; for that is the way to work together, and in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas the one part is so connected with and dependent upon others that they must be played for the whole ensemble, not for individual success.

“We were not allowed to alter or add to anything; not to change a word. The text was there, and we had to stick to it. Sometimes on special occasions it was a great temptation to do so, as when we appeared at Oxford, and it would have been so easy to localise it. There were certain changes we had permission to make, but gags of any kind or alteration were not allowed. I believe they permit changes from the text here, and in America they take great liberties. In one company they played Koko as a low-class Jew all through. Fancy a Jewish Lord High Executioner!

“For my part I can never understand why comedians want to do that kind of thing—to meddle and put in much outside matter, and to gag. You are given a part, and it is your task to make the best of it, and build it up, but not to alter it. To introduce local gags and to have jokes with or about certain members of the audience is apt to become tedious to many.

“It is to this I attribute the falling-off of the London Follies. They were settled in a good theatre, had only a small company, and a double piano, so no orchestra to pay, and yet got the same prices as the theatres who had to employ huge staffs to stage big productions. For years they did splendidly. But if there were anyone among the audience—if I went for instance—they would gag about me, play scraps of my songs—‘Tit Willow,’ say—and that kind of thing. Funny, perhaps, for those who were in the joke; but others would wonder what was the joke and what they were laughing at. There is always a large section of the audience who do not see the application in such instances, and are bored and become impatient.

“The first thing I do when I receive a part is to get into it. I must realise it or I cannot play it. I take a tremendous interest in everything about my work. I first think the whole part out. Then I begin to consider how a man of that kind would act, under the same circumstances. Then I try to work the whole thing out on the lines of a man of that type would think under the same given circumstances. If I do not, I cannot feel the part, and I must feel it before I can act it.”

Mr. Workman goes on to tell how he went into management for himself. I produced Gilbert's last play, ‘Fallen Fairies’, which was set to music by Edward German.

“It is beautiful; the music is delightful, for German was so elated at being associated with Gilbert that he excelled himself. It was a failure, yet it should have been a success. But we were hampered in several ways. Gilbert insisted upon giving the principal part to his adopted daughter, and she was not suited to it; she had no experience and had not the voice. Gilbert said the part had been written for her, and she must play it. So it was doomed from the first. This role had been built up at the expense of others. We were so hampered by various restrictions that we could do nothing, and after some weeks we had to withdraw it and it has never since been produced.

This managerial flight seemed doomed, for just as they were beginning to make money with a second production the death of King Edward put a stop to all theatrical enterprises. Since then Mr. Workman has been appearing, and with great success, for other people. He is a man of several interests, for besides gardening, performing odd jobs, and model building, he is something of a book man. Not only is he a reader but a collector of books and is forming a library.

“There are lovely old shops in London where all kinds of books can be picked up, and it is most interesting to visit them,” is one of his remarks.

Asked if he collects old editions, he says with a smile “When we can afford them we get them, for I like the old editions; but they are not always obtainable.” This is on the way out, and then it is “good-bye.”

Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 November 1914, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146329434

  • C.H. Workman as ‘Lutin’, Australian Claude Flemming as ‘Sir Ethais’ with Nancy MacIntosh (Gilbert’s adopted daughter) as ‘Selene’, the Fairy Queen and Jessie Rose as the fairy ‘Zayda’, Fallen Fairies at the Savoy Theatre in 1909.

    Private Collection.

  • Sir W.S. Gilbert discusses Fallen Fairies with C.H. Workman and Edward German at the Savoy Theatre, 1909.

    Author’s Collection.

An equally candid confession by Charles Workman also appeared in the pages of Melbourne’s Public Opinion on the same day.

* * * * * * * * * * *

THE PLAY AND THE PLAYERS

“I was told so much about the critical attitude of Melbourne audiences at first performances,” said C.H. Workman, the famous comedian of “The Girl in the Taxi,” ”that I positively perspired with nervousness the whole of the evening.” Mr. Workman was referring to his first appearance in “The Girl in the Taxi” at Her Majesty's. “It is a positive fact that every time I came off the stage I had to put on more make-up. In fact, I made up about six times that evening. However, I was agreeably surprised. I don't think Melbourne audiences are so terrible after all.”

 

Public Opinion (Melbourne, Vic.), 5 November 1914, p. 7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583692

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

In a patriotic gesture the daily newspaper advertisements for the J.C. Williamson attractions playing at the Theatre Royal (Within the Law starring Muriel Starr) and The Girl in the Taxi at Her Majesty’s were preceded by the announcement: ‘NOTICE—Members of the Expeditionary Forces, in uniform, will be admitted at half-price to any performance, except on Saturdays and holidays.’

The usual round of theatrical gossip and trivia published by the Melbourne Herald on 11 November also included some sobering reminders that, while the theatre continued to flourish Downunder, in London the picture was not so rosy for the members of the theatrical profession who were experiencing the immediate effects of the war in Europe.

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

 

IN THE PROMPTER’S BOX

Mr Field Fisher, of “The Girl in the Taxi,” for years worked in London as a black and white artist. For five years he was associated with the Harmsworth firm; a good deal of his work going into its weekly and monthly papers. His animal drawings for children, under the title of “Jungle Jinks,” made a big name for him. He has also done some color work, a number of the cover designs of London magazines having been painted by him. His designs in the form of theatrical posters still figure prominently on London hoardings.

* * * * * *

In the London production, of “The Chocolate Soldier” Mr C.H. Workman, now with “The Girl in the Taxi” company, played Bumerli to the Nadina of thirteen different actresses. Melbourne has had four [sic] Nadinas—Miss Winifred O'Connor, Miss Florence Young, and Miss Amy Murphy—and those familiar with the vocal score of Straus's opera will understand that in the course of a long run the physical strain on an actress playing the part must be great. It is generally considered that Miss Constance Drever was the most satisfactory of the London interpreters of the role of Colonel Poppoff’s daughter. Miss Drever is now at the front, as a nurse.

* * * * * *

In a letter received by Mr George Musgrove from Mr Harcourt Beatty, at present in London, the actor writes:—“Business here all to blazes on account of the war. Mr Wu still hangs along, but we are playing to one-third salaries, as are all the other theatres. I go to Oscar Asche for the new production at the Globe. The only white man in the play is my part, all the rest being Zulus. My salary on paper is a good one, but, of course, now heaven only knows what it will be reduced to. However, I am very lucky to be with a management which carries on and does not throw its employees out of work. In the first week of the financial panic I offered to play for nothing so that the theatre should not be closed. To many supers, stage hands, attendants, dressers, and others unemployment would mean starvation. Would you believe it? I was unpopular with some of my brother actors for suggesting this. I am afraid the modern actor does not appeal to me—no Bohemianism left. A pity, I think. You will be glad to know that I am now a special constable, No. 155, C division, and I go on duty at 2 a.m. till 6 a.m. I have a rotten beat, guarding the power-house in West street, not far from the Shaftesbury Theatre. The police are afraid of the Germans attacking with bombs or other explosives and placing London in darkness. I am also putting my name down in the National Reserve, as I was a volunteer many years ago, and therefore eligible. Who knows, I may get to the front yet if we lose enough men. At present I am nine years too old, but I’m hoping they will take them all ages before long.”

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 11 November 1914, p. 1, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242276258

* * * * * *

Later that week the Press reported the following news item in the various Entertainment columns.

* * * * * *

AMUSEMENTS

The Drama, &c.

There is still another change in the cast of the forthcoming pantomime, Cinderella, to be staged in Melbourne. Dorothy Brunton, who was selected as principal girl, has fitted so admirably into the part of Jacqueline in The Girl in the Taxi that it has been decided to retain her in the role. Such a clever little musical comedy artist would be hard to replace in a company of the high standard that characterises The Girl in a Taxi company. The Williamson firm has, therefore, engaged for the part of Cinderella the popular young Australian, Miss Dolly Castles, who will sail from America this week. Miss Castles, by popular vote, was recently acclaimed one of the six most beautiful actresses in America.

Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 14 November 1914, p. 36, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92041938

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

As Charles A. Wenman was the producer of both productions for Williamson’s, it was an indication of the worth of Dot to the New English Musical Comedy Company.  

On the same day, the following tongue-in-cheek testimonials enlivened the Amusements page of the daily newspapers.

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

A CURE FOR THE MOST OBSTINATE CASE -

“THE GIRL IN THE TAXI”
Dispensed by

C. WILLIAMSON’S
COMPLETE NEW ENGLISH COMPANY.

Of hundreds of testimonials received, only one comes from a man with a grievance. He writes:–“I visited ‘THE GIRL IN THE TAXI’ the other night, and am now suffering from a split lip and aching sides.”

Here are a few others:–“For five years I have been on crutches. I went to ‘THE GIRL IN THE TAXI,’ and on leaving the theatre threw my crutches away. I can now tango.”

“The lady I love wouldn’t marry me. Last night I took her to ‘THE GIRL IN THE TAXI.’ In the first act she crumpled my shirt-front; in the second she buckled my collar; in the third act she proposed to me.”

“For four years I have been known as the man that never laughed. A friend took me to ‘THE GIRL IN THE TAXI.’ Since then I have been mistaken for Sir Alexander Peacock.”

One more:– “I once had to leave home because my wife wanted to sing. We went to ‘THE GIRL IN THE TAXI’ last night. This morning I sold the canary.”

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

[N.B. Sir Alexander Peacock was the Premier of Victoria at the time, appointed in June 1914 as leader of the Liberal State Government, an office that he would fulfil for three separate terms during his political career. ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Peacock]

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

The cast celebrated another milestone when Saturday, 21 November was designated ‘Centenary night’—the 100th performance in Australia of The Girl in the Taxi. The Age reported on the following Monday morning: ‘Judging by the enthusiasm of the audience, and the spirit and vim the artists put into their work, it might have been the first night of the production.’ (23 November 1914, p. 11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article190676574 )

However Paul Plunket and Field Fisher were not the only cast members to fall victim to minor mishaps during the run of the show, as Charles Workman, too, fell foul of a Melbourne cable tram (at the time the city could boast the largest cable tram network in the world, surpassing that of San Francisco, and even today remains the home of the world’s largest electric tram network).

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

 

THE PLAY AND THE PLAYERS

A slip while boarding a tram, and a sprained ankle as the result, kept Mr. C.H. Workman from playing Pomarel in “The Girl in the Taxi,” at Her Majesty's for some nights. He is now back again, brisker and merrier than ever.

Public Opinion (Melbourne, Vic.), 3 December 1914, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583401

  • Cable trams in Swanston Street pass the Melbourne Town Hall, c.1910.

    Author’s Collection.

 

The Girl in the Taxi continued on her merry way playing to packed houses at Her Majesty’s for its allotted seven-week season, which concluded on Saturday, 12 December in order to make way for the technical and dress rehearsals of J.C. Williamson’s traditional Christmas—New Year pantomime, the aforementioned Cinderella, which was due to commence its run at the theatre the following Saturday evening on 19 December.

Although it had ‘missed the cab’, as far as the current Melbourne season of The Girl in the Taxi was concerned, an interesting item of theatrical trivia appeared in the columns of the Melbourne Herald later that week.

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

IN THE PROMPTER’S BOX

Mr C.H. Workman, who is playing Pomarel in “The Girl in the Taxi,” made a big hit with a deft little touch when he was playing Ko Ko in “The Mikado” at the London Savoy. Tettrazini was appearing in London at the time, and the famous singer used to bring down the house by lifting her voice to F in alt at the end of her song and calmly walk off the stage fanning herself, as if the achievement were a mere trifle. Workman, with the consent of Sir W.S. Gilbert, decided to emulate the prima donna. He finished up his “Tit Willow” song with a high falsetto note, and toddled off the stage leisurely fanning himself, while the audience shrieked with laughter.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 16 December 1914, p. 1, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242266066

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

Workman’s parody of Tettrazini, in fact, was further elaborated with the interpolation of a cadenza sung in falsetto with which he concluded his rendition of the song and this was preserved in his 1910 Odeon recording of “Tit Willow”.

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

Unscripted real-life romance had also come to the show’s leading lady during her sojourn in the Southern capital.

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

MISS MAGGIE JARVIS MARRIED.

Miss Margaret (Maggie) Jarvis, leading lady of the J.C. Williamson Ltd. Girl in the Taxi Company, was on [last] Saturday afternoon [12 December] married to Mr. Thomas S. Reynolds, of the firm of Messrs. W. Reynolds and Sons, wholesale meat merchants and exporters. The ceremony was performed by Rev. J.H. Allen, at St. John's Church of England, Toorak. Mr. Claude Grice, the well-known amateur cross-country horseman, who rode Mr. Reynolds's Swedish Lad on seven successive occasions during the winter and spring meetings, acted as best man. Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds left Melbourne [last Sunday] morning on a motor tour of Victoria and New South Wales.

The Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), 19 December 1914, page 41

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

Further details of the happy couple’s whirlwind courtship emerged during their honeymoon stay at the Australia Hotel in Sydney later that month.

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

AN IDLE WOMAN’S DIARY

SYDNEY, December 23.

A good advertisement for the Australian treatment of imported actresses is Miss Maggie Jarvis (“The Girl in the Taxi”). When she was in Melbourne recently, she met Mr. Thomas Reynolds, and they were married last week. It all fits in very well, and quite like a story book. Miss Jarvis was imported as leading lady at £20 a week. When the “Girl on the Film” was to be produced, she was offered the second part. Of course, she couldn’t think of accepting it, so she accepted Mr. Reynolds, who has three stations and five motor cars (or his family has). He is only 27, and they are both tremendously in love. Mrs. Reynolds has retired from the stage, and appeared at Saturday's races in a pretty white frock. Her young brother has secured a position on Mr. Norman Falkiner's station.

National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW), 28 December 1914, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157930170

[N.B. A salary of £20 per week in 1914 would be equivalent to around A$2,363 per week today.]

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

Maggie Jarvis’s departure from the New English Musical Comedy Company indicated a big break for Melbourne’s own Dorothy Brunton. After years of playing secondary and supporting characters for J.C. Williamson’s, principally as a member of the Royal Comic Opera Company, she was at last entrusted with creating a lead role—the eponymous heroine of The Girl on the Film, to star opposite Charles Workman as lead comedian under the direction of the musical’s original English producer, Harry B. Burcher, formerly of London’s Gaiety Theatre.

While continuing to perform at night and at matinees during the final weeks of the run of The Girl in the Taxi in Melbourne the company members had already commenced rehearsals for the new production scheduled to receive its Australian premiere in Sydney on 19 December 1914. Musical preparations for the show had also begun under Musical Director, Andrew MacCunn, who had arrived in Melbourne to take over the conductor's chair from Victor Champion for The Girl in the Taxi on 28 November. (In addition to serving as Musical Director for the up-coming Cinderella, Champion was also responsible for composing the pantomime’s ballets and incidental music.) Andrew’s elder brother, the Scottish composer, Hamish MacCunn had been the Musical Director for Charles Workman’s production of Fallen Fairies at the Savoy Theatre in 1909.

Amongst additional cast members arriving in Melbourne to begin rehearsals for The Girl on the Film were ballet dancers, Victor Lauschmann and Vlasta Novotna. Laushmann and Novotna had originally come to Australia in June 1913 as members of the Imperial Russian Ballet headed by Danish-born, Adeline Geneé, but had stayed on to perform in a number of JCW pantomimes, musicals and operettas, including Franz Lehár’s Gipsy Love, in which they had created a sensation dancing the “Ilona Tango” (an interpolated dance number composed by Andrew MacCunn). The Melbourne season of the Lehár operetta staged by Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company (under the baton of MacCunn) at Her Majesty’s Theatre from 5 September to mid-October 1914 was followed by a one-week run of Princess Caprice (in which Laushmann and Novotna also featured), and the Company then moved onto Adelaide for a season at the Theatre Royal. The conclusion of the “Royal” repertory season in Adelaide on 10 November left the dancers free to transfer to The Girl in the Taxi company in Melbourne, where they performed an interpolated “Dance Parisienne” in the Act 2 Restaurant scene as an added attraction for the closing two weeks of the run.

An additional novelty to be featured in the production of The Girl on the Film was the incorporation of actual film footage to be shown during the course of the stage show, for which the cast assembled in costume at J.C. Williamson’s movie studio on the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets (the site of the present day Comedy Theatre) to enact their film scenes for the moving-picture camera on Saturday, 7 December—an historic occasion documented by a series of photographs published in the Melbourne Punch on the following Thursday.  

On Saturday morning last, on the historic sight of the old “Iron Pot” Theatre of Melbourne’s early days, opposite Her Majesty’s, an interesting scene was enacted. It was a stage scene off the stage. For the forthcoming production of “The Girl on the Film,” soon to be staged in Sydney, a film was taken, which is to be shown in the play. Surrounded by an interested crowd, the actors and actresses went through their parts, not under the limelight, but in the broad light of day, while the operator turned the handle, and the producer (Mr. Harry B. Burcher) shouted instructions to the artists. Mr. Burcher, who staged “The Girl on the Film” in England and America, was fourteen years stage manager in London to Mr. George Edwardes’s companies. Photos by Allans Studios.

Punch, (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 December 1914, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page13430946

To be continued …

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

Postscript

NEW PRODUCER.

Mr. Harry B. Burcher, for nine years principal stage manager of the Gaiety Theatre, London has arrived in Sydney under contract to the J.C. Williamson management. He was engaged in London by Mr. Hugh J. Ward, having just returned from New York, where he staged “The Girl on the Film.” At the time he was induced to come to Australia he had a contract in his pocket to produce “Potash and Perlmutter” in London. However, he got a release from the latter undertaking. Under instructions from Mr. Ward, Mr. Burcher visited New York and saw all the plays that the Williamson management have secured for Australia. Of these “High Jinks” running at the Casino, particularly appealed to him. “It is chock full of good numbers” he says, “and has movement and comedy from the curtain rise to curtain fall.” “High Jinks” had then been running seven months. Of course he saw “Potash and Perlmutter.” He had seen it when previously in New York. “But it is one of those productions you can see again and again. Some of the lines have comedy and pathos so intermingled that you smile and gulp at the same time.” “The Yellow Ticket”, was also to him an arresting play. “It is powerful to a degree,” he says, “owing to the way in which it keeps close to life.” Mr. Burcher was the original Gibson man in “The Belle of Mayfair” in New York. In addition to stage managing the Gaiety, he understudied George Grossmith Jun. at the theatre and Joseph Coyne at Daly’s. He has on many occasions appeared for one or other of the two popular comedians.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 10 June 1914, p. 17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15514839

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

GILBERT AND SULLIVAN MEMOIRS.

New Book Reviewed by a Savoyard.

C. H. Workman, the London comedian appearing as Pomarel in “The Girl in the Taxi,” is a distinguished Gilbert and Sullivan artist. Sir William Gilbert, in a public speech, referred to his performance of Jack Point as being of “the finest and most delicate finish.” Compliments from Sir William were rare. “The Theatre” asked Mr. Workman for an article upon the Savoy. He has complied with a very readable contribution.

As I was leaving England a messenger hurried up the gangway of the Orontes with a parcel and a note. The latter explained the former. It was from Cunningham Bridgeman saying that he was sending me the first book from the press, a copy of “Gilbert. Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte,” a volume of “reminiscences of the Savoy and Savoyards” by the late Francois Cellier and himself. Mr. Bridgeman apologised for the pages being uncut. “If I had had them cut,” my friend wrote, “the volume would have missed the boat.”

Very pleasant reading the book proved on the voyage [to Australia], reviving many delightful memories of my associations with the great librettist and composer of the inimitable Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

A Strenuous Day.

For fifteen years I was appearing in Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and was in the big revival season at the Savoy. I well remember the wind-up of the series. We started at four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. We did the first act of “The Yeoman of the Guard,” the second act of “The Gondoliers,” the second act of “Patience,” the second act of “The Mikado,” and the first act of “lolanthe.” My parts for the day were Jack Point, the Duke of Plaza Toro, Bunthorne, Ko-Ko, and the Lord Chancellor.

It will be recalled that at about this time Prince Fushimi visited London. His being a member of Japanese royalty caused a ban to be put on “The Mikado.” This was removed in time for us to include the second act at the performance I have mentioned. When “The Mikado” music was struck up by the orchestra the Savoy audience
cheered and cheered. That was a great day.

A Mythical Mikado.

I find Cunningham Bridgeman in the volume I set out to review failing to find in Gilbert's portrait of the Mikado any sovereign potentate “from the Emperor Jimmu, founder of the Empire, down to the present dynasty, or Meiji Period, who could by the greatest stretch of imagination be taken for the Mikado to whom we are presented in the Town of Titipu.”

Let me quote from Bridgeman's pages a recollection on this point:

One of the first observations made by Sullivan after reading the libretto in the rough, was that he was rather surprised to find that the author had not made use of the distinctive class of titles of old Japan, such as, for instance, “The Shoguns.” Gilbert’s reply was, “My dear fellow, I agree with you. Some of those names were very funny; in fact, so ear-tickling as to invite excruciating rhymes. But when I found that the aristocracy of Old Japan were called “Samurais” I paused. Supposing I wanted to introduce the Samurais in verse, the obvious rhyme would have seriously offended those good gentlemen who worship their ancestors.”

It is necessary to say that the obvious rhyme is “D— your eyes”? Bridgeman didn’t think so.

Japan's Navy.

There is a passing historical note on Japan that is interesting in these days when nation is ranged against nation. The last decades of the nineteenth century, we are reminded, marked the full awakening of Japan. In 1857 Queen Victoria had sent the Emperor a present of a warship, following on which the Emperor assented to his subjects visiting England for the purpose of studying western civilisation. How swiftly events have moved since then! Japan, when “The Mikado” was written, was a comic opera country. Now it is a world power. It defeated Russia on land and sea. The gift warship has grown into one of the great modern navies, and to-day it is protecting British commerce in the seas of the Orient.

Another interesting note—this time theatrical history—is that the queue system was first introduced into London in the early days of the Savoy regime. D'Oyly Carte's judgement in this was very much questioned at the time. “The public,” it was vowed, “will never stand being marshalled and driven like a flock of sheep to their pens.” Patrons of the Savoy, however, did not look upon the innovation in that light. They regarded it as a convenience. D'Oyly Carte, also, was the first manager to have the thoughtfulness to refresh the waiting crowds with tea and cake on first nights.

Savoy First Nights.

These premieres were anxious times. Their consistent success is explained by the evidence of the great care expended upon them. I have personally had experience of both Gilbert and Sullivan at rehearsals. Nothing was ever left to chance. Both the librettist and the composer satisfied themselves on all points before a production went to the public. It has been said that never before or since have collaborators so taken matters into their own hands. Others have argued that were this possible with them, similar success would have been theirs. But Gilbert and Sullivan were able to command the situation, and to retain it. They worked from one success to another, and were never “satisfied by the luxury of attainment.”

D'Oyly Carte was the first to arrive at the theatre on a first night. Long before the doors opened he went through the house peeping into every corner, overlooking nothing. The head of every department was visited by him, and inquiry made whether everything was all right. Sullivan also appeared well before the public were admitted. He would kill half-an-hour in the band-room with the musicians, cracking jokes. Gilbert's “nervous devices for killing nervousness” are also recorded. He is described as inspecting the stage set, passing a joke with the stage carpenter, and then knocking at the door of the prima donna's dressing-room, to ask. “All right, my dear?” The lady, in reply, shouts. “Oh, is that you Mr. Gilbert? I wanted to ask you if you would mind if I—” “My dear girl,” he anticipates, “do just whatever you like. I don't mind. The rehearsals are over, and I am now at your mercy!” Then he would pass on to Grossmith and Barrington, and afterwards disappear through the stage-door and stroll on the Victoria Embankment.

Prompting Gilbert.

I must say I personally found great difficulty in ever getting any stage business that occurred to me incorporated in a performance. The only way I ever succeeded was by saying that at some previous rehearsal Gilbert had suggested it himself. Gilbert would say that he didn't remember it; but the idea that it originated with him always got it a friendly hearing. The fact of it not being his own idea, however, was absolutely fatal to a suggestion. The public were as exacting as Gilbert in this matter. They knew the operas so well that they resented any departure from tradition. I recall Gilbert altering some lines in “The Yeoman of the Guard” for one of the revivals. It fell to my lot to speak them, and in several towns letters were written to the newspapers protesting against the unwarranted liberty I had taken with the librettist's text. At Leeds I broke a long-established rule, and went into print in answer to one of these letters. I simply stated the facts. Next day the outraged correspondent answered by saying it was like Gilbert's impertinence to alter his original work.

Personal Impressions.

Gilbert was a martinet. I produced his “Fallen Fairies,” and he insisted against all reason in allotting an important role to a lady who was totally unsuited to play it. After a few nights I managed to bring about a change. In doing this I restored a song that had been “cut” on account of the inability of Gilbert's nominee to sing it. When he saw in the press that the song had been sung he wired prohibiting a repetition of this. Accordingly I put up a fortnight's notice to the company. It was bluff on my part; but it had the desired effect. Gilbert wrote that rather than throw a number of people out of work the song could be sung. He made the stipulation, however, that his consent should be published in the programme. Thus in his own opera his own song was announced as being given by permission of himself.

The Quarrel.

Sullivan was the most charming of men. With him it was anything for a quiet life. His tact and good nature, however, were not sufficient to avert trouble in the triumvirate. Gilbert, Sullivan, and D'Oyly Carte had given the public ten delightful operas when the split occurred. It was over a carpet! Let Mr. Bridgeman tell the story:

It appears that D’Oyly Carte, as duly authorised business manager of the firm, conceived it to be, not only polite, but right and proper, to minister to the comfort of clients through whose patronage and support their business had thrived so remarkably. Accordingly Mr. Carte purchased, amongst sundry other items of furniture for renewal and repair of the theatre, a carpet. The carpet, et cetera, were in the usual course charged to the joint account. Sir Arthur Sullivan, on his part, raised no objection to the outlay, and for the sake of peace did his utmost to persuade Mr. Gilbert to take a similar view of the matter. But Mr. Gilbert remained obdurate in his opposition to such lavish expenditure. He was of the opinion that a new carpet, costing £140, would not draw an extra sixpence into the exchequer that the theatre was so crowded nightly that no one could possibly tell or care a jot how the floor was covered. Mr. Gilbert thought it a sheer waste of money. He was then politely reminded that by the terms of their partnership agreement, he had no voice in the matter. Whereupon our author waxed exceedingly wrath, went to law against his old friends and comrades, and parted company with the Savoyards.

After a few years of estrangement the composer and librettist were brought together again, and united in the production of “Utopia, Ltd.” but they never succeeded in capturing the public with any subsequent operas. In 1900 Sullivan passed away, and three years later his collaborator wrote to Francois Cellier, “A Gilbert is of no use without a Sullivan, and I can't find one!”

C. H. WORKMAN.

The Theatre Magazine (Sydney, NSW), 1 September 1914, pp. 8–9.

Sources

Ralph Marsden, ‘Melbourne’s Forgotten Movie Studio’, On Stage, vol. 10, no. 2, Autumn 2009, pp. 1- 6, https://theatreheritage.org.au/images/OnStage/backissues/2009-2.pdf

Robert Morrison, ‘Fallen Fairies: the controversy surrounding Gilbert's last opera’, Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, https://gsarchive.net/gilbert/plays/fallen_fairies/article.html

Frank Van Straten, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne: the shows, the stars, the stories, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, 2018

Read 82 times Last modified on Saturday, 14 December 2019 09:20
Robert Morrison

With a background in science and biophysics, Rob is equally at home in the Performing Arts having performed in over 70 stage productions since 1975, including plays, revues and musicals for a number of amateur theatre companies based in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

As a broadcaster, Rob has been heard on Melbourne community radio 96.5 Inner FM since 1992 contributing to the Local Theatre programme and as the host of the weekly light-music Kaleidoscope and Musical Theatre Melodies programmes. (A selection of Rob’s past interviews from the latter with noted theatre composers and/or lyricists, Leslie Bricusse, Frank Wildhorn and Sheldon Harnick, plus musical theatre historian and author, Miles Kreuger can be accessed on the THA website under Digital Collections – audio.)

Rob has also contributed information and articles to the on-line Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, Gilbert and Sullivan Discography and Edward German Discography websites.

Past articles published in the print editions of On Stage include:-

  • ‘Are There Any More at Home Like You?’ (Summer 2009, p.30)
  • ‘W.S. Gilbert Makes the Music’ (Autumn 2009, p.7)
  • ‘Sir Seymour Remembers Dame Nellie’ (Autumn 2010, p.8)
  • ‘Remembering Nichols Remembering Melba’ (Spring 2011, p.9)

In addition Rob collaborated on the research into the background of local Music Hall singer, ‘Syria Lamonte’ (Summer 2010, p.5), as outlined in ‘The Search for Syria’ (Autumn 2010, p. 17); provided the footnotes to ‘Richard Watson: “a molasses of a bass”’ (Spring 2009, p.35 & Summer 2010, p.40.) and researched the discography for ‘Richard Watson’s Recorded Legacy’ (Spring 2011, p.18.)