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C.H. Workman in Australia (Part 4)

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C.H. Workman in Australia Title banner photos by Allans Studios published in Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 December 1914, p. 21, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page13430946

Clearly the war in Europe wasn’t going to be ‘over by Christmas’ (to quote a common bromide of the time) and, given the uncertain conditions of the theatrical profession in London and the reduced wages precipitated by the ensuing financial crisis, the principal members of the New English Musical Comedy Company decided to stay put in the greener pastures of the Australian theatre for the time being and renewed their respective contracts with J.C. Williamson’s, which had initially been undertaken for a term of six months. The Firm also benefited from such an arrangement given the critical acclaim and audience approval that the company had received to date. And since most of the company members had journeyed to Australia with their respective spouses and/or family members, there was no pressing need to return to Britain to fulfil familial obligations.

At this period in its history, J.C. Williamson Ltd. was virtually unique in the world for employing repertory companies to tour in Musical Comedy, unlike the major theatrical centres of London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, where the casts of such musical productions would be employed on a show-by-show basis, to be subsequently disbanded when a show had reached the end of its profitable (or unprofitable) run. Williamson’s repertory system, however, was born out of economic necessity, given the smaller theatre-going population of Australia in comparison to both London and New York, which could not support a run of any more than around two months for a popular show in each of the two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Thus for a show to be economically viable, it also had to tour the smaller Australian capitals of Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane, as well as the major cities in New Zealand, where Williamson’s had a long-established touring circuit. And, to provide constant year round entertainment for the theatre-going public, a new show could be rehearsed during the day by an established company of players, while their regular performances continued at night (and afternoons for matinee days). Such an arrangement also benefited the players in that it guaranteed them a regular source of employment, without the worry of having to seek another job at the end of a show’s run. The same also applied to the choristers and dancers employed by Williamson’s for its musical productions at this period. For this reason also, the chorus in JCW’s shows enjoyed a high reputation for musical excellence with the consistent training that they received from the company’s resident staff of Musical Directors, while the dancers were also highly regarded, both the corp de ballet and soloists, who received regular tuition from both of Williamson’s contracted ballet mistresses, Minnie Hooper (based in Sydney) and Minnie Everett (based in Melbourne).

For its next production The Girl on the Film, the ranks of the New English Musical Comedy Company were augmented with additional British and Australian players to fill the many supporting and character roles demanded by the musical’s plot. Two new members to the company were Florence Vie and Alfred Frith, who had both been a part of J.C. Williamson Ltd.’s theatrical venture in South Africa, where they had toured with the Firm’s musical comedy company in productions of The Girl on the Film, The Girl From Utah and The Dancing Mistress under the direction of Minnie Everett. (Originally sent out to South Africa by Williamson’s to produce and choreograph the prior pantomime season of Puss in Boots and to choreograph the three musicals, Everett soon found herself saddled with the task of directing the latter as well, when the English producer hired for the job, George Slater returned to England soon after his arrival in Durban having fallen ill.) With the onset of the war the theatrical business in South Africa had become so bad and economically unviable that the Firm decided to suspend their operations in the continent until conditions improved.  

British-born Florence Vie had previously performed in JCW productions in Australia, but Alfred Frith was making his Australian debut with the New English Musical Comedy Company (which had actually taken place in Melbourne in late-November when he took on the role of ‘Pomeral’ in The Girl in the Taxi for a few performances while C.H. Workman recuperated from a sprained ankle.)

J.C. Williamson’s Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company (headed by Savoyard, Charles Walenn as principal comedian), had inaugurated the Firm’s South African touring circuit in Johannesburg on Boxing Day of 1913 before journeying on to Australia, where it had commenced its subsequent Australasian tour at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in late-June of 1914. The company had just concluded its G&S repertory season at Her Majesty’s in Sydney on 16 December leaving the theatre free for the New English Musical Comedy Company to move in and conduct its final technical and dress rehearsals for The Girl on the Film in preparation for its Australian premiere, which took place on the evening of Saturday, 19 December 1914.

The next day the first critical reaction to the show appeared in print in the pages of the Sydney Sunday Times.  

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“THE GIRL ON THE FILM”

DOROTHY BRUNTON'S SUCCESS

HOLIDAY ATTRACTION AT HER MAJESTY'S

A musical comedy with a genuine farce idea wandered on to the stage of Her Majesty's last night under the title of “The Girl on the Film.” It stayed there till after eleven o'clock, and every few minutes during its progress had a huge audience rocking with laughter.

The central joke of the production is a skit on the cinematograph. We have a company of moving picture actors journeying to a remote village in Lincolnshire to enact a film representing “Napoleon and the Miller's Daughter.” They go to the village, where there is the necessary mill to provide the miller's daughter, represented by Miss Dorothy Brunton. They take with them the Old Guard on the march, Miss Florence Vie as a vivindiere, and Mr. Workman with his hand in his vest. Suddenly they find themselves attacked by hordes of honest yokels, who mistake the picture operations for a German invasion.

There is another and larger part of the story which shows a general's daughter masquerading as a lad in order to play the part of a drummer boy with the famous Max Daly, the idol of the flapper patrons of the picture shows. Max Daly is the actor who writes the scenario of “Napoleon and the Miller's Daughter,” and who plays the part of the Little Corporal. That he should monopolise all the parts which keep the cinema camera focussed on him disgusts his office boy, Doddie. Mr. Field Fisher, who plays this part, had the audience convulsed for five minutes at a time. For a while, as Max Daly explained his master film, Doddie believes he is to play Napoleon. Nature has made him for the part. When he finds his ambition thwarted, he says he is fed up with the whole business. “When they want a man to fall out of a boat, it's ‘Where's Doddie?’ When they want someone to be bitten by a dog in the comic film, it's ‘Where's Doddie?’”

The three acts of the musical comedy are arranged that the first shows the birth of the idea of the film, the second shows its taking, and the third presents the picture at a social function where the general recognises his daughter as the girl on the film.

As Max Daly, Mr. Chas. Workman has many opportunities, of which he makes every use. Happily, this hero of the picture screen is not required to be sentimental; in fact, he has not a love song in the piece. The little scenes of this character are allotted to Miss Gertrude Glyn, the typist in the bioscope company, and Mr. Paul Plunket, the old college pal of Max Daly. Mr. Workman might have burlesqued Napoleon extravagantly. He did not. He gets his fun without clowning, but it is nevertheless fun. His clear-cut enunciation makes his songs a pleasure to hear, and his dancing is always neat. It might be called dapper dancing.

Associated with him is little Dorothy Brunton. Miss Brunton has brightness in all her work, and makes a roguish boy. Her performance entirely justified the Williamson management in assigning her such an important role. Her song, “Bond Street,” with Mr. Workman, had a dash and go about it which caught the humor of the house, and the audience stormed for an encore. It was an encore night. Enthusiasm was manifested fully and freely after every good number.

All the members of the company are popular in Sydney, and as has been said, there was special interest in the first performance as a star of the Australian girl to whom the evening meant so much.

Mr. Field Fisher had a regal reception. His humorous impersonation of Don Jose in the Carmen film was a scream. Playing with him was Miss Florence Vie, who caught the spirit of the eccentric Euphemia Knox, and won many a hearty laugh from the public.

Mr. W.H. Rawlins, who played Babouche in “The Girl in the Taxi,” was a farmer last night. He is the owner of the mill, and his ideas about Germans in general, and invading Huns in particular, show that British rural intelligence is not to be despised. He has a good scene in the second act, of which he makes the most. He figures again at the Army League Ball at the Savoy. In the seat of his trousers he has sewn the typist's legacy, and his suspicions on the subject of designs on this provoked a deal of laughter.

Miss Marie Eaton had a difficult part to play—Maria Gesticulata, the Italian cinema actress. One does not know anyone who could have made a better success of this role than this Australian.

The minor parts were well played by Miss Millie Engler, Miss Gwen Hughes, Miss Winnie Tait, Miss Eileen Cottey, Mr. Chris Wren, Mr. Alfred Frith (a comedian of whom one would like to see more), Mr. D.J. Williams, Mr. Hugh Huntley, and Mr. John Western.

The chorus effects showed great ingenuity on the part of the producer, Mr. Henry B. Burcher, who had some real novelties to present. He had one of the prettiest bunches of girls that the Australian stage has seen for a long time. In the chorus singing and in the dancing they showed that they had more than looks in their favor. Vocally they were brilliant, and their dancing was graceful, a credit to Miss Minnie Hooper, who arranged the dances. The dance feature number in the last act, presented by M. Victor Lauchmann. and Mlle. Novotna, was clever and attractive.

The musical director is Mr. Andrew MacCunn, probably the best man with the baton in light musical shows who has ever come to Australia.

“The Girl on the Film” is an ideal holiday attraction. There is lilt and laughter galore. The first matinee will be next Wednesday.

The Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 20 December 1914, p. 6, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126759768

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Although not referred to in The Sunday Times review, Charles Workman, as a skilled horseman, had made his initial stage entrance in his film role of Napoleon while seated astride a white charger, but things did not quite go according to plan on the opening night! An incident remarked upon by both Gerald Marr Thompson in The Sydney Morning Herald and the critic for The Daily Telegraph in their respective reviews published on the following Monday.

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“THE GIRL ON THE FILM.”

“The Girl on the Film,” a musical farce which ran through the greater part of last year at the London Gaiety Theatre, was successfully staged at Her Majesty's on Saturday night. The “book,” which is of Continental origin, seems to have suffered in adaptation by J. . Tanner. “Stodgy” is the mildest term which can be applied to it. It was never snappy, and it was never new. Thanks to the artists, however, the audience somehow contrived to laugh, and waited hopefully and justifiably for the dainty light music of Albert Sirmay, for the groups of pretty girls who flittered on and off the stage in radiant attire of varied nationalities, and for the many scenic devices by which a Gaiety “entertainment” is rendered acceptable.

The story centred round the experiences of Max Daly, a Cinema author, actor, and producer, who, in the wonderfully spacious London offices of the “Vioscope,” conceives the idea of a moving picture entitled “Napoleon and the Miller's Daughter.” The second tableau takes the audience to the scene of action—a beautiful old mill, whose sails slowly revolve above a garden of English flowers, outside a farm-house, with the river winding through green meadows beyond. Here the Vioscope Company is drilled in front of a biograph machine, in the central situation of the melodrama, with Max Daly as Napoleon, and the Old Guard comically in evidence. Finally the dazzling magnificence of an Army League Ball at the Savoy Hotel is indicated, and the assembled guests (equally with the audience) admire the perfected “movies.” As these develop a peppery and preposterous old English general, (Mr. D.J. Williams) wrathfully recognises his own daughter Winifred as the heroine.

The stage interest is pretty fairly divided between Daly and Winifred, otherwise “Freddy,” as the chief characters, parts that fall to Mr. C.H. Workman and Miss Dorothy Brunton; two young lovers, Mr. Paul Plunkett and Miss Gertrude Glyn, graceful “gliders” in a region of sentiment that is all their own; and two low comedians, who loomed largely throughout the piece, a show woman and a hobble-de-hoy stage prompter, Miss Florence Vie and Mr. Field Fisher.

First mention falls to Miss Brunton as a favourite young Sydney [sic] actress, who thus made her first appearance in a leading part. As had been anticipated, she played it with brightness and aplomb. Winifred Fitzgibbon, learning from the colossal commissionaire, Sergeant Tozer (Mr. John Western), formerly of her father's regiment, that a boy is wanted by the Vioscope, returns to the office as “Freddy,” and saucily bluffs Daly into taking her on. Later there was an opportunity for the actress to appear as a drummer-boy in Napoleon's army; then as the miller's daughter; and finally in ball-room attire as the haughty Miss Fitzgibbon, who refuses to recognise Manager Daly until, discovering that, after all, she is not a boy, he proposes marriage, and is promptly accepted. Miss Brunton's opening song, “Steady, Freddy,” lightly scored with harp, celeste, and woodwind prominent, proved one of the best. There was a fetching little duet with Mr. Workman, “Bond-street,” a second duet at the end of the second act rendered piquantly with a gavotte, which was encored, and a final love duet, “You're here and I'm here,” the charming music of which was rendered by both in unstrained, facile, and happy fashion.

Mr. Workman, a comedian with the voice of a well-trained singer, does not attempt to force the mild humour of Max Daly. He keeps consistently in the picture, and does not burlesque the character of Napoleon. In less able hands the inherent poverty of the part would prove nauseating. All of the interview with Signora Maria Gesticulata, the old stage-idea of a foreigner who cannot make herself understood, is absurd without being funny. The character is played with much spirit by Miss Marie Eaton, who figures not so much as a harmony in red as a conflagration, and her brilliant voice proved effective in the high-soprano aria in imitation of the Italian tragic opera designed for the prima donnas of 1840. But has not the day for that kind of burlesque passed long ago? The same remark applies to the show-woman's “My Baggy-a-dore” (obscure Gaiety wit!), a burlesque on Bizet's “Toreador's Song,” which one really might be allowed to forget for a little away from its operatic setting. Miss Eaton's furious denunciation of Max Daly raised a smile owing to the comedian's laughable suggestion of trembling alarm. A few minutes later Mr. Workman gave the audience an anxious moment by catching his foot in the stirrup whilst dismounting from Napoleon's too high Arab steed. There was a decided “falling off” in the artist's acting, but he pluckily made the best of it—so cleverly, indeed, that many people regarded the mishap as funny business!

Miss Florence Vie was warmly welcomed back on her return after absence in England and South Africa, and played with the broadest humour as Euphemla Knox, the show woman. Her principal hit was the song “Give me something in a uniform,” and there was much laughter during the love-scene with Doddie, the prompter. Herein Mr. Field Fisher, disguised as a red-headed youth who had outgrown his clothes, resembled a Dickens character. He showed ludicrously the fatuous vanity of an oaf, who aimed at leading parts, and who dressed as Don Jose, Napoleon, and Marshal Ney during his brief hour of nonsense. The love-passages between Linda and Valentine were gracefully carried on by Miss Glyn and Mr. Plunket, who were encored again and again for their song, “Won't you come and dance with me?” a captivating valse-duet, the theme of which was as simple as the setting of a nursery rhyme. Miss Glyn, whose manner is engagingly refined, got safely through “The Mill,” a tender ballad the xylophone obbligato to which was much too loud. Mr. W.H. Rawlins laboured with the idea of a miller who had £3000 sewn into the seat of his trousers, and continually sat down on it for safety! His rusticity was good, and the same may be said of Mrs. George Lauri as Mrs. Clutterbuck. Miss Millie Engler was stylish as Lady Porchester.

Mr. Andrew MacCunn conducted the music to good purpose, and the animation of the stage bears witness to the energy of the producer, Mr. Harry B. Burcher. He was warmly recalled at the end of the evening, as was also Miss Minnie Hooper, whose ballets were a welcome feature. Mlle. Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann figured brilliantly as the principals of the ballet. Indeed, the Gaiety entertainment was in all respects admirably put on by the J.C. Williamson direction, and is likely to crowd the theatre for weeks to come.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 21 December 1914, p. 4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15539550

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The Daily Telegraph’s critic proved to be far more complimentary to the show as a whole (even if he did confuse the preposition in its title!)

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HER MAJESTY'S.

“THE GIRL IN THE FILM.”

The new piece at Her Majesty's, “The Girl In the Film,” will prove delectable Christmas fare. There have been many fascinating musical comedy girls, from “The Country Girl” to “The Earl and the Girl,” and girls in trains and in taxis—in fact, all sorts of girls. Amidst this gay throng “The Girl in the Film” worthily holds her own. Producers of musical comedy apparently have not yet exhausted all their ingenuity, if one may judge from the novelty which marks the central idea of this production. While everyone revelled for over three hours in the general hilarity which the performers provoked, they did not lose sight of the important share that was taken in the success of the evening by Mr. Henry Burcher, whose lengthy London experience enabled him to present “The Girl in the Film” with all the completeness which characterised the original Gaiety venture. In point of scenic beauty the Lincolnshire mill scene, from the brush of Mr. Leslie Board, has rarely been surpassed at Her Majesty's. When all the characters, with their gorgeous military uniforms of red and blue and gold, were set in motion, posing for the Napoleonic cinema film, “The Miller's Daughter,” the effect produced was exceedingly brilliant.

“The Girl in the Film” contains the usual musical comedy ingredients, which are elaborated to the fullest extent by the present company. Its story, however, is more coherent than audiences have been made familiar with in some plays of this class, and its humor is kept well within legitimate bounds. The music is of the “catchy” order, with an occasional dash of patriotic fervor that does not fail to appeal, while the comedians seize the opportunity for topical allusions which hit the right spot. The subject concerns itself with the loves of a General's daughter and a “Vioscope” actor, the former a vivacious little creature, who, suitably disguised for the occasion, appears alternately as the drummer boy and the miller's daughter. It is in the latter character in the film that she is seen in her most amusing phases. At a few minutes' notice she takes the place of the “leading lady,” an Italian cinema star of electric temperament, and in the process of the film production there arises situations of a kind that cause the greatest laughter. The scene is enacted on the farm of one Cornelius Clutterbuck, whose absence has been conveniently arranged for. Alarmed villagers, on the entry of Napoleon on his white charger, attended by his soldiers, fear an invasion has come, and there is a clash of arms—and stocks, with musical setting. Things are eventually straightened out, the film is screened at the Army League ball at the Savoy, with mutual explanations to the General regarding his daughter's conduct. Incidentally are introduced ballets, choruses, and other features brightly woven around the whole picturesque theme.

Sydney playgoers gave Miss Dorothy Brunton a cheering welcome on her appearance as principal comedienne. The gifted young Australian actress had her first really big chance. It is pleasing to record that she filled every requirement of an exacting role. On Saturday night Miss Brunton was given ample evidence that her clever and graceful performance had won the warmest approval. In a character that called for the interpretation of several personages in the comedy, first as the General's daughter, then as the “Vioscope” author's messenger; subsequently as the drummer boy and as the miller's daughter, vocally and otherwise she was put to a test that would have severely tried a performer of more matured and wider experience. Miss Brunton gained a distinct triumph.

The comedians were all thoroughly in their element. With Messrs. C.H. Workman, Field Fisher, and W.H. Rawlins in a cast, first-class comedy can always be looked for. Mr. Workman was the cinema producer who played Napoleon, with Mr. Fisher, the prompter, as understudy, and Mr. Rawlins as the miller on whose farm the film is evolved. In their hands the fun-making was fast and furious—indeed, almost too furious at one time in Mr. Workman's case, for he fell from his charger, and was dragged by the stirrup-leather, happily without serious result. Miss Marie Eaton relished the opportunities which Signora Gesticulata gave her, playing the Italian cinema star with quite the real temperament. “Ah, che vedo” was a fine example of passionate, operatic singing, with due regard to its humorous aspect. Miss Florence Vie, the manageress of the Vioscope, looked the part, and acted it well. “Give Me Something in a Uniform” was sung in dashing style, and patriotically appealed. Miss Gertrude Glynn and Mr. Paul Plunket played and sang together with fine harmony. Their duets were “A Going Concern for Two,” “A Bungalow in Bond Street,” and “Won't You Come and Waltz with Me.” Others who satisfactorily aided were Mrs. George Lauri, Misses Millie Engler. Gwen Hughes, Eileen Cottey, and Winnie Tait, and Messrs. Chris. Wren, Alfred Frith, D.J. Williams, John Weston, and Hugh Huntley. The dancing of Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann was an attractive feature of the miscellaneous gaieties introduced. Mr. Andrew MacCunn was responsible for the musical direction.

“The Girl in the Film” will furnish patrons of Her Majesty's with excellent entertainment during the holiday season.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 21 December 1914, p. 9, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238882147

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The daily newspaper advertisements for the musical emphasised that it was “Direct from the London Gaiety” while obfuscating the show’s German origins, lest patriotic Australian theatre-goers be deterred from attending the theatre in protest. Thus the musical contributions of German composers, Walter Kollo and Willy Bredschneider were not alluded to, while those of Hungarian composer, Albert Sirmay were emphasised. Also the plot-point of the English villagers fearing a French invasion when confronted by the spectacle of so many uniformed soldiers descending upon their village for the “on location” enactment of the film scenes (as it had stood in the Anglicised libretto) was now amended to reflect their fears of an impending German invasion instead.

The critic for the weekly Sydney Referee weighed in with his assessment of The Girl on the Film the following Wednesday, while the newspaper’s entertainment column also carried news of the early death of Australian singer and actor, Lempriere Pringle—a former colleague of Charles Workman in the original 1910 London production of The Chocolate Soldier.

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“The Girl on the Film”

DOROTHY BRUNTON'S OPPORTUNITY.

The plot of “The Girl on the Film,” presented by the J.C. Williamson management for the first time in Australia at Her Majesty's on Saturday night, turns on the making of a moving picture of “Napoleon and the Miller’s Daughter.” Included in the picture, as the “daughter,” is an aristocratic damsel who is out for a prank. First she has disguised herself as a boy, and has been engaged by Max Daly, the “Vioscope” actor and manager; and then she has so arranged matters that the supposed boy, on an emergency, is allowed to impersonate the girl of the film. There are sundry other related incidents which playgoers may be left to find out.

A notable point in the present production of the Gaiety musical farce is the chance afforded to Miss Dorothy Brunton in the lead. The young Australian fulfils the anticipations of those who have followed with interest her work in less important parts. Her singing voice is small, but sweet. Small, however, is a comparative term only. Compared with those of some imported musical-comedy artists we can remember, Miss Brunton's is a voice of volume. Her acting style also strikes the right medium for this class of parts between the London repose and the Australian animation. Decidedly the management has made a good choice.

The book of the “Girl” could do with some touching up. Mr. C.H. Workman, for instance, as Max Daly, is not given the opportunities his ability deserves, and, being a “straight” comedian, he does not drag some in for himself. However, he is an impressive stage-Napoleon, and does the best with his other acting and singing material. The low comedy gives more chances, and Mr. Field Fisher and Miss Florence Vie, as “Vioscope” employees, take full advantage of these. Mr. Fisher, with his flexible face and curious voice, is remarkably quaint; Mr. Paul Plunket and Miss Gertrude Glyn do the chief part of the “lovering” very well, chiefly in songs in which Mr. Plunket's baritone is pleasing, and in dances which show the grace of Miss Glyn's slender Botticellian figure. Miss Marie Eaton makes a hit as Slgnora Maria Gestlculata, an Italian cinema actress, especially when she sings her scorn at Daly. Her first flame-like costume, and the second of blue, on a handsome witch model, help the impersonation; but there is ability as well as costume.

The old miller and his wife are satisfactorily played by Mr. W.H. Rawlins and Mrs. George Lauri. Others include Messrs. D.J. Williams, John Western, Hugh Huntley, Chris. Wren, and Alfred Frith, and Misses Millie Engler, Gwen. Hughes, Eileen Cottey and Winnie Tait.

There is a pretty ballet in Act II, designed by Miss Minnie Hooper and led by Miss Vlasta Novotna, Mr. Victor Lauschmann, and Mr. Jack Hooker; and a taking dance is given in the following act by Miss Novotna and Mr. Lauschmann. In painting the rural English scene of Act II, Mr. Leslie Board—always good—has given us one of his best achievements to date. Studies made during a stay in England helped him with the conception. The handsome interior of Act III, by Mr. W. Little, also deserves every praise. The light music, including various attractive numbers, is satisfactorily rendered by the orchestra under Mr. Andrew MacCunn. In every way the mounting is on the elaborate scale, which we have come to expect from “the firm.” The modern costumes are impressive, and so are some of their exceptionally buxom feminine wearers. The color schemes of each act have been well-worked out, and are all pleasing to the eye. “The Girl on the Film” is the right sort of entertainment for holiday time.—N.L.

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Mr. Harry B. Burcher, who produced “The Girl on the Film,” considers the Australian chorus and ballet the best he has seen. This is from one who was stage manager at the Gaiety for years, and who has also had considerable experience in musical comedy in New York. His verdict of Miss Dorothy Brunton is that she would be a star in either London or New York.

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The following reference was made to Mr. Lempriere Pringle by “The Stage” (29 November 1914) at the time of his death: “An attack of double pneumonia, which attacked him while playing in the revival of “The Chocolate Soldier,” resulted in the death of Mr. Lempriere Pringle. A man of fine physique, an actor of ability, and a good bass singer, Mr. Pringle will be missed by theatre-goers, and particularly by his many friends in the profession, with whom he was very popular. As a boy, Mr. Pringle, who was born in Hobart, Tasmania, sang soprano in the local cathedral choir. His first appearance in England was as principal bass with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Subsequently, under Sir Augustus Harris' management, be was engaged for several seasons of Grand Opera at Covent Garden. Later he joined the company at the Metropolitan Opera House. New York. Mr. Pringle could place several acting as well as operatic achievements to his name. He had played Pish Tush in “The Mikado” in New York. He was for a season with Sir George Alexander at the St. James', and the humor of his Massakroff in “The Chocolate Soldier” is still fresh in the public mind.

Referee (Sydney, NSW), 23 December 1914, p. 15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120279965

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PLAY AUDIO: Seek the Spy

“Seek the Spy” – The Chocolate Soldier (Oscar Straus) – Lempriere Pringle & the Lyric Theatre Chorus (rec. June 1911) – Odeon 0705 or 66865

[Palaeophonics—CD no. 135—courtesy of Dominic Combe]

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Born in Tasmania in 1876, the son of baritone, C.H. Templeton (who had performed with W.S. Lyster’s opera company) Harry Lempriere Pringle left Australia at the age of 18 to pursue a musical career overseas. He had sung at Covent Garden with Melba and the de Reszke brothers, Jean and Édouard, in opera seasons between 1897 to 1900 and at the New York Met from 1899 to 1901. Pringle returned to Australia as a member of George Musgrove’s Grand English Opera Company tour of 1900–01, debuting with the role of the Landgrave in Tannhäuser at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne in April 1901. He also sang Mephistopheles in Faust, Don José in Maritana, King Henry in Lohengrin and the tile role of The Flying Dutchman during the remaining months of the tour, which concluded in New Zealand in early October. Pringle returned to Australia in 1902 as a member of Melba’s concert party performing “Scenes from Grand Opera”, which also toured under the management of Musgrove. He then toured in George Musgrove’s Grand Comic Opera Company’s production of Victor Herbert’s The Fortune Teller in 1903 playing the role of the Gipsy musician, Sandor, before his return to Britain. Pringle’s death occurred in London on 26 October 1914.

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While adding to the congratulations attending Dorothy Brunton’s rise in the theatrical ranks, The Bulletin reviewer’s assessment of the musical and its production was written in the usual flippant tongue-in-cheek style that had become the periodical’s trademark. As with The Daily Telegraph review, the opening remark was an acknowledgement of the preponderance of mainly British (or Anglicised European) musicals of the period that featured the feminine nomenclature in their titles (a trend initiated at London’s Gaiety Theatre under George Edwardes’ management in the 1890s with such shows as The Shop Girl, The Circus Girl, A Runaway Girl, et al.) which had subsequently made their way Downunder in productions by J.C. Williamson’s.  

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SUNDRY SHOWS

“The Girl on the Film” turns out to be the usual old Girl. This time she is the daughter of a General and the man of her choice is a bioscope actor. Her father is a general because it is necessary that someone should howl with rage when her passion for the film-mummer is disclosed; and Generals are notorious howlers on the stage. The girl, whose name is Winifred, naturally presents herself to Max, the picture artist, as a boy; and, though she is no more like a boy than a camel, he is deceived. In the complications which lead up to the union of Winifred and Max, and the howls of the General, there is ample opportunity for a very fair vaudeville show. Her Majesty’s (Sydney) presents it.

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Miss Dorothy Brunton plays lead, which is a belated recognition of this young Australian’s merits. As THE BULLETIN has been remarking for years, she outclasses the type of Girl that the J.C.W. Co. has been importing, as regards looks, dancing and singing, and above all personality. C.H. Workman is Max. He is a sound comedian, along conventional lines, but he fails to suggest the sort of person that even the most emotional maiden would become dippy about. Paul Plunket and Gertrude Glyn have some pleasing turns. For the purposes of the play he is a sort of assistant in the bioscope firm, and she is a secretary. The slap-stick items are supplied by Field Fisher. He is a scream. He even threatens at times to become a riot—not to say a cataclysm. The show could do with more from him in the “second part”; and for that matter in the other parts. Miss Florence Vie is responsible for the patriotic element, and there is some attractive dancing by Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann. The Sisters Eileen Cottey, Gwen Hughes and Winnie Tait look “sweet.” One expects them, vaguely, to do a sand dance, or throw a few handsprings, or something, but they never do. Vaudeville is full of such disappointments. The balladist is Marie Eaton. Her song of farewell to the moving-picture business is the musical hit of the Hall. The best of the animal turns is Max’s Horse. On Saturday night it stood for a while on its rider’s stomach, but this trick is to be abandoned at future performances. There are no monkeys or Yankee patter artists; and an absence of trapezists, conjurers and coin-manipulators does much to further brighten the proceedings.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 24 December 1914, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-688238055

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At the following Saturday evening’s performance, Dorothy Brunton introduced an interpolated song in the second act—Paul Ruben’s “Your King and Country Want You” (with its chorus: “Oh! we don’t want to lose you, but we think you ought to go; For your King and your country, both need you so”), which struck a chord with the patriotic audience, who duly encored the number. The following week’s Bulletin acknowledged the addition to the score in its theatrical columns.

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SUNDRY SHOWS

There is nothing new to report from Her Majesty’s, Sydney, except that Miss Dorothy Brunton, who is “The Girl on the Film,” has started the Recruiting Song. The Recruiting Song implores young men to volunteer for the front, and gives them an assurance that, if they do, the girls will kiss them on their return. It doesn't mention whom the girls propose to kiss during the volunteers’ absence, and this reticence is a weak point in the argument. The song, which is almost as well known in Britain as “Tipperary” was written by Paul Rubens, an intensely-patriotic young Hebrew who, when the last London files left, had shown an ascetic scorn for osculation by neglecting to proceed to Flanders himself. However, it is a good song, and, as rendered by Dorothy Brunton and about three dozen young and charming girls, should do something to stave off universal service for a while longer. [i.e. a reference to conscription.]

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 31 December 1914, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-664725829

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The Bulletin’s cynical observation that Ruben’s patriotism did not extend to volunteering for the military himself was unjustified given the fact that the popular British musical theatre composer, lyricist and librettist suffered from tuberculosis and was therefore unfit for active service. He eventually succumbed to the disease at the early age of 41 in 1917.

The profits from the sale of Ruben’s song were donated to Queen Mary's “Work for Women” Fund, eventually contributing over half a million pounds to the cause.

Paul Ruben’s Woman’s Recruiting Song “Your King and Country Want You” would gain a further lease of life on the Musical Theatre stage when it was included in the “compilation” score of the British musical Oh, What a Lovely War! in 1963, and its subsequent 1969 film version.

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The Girl on the Film continued to entertain Sydney theatre-goers into the New Year of 1915, while JCW’s press agents continued with their appointed task of supplying “copy” to the daily and weekly newspapers and periodicals promoting the company’s latest productions and featured players.

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GOSSIP OF THE THEATRES AND PICTURES

There is nothing amazing about the popularity Mr. Field Fisher has won in Sydney. He is a genuine grotesque. He has no objection to accentuating his physical peculiarities. The result is that he gets a laugh every time he makes a stage entrance. Mr. Fisher likes to make out in newspaper interviews that he is naturally ugly. Such is very far from the fact. He has a pleasant face, full of homely charm. He might go on any time and play a juvenile lead without shaming the matinee girls. Mind, it is not suggested that he would win their adoration. He would probably just please them. His inclination is towards oddities. He began life as a humorous painter, a poster artist. When he gets in front of a mirror with his make-up box he doesn't seem able to restrain himself. He exhausts all the possibilities of the background that his face affords, giving his nose a tilt or a twist as the mood suggests, elongating his mouth, putting his eyebrows askew, blotching his skin, and any other little details that may suggest themselves. He also affects a shuffle, waggles his hands limply as he walks and shifts his shoulders in a double-jointed manner, and contorts his legs in a sustained way that conveys the impression that they are like that. Consequently when in “The Girl on the Film” he hankers after romantic parts the idea has exaggerated humor. Mr. Fisher also has a humorous intonation that gives comedy value to all he says.

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On Saturday Mr. Alfred Frith stepped temporarily into Mr. Charles Workman's part of Max Daly in “The Girl on the Film.” He gave an amusing performance. more humorous, if less legitimate, than the London comedian's. There were touches of eccentric exaggeration that convulsed the house. This is the second occasion that Mr. Frith has been called to substitute Mr. Workman. The latter injured his knee in Melbourne when appearing as Pomerel in “The Girl in the Taxi.” Mr. Frith scored in this instance as well. He was, however, familiar with the role, having played it in India. Originally a Tommy, Mr. Frith began his stage career with Maurice Bandmann, the musical comedy manager of the Orient. A comedian fell ill one night in a garrison town, and Mr. Bandmann learned of Frith, who had a reputation as an amateur. He entered the breach and achieved a success so remarkable that a contract followed. For five years or more India would have no other comedian in the broad comedy roles of the George Edwardes’ pieces. From India Mr. Frith went to Africa, where the Williamson management engaged him. He appeared there in several musical comedy productions, and was brought on to Australia. Already he has been fortunate in the opportunity to show what he can do. We look to see him become popular in this part of the world.

The Referee (Sydney, NSW), 6 January 1915, p. 15

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The Referee’s prophetic assessment of Alfred Frith’s popularity would be well-founded, as he would go onto became a comic main-stay of JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company in the coming years, and (other than for a few overseas excursions in the 1920s, which took him both to the British stage and subsequently onto Broadway, where he appeared in the New York premiere of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi in 1927, amongst other shows), he enjoyed a successful career in the Australian theatre, together with radio and occasional film appearances, up until his death in Melbourne in April 1941.  

An interview with Frith, in which he elaborated on his unconventional entry into the world of “show business”, appeared in the pages of the Sydney Sun on the following Sunday.

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SOLDIER AND ACTOR, TOO.

COMEDIAN'S EXPERIENCES.

Playing the Poverty Point actor whom Max Daly engages to impersonate the spy in Napoleon and the Miller's Daughter is Alfred Frith of The Girl on the Film Company. The military atmosphere of the musical comedy is very different from what he experienced in real life. Mr. Frith has seen actual warfare. He was Trooper Frith of the Heavy Dragoons for three years.

“I went out to South Africa under General Buller,” he says, “and was in four reverses, Spion Kop and Colenso among them. A number of our fellows were picked off, and although we were a crack British cavalry regiment, we didn't get much opportunity to follow what we rehearsed at manoeuvres. Part of the time we did trench work.

“Our fellows have had a pretty strenuous time in France. There they have had real cavalry charges, the job they know. We never had a real cavalry charge in South Africa. It must be a stirring event. It is sufficiently exciting at manoeuvres—six hundred charging full gallop. Once I was lifted clean out of my saddle and carried along between two galloping horses, the only support I had being a carbine butt! You can imagine what it would be like in war, with the guns dropping shells into you.

“After Africa we went back to London, and then out to India. To read Kipling one would think that the British regulars were the sweepings of the gutter. I can speak for the cavalry. I know in my own case I had had a decent education, and when I sought to enlist, because life as a clerk didn't appeal to me, I had to be recommended by the local clergyman. For twelve months recruits are kept at the riding school, and one must show immediate aptitude for riding to be kept there at all. Quite a big percentage of the troopers had private means. A few wild ones had big remittances, given by their families on the understanding that they stuck to the army. The life kept them out of mischief. In India life in a cavalry regiment is a dream. All the work is done by the blacks, even the grooming.

“It was in India that I went in for the stage, and bought out to take to the work altogether. I joined Bandmann, the J.C. WilIlamson of India, signing on as comedian for three years. At the expiration of that time I signed for another three years, as principal comedian. I had the luck to get a number of good parts—parts that fell in Australia to Bertie Wright, Jack Cannot, Phil Smith, Field Fisher, and C.H. Workman. The first year we did thirty-two productions. One week this was the programme: Monday, The Merry Widow; Tuesday, the Dick Whittington pantomime; Wednesday, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pinafore (double bill); Thursday, The Sign of the Cross (Glabrio, me!); Friday, vaudeville and Charley's Aunt. Notwithstanding the travelling—we used to play from Bombay to Tokio, taking in Manila, too—there was far less lost time than you would think. Our twelvemonth panned out 44 playing weeks.

“Throughout the whole of the East we played to a dress-suit audience. The gallery didn't amount to anything anywhere, except in Burmah, where there is a big half-caste population.

“From India I received an engagement for Australia with J.C.W., Ltd., and went under their engagement to South Africa. My old regiment was there, and I felt very much like joining them again and going off to the front, if it wasn't that I had got married . . . . You have no idea how you feel about your old regiment, how you want to be with them.”

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), 10 January 1915, p. 14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229338204

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The Girl on the Film’s Sydney run at Her Majesty’s Theatre lasted for just over six weeks concluding on 5 February, but did not immediately transfer to Her Majesty’s, Melbourne (as had The Girl in the Taxi) due to the popularity of the Christmas–New Year pantomime Cinderella, which continued to occupy the theatre in the Victorian capital for a full eight weeks’ season closing on 5 March. Instead, in line with the repertory nature of JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company, the cast rehearsed a new production during the daytime while continuing to perform at night during the final weeks of the show’s run.

With the lack of new musical comedies being produced in Britain, as a result of the uncertainty prevailing in the London theatre with the onset of the War (and the cessation of new European operettas, albeit in their subsequent Anglicised versions, coming from the Continent), the company turned instead to America for its next production—a show which JCW managing director, Hugh J. Ward had purchased for production in Australia on his visit to Chicago in late 1913*—Rudolf Friml’s High Jinks, which was scheduled to receive its Australian premiere at Her Majesty’s, Sydney on 6 February 1915.

To be continued …

* (Reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 28 July 1914, p. 2, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15525840 )

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Endnotes

The Girl on the Film (A Musical Farce in Three Acts), is the English-language adaptation of the original German musical comedy Filmzauber by Rudolf Bernauer and Rudolf Schanzer (first produced at the Berliner Theater, Berlin on 19 October 1912) with music by Walter Kollo, Willy Bredschneider and Albert Sirmay (aka Szirmai). With an English book by James T. Tanner and lyrics by Adrian Ross, it opened at the Gaiety Theatre, London on 5 April 1913, where it ran for 232 performances (with additional interpolated songs by Davy Burnaby and Philip Braham, and Paul A. Rubens, plus dance music by George Byng).

Its subsequent Broadway production opened at the 44th Street Theatre, New York on 29 December 1913; and closed on 21 February 1914 after 64 performances.

Paul Plunkett reprised his role of ‘Valentine Twiss’ from the New York production in the subsequent Australian production for J.C. Williamson’s.

Producer Harry B. Burcher directed all three productions in London, New York and Australia.

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The Girl on the Film midi files, featuring the full score of the musical, may be heard on-line at: https://www.gsarchive.net/british/girlonfilm/index.html

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The original orchestra parts for The Girl on the Film are extant in the ‘J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials’ at the National Library of Australia (reference: https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/42585996 ) and reveal that the musical was scored for a leader, 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello, bass, flute & piccolo, bassoon, clarinet, oboe, trombones, cornets, horns and drums.

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Discography

PLAY AUDIO: The Girl on the Film selections

The Girl on the Film medley – “We’re all Going to the Mill”, “Waltz With Me”, “Oh, Oh, Oh, Steady Freddy”, “Do Be Quiet”, “Waltz With Me” (reprise)

The Victor Light Opera Company—recorded 1914 (Victor Records, Camden, New Jersey)—catalogue number: 35363.

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Additional sources

  • Alison Gyger, Opera For the Antipodes, Currency Press Pty. Ltd., Paddington, NSW, 1990
Read 81 times Last modified on Sunday, 15 March 2020 11:31
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.)