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:-
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.)
HAD Bert had his way, there never would have been a beard.
Clean-shaven, big-nosed, thin-cheeked, a man who would have passed in any crowd, pushed into Cinesound Productions office high in the State Theatre Building 23 years ago.
“I’m Bert Bailey,” he announced. “I’ve just fixed up a deal with Stuart F. Doyle to film On Our Selection and you’re going to direct it.”
Ken G. Hall, then a youngster with part of one silent picture to his directorial credit, gulped. On Our Selection, which had played in theatres, tents, and barns until even the Townsville goats had grown tired of eating the posters off the fences, was to be Australia’s first talking production! To cover his horror, Hall could think of only one defence: “You'll have to grow a beard.”
Bailey came around the table and thumped it.
“Now listen, boy. Every night for 30 years I’ve been putting on make-up and a beard. If you think I’m going to grow a real one for pictures, and have all the kids calling me Ziff” —crash went the table again— “I won’t do it!”
Hall explained how the screen would show up a false beard; it had to be real. “Not for me, it doesn’t!” insisted Bert.
THERE was no comment when he returned for script conferences the next week wearing a rogues-gallery stubble, which grew into a herbaceous border and at last into the beard with a capital B—the insignia of irascible, loveable, warm-hearted Dad.
Even then it wasn’t safe from the shears. He suffered the hoots of small boys who later were to follow him in admiring crowds.
Finally in roaring disgust he strode into Hall’s office a week before shooting. “I’ve stood everything for you, Ken; but now I’ve got to cut it off. Coming down in the William Street tram just now, what d’you think happened—a lady got up and offered me her seat!”
But the Beard stayed on. Its origin set a formula for a comedy situation that carried through every picture. Dad’s best laughs came when Mum, Dave or omnipotent circumstances were forcing him to some action against his will. He roared defiantly: “I won’t do it!” Quick cut to next scene—and Dad was doing it.
Produced with locally made recording equipment, a silent camera miraculously adapted and a clothes-prop for a sound boom, On Our Selection had to stick close to the original play.
“None of us had any sound picture experience.” Ken Hall says, “Nominally I was director, but Bert was the producer, simply photographing a play with a sure knowledge of where the laughs would come, no matter how hopeless the situations seemed to the studio crew. How right he was! Even under those crude conditions we felt his strength. In our later productions when I took over the real job of direction, his personality over-shadowed the cast. Fred MacDonald, equally famous as Dave, was the only actor who could hold his own.”
THE success of On Our Selection is a legend of the industry now. It cost £6,000 and earned £60,000.
Bailey supplied book, actors and sets; Cinesound provided technicians and studio facilities. Profits were split 50-50 between Cinesound and the firm of Bailey and Grant.
The second picture, Grandad Rudd (1934), cost £8,000, but earned a comparatively poor £18,000. Bailey quickly understood what caused the drop. To give himself age, he had played Grandad with a clean-shaven top lip, though with the rest of his beard intact. The slight change took him out of character.
This and all subsequent pictures were financed by Cinesound, who paid Bailey £150 a week while shooting, plus 25 per cent. of profits to Bailey and Grant.
No written contract existed; there never was a dispute.
Dad and Dave Come To Town, filmed in 1937 for £12,000, reached the English market, playing the Odeon Circuit twice and earning £40,000. His last picture, Dad Rudd, M.P., cost £18,000, but in 1940 war fever left little demand for homely comedy, and earnings of £28,000 fell far below expectations.
Cinesound begged him to continue. He refused—too old, he claimed. Too old for anyone to want, was his favourite alibi. Yet three weeks before he died, American television producers, who had seen his films in a group of Australian products, called Bailey the year’s biggest TV possibility, and wrote demanding either more of his pictures or Bert himself. He received the news and grinned. “Ya know, Ken—these Yanks—they’re full of baloney!”
Twenty-three years of motion picture fame made Bert Bailey the most self-deprecating star the industry has known.
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By CLAUDE McKAY
IN his youth Bert Bailey was never happy away from the footlights.
Had he so desired he could have peacefully enjoyed prosperity as a retailer, for his mother was Mrs. McCathie, founder of the vast store in Pitt Street [Sydney] which bears her name to-day. She never could make out why her son chose the precarious life of the theatre and did her utmost to rescue him from vagabondage.
When Bert first consorted with down-at-heel Thespians on Poverty Point—the kerb alongside the corner pub of the Criterion Theatre—they were a motley assortment. Most of them were “resting,” a professional euphemism for being out of work.
Edmund Duggan who took Bert under his wing was an actor of the Vincent Crummles school. He was truly a superb actor off the stage. When engaging “artists,” as they always were to him, it was like bestowing the accolade. The moot and burning question of salary he dismissed with, “Laddie, leave it to me!”
Those were the terms Bert Bailey came to know. “The ghost never walked,” he would relate. “But we did often.”
“Have you ever noticed,” he would add, “how actors take a short step every few yards. That’s where the sleepers on the railway line are close together.”
William Anderson, who broke into theatrical management from bill-sticking, married Edmund Duggan’s sister, Eugenie.
From Edmund’s seasoned troupers he recruited a company to support her in melodrama. Edmund was stage manager and “doubled” in character parts. Bert Bailey was pressed into service as comedian. Whenever he appeared, which was when their impending fate was unbearable to dwell on, there was a roar of applause. For comedy was so constructed in the Melville dramas of the day that the comedian was unconsciously on the track of the wrongdoer and finally, to his own amazement, unmasked him.
They played consistently to packed houses and Bert Bailey in broad comedy roles was their abiding joy. Edmund Duggan saw to it that he underlined every situation that could get a laugh. Against the blood-soaked trail of the villain and the misery he wrought for everyone in the cast with a tinge of virtue, Bert was a welcome relief.
MELVILLE melodramas came from the Adelphi, London, and were cut to standard pattern.
It struck Edmund and Bert that there was indigenous material from which four acts could be concocted. They got to work together and prepared a play. The Squatter’s Daughter, they called it. Beyond the Australian setting, it was Melville transported. But it captivated the Anderson public for months. Bert and Edmund drew author’s royalties and took the first-night curtain call for them.
The attraction of writing parts for themselves to display to the full their histrionic talents was not lost on either. However, their conflicting ideas about this put an end to collaboration. Edmund wanted a blank verse drama glorifying Australia. Bert left him to it, and the opus which Anderson staged was a flop.
Bert, meanwhile, got hold of a script which Steele Rudd had been hawking round the theatres. I read it when it came to J.C Williamson’s. It would have played under an hour and had neither beginning nor end.
Beaumont Smith, then Anderson’s publicity manager, persuaded Steele Rudd to let him see what he could do with his book, On Our Selection, and over a period of months ran out a scenario. Then he gave it best, not, however, before Bert Bailey became interested in it. Bert worked on the skeleton plot for fully a year, peopling the farce with characters of his own comic invention.
ABOUT this time Cyril Maude had appeared in Australia as Grumpy, a sure-fire starring role in which he made a big fortune. Bert Bailey determined that “Dad” would do the same for him and all the time he could give he spent in contriving situations that Dad would dominate.
“I can play the old blighter as long as I live,” he said to me after the first-night triumph. Bert by then had parted from Anderson and with Julius Grant, Anderson’s treasurer for many years, formed a partnership in management. Year in, year out, up and down Australia and around New Zealand Bert as Dad Rudd toured.
He decided that London was waiting for him. The success of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, a collection of oddities caricaturing American village life, helped him to his conclusion. But London was a misfire. Nonetheless, Bert himself was lionised by the acting profession. Leaders in the theatre feted him at a memorable banquet, when his speech was the hit of the night. When the old brandy was passed round and Bert was asked would he care for one, he said, “Not for me, but if the building won’t collapse when I say it, I would like a cup of tea.” Bert was a lifelong tee-totaller.
The Sunday Herald (Sydney), Sunday, 5 April 1953, p.12, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18514102
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The origins of On Our Selection were discussed in an article first published in the Adelaide Mail in 1912.
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The continued prosperity of the motion picture has done much for the drama. People who have always shunned the playhouse have, by accepting the moving picture play, been so interested by the silent acting that they have been impelled to find out what a real play is like. Therefore the cry that the new branch of entertainment is affecting the “legitimate” theatre must not be heeded. While the motion picture has progressed so has the older form of amusement, no matter whether it is light comedy, comic opera, pantomime, or farcical comedy. The playgoer has been so well provided for lately that he will accept only the best. The prosperity of the theatre has stimulated commercial instincts, and new firms continue to spring up like mushrooms at night. So far the majority of the new combinations have consisted of popular artists who, probably encouraged by the success of the Plimmer-Denniston organisation, have started on their own account. Of the new entrepenuers who have lately come into competition with bigger firms one of the most notable, and certainly one of the most popular is the organisation known as the Bert Bailey Dramatic Company, consisting of Messrs. Bert Bailey, Edmund Duggan, and Julius Grant, who have been associated with Mr. William Anderson’s enterprises as far back as I can remember, the first two as artists, the last named as business manager. With a company of good, all-round supporting artists, proved successes in their repertoire such as On Our Selection and The Squatter’s Daughter, and their own popularity, it is small wonder that the new combination are meeting with nothing but success all along the line. In fact, I believed Mr. Bailey when he told me that he often failed to sleep at night through wondering why he and his partners had not launched out earlier.
The company are singularly fortunate inasmuch as Messrs. Bailey and Duggan are not only capable actors and producers but successful playwrigts, responsible for such meritorious plays as The Squatter’s Daughter and The Man From Outback, in addition to On Our Selection. The latter is taken from Steele Rudd’s book, true, but it is mainly through the craft of Mr. Bailey, his knowledge of stage technique, its limitations and scope, that the delightful stories of the Australian selector have been constructed into such a noteworthy play—the best Australian play yet produced in the Commonwealth.
When I suggested an interview to the gentlemen of the Bert Bailey directorate it was Mr. Bailey who was unanimously selected for spokesman, although he protested that he was not anxious for any more limelight than his partners.
“The popular play,” said Mr. Bailey, in reply to my query, “cannot be found by the manager; the public make the play for you. You can never tell when a piece will be successful, except, of course, in cases such as On Our Selection. It matters not what theatrical experience you have behind you, there is no other experience which counts for so little as that of the theatrical entrepenuer. A play to become successful must have the elements of success. All the puffing in the world will not make it popluar unless it has that.”
“To what do you attribute the success of On Our Selection?”
“To the human interest and its clean humour. There is nothing suggestive in the play; nothing to which anyone can take exception.”
“Did you have trouble in writing and producing your money maker?”
“Well, I have always loved [Steele] Rudd, consequently I completely saturated myself in six of his books, from which On Our Selection was based, until there were two men in Australia who knew more about Rudd than anyone else—Rudd and myself. With such a knowledge allied with the experience that I have gained through my tour in Northern Australia, I considered I knew a trifle about the play I was to construct. Both Mr. Duggan and myself have had a thorough stage training. We know its technique; its possibilities. When we conceive a scene or sensation we know exactly how to work it out, what to put in, and what to leave out. That is where we have the advantage of the playwright who has not had an actor’s experience. But, to return to On Our Selection. The script we got from Steele Rudd, and Beaumont Smith ran an hour and twenty minutes short of time. We had to rewrite it. It was no easy matter, for the dovetailing had to be done carefully. The construction had to make everything natural. You will yourself have observed how little things—improbabilities, yet not impossibilities—are introduced. For any man might sit down on a rake or be startled when he looks at himself in a mirror. But these, which, after all, are only trivial things, matter a lot. However, the action and movement of the play is so vigorous that they are not noticed. The characters are good, and I cannot imagine any other cast giving as good a performance. Steele Rudd’s descriptions of them, the illustrations in his book, and my own experiences, allied with the ordinary brains and intelligence of the artistes, have made them perfect types. There are frequently five different women on the stage at once, yet there is no resemblance between them. Each is a different character. The great feature of the characters is that they do not know they are humourous. For instance, when Dad says— ‘Dave’s in love; I see it workin’ in him like yeast,’ he does not know that he is being funny. That is his way of expressing a fact. It is the same with Dave and Lily’s lovemaking. To them it is serious; to the audience laughable. You must hold the mirror up to Nature and see its reflection if you want to laugh. When a man slips on a banana skin people laugh because it is so funny. Yet it is no laughing matter to the man who falls. Thus the chief charm of On Our Selection lies in the fact that the characters are unconcious of the humour they create. Even Maloney doesn’t know that he is funny.”
“What do you look for when writing a play?”
“Novelty, every time. That is what made our play The Squatter’s Daughter so successful. We had several good novelties. No one had thought of having sheep shorn on the stage, or of cattle duffing. Then we introduced bushrangers. That is to say they were merely introduced. They have little to do with the story, yet they were there all the same. Then The Squatter’s Daughter had the spectacular effects to help it. On Our Selection has none—it needs none.
“Do you think On Our Selection would have a fighting chance in London?”
“I think it would have a chance anywhere. Any humourous play should.”
“For the reason?”
“That humour is still humour the world over.”
The Mail (Adelaide), 3 August 1912, p.12, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/rendition/nla.news-page5284164.pdf
by Rob Morrison
On Our Selection received its Australian premiere at the Palace Theatre, Sydney on 4 May 1912 for a limited run of 12 performances, which concluded on 17 May. Its immediate success had exceeded all expectations playing to crowded houses during its initial season, which prompted the Sydney Referee to comment (on Wednesday, 15 May 1912, p.16): “… the business head of the Bert Bailey Company [Julius Grant] must have felt sorry that the firm had not secured a three months’ lease of the theatre.” Succesful performances were then given in Newcastle, Toowoomba, Brisbane, Adelaide, Bendigo, Geelong and Ballarat before its Melbourne season commenced at the King’s Theatre on 14 September 1912 for a run of 42 performances. Following a visit to New Zealand, where it premiered at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland on 18 November 1912, the play returned to the Palace Theatre, Sydney for an extended run commencing on 19 April 1913 and continued to enjoy a successful career on-the-road as part of the Bert Bailey Dramatic Company’s touring repertoire throughout the 1910s. A sequel entitled Gran’dad Rudd dramatised by Steele Rudd himself and recounting the further adventures of the Rudd family some 15 years later, premiered at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 22 September 1917, and also proved to be initially popular, but did not enjoy the sustained success of the original play.
In August of 1920 Bert Bailey fulfilled his ambition of staging On Our Selection in London with an Australian cast. Although the authorship of the play in Australia had been credited to “Albert Edmunds” (the pseudonym adopted by Bailey and Duggan as joint collaborators) and Beaumont Smith (in recognition of his contribution in preparing the initial scenario); in Britain, Steele Rudd was given the sole credit as author, evidently as a tribute to his creation of the original characters featured in the dramatisation.
The play was given its British premiere at the Palace Theatre, Ramsgate on Monday, 16 August 1920, for a pre-London trial season, but the opening performance was hampered by the fact that a large portion of the scenery (credited to artists Rigby and S. Witton) had not arrived at the theatre in time, as noted in the first-night review published in The Stage on the following Thursday. The review went on to state: “Mr. Bert Bailey, who appeared as Dad Rudd, gives a fine characterisation of the rugged old man who has fought life in the wilds with only his family to help. His fits of choler and turns of humour show him to be an actor of strong and varied feeling.”
Following its subsequent London premiere at the Lyric Theatre on Tuesday, 24 August 1920, the critics regarded the now 8-year-old play as rather old-fashioned, but lauded Bert Bailey’s performance as ‘Dad Rudd’ as a great comic creation. Nonetheless sophistitcated West End theatregoers did not take to it and On Our Selection closed on 18 September after a mere 31 performances, dashing Bert Bailey’s hopes of staging further plays from his repertoire in the British capital.
The Sydney World’s News for Saturday, 2 October 1920 had reported: “I have three other plays I would like to do here if your playgoers like our first sample of dramatic goods,” said Mr. Bert Bailey to a London interviewer. “One is a sort of sequel to ‘On Our Selection.’ It is called ‘Grand-dad Rudd.’ Another is called ‘The Squatter's Daughter’, and a third is entitled ‘The Man From Out Back’. It Is a play all about cattle-duffing. What is cattle-duffing? Well it means stealing your neighbor's cattle and getting away with them. I don’t feel that I can come here to startle Londoners. I want to do my best with my production.”
Back in Australia, Bailey’s touring production of his signature play continued to entertain both local and New Zealand audiences throughout the remainder of the 1920s and also garnered fresh fans when revived at the Jane Street Theatre in Randwick, NSW for a season from 20 June to 14 July 1979 in a revised version adapted and directed by George Whaley, which also incorporated interpolated musical numbers. The cast included Don Crosby as ‘Dad’, Geoffrey Rush as ‘Dave’, Kerry Walker as ‘Mother’, Mel Gibson as ‘Sandy Taylor’, Noni Hazlehurst as ‘Lily White’ and Barry Otto doubling in the roles of ‘Old Carey’ and his son, ‘Jim Carey’. Its success prompted a spate of revivals Australia-wide in the early 1980s including productions in Perth, Fremantle, Penrith, Wollongong, Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide, Canberra and Auckland, New Zealand.
The Melbourne Theatre Company’s revival directed by Graeme Blundell was staged at the Athenaeum Theatre between 1 December 1982 to 29 January 1983 with a cast headed by Frederick Parslow as ‘Dad Rudd’ and Gary McDonald as ‘Dave’ (a character that he had previously played in the 1972 Australian TV series Snake Gully with Dad and Dave inspired by the Steele Rudd stories, in which Gordon Chater had played ‘Dad’). It was subsequently revived by the MTC at the Athenaeum for a further season between 7 December 1983 to 28 January 1984.
The nostalgic appeal of the play also resulted in a remounted film version in 1995, co-written and directed by George Whaley, with a cast that included Leo McKern as ‘Dad Rudd’, Dame Joan Sutherland(!) as ‘Mother Rudd’, Geoffrey Rush as ‘Dave’ and Noah Taylor as ‘Joe’, plus Barry Otto in a reprise of the character of ‘Old Carey’ now renamed ‘J.P. Riley’. The film also included original songs written and composed by Pete Best with vocals performed by John Williamson and The Bush Band.
For the first time in Australia a dramatisation of “On Our Selection” (“Steele’s Rudd’s” book) was produced, by the Bailey-Duggan-Grant management, at Sydney Palace, on Saturday night. It was an entire success, and one more Australian play can be branded as a sure money-maker. The dramatists had some difficulty in piecing together the incidents of life on the selection as “Steele Rudd” saw it, also they found it necessary to provide a special murder, for the sake of a concerted plot; but the dovetailing has been done well, and the general result may be termed good. On the whole, too, the well-known characters of the book are recognisable without the aid of glasses, and the scenery is typical of the bush. The old gag that Australian plays worth producing cannot be obtained, sags at the knees, and. when “On Our Selection” has been rounded off here and there, as experience dictates, and some improvement made in the cast, the hoary old remark will start down the track for the gully where lie the derelict statements concerning the inability of Australians to make their own boots, blankets, tweeds, jams and things generally, just as well as a cheap-labored, half-starved country, white, black, brown or piebald. There is more humor to the square inch of “On Our Selection” than to the square fathom of many allegedly humorous plays which are hauled hitherward, at more or less expense, from London or Noo Yark. On Saturday night, an audience which packed every corner of the house, rocked with laughter throughout. A large man, with a red face, leaned his head over THE BULLETIN’s seat, and gasped, “I wouldn't miss this for quids!” That was the first occasion on which this paper has agreed with a large man with a red face.
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The honors and whatever else is to be dispensed amongst the players go to Bert Bailey, as Dad; Fred Macdonald, as Dave; and Laura Roberts, as Sarah. Bailey is Dad. It is probably the best thing he has done, and, if it is ever improved upon, THE BULLETIN will be glad to meet the improver. Macdonald’s conception of Dave Rudd, and Laura Roberts’s of Sarah Rudd, also stand very high. But there are one or two others in the cast who could be considerably improved. Chief amongst them is Mary Marlowe (the co.’s leading lady), who plays Kate Rudd. Her dressing of the part alone is absurd, and her reading of it throws her right out of the atmosphere of the piece. The fine character of Mum is in the not very capable hands of Miss Alfreda Bevan. Anybody who doubts this can go and judge for himself until further notice.
The Bulletin (Sydney), 9 May 1912, p.11
The Bulletin’s Melbourne-based theatre critic, Edmund Fisher also reviewed the show during its subsequent season at the King’s Theatre in Russell Street.
“On Our Selection,” which started an innings at the King’s (Melbourne) last Saturday, is assured of fine weather and a sound wicket wherever it plays. Its happy suggestions of reality, and the humor of its character drawings are not to be denied. One sniffs the pastoral odor of the unseen cow that trespasses on Dad’s lucerne patch. Dad and Kate and half a dozen others are true to their Australian types. The incident of Dave’s lonely dance rehearsal in the Barn is simply convincing—not wildly farcical. One’s faith in Dave extends to the object of his affections, notwithstanding the artificiality of Lily’s eyebrows, and young Sarah Rudd gives an air of probability even to Billy Bearup, her unfortunate admirer. Nothing in the new Australian play is stagey and conventional except the plot, and the plot doesn't matter much. There are no wicked people in “Our Selection.” The worst are only treated as though they were wicked. Carey, the harmful necessary mortgagee, suffers from surrounding circumstances. Everybody’s dislike being thrust upon Carey, senior, he naturally does what he can to deserve it. During the latter part of the play he is the sorrowing parent of a murdered son, yet the district treats him as an interfering beast for trying to place the murderer. As for Carey, junior, the only thing stated to his discredit—apart from his frankly dishonorable intentions re Mary Rudd, is the allegation that he lured a married lady from her allegiance to Cranky Jim. But it is clear that he acted as a hero and a benefactor in eloping with a distressed female. The awful unbarbered aspect of Jim the Avenger, and his mania for seeing snakes without the assistance of whisky, indicate hereditary rats in the garret. Therefore it is reasonably assumed that his wife of yore gave Carey, junior, the glad eye and the naughty smile, and practically implored the young man to divert her thoughts from her lawful lord. Carey is one of the most-to-be-pitied villains of melodrama.
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The play having been constructed according to the mummer lights of Bailey and Duggan, the situations are as cheaply effective as the antique gags wherewith the dialogue is pimpled. The entertainment has the novelty of growing dull for a time in the third act, where dramas ordinarily do their darnedest to be exciting. In three other acts the moments fly on broad comedy wings. The staging is careful—so careful that the management could afford a lapse into further embellishment. An unnatural tinted shanty of flawless, even speckless, character, which is billed as “Dave’s Dilapidated Domicile,” might as well be rebuilt to suit the description. Also, a few supernumerary settlers introduced into the Barn dance, would give more weight and color to the joyous finale. The public rejoicing over Dad’s election to Parliament are limited to the family. No outside voters have been invited.
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Bert Bailey’s Dad establishes him as an Australian character actor. The make-up, the ripe elderly tone of voice, and the rugged force of his personality—these are notable factors in a successful show. The Dave of Fred Macdonald is another capital creation that holds together whilst Miss Laura Roberts, as Sarah, seems to be making the very best of a part which comes easy to her. Guy Hastings is a manly, unaffected lover to Miss Marlowe’s womanly and unaffected Mary. George Treloar, who shows artistic restraint as the orthodox villain, achieves a positive triumph of melodrama in springing forward to receive a knock-out, and Miss Adeson, J.P. Lennon and Driscoll call for honorable mention, as compared with two or three other people. Arthur Bertram, as Joe, overacts in a part where moderation is specially needed, and Edmund Duggan can consider himself reproved for kicking his fellow creatures in the rear. The crudest possible way of raising a laugh is to kick anybody for kicking’s sake, and when the kicker is an utterly superfluous character in the play, this method of asserting its importance seems cruder than usual.
The Bulletin (Sydney), 19 September 1912, p.11
Mr. Bert Bailey, an actor famous in Australia, has brought to London a play that has been very successful in Australia, and is there considered, as he told us in his speech on the fall of the curtain, to be a faithful picture of the types that it aims at portraying.
The types are those of the back country—the hardy pioneers of British stock, who have bravely and laboriously hewed a home and a living out of the wilderness. And, as Mr. Bailey himself presents Dad Rudd, the head of such a household is a comical, admirable, lovable old tyrant. His humours, his prejudices, his passions, his rough sense of justice, mixed up with wilful unfairness, are acted by Mr. Bailey with rich fun. And when Dad Rudd has come through his troubles, routed his enemy, championed one prospective son-in-law against the criminal code, blown a hole in another prospective son-in-law's breeches with a shot-gun, and been elected to Parliament, we think very
kindly of him as a fine old fellow and a good fund of racy humour.
If only he were set in a better play, and supported by a better company. The play is called a comedy; but it has strong affinity with what we call melodrama in its crudest form—murder, unjustly suspected hero, villains, comic lovers, and so forth; and it is not worked out on those lines with the consistency and force that we are used to at, say, the Lyceum. And for the company (we did not gather whether they were Australians, or English, or mixed), it was possibly the fault of the players that what seemed to be meant for rustic innocency looked more like congenital idiocy. None of them could hold a candle to Mr. Bailey; but Miss Eva Guildford Quin as the heroine, Mr. Graham Pockett as an old idler, Mr. J. Scott Leighton as a madman, and Miss Maureen Dillon as a persistent young lady of 17 or so, with a love-affair all her own, were those who appealed most strongly to the audience. The reception was very cordial, and the house rang with “coo-ees.”
The Times (London), Wednesday, 25 August 1920, p.8
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Messrs. Bert Bailey and Julius Grant, of the King’s [Theatre], Melbourne, who gave “On Our Selection” its trial trip in this country at the Palace, Ramsgate, last week, began at the Lyric, on Tuesday, the London run of this piece by Steele Rudd, described officially as a comedy from Australia, typical of life in the back country. Steele Rudd is an Antipodean journalist, playwright, and author of stories, and this play of his has during the last decade been performed some 1,500 times throughout Australasia, with its present producer, Mr. Bailey, in the role, with name the same as that of the dramatist, of old Dud Rudd, with whose family, living on his “selection" in one of the back settlements, the action deals. There in a good dose of melodrama, including a murder and the threatened foreclosing of a bill of exchange, in Mr. Rudd’s play, which has, however, nothing of the old bushranger-element, as shown in such other Australian dramas seen here in the course of the last twenty years, as “Robbery Under Arms,” adapted by Alfred Dampier and another from Rolf Boldrewood's novel (Princess’s, October, 1894), “The Bush King,” (Surrey, November, 1893), “The Bushrangers” (Grand, May, 1904), and E.W. Hornung'’s “Stingaree, the Bushranger” (Queen’s, February, 1906). The characters include Dad Rudd, his wife, Mum Rudd, their two sons, Dave and Joe, and their two daughters, Kate and Sarah. Although Kate, who goes off to Brisbane in the first of the four acts, to return, sadder, if not wiser, in the second, has a stalwart lover in Sandy, she is pestered by Jim, son of the foreclosing John Carey; and Sandy’s knocking down of the younger Carey leads to Jim’s being recognised and strangled by Cranky Jack, a grief-stricken, semi-imbecile, whose wife the young reprobate had seduced. Following the long-accepted lines, Steele Rudd causes suspicion to fall on Sandy, who, thinking he is the murderer, has to go away for a time, his name being eventually cleared by Cranky Jack’s confession during one of his periods of lucid intelligence. The end of the play is worked out on more modern lines, with the political rivalry and struggle for Parliamentary honours between old Rudd, now become a prosperous man and no longer merely the humble occupant of "Our Selection," and John Carey, whose defeat and the rejoicings over Dad’s return at the head of the poll are shown in the fourth act.
The piece, which is given at the Lyric with almost exactly the same cast of mainly British performers as at Ramsgate, is presented here under the general management of Mr. Frank Gerald, the stage manager being Mr. Graham Pockett, who also plays Uncle Rudd, ugly and lazy, with considerable skill. This applies indeed to the performance in general of “On Our Selection,” which, with its copious if also artless and primitive humours and designedly quaint characterisation, might almost be termed an Australian parallel to that American comedy of similar type, “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” Mr. Bert Bailey, who plays the irascible and also determined Dad Rudd as an elderly man with bald head and grey beard and plenty of grit in him, was greeted with hearty Coo-ees by his many Australian compatriots in the first-night audience, alike on his opening entrance, at his ready gag, “When you have done pushing my home down,” when a shanty was displaced, and in his sincere and well phrased little speech of thanks at the close of the performance, when he referred to the ambition of Australian actors and dramatists to appear and have their works performed on a London stage, for instance, in this play by “one of the best known of Australian humourists.” Mr. Bailey therefore, may be congratulated upon his own share in Tuesday’s successful performance, in which there was nothing better than the retort to the elder Carey, distraining upon Rudd’s cattle and effects, that he could not break the spirit of a man who, to make his home, had had “to cut a hole in the bush.”
Special mention should be made also of the bull-uttering “blue-gum Hibernian” of Mr. Alec Alves; the kindly and motherly Mum of Miss Constance Medwyn; the cleverly comical younger girl, Sarah, of Miss Maureen Dillon, with a lover of Harry Nicholls type in the Billy Bearup, with “small voice but big heart,” of Mr. Charles Sims; and the ably-acted Cranky Jack of Mr. J. Scott Leighton. Kate was played in fresh and sympathetic style by Miss Eva Guildford Quin, to the robust and straightforward Sandy of Mr. Matthew Boulton; and the Careys, père et fils, were represented suitably by Mr. Fred Constable and Mr. C. Douglas Cox. Old Rudd’s sons, both loafing louts, were made as amusing as possible by Mr. Donald Searle, as Joe, the younger, with a pet kangaroo drowned in a well used for drinking purposes, and by Mr. George Belmore (replacing Mr. Bartlett Garth) as Dave, of whose courting of Lily White and their at first uncomfortable married life a very great deal is heard and seen. Lily and her she-dragon of a mother were set forth uncompromisingly by Misses Ruby Loncraine and Celia Gordon; and the bush parson, Mr. Macpherson, who eats Mum’s single scone when the family have been ruined temporarily by the drought, was played briskly Mr. Arthur Laurence. “On Our Selection" may perhaps enjoy in the West End some measure of the popularity it has had “Down Under.”
The Stage (London), 26 August 1920, p.16
By Steele Rudd. Tuesday, Aug. 24.
Every now and then a play comes out of the soil of its people—“The Better ‘Ole,” “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,” “Bunty Pulls the Strings,” or the “Play Boy of the Western World,” for example—and, as a rule, the truer it is to type, the more simple it is in character.
Such a play is “On Our Selection,” a dramatised version of the works of Steele Rudd, the Australian novelist, whose books are read throughout the length and breadth of Australasia.
When Mr. Bert Bailey stood on the stage with tears in his eyes at the end of the first performance of this play in London last Tuesday, he put into words something which is in the mind of every author and actor in the British Empire.
“Myself and partner, Julius Grant, who is fifteen thousand miles away in Australia,” he said, “made up our minds to bring this play to England, hoping that London would be interested in an entirely Australian product. ‘On Our Selection’ is written by Steele Rudd, one of our greatest humorists. Its characterisation is typical of Australian life in the back blocks, and the ‘Dads’ and ‘Mums’ of the Australian Bush are living examples of the fact that, when it came to pioneering and colonisation, the British race stands alone in the world.
“I suppose that every author’s ambition is to get his play produced before a London audience, and every actor and actress in the English-speaking world has an ambition to play upon a London stage. It has been mine, and I have achieved it.”
Coo-ees and applause echoed through the theatre—the coo-ees which welcome every Australian actor or actress to the London stage, for there is no people more loyal to itself than the people from “down under.”
But not even their coo-ees were louder than the laughter which had punctuated the play, and which had made the theatre ring with merriment.
Crude in form as this farce-drama is, it is full of fun, and “Dad,” the big, bluff, simple-hearted, hard-working pioneer, played by Bert Bailey himself with an art akin to genius, is a part entirely new to the London stage.
Mr. Bailey has played the part in Australia nearly a thousand times, and to play it far away in the scarce-known regions of the north he has travelled thousands of miles in coaches with his company.
The scene is laid in the Darling Downs in Queensland, and the simple log cabin, which forms its main scene, is typical of many which the Prince of Wales visited during his long rides on horseback over the outlying spaces.
Some people came away from the theatre feeling that the characters were all too simple. There was a son of the old Selector, for instance, who gave superior London an idea of semi-idiocy, so unsophisticated was he in all his movements. But Empire knows that behind that simplicity was the character of a great pioneer, a farmer who knew his job, and a prospector of the type that has made Britain great. Hundreds of his kind lie now buried on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and to that spirit which runs all through the play—the spirit which makes a family brave a terrible drought and rise to comparative fortune—is the spirit which sent so many thousands of Australians flocking to our Colours when the war broke out.
“On Our Selection” is a play to be seen. It should be played throughout the Empire in place of the American crook dramas which are so common amongst us, and in place of the semi-French farces which neither instruct nor inform.
At the first performance nearly all the agents-general were present, and the welcome which they extended to the actor-manager from “down under” was no more exuberant than that which made the gallery applaud with enthusiasm and the stalls enjoy a very fine evening's entertainment.
The Sunday Times (London), 29 August 1920, p.4
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“Well, if that is a sample of their plays, Joe,—!” said a lady, as the audience streamed out into Shaftesbury Avenue.
“Perhaps they like them like that," said Joe, tolerantly. They evidently do. “On Our Selection" has had a run of over 1,000 nights in Australia. It has been played amid rapturous applause in all the principal cities of Australasia. It is a kind of Colonial “Chu Chin Chow.” Mr. Bert Bailey's manner of receiving applause seems to show that in his own country he is something between an Oscar Asche and an “Abraham Lincoln.”
It is unlikely, however, that he will achieve the success of either of these gentlemen in his present surroundings. The play would have had a better chance a year or two ago, when London was full of Colonial soldiers. But now that they have returned home it is too remote from what the ordinary playgoer expects to find within a stone's throw of Piccadilly Circus to have much chance of success.
It is not that the play is without its value. Indeed, it is so instructive that all Londoners who have not been to Australia most certainly ought to go and see it. The only question is whether they will. A selection (for the benefit of those to whom the title suggests an advertisement of Selfridge's or Derry and Tom’s) is a clearing in the Australian bush. The programme claims that the play is “typical of life in the back country.” And so doubtless in many ways it is. The local colour is very convincing and no doubt correct. It gives a very fresh and clear idea of the struggles and hardships of life in the bush, the difficulty of making a clearing, building one’s own house, carrying water, looking after the stock, and a hundred other things which are mere names to us. It shows, too, the extraordinary lack of privacy which is one of the greatest hardships of a really simple life. The backwoods families appear to live in a kind of patriarchal way. Dave’s father says he does not wish his son to have to propose to his girl as he did, “with her brother under the sofa, her mother looking in at the window, and her father in the next room waiting to borrow a pound when she had said ‘Yes.’ ” But in spite of his father’s good wishes Dave’s proposal is interrupted every other minute by the irruption of one member or another of his family. This is partly, of course, owing to the necessities of the comedy and the dramatic virtues, but there is, no doubt, a great deal of painful fact underlying this cheerful fiction.
But the most striking fact illustrated by this play is one which we all know in theory—but find very difficult to realise that the Australian colonies are at a very different stage of civilisation from our own. The astonishment with which this play fills the ordinary London playgoer shows how very little we understand what “life in the back country” really means. The successful play of Melbourne is at least three or four centuries behind the average successful play of London.
“On Our Selection” is called a “comedy,” but is really a cross between melodrama and farce like most of the tragedies or tragi-comedies of our own 16th and 17th centuries. The hero, the heroine, the villains (father and son), and the madman all belong to the realms of pure melodrama. Jim Carey, the villain (played by Mr. C. Douglas Cox), would have been hissed at sight at the “Elephant” [and Castle]. Richard III. did not wear the marks of his villainy more plainly. He wore smart riding-breeches and top-boots, in contrast to the cowboy attire of the upright characters, and always carried a riding-whip in readiness to horsewhip the innocent. On his first appearance he swaggers straight up to the heroine and asks in a loud undertone what such a pretty girl as she is doing in such an out-of-the-way hole in the backwoods. She must meet him in Brisbane, and he will show her what real life is. That shows the kind of young man he is. But he has his match in Sandy. Sandy, as played by Mr. Matthew Boulton, is a perfect melodramatic hero. He is tall, with broad shoulders, straight features, and a deep voice. His fists are usually clenched and his lips set, though occasionally unbending in a winning smile. He fells Carey to the earth with one blow and strides from the room in disgust. Unfortunately, Cranky Jack comes in and finishes the good work with a large silk handkerchief. Sandy is, of course, suspected of murder, and would have been hauled off to prison had not Cranky Jack turned up in the nick of time and told the whole story in his own lunatic manner.
But life in the back country is not all as serious as this. High spirits, not to say horseplay, flourish there as well as murder, love, and foul play. The younger members of “our selection” are almost all comic characters. There is Dave Rudd, a nice young man, though stupid, who after a grotesque courtship marries a grotesque wile, with whom he lives in a grotesque hut, and is bullied by a grotesque mother-in-law. There is also another young Rudd with a shock of red hair and a stammer which is considered facetious, and a young sister engaged to a fat fiancé, with a squeaky voice, who is fired off the selection by Dad’s air-gun.
Between the melodramatic and the farcical characters stands Dad Rudd, played by Mr. Bert Bailey of Australasian fame, he is serious with the serious characters and comic with the comedy figures. He slaps Sandy on the back and stands by him in his trouble. He tells in stirring tones the story of his own early struggles in the Bush. But he rushes out at Dave’s mother-in-law in his nightshirt, fires the gun at Sarah’s fiancé, and has his tooth pulled out by his friends on the stage.
Mr. Bert Bailey’s acting sets the tone for the others, and it is as energetic and simple-minded as the play itself. The serious characters start, shudder, bite their lips, and clench their fists—make long speeches to slow music with an energy which in this country is usually associated with melodrama or the cinema stage. The comic figures tumble round the stage and knock each other about, and wink at the audience with an abandon which our English actors have now left to music-hall artistes and circus clowns.
There is something attractive in such ingenuousness. One may not laugh a great deal oneself; but one can very well imagine how backwoods men and cowboys on a rare visit to town would split their sides at the witticisms of Dad and Joe. One can imagine their guffaws when Dad on being told that the cow is in the barley replies, with a wink at the audience, “Then I bet that by this time the barley is in the cow”; or when Sarah complains that the rain comes in through the roof of the hut in which she and Billy Bearup are to begin their married life and Dad replies, “Then let's hope he'll catch cold. It may deepen his voice.” There is, moreover, something very genuine and attractive about the way in which Dad describes his early struggles in the backwoods, when in middle age he thinks he is ruined by the drought and exclaims: “I can do what a man with health, strength, and determination can always do—begin again.” That is not the sort of thing we should say, but it seems to suit Dad.
Judged by its own standards the play is not quite serious enough in the right places. It is apt to turn against its own sympathetic characters. For instance, Dave is one of the most attractive members of the Rudd family, and though we have no objection to his mother-in-law being held up to ridicule we can hardly regard it as a legitimate subject of mirth that his wife should be so grotesque a figure. In the same way, it is hardly funny that their early struggles should have turned the two youngest members of the Rudd family, and also Dad's own brother, into complete half-wits. But these are small debits, and on the whole come from those exuberant high spirits which so often characterise extreme youth.
The Woman's Leader (London), Volume: XII, Issue: 31, Friday, 3 September 1920, p.658
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“ON OUR SELECTION.” AT THE LYRIC
“ON OUR SELECTION,” which has succeeded the revival of “A White Man,” at the Lyric, purports to describe the life of an Australian squatter; but it is really a specimen of that almost extinct amalgam of farce and melodrama which used to be the staple fare provided at the Standard, the Surrey, and the Pavilion, East, some thirty years ago. Nothing quite so naive as the adventures which Mr. Steele Rudd has provided for his hero, a kind of Antipodean “Old Bill” has hitherto been sent us even from America. As an example of stage-craft, indeed, the play is quite preposterous; but thanks to the admirably robust acting of Mr. Bert Bailey as a rollicking and patriarchal bushman, it is quite worth seeing. Whether he is pursuing a prospective son-in-law through the bush with a shot-gun, collapsed on the floor in a violent attack of toothache, or standing for Parliament in opposition to the villain's father, Dad Rudd always makes a thoroughly popular appeal. And Mr. Bailey plays him with a zest, a humour, and a sense of character which make the old fellow seem thoroughly alive. The rest of the players have only minor chances of scoring. But mention must be made of Mr. Matthew Boulton, who shows himself a handsome and strapping young lover; and of Miss Eva Quin, a pretty young actress, who did her best with the part of the compromised heroine.
The Illustrated London News (London), Volume: 157, Issue: 4246, Saturday, 4 September 1920, p.32
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A new funny man made good in London on Tuesday. He came all the way from Australia to realise that ambition. His name it Bert Bailey. Bert was greeted with a cyclone of Coo-ees when he stepped on the stage of the Lyric Theatre in a comedy of Australian life, “On Our Selection.” It is impossible to determine from Bert’s personal appearance in that piece what sort of a man he may be out of the motley, or whether he is any good at his art outside his part in the Lyric. I put that point, because if Bert Bailey is half as good in other roles as he is as the old squatter in “On Our Selection,” London ought to see more of him. I hope, in that case, he will give us a further taste of his quality.
The squatter, whom everybody styled Old Dad, was a shrewd-tongued, irascible, but good-hearted and loveable old bird. His pants were patched, his manner was more forcible than polite, and, with his bald head and grey beard, he was everything but a beauty. A quaint compound of sentiment and harshness. Old Dad is no lay figure, but a human vital spark. No doubt, also, the portrait is true to type. Australia—and the rest of the British Empire—was made by these good Old Dads.
Bert Bailey played the part inimitably. The comedian has a deep-toned, rolling voice, and a method of deliberate utterance which drives every jocularity home. Hardly a sentence of his part failed to raise a laugh, while his by-play was such that on one fleeting occasion even the soles of his boots talked. I would like to see this actor in a play worthier of his prowess. Except for Old Dad and his wealth of humour, “On Our Selection” isn’t worth the proverbial tinker’s damn. It was curious to see at the lordly Lyric a piece presented like a melodrama of the No. 3 towns.
Nor are the characters in the concoction a particularly good advertisement for Australia. I was assured by an Australian in the audience that they are all veraciously limned. If that be so, the back country of our highly respected colony must be populated, largely, by imbeciles. Three of Old Dad’s four children have bats in the belfry. His brother (with a turned up nose) is properly off his dot, while other creatures of the entertainment are suffering from criminality, lunacy, and senile decay. If these people are types,
and not exceptions, God help Australia!
The Sporting Times (London), 28 August 1920, p.3
Although Raymond Longford had adapted and directed a silent movie of On Our Selection, based directly on the Steele Rudd stories, for Southern Cross Pictures in 1920 (followed by a sequel, Rudd’s New Selection in 1921), a film version of the stage play starring Bert Bailey was the brain-child of Stuart Doyle, the managing-director of Union Theatres (subsequently reorganised as Greater Union Theatres) and it gained the distinction of being the first feature-length “talking picture” to be made by the Sydney-based film production company Cinesound, which utilised the new sound-on-film recording system developed by Tasmanian radio engineer, Arthur Smith. Australasian Film’s Bondi Junction studios (based in a converted skating rink that still served as a rink after hours), had a small sound-proof studio at its centre, which became the venue for the film’s interior scenes. However the difficulties in making the changeover to sound film production were many. Old-fashioned electric studio lighting that hissed was hardly suitable for sound movies and the right equipment was often hard to come by. The walls of the studio were heavily padded and huge generators supplied the 500,000 candlepower needed for the lighting, but the temperature inside rose to over 100° F (over 40° C) which left the actors visibly wilting after a period of time. The studio equipment included two microphones, but only one camera covered by a sound-proof ‘blimp’ so that the whirring of its internal mechanism wouldn’t be recorded on the film’s soundtrack. The camera frequently broke down through overwork and overheating and one of the heavy microphones developed a hiss, through moisture in the air, and had to be replaced. But work progressed, often on a make-shift basis. As noted, the microphone boom was improvised out of a wooden clothes-line prop and elevation shots were taken by placing the camera on a wooden platform that was raised and lowered by a rope and pulley system on heavily greased runners to keep extraneous studio noise to a minimum. With the picture half completed, the technicians still hadn’t come up with a solution to recording sound out-of-doors for the upcoming location shoot away from the studio’s power supply. However Arthur Smith subsequently devised a slip-ring motor for the sound recording system, which could be run off battery power and still maintain synchronisation with the camera.
In addition to Bert Bailey as producer and Ken G. Hall as director, the rest of the film crew included Walter Sully on camera with Sid Whiteley assisting, George Malcolm as editor, Bert Cross technical supervisor, George Gibson chief electrician, Jack Souter as production manager, Arthur Smith and Clive Cross on sound and Margery West as script girl. After commencing production in the first week of August 1931, progress on the film was reported in the pages of the weekly entertainment magazine Everyones (on which Gayne Dexter served as the Editor-in-Chief).
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STUDIO work is now well advanced on Union Theatres talkie version of Steele Rudd’s “On Our Selection,” activities transferring from the Bondi lot to out-door locations in another four weeks.
From results to date and reviews of “rushes,” Ken Hall and Bert Bailey, respective director and producer, are well satisfied that the film will achieve all things expected of it.
“No attempt is being made to produce a sophisticated drama,” states Mr. Hall. “Experience has shown us that to-day the public wants bright, broad comedy for their most satisfying entertainment, and we are endeavouring to put just that into 'On Our Selection.’ The completed picture will be an admixture of comedy, romance and drama, and the humorous element will be the keynote of the production.
“We are determined to make this talkie one that not only will carry an assured local appeal, but one which will also prove equally acceptable as entertainment in every part of the world,” he emphasises.
Steele Rudd’s play has a sentiment which, in appeal, is not necessarily restricted to any one type of people, and an added factor is that the charm to be embodied in the bush location scenes allow every opportunity to amaze the world at the glorious beauty of the true Australia.”
Hall pays tribute to the efforts of Bert Bailey who, besides producing, is playing the role of “Dad,” a part in which he scored fame on the stage. To him and Hall fell the job of knocking the original script into suitable motion picture shape, and in addition his long association with the subject allows for complete smoothness in moving the action along to the best effect.
Both of them put much labor into the work before the studio activity commenced, notably had the story to be completely re-written and modernised in order to inject an appeal calculated to win universal response.
And then, of course, Bert went through the hazardous procedure of developing a full-length hirsute growth in order to give that touch of real-life to the beloved “old-man” of Rudd's creation.
In between times there was the all-important work of cast selection, photographic and vocal tests, to say nothing of the studio alterations consequent upon the change from silence to sound.
Yes, it certainly was a big job.
Any day at the studio you will strike Bailey in high delight at the advance thus far. “I believe Australia is in for a pleasant surprise when our picture is completed,” is his theme song, and we hope his belief is right. He is certainly putting plenty into the job and deserves a worth-while reward.
On the technical side, everything is in apple-pie order also, and sound results have earned praise for the Cinesound System and recording engineers Arthur Smith and Clive Cross. Splendid realism and clarity are stated to be the features.
Photographic supervision and lighting cares are well shouldered by Bert Cross who, with camera-man Walter Sully, is well versed in the great unseen mysteries of the filming craft.
The cast of the picture, which includes many who have appeared in the original stage production is: “Dad,” Bert Bailey; Dave, Fred Macdonald; Joe, Ossie Wenban; Maloney, Jack McGowan; Sandy, Dick Fair; Uncle, Willy Driscoll; John Carey, Len Buderick; Jim Carey, John Warwick; Cranky Jack, Fred Kerry; Billy Bareup, Fred Browne; Kate, Molly Raynor; Sarah, Bobbie Beaumont; Mum, Alfreda Bevan; Lily White, Lily Adeson; Mrs. White, Dorothy Dunkley.
In this project Union Theatres are tackling something which is big in every respect, and here’s a wish that the finished production achieves its purpose of at long last getting a break for Australia in the world of motion picture making.
Everyones (Sydney), 2 September 1931, p.25
AFTER six months of production, Director Ken Hall and Bert Bailey will soon complete the talkie version of Steele Rudd’s “On Our Selection.” All interiors have been shot, and at present the company is at work on location at Penrith on the final exterior action.
Union Theatres Feature Exchange, who will release the film, state that the “rushes” reveal the talkie as something worthwhile. It is confidently expected to land it on to the world market as the first of several to be made by the unit next year, including a version of “The Silence of Dean Maitland.”
STEELE RUDD, upon whose book Bert Bailey based the first version of his play, was recently invited to witness some of the takes. Admitting that he went along with little or no enthusiasm, he had been disappointed too often in the past, the author frankly admits amazement at results. Just halt Steele Rudd to-day and mention the “Selection.” He gives you the impression that he was in at the birth of a masterpiece. Speaking of the clarity and evenness of the recording and of the ingenuity which Ken Hall has shown in grafting the never-failing laughs of the old play on to a modern setting with unbounded enthusiasm, Steele Rudd believes that there is triumph coming in the finished job.
Ken Hall has idealised the story, retaining the spirit and the humor of the characters, but placing them in an Australian atmosphere which is more familiar and certainly more pleasing, than the drought-stricken conditions which earlier writers seemed to consider a sine qua non of Australian stories.
One consequence of this wise decision is that “On Our Selection” can go forth to the world as something really typical of this nation.
Gordon Ellis informs that a representative of an European firm hung about the location for several days recently, watching operations and summing up on the general impression the unit's activities made on him he commented to Hall and Bailey that they were certainly working on right lines, and shooting the right class of stuff for which Europe was hungering. He opined that they were putting real Australians, living a real Australian life, on the screen and revealing at last the true spirit of this country. And Gordon states he has backed his opinion by having already opened up negotiations for the European rights of the picture.
Ken Hall is full of enthusiasm and plans to get the last ounce out of every moment, while in Bert Bailey he has an ideal collaborator—a shrewd Australian knowing every foible and idiosyncrasy of the man on the land.
And both are showmen, and neither it is stated, has lost sight of story value, of action and comedy in the making of a popular film. The original plot has been materially altered and strengthened.
It is significant what widespread interest the announcement that the film was to be made has created. There is hardly a hamlet in Australia that Bert Bailey has not taken his stage company to with “On Our Selection,” and wherever he has gone he has made friends. And they have remained his friends. To-day they are flooding him with a huge mail of suggestions, offers and reminiscences and it all augurs well for the business that will be done when, at last, “On Our Selection” is released.
Everyones (Sydney), 25 November 1931, p.31
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The future of Cinesound was literally dependent upon the financial fate of the completed motion picture. A commercial success for On Our Selection would ensure future finance for further feature film productions by the company, but a failure meant that it would have to cease production in that particular field (while still having its newly-established cinema newsreel franchise, Cinesound Review to fall back on.) Following trade screenings around the country in June the film was given its public premiere at the Tivoli Theatre in Brisbane on 22 July 1932 in recognition of the Queensland setting of Steele Rudd’s original stories. Demand for tickets was so strong that the Tivoli opened up its Roof Garden Theatre in order to accommodate the overflow and both houses were packed out at all sessions, which augured well for the film’s future and it subsequently went on to break all Australian cinema box-office records for a local production throughout the country that stood until overtaken by 40,000 Horsemen in 1940. (At the time of its initial release On Our Selection’s success at the local box-office was second only to the record that had been established by Cecil B. DeMille’s original 1923 American silent movie version of The Ten Commandments.)
The film was subsequently released overseas by British Empire Films, under general manager, Gordon Ellis and proved to be equally popular in New Zealand, where it premiered at the Regent Theatre, Auckland on 28 October 1932, and went on to smash box-office records in that country as well. The film also fared well in Singapore, China and Great Britain, where its success—under the title of Down on the Farm—helped to mitigate the play’s failure in London some 13 years earlier.
The film’s £6,000 production costs ($584,287 in today’s currency) was recouped from its Australian box-office receipts alone and Cinesound subsequently embarked upon its second feature film in 1932, an adaptation of the Bert Bailey and Edmund Duggan play The Squatter’s Daughter (previously fimed as a silent movie in 1910 co-starring Bailey and Duggan) and there would also be further instalments in the Rudd family saga in the coming years, as well as cinema re-releases of On Our Selection throughout the 1930s and beyond due to popular demand.
Grandad Rudd (1934)
Cinesound Productions—Screenplay by Bert Bailey, George D. Parker and Victor Roberts; Directed by Ken G. Hall; Cinematography by Capt. Frank Hurley; cast: Bert Bailey, Fred MacDonald, George Lloyd, Elaine Hamill, John D’Arcy, John Cameron, William McGowan, Kathleen Hamilton, Lilias Adeson, Les Warton, Molly Raynor, Bill Stewart. Marie D’Alton, Marguerite Adele, George Blackwood, Ambrose Foster and Peggy Yeoman.
Dad and Dave Come to Town (1937)
Cinesound Productions—Screenplay by Bert Bailey and Frank Harvey; story by Ken G. Hall; Directed by Ken G. Hall; Cinematography by George Heath; cast: Bert Bailey, Fred MacDonald, Shirley Ann Richards, Alec Kellaway, Sidney Wheeler, Billy Rayes, Connie Martyn, Peter Finch (in his feature film debut), Valerie Scanlon, Ossie Wenban, Muriel Ford, Leila Steppe, Marshall Crosby, Cecil Perry, Billy Stewart, Marie D’Alton, Leslie Victor and George Lloyd.
Dad Rudd M.P. (1940)
Cinesound Productions—Screenplay by Bert Bailey and Frank Harvey; Directed by Ken G. Hall; Cinematography by George Heath; cast: Bert Bailey, Fred MacDonald, Alec Kellaway, Yvonne East, Grant Taylor, Barbara Weeks, Connie Martyn, Frank Harvey, Ossie Wenban, Valerie Scanlon, Grant Taylor, Jean Robertson, Barbara Weekes, Ronald Whelan, Letty Craydon, Marshall Crosby, Joe Valli, Field Fisher, Billy Stewart, Natalie Raine, Chips Rafferty and Raymond Longford.
Film clips on AUSTRALIAN SCREEN from the NFSA:
Ken G. Hall on Bert Bailey, https://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/1930s-golden-ken-hall/clip1/
Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788–1914 (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney:1985)
Margaret Williams, Australia on the Popular Stage 1829–1929 (Oxford University Press, Melbourne: 1983)
Eric Reade, The Australian Screen—A Pictorial History of Australian Film Making (Lansdowne Press, Melbourne:1975)
Don Groves & Terry O’Brien, AHL: A Hundred Years of Entertainment (Amalgamated Holdings Limited, Sydney: 2010)
J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1920–1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, [Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed.; 2014]
Everyones (Sydney), 6 July 1932, p.10—“Selection” Premiere for Brisbane July 22 ; 27 July 1932, p.9—"Our Selection” Premiere in Brisbane ; 14 September 1932, p.9—“Selection’s” Record Career: What Exhibs Say About It ; 5 October 1932, p.26 – “Selection” Set For Singapore ; 2 November 1932, p.22—“Selection” Opens to Records in N.Z. ; 28 December 1932, p.6—“On Our Selection” Sold for China ; 11 January 1933, p.11—“On Our Selection” Succeeds in England: Big Bookings
Internet Movie Data Base
Built in Hindley Street in 1878 on the site of an earlier theatre of the same name, the Theatre Royal was J.C. Williamson Ltd.’s sole performance venue in Adelaide and, as the theatre’s lessee (since October 1913), The Firm had undertaken its remodelling in 1914, which was enthusiastically described in a newspaper interview with Melbourne-based Managing Director, George Tallis prior to its reopening.
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“SMARTEST LITTLE THEATRE.”
ADELAIDE AND THE WILLIAMSON PRODUCTIONS.
[By our Special Reporter.]
In theatrical attractions Adelaide is getting into line with its neighbouring capitals. There is an avalanche of J.C. Williamson attractions approaching. If Mr. George Tallis (managing director of Williamson, Limited) had not made a casual trip to Adelaide last December this city would not, for two or three years, perhaps, have become possessed of the smartest little theatre in Australia.
It was a long while since “the head” had paid a visit to the Adelaide Royal. When he saw its condition, and gauged its possibilities, things began to get busy. Mr. Tallis sped to Sydney and hustled his architect and contractor, Messrs. Pitt and McDonald respectively. To-night, when theatregoers gaze in admiration upon the Hindley street transformation they will witness the fruition of a really tremendous enterprise. The rebuilding of the Theatre Royal has been the most sensational performance staged anywhere by the great entrepreneurs.
The story of the three-shift two-month task is one of splendid management of men allied to superb response on the part of every unit. Even on Friday morning, when a reporter chatted with Mr. Tallis, in the remodelled stalls, there was such chaos of incompletion that the lay mind failed to visualize a public entertainment within 36 hours. Yet every minute was telling its tale and paying its tribute to the brains behind the whole scheme.
“Yes,” said Mr. Tallis, “I think we have the finest theatre of its kind in Australia. No place in Melbourne or Sydney can equal it for at least three things. Those are comfort, ventilation, and sighting. We have gone the limit in providing comfort; we have gone one better in securing ventilation; and as for the sighting, from any seat or corner of the building it is simply magnificent. Compared with the acoustics of the old Theatre Royal this new construction will provide immense improvement. See that massive proscenium arch! Notice how it issues from the stage like a gigantic funnel. That is precisely what it is. It throws out the sound for all the world like the funnel on a phonograph. We are going to make the ventilation here a pattern for all our theatres. We are going to reproduce it exactly in our new little theatre in Melbourne, which should be completed in 12 or 18 months. [A reference to the proposed Williamson Theatre, which ultimately would not be constructed due to the on-set of WWI.]
—Red Letter Day.—
“When I speak of comfort here, I want you to see how we have provided not only handsome and luxurious chairs, but there is more space per seat than patrons have ever had in the Royal before. It is all a tribute to our architect and contractor. Than Mr. McDonald I do not think any man living can handle an army of workmen better; he is a wizard. I must give thanks to our representative here, Mr. Herbert Myers, who has ably watched over the whole business, night and day. Saturday will be a red-letter day for J.C. Williamson, Limited, for we shall open two new theatres—this in Adelaide and an Opera House in Wellington, which cost £65,000. In a week or two we hope to start work on still another new Williamson theatre in Sydney—corner of George and Bathurst streets. That place will be almost as large as Her Majesty's in Melbourne, and will accommodate 2,250 people. [Another proposed theatre which did not come to fruition due to the war.]
—A Gigantic Concern.—
“Our total of theatres? Well, we shall hold four in the New South Wales capital, three in Melbourne, and one each in Adelaide, Brisbane, Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington (those three in New Zealand we have on lease). Then there are a theatre in London, and our South African interests …
“What are we going to do with the Adelaide Theatre Royal? Why, we are going to keep it pretty well always stocked. Your public will, of course, have a big say in that matter; but I will tell you our immediate prospects. You will be having the ‘Forty Thieves’ pantomime before long, and the ‘Revue’ show as well. That latter, by-the-way, is the biggest and most expensive attraction we have ever tackled. We not only propose to give Adelaide folk much more frequent treats, but we hope to run longer seasons. We shall linkup Adelaide much more closely with Melbourne, by alternating our attractions more frequently between the two capitals than has been possible in the past. You see, as this bigger and better theatre now stands, we shall have the chance to send you our bigger and more costly productions …
“The firm of Williamson hereby promises Adelaide not only a better theatre, but a higher standard and wider choice of attractions. Naturally, in return, we look for an equivalent extension of public encouragement.’
The Register (Adelaide), Saturday, 11 April 1914, p.5 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58505574
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The Bulletin’s dramatic critic in Adelaide writes: The last generation seems to have had a sporting idea of fire-risks in theatres. The rebuilding of the Royal (last reconstructed in 1878) has brought to light all kinds of stuff that was fair flame-food. The old idea seems to have been to put up a framework of timber, line it with match-board, and pad that with hessian. Out of the dome have come down hundreds of cartloads of inflammable material, just under which was hung the great chandelier that—all the years before electricity came in-—gave out so intense a heat. Dress-circle Adelaide knew that it got to and from its seats by a wooden staircase, passing above a liquor-bar, but it did not know what a bonfire it was going to have a front seat in if anything went wrong. However, nothing did. Herbert Myers—local manager for the Williamson Co.—points with pride to the vast quantities of marble stairs, and steel beams, and fibrous-plaster ornamentation that are to minimise risk in the new building. The old Academy of Music, dating from about the same time as the Royal, was burnt down twice in the ’80s; and then they got tired of rebuilding it.
The Bulletin (Sydney), Vol. 35, No. 1781—2 April 1914, p.9—Poverty Point
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Given the smaller population of Adelaide in comparison to the Eastern state capitals of Sydney and Melbourne and consequently the city’s proportionally smaller number of regular theatregoers, the J.C. Williamson productions staged in the South Australian capital were given limited run seasons and, to make such seasons financially viable in terms of the production costs involved (which included the transportation of scenery, costumes, properties and the company members themselves, which sometimes included principal orchestral players, with local musicians “picked up” in the host city) there would be two or more productions staged in repertory by each company sent on the “road.” Thus, in addition to High Jinks, the New English Musical Comedy Company also toured its earlier success The Girl in the Taxi, which would also be making its South Australian debut. The Adelaide press had already primed it readers with news of the success that the company had enjoyed during its respective theatrical seasons in Sydney and Melbourne since August 1914 and it now reported the imminent arrival of the company in the Southern state, whose residents could at last see for themselves those musicals which had so entertained the Easterners (taking care also to emphasise the success that The Girl … had enjoyed in London and New York; and also drawing a comparison between High Jinks and The Belle of New York, which, prior to the success of the former, had been the most successful American musical to be staged in Australia up to that date—Australian tastes at the time tending to prefer British musical comedies and Anglicised European operettas and comic operas. Indeed a revival of The Belle … had also been initially advertised for Adelaide, but it wasn’t until the company reached Perth that it was eventually staged.)
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J.C. WILLIAMSON SEASON.
“THE GIRL IN THE TAXI” AND “HIGH JINKS.”
“The Girl in the Taxi,” the next J. C Williamson musical offering for the Theatre Royal, will be presented next Saturday evening for six nights and a matinee. The occasion is one of special interest, since the principals will all make on this occasion their first appearance in Adelaide. Mr. C.H. Workman’s reputation as a comedian has already proceed him, while the company also includes Mr. W.H. Rawlins, Miss Millie Engler, Miss Gwen Hughes, Messrs. Fred Maguire, Hugh Huntley, Chris Wren, Paul Plunket, Miss Nellie Hobson, Miss Marie Eaton, Miss Daisy Yates, Miss Florence Vie, and Miss Dorothy Brunton. The score is by Jean Gilbert, whose catchy music largely contributed to the success of this famous musical comedy in London and New York, also in Melbourne and Sydney a few months back. The second and final production of the season will be devoted to what is described as the high kick of musical comedy, “High Jinks” with which the above company are now terminating a highly successful season in Melbourne. There are three acts in this play, which is of “The Belle of New York” type, and each of them is characterised by the same lighthearted irresponsibility, gaiety, and snap as “The Girl in the Taxi,” and it also furnishes scenes of musical frivolity and good humour, and provides a host of genuinely mirthful situations. “High Jinks” will be staged for six nights and matinee, commencing Saturday, May 29. The box plans for the season of 12 nights and two matinees will open at Marshalls’ next Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock ...
W. H. Rawlins, who plays Baron Dauvray in “The Girl in the Taxi,” and Jeffreys, the lumber king, in “High Jinks,” relates that he was once appearing in drama, when the company had to put on a new play with but scant preparation. On the day of the opening the manager, who was also the producer as well as a member of the cast, pointed out that no one seemed to know their part at all well, and the only thing to do was to be prepared for emergencies. “ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “If I find things are too bad, I’ll come on with a pistol and kill everybody off.” “And this is what happened,” said Mr. Rawiins. “Half-way through the last act, after everybody had been floundering terribly, the ‘villain’ came on with a pistol, and pointing it at each of the principals, exclaimed. ‘Your time has come; now die!’ shooting them off, one after the other, and the curtain fell amidst loud applause.”
Field Fisher, who plays Dr. Robert Thorne in “High Jinks,” is another musical comedy artist who has graduated from drama. Years ago he strutted a brief time in a varied assortment of dramatic plays, including a production of “Charles I” by Sir Henry Irving, in which Mr. Fisher played a young prince. His varied roles also included a nihilist, a burglar, an old woman, an escaped convict, and others of a type which, as Mr. Fisher says, made his stage life a series of ups and downs. “They are mostly bad people I played in those dramas of my early stage career,” says Mr. Fisher. “My list of stage convictions was so long that i would have required to be a Methuselah to have served the sentences.”
“I am very glad to be playing a part in which I am allowed to laugh,” said Field Fisher, who is playing a mercurial doctor in “High Jinks.” “In ‘The Girl in the Taxi,’ as the waiter Alexis, I had to keep a stiff face the whole of the evening and to resist the temptation to laugh. It was a perpetual strain. In ‘High Jinks’ I can give my face as much exercise as I like. It nearly knocked me silly sometimes when one or two of the artists would try to make me laugh. They only caught me once!”
Playgoers who have seen Dorothy Brunton in musical comedy—and they are innumerable—have oftentimes marvelled at the deft little dramatic touches she puts into her work. Notably this was a characteristic of her acting in “Autumn Manoeuvres,” particularly in the scene with her father, in the course of which she made one of her biggest successes with her song “Daddy Dear.” Miss Brunton gained her knowledge of dramatic values from her early experiences in drama. Her early training was with Mr. and Mrs. Bland Holt, playing child parts. She was “Little Dorothy Brunton” then. Her first prominent part in drama was Stephanus in “The Sign of the Cross” with the Julius Knight Company.
The Mail (Adelaide), Saturday. 15 May 1915, p.6 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59297192
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As mentioned in the article, the various cast changes for the Adelaide season included English actress, Daisy Yates taking over the role of “Mdlle. Chi-Chi” from Gertrude Glyn in High Jinks, with Chi-Chi’s Act 3 song “The Bubble” now reassigned to Dorothy Brunton, who, as “Sylvia Dale”, had hitherto only been an ‘onlooker’ to the farcical complications that ensued in the concluding Act, without making any further significant contribution to the plot (as the Sydney and Melbourne reviews of the show had previously noted.) As a compensation for the loss of the song, however, Daisy performed a dance duet “The Grand Vitesse” with her “brother”, Sydney Yates in the third Act’s cabaret scene in the place of Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann, whose dancing had been a feature of the Sydney and Melbourne seasons. The Yates also danced the tango in the second Act of The Girl in the Taxi previously assigned to Novotna and Laushmann. (Although Sydney had performed in Australia in previous years, Daisy was making her Antipodean debut and both were engaged by JCW in South Africa to join the company for the musical comedy season in Adelaide, where they had arrived by ship in early May. The pair were, in fact, unrelated but performed together as a ‘brother and sister’ dance duo—their actual names being Ellen Maingay Daniels and Sydney Culverhouse.)
And with the retirement of English leading lady, Maggie Jarvis from the stage in December 1914 to settle down to married life as Mrs. Thomas Reynolds in Melbourne, Dorothy Brunton was promoted to the female lead role in The Girl in the Taxi, having previously played the daughter of the Dauvray household, “Jacqueline”, in Sydney and Melbourne (a role now played by local actress, Cecil Bradley.) Additionally Alfred Frith was now cast as “Professor Charcot” in place of D.J. Williams, who had enacted the role in the original Sydney and Melbourne seasons of The Girl … Andrew McCunn also came over from Sydney to conduct the orchestra and supervise the musical side of both productions.
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Critical reaction to Charles Workman’s performance in High Jinks in both Sydney and Melbourne had tended to be mixed. Although his acting ability and the undoubted quality of his singing were never in question, such reservations that were expressed were mainly in relation to the casting of the middle-aged comedian in the relatively straight role of what was essentially the musical’s juvenile romantic lead. Consciously aware of this, Workman (who had celebrated his 43rd birthday in Melbourne on 5 May) preceded his Adelaide debut by directly addressing the matter in the press.
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At The Play
“One or two of the papers seemed to accept my part as a ‘straight’ one, and referred to me as playing the lover,” said C.H. Workman, discussing his role of Dick Wayne in ‘High Jinks,’ at Her Majesty's, Melbourne. “It wouldn't be the first time I have played other than a character part,” added Mr. Workman, “yet because I made my first appearance as Pomarel, in ‘The Girl in the Taxi,’ which is to open at the Theatre Royal next Saturday week, everyone expects me to stick to that type of part. For example, the other day I was introduced to a man who, after referring eulogistically to ‘High Jinks,’ remarked, ‘But why, Mr. Workman, have they given you Romeo to play, balcony scene and all?’ Dick Wayne is certainly something of a stage lover, but the part has a certain amount of sentiment, and I enjoy playing it. The only fly in the ointment, as it appears to me, is that in this country if they see you in one type of part, they expect you to stick to it all the way through.”
The Critic (Adelaide), Wednesday, 12 May 1915, p.10, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212160489
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Although Workman had only briefly visited Adelaide before, during the RMS Orontes’ stopover there on Saturday, 25 July 1914, en route to Melbourne and Sydney on its voyage out from England, his presence in Australia had been a regular item of interest noted in the theatrical columns of the South Australian press, which had published the following anecdote the previous January.
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Mr. C.H. Workman, the well-known comedian, tells an amusing story of his young days.
A fancy-dress bicycle gymkhana was organised in aid of some local charity, and Mr. Workman attended dressed as a young lady, to the great scandal of some of his friends. He had a very busy day collecting for the fund, and among other places he entered was a small country inn. Here an animated discussion arose as to whether the fair collector was a boy or a girl.
An old chap presently came up to him. “Will ’ee ’ave a drink, miss?” he asked.
“I don't mind if I do!” was the cordial reply of the “miss.”
A tankard of ale was brought, and, forgetting everything except the thirst that consumed him, he drained it at a draught.
“Well,” said the old man respectfully, “I dunno if thee be a lass or a lad, but, by gum, thee can soop ale!”
Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA), Saturday, 30 January 1915, p.5
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Press agents continued to furnish the local press with anecdotes related by the company members prior to their arrival in Adelaide.
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MUSIC AND THE DRAMA
FROM STAGE AND PLATFORM
SOME PASSING NOTES.
Field Fisher, the English comedian with “The Girl in the Taxi,” made one of his early appearances in drama with the late Lawrence Irving. In one of his plays he was cast as a Nihilist. “I don't want you to wear a wig,” said Mr. Irving, “I want the real thing. Let your hair grow long.” When the hair grew down over his ears the actor found it a bit of a nuisance, especially when he attracted the attention of small boys, who publicly advised him to “get his hair cut.” The result was that Mr. Fisher approached Mr. Irving and told him that he was going to throw up the part and pay a visit to the barber. An extra £2 per week, however, made the actor change his mind and keep his hair on. “But it was worth it—and more,” says Mr. Fisher.
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“I seem to be paying the penalty of success, as Bumerli in ‘The Chocolate Soldier,’ ” said Mr. C.H. Workman, who created the role in London, and is to feature in the cast of “The Girl in the Taxi” at the Theatre Royal. “Every mail brings me heaps of letters, the gist of which is the query, ‘Will you play Bumerli in “The Chocolate Soldier” in Australia?’ I had no sooner set foot in Australia than an interviewer asked me that question. I replied that I was here to play my original part of Pomarel in ‘The Girl in the Taxi.’ ‘Yes,’ said the interviewer, but couldn't that play be put off to enable you to appear first in “The Chocolate Soldier”?’ And so it goes on,” added Mr. Workman. “I just want to forget that I once was Bumerli, because I like my part of Pomarel very much, and I want the public to like me as Pomarel.”
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Saturday, 8 May 1915, p.8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134407873
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The Girl in the Taxi was the first ‘cab off the rank’ opening at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide on 22 May 1915, and the audience reaction and critical opinion of the musical comedy mirrored that of its prior Sydney and Melbourne seasons.
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“THE GIRL IN THE TAXI”
WILLIAMSON COMPANY'S COMEDY TRIUMPH
BRILLIANT OPENING PERFORMANCE
Very useful are comparisons even if there are occasions on which they happen to be odious. During the last few years theatregoers have had ample opportunities of comparing the various classes of comic opera as presented by Viennese, Parisian, and American composers. They could, therefore, with some degree of correctness size up the relative merits of the best of those which have been staged in Adelaide, and the very latest of the species, “The Girl in the Taxi,” which was presented at the Theatre Royal for the first time on Saturday night. Had one averaged public opinion he would doubtless have found a general belief that "The Girl in the Taxi" was the best example of musical comedy seen here since the famous “Merry Widow.” It certainly sparkled where most of the others have merely glimmered in patches, and in humor, music, and plot was as far above them as was that other well-known work which made Franz Lehar's reputation. Handled by a remarkably clever, well-balanced, and versatile company, and assisted by a very competent orchestra, it was a most agreeable and lighthearted entertainment, and was given a wonderfully cordial reception from an audience which filled the theatre to overflowing.
“The Girl in the Taxi” is French—decidedly so. One does not find in it a moral lesson or sentimental plot, but an abundance of espierglerie, vivacity, and musical frivolity which pleases the fancy, captivates the eyesight, and sets one at good terms with oneself. There is a spice of naughtiness to add that piquancy which most playgoers appreciate, and a multitude of farcical situations which supply unending action and keep the machinery of the plot moving with that swiftness so necessary to the success of musical comedy. Above all, it is light. Call it an iridescent bubble on the surface of events and you have a fairly accurate description of what the production really is.
The name of the piece is quite misleading. There is no girl in a taxi to be seen, and only once is her existence hinted at. But, after all, that doesn't matter a little bit. If some other title—"A Night in a Joy Club,” for instance—were chosen it would be all the same. The aim of the librettists was to create a family mix-up in which a father, son, daughter, and nephew meet unexpectedly at the same night-club and in circumstances of peculiar embarrassment. Without any straining of possibilities the play works itself out to this end, twisting amid scenes of riotous gaiety and ludicrous perplexity, and finally unravelling itself in a whirl of action chockfull of the brightest humor. It is quite a simple story, but its embellishment is gorgeous, and scintillating wit and lilting melodies make the whole production a thing to remember with pleasure. To follow the plot one must first know the Baron Dauvray, his wife, his son Hubert, and daughter Jacqueline, and Rene, who is a nephew of the baron and an officer in the army of France. Others with whom one must form an acquaintance are Monsieur Pomeral, a wealthy provincial scent manufacturer, his wife Suzanne, who is surpassingly pretty and has been awarded a prize for virtue, and Rose Charcot, wife of a professor who at times pervades the company. Dauvray is in public life a companion of Pecksniff and Sir Joseph Porter. In private life—that is to say, when the nightclubs are open and his wife is safely asleep in bed—he is a gay dog—in fact, a “knut”. He has a pet theory, heredity, and in his Porteresque moments inflicts on all and sundry such sentiments as “If a cat has kittens in the oven, must her progeny be called ‘bis-kitts’?” or “Train up the pea in the way it should grow,” &c, Hubert wants to be a “knut,” but can't do it on his allowance of 5/- per week. Jacqueline also wants to sample the high life, but her mother won't let her. Rene, in love with Jacqueline, is a most pronounced “knut,” who when he announces his ardor is informed by the baron with true Pecksniffian egotism. “My children are my garden, and I want no weeds in it.” “No,” replies Rene, “but perhaps you require a rake.” The first act gives opportunities for introducing the characters and it closes with the Baron, Hubert, Rene, and Jacqueline stealing off separately to spend the rest of the night amid the giddy gaieties of the "Jeunesse Doree." Act two shows us the interior of the “Jeunesse Doree.” Hubert arrives and meets Suzanne, whose husband has gone off to take part in military manoeuvres. She arranges for supper, teaches him the gentle art of flirtation, and generally helps him to a good time. Next comes the Baron with Rose Charcot. It appears they met quite accidentally. He was getting in at one door of a taxi, she at the other. “My taxi, I believe,” said the Baron. “Mine, I think,” replied Rose, and in his most polished Don Juanesque manner Dauvray added, “Ours, I hope”; and “ours” it was. Follow Rene and Jacqueline, who, like the others, are shown to their private rooms. There is music and dancing, and abundance of mirth and merriment, and pretty but scantily dressed girls. The principals appear in humorous sequence, and finally there is the denouement when all come face to face. Among them even Charcot and Pomarel, who had also made the “Jeunesse Doree” their rendezvous. The only thing is that the two last mentioned, though finding their wives at the restaurant, do not know who took them there. Then comes act three, and the venue is transferred back to Dauvray’s dining room, where the parties assemble for breakfast. It is in this scene that the great bulk of the humor is packed, and without exaggeration it may be said that the audience on Saturday night fairly shrieked with laughter from end to end of it. The dialogue sparkles with the funniest passages, the appearance of the head waiter of the “Jeunesse Doree”—who has been engaged as butler by the baroness—frightens the delinquents into the most screamingly ridiculous situations, and the aggrieved husbands pay early visits to the establishment and have their doubts explained away in a fashion that can only be described as the most delightful farce. In this fashion everything Is straightened out and there is the usual happy ending.
The J. C. Williamson company which presents “The Girl in the Taxi” is the main factor in a triumphantly successful production. Few of the principals have been seen in Adelaide before, but they came here with bright reputations, which one and all sustained. There is however, one artist whom we have known favorably for some time now. She is Miss Dorothy Brunton, who takes the part of Suzanne, the leading feminine role. Right here it can said that the J.C. Williamson management provides in the person of Miss Brunton an argument against the constant importation of oversea stars for “leads.” This charming little lady proved herself to be the cleverest and sweetest exponent of musical comedy that has delighted a South Australian audience for many a long day. Miss Brunton has everything to commend her to the liking of the theatregoer. Voice, looks, figure, and deportment combine to make her a “star of stars,” and it is safe to predict for her the brightest of futures. What a bewitching little Suzanne she made! With her husband (only stage, by the way) one could say that her marriage day was the fortunate male person's awfully lucky day. Mr. W.H. Rawlins was happily cast as Baron Dauvray, And his comedy characterisation was without a doubt one of the gems of the evening. His great fund of natural humor enabled him to do the fullest justice to the many mirthful situations with which he was connected, and he had no difficulty whatever in earning his full share of most hearty applause. As Hubert Mr. Fred. Maguire had to plenty to do, and he did it well. The picture he presented of the youth anxious to break parental bounds, and finally doing so after having pawned a family painting to provide himself with funds, was clever indeed, and his subsequent scenes with Suzanne proved him to be an artist in this particular line of comedy. Very fine and dashing was Mr. Paul Plunket as Rene, and really picturesque in his French uniform—which, it might be mentioned, was recognised and cheered. Into the character of the debonair man of the world Mr. Plunket imparted the proper amount of sprightliness and devilment, and generally carried himself off his part with a pleasing and convincing naturalness and grace. Mr. C.H. Workman made the most of the many opportunities for low comedy provided by the librettists in Pomarel, who adores and trusts Suzanne implicitly, even though she only allows him to kiss her shoulder, and reserves her more ardent amorousness for her supper partners at the “Jennesse Doree.” As the stolid head waiter of the giddy restaurant Mr. Field Fisher was particularly funny. Good work was done by Messrs. Alfred Frith (Professor Charcot), Chris Wren as the diminutive and acrobatic second waiter, and Hugh Huntley the third waiter. As for the ladies, they are somewhat overshadowed by Suzanne, but they were all attractive and accomplished. Miss Cecil Bradley made a charming Jacqueline, who was at her best in her rebellious breakaway from her fiance Rene when the latter thought she had seen enough of the “Jeuneese Doree.” In her portrayal of the Baroness Delphine Dauvray Miss Millie Engler gave a clever study of the stately dame and blindly devoted mother, and Miss Gwen Hughes was sufficiently piquant as Rose Charcot to justify the baron's decision to take her with him on a clandestine joyride. Miss Helen Hobson looked very pretty in the small part of Marietta, a housemaid.
Throughout the production there was a plenitude of beautiful music, wherein the art of Jean Gilbert in contriving melodies was seen at its best. Two numbers which doubtless appealed to the audience more than any others were the waltz song “Lilt That is Mazy”—really a delightful strain—and Miss Brunton’s closing item “Suzanne,” the latter a fine swinging refrain that should not be easily forgotten. Other contributions to the musical side were the opening ensemble, “Dearest Baronne,” “The Ingenue” (Miss Cecil Bradley), “As Good as I Can Be” (Mr. W. H. Rawlins), “Sauce for the Gander” (Miss Bradley and Mr. Plunket), “The Happy Marriage” (Miss Brunton and Mr. Workman), “Paris” (Miss Brunton and Messrs. Plunket and Maguire), “Not Too Fast and Not Too Slow” (Miss Brunton and Mr. Maguire) ensemble, “Why, Jacqueline, How Came You Here” (Misses Brunton and Bradley, and Messrs. Rawlins. Plunket, and Maguire), “The Old Dog and the Young Dog” (Messrs. Rawlins and Maguire), and “Let the Toast go Round” (Miss Brunton). The chorus was strong and well balanced. An incidental item was a tango danced by Mr. and Miss Yates, which was responsible for one of the most persistent encores of the evening.
It would not be fair to pass over the gorgeous dressing or brilliant scenic effects without a word of commendation. Both these features were outstanding, and, indeed, quite eclipsed previous J.C. Williamson efforts, splendid though many of them have been. Some of the costumes worn by the ladies might be termed the “dernier cri” of Parisian fashion, especially that worn in the last act by Miss Given Hughes—divided petticoats, similar to the long-legged pantaloons of our great-grandmothers, being a conspicuous portion of the creation.
“The Girl in the Taxi” is to be staged throughout the week, including a matinee next Wednesday at 2 o’clock, and on Saturday next “High Jinks” will be presented for the remaining six nights and matinee. The season is limited to a fortnight only.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Monday, 24 May 1915, p.2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134410573
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Born into the theatrical life in Melbourne, as the daughter of John Brunton (a chief scenic artist for actor-manager, Bland Holt and J.C. Williamson), Dorothy Brunton revealed some of the disadvantages of life on-the-road for the touring actress (which probably explained her absence from the company’s subsequent season in Perth.)
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FIVE MINUTES WITH MISS DOROTHY BRUNTON.
“Miss Brunton will see you this afternoon,” said Mr. Herbert Myers when he had arranged the interview by ’phone, so 2.30 found us waiting upon the lady at the South Australian Hotel. But pretty, vivacious little Dorothy Brunton was in bed waiting the arrival of the doctor. Still she had a little chat, in which her mother, Mrs. Brunton, largely assisted. Dorothy’s mother deserves a par all to herself, she is simply charming, so young and pretty you cannot credit she is Miss Brunton’s mother.
“How fortunate your mother is with you now?”
“Yes,” replied Miss Brunton, “I don't know what I should do without her. Since my father died five years ago she has always travelled with me.”
“The last time we were in Perth,” said Mrs. Brunton, “we had a cheerful experience to begin with. We are not good sailors, and I arrived there so ill I had to go straight to a hospital. Dorothy visited me the first three days, and she looked such a perfectly awful color I thought she was going to be ill. The next thing that happened was she had quinsy, and I had to leave the hospital to go and nurse her.”
“This is rather a doleful conversation,” remarked Miss Dorothy.
“How did you get this chill?”
“Coming over in the train,” explained Mrs. Brunton. “Unfortunately there were Parliamentary men on the train, and they had taken all the best carriages, consequently the sleepers we were in had no doors, and it was a bitterly cold draught blowing upon us the whole time, and Dorothy being run down it has evidently affected her. She was in such pain last night she could hardly stand.”
“And yet managed to look so full of fun and laughter. You had a very busy time before coming here?”
“Yes, I was going hard for some months rehearsing for our last new production, ‘The Girl in the Film.’ That and being fitted for frocks, shoes, hats, everything imaginable, does not leave a moment unoccupied. I have been going like that for three years now straight off, and Dr. Strong warned me in Melbourne that I would have to get in a rest somehow. But I love the work and feel I want to keep at it.”
“When did you first play in Adelaide?”
“In the ‘Count of Luxembourg’ and ‘The Chocolate Soldier’ and ‘Autumn Manoeuvres.’ I had such a nice compliment paid me in Melbourne before I left, one I appreciated very much. Mdlle. Dolores was staying at the same hotel and went to the theatre one night. The next morning she wrote me a charming note saying how much she had enjoyed my performance, and complimented me upon my singing—she is such a sweet woman —I would like you to see the letter.”
At this moment the arrival of the doctor brought our chat to an abrupt close, and we left with best wishes for a speedy recovery for the sake of the public as well as herself.
The Critic (Adelaide), 26 May 1915, p.20, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page23529336
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Further insights into Charles Workman’s various interests and accomplishments were provided by the following interview conducted by the pseudonymous “Jacques” of the Adelaide Daily Herald.
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COMEDY AND CRIME
C. H. WORKMAN CLOSELY STUDIES BOTH
INTERESTING CHAT ON GILBERTIAN OPERA
Interviewing a theatrical celebrity is not always pleasure unalloyed. One meets some with whom it is a pleasure to converse. Occasionally one meets the other sort, and the period of the interview is one of torture. I have experienced both kinds, and in the category first mentioned I want to place Mr. C.H. Workman the celebrated English comedian whose Pomarel in “The Girl in the Taxi” is something to remember with the greatest delight.
For an hour yesterday I chatted with him on divers subjects. Mr. Workman did most of the talking, and I was quite content to listen with the utmost interest for his lengthy experience in the mimic world has given him a store of theories, anecdotes, and reminiscences which would be a veritable treasure to him were he ever to embark on the sea of authorship. The conversation started with comparisons of the work of those master-minds, Gilbert and Sullivan, and present-day farce compositions, and gradually drifted along the most pleasant lines until I found myself engrossed in his stories of adventure in the underworld of London and Liverpool. This latter subject may seem strange when coming from one whose theatrical duties have never earned for him, as the “villain of the play,” the hisses of the hero-loving gallery. Mr. Workman has never departed from the genialities of musical comedy, but for all that be is a keen student of criminology, and has accompanied some of England’s most famous detectives on not a few daring adventures.
“I started my stage career in Gilbert and Sullivan opera,” said the artist in reply to a leading question. “It was in 1894 that I made my first appearance, curiously enough at the Shakespeare Theatre at Straford-on-Avon. The piece was ‘Utopia Limited.’ I think that I now hold a record which is unique, for I have played the leading comedy roles in every one of the operas written by the famous pair, with the one exception of ‘Ruddigore.’ ”
And your favorite part is?
“ ‘Jack Point,’ in ‘The Yeomen of the Guard.’ I always loved that part, and I think I must have done very well in it, for I had the honor of being paid a very high compliment by the late W.S. Gilbert. The occasion was at a dinner given by the Playgoers’ Club, London, after the last revival at the Savoy Theatre of ‘The Yeomen of the Guard.’ Gilbert was present, and among others were Grossmith, the original Jack Point, and Walter Passmore, who played the part in the first revival. I was Jack Point in the second revival. When the time came for speechmaking Gilbert had something to say about the performance. This was his actual remark: ‘I am sure that neither Workman’s protagonist, Grossmith, nor his immediate predecessor, Passmore, will grudge him the triumph he has achieved, as he played the part with exquisite charm and finish.’ I regard it as the highest compliment that I could have had paid me. Only the other day I came across that speech in a book which Bridgeman has written, entitled ‘Gilbert, Sullivan, D’Oyly Carte, and a History of the Savoy Theatre’.”
I gather that you are still true to your old love, and that you prefer the operas of your earlier associations?
“Yes, I love the old operas, and can truthfully say that I would like to have a go at them again. Much as I like the parts I am at present playing, I would dearly like to appear out here in such a role as Jack Point, the Lord Chancellor in ‘Iolanthe’ or even the King in ‘Princess Ida.’ ”
Then you must have found it difficult to break from the richer and more satirical humor of Gilbertian works into the extreme frivolity of the French farce?
“It might have been hard had I not had a good run in ‘The Chocolate Soldier,’ which, as you know, had a great run in London. From that to the character of Pomarel in ‘The Girl in the Taxi’, which piece ran for 13 months, was a sort of stepping stone. Still, Jack Point is a role in which there was never meant to be any low comedy, and the man who clowns all the way through it does wrong. The unfortunate jester, as Gilbert meant him to be, combines comedy, pathos, and tragedy, and in the latter reaches the sublime. There are always tears not far from his laughter. I must say that I have never portrayed a character who touched me to the same extent as does Jack Point. In that magnificent finale I have never had any need for vaseline tears, for I have finished with real tears streaming down my face. I remember one performance in Manchester at the close of which I took a call in this state, and there were plenty among my audience who were sobbing also.”
That indeed is real entry into the spirit of the part.
“Yes, and therein lies for me the charm of the stage. You go into a theatre and at once become a different person. Instead of thinking what you would do in the situations that are created you think what the character as outlined by the author would have done. I make it my business to get as close to life in my acting as I possibly can. In ‘The Grand Duke,’ one of Gilbert's productions, and his last [with Sullivan], as a matter of fact, I had to play the part of an old Jew clothier. Well, for weeks before the opera was staged I used every Sunday to dress in my oldest clothes and take a walk into the Jewish quarter down in Petticoat Lane. Soon I came across the very type of man I had to represent, and by studying closely every detail of his facial expression, his movements, and his garb I was able when the time came to present to my audience a character which was as true to life as it could possibly be.”
Do you think such works as were produced by Gilbert and Sullivan will ever become as popular again as they were years ago?
“Not unless there arises a new Gilbert and a new Sullivan. Never were two men more fitted to collaborate, and never was there a greater misfortune than when they parted company. That break was a tragedy over a trifle if ever there was such a thing. You know, Gilbert, Sullivan, and Carte were running the Savoy on shares, each man taking an equal part. Gilbert was away on holiday, and during his absence the other partners decided to purchase a new carpet for the theatre. That in itself was only a trifling matter, but Gilbert thought he should have been consulted, and the argument that ensued led to the separation, it was most unfortunate for all. Gilbert wrote several operas after the split, but none of them was successful.”
You have undertaken management yourself, have you not?
“Yes, and whenever I feel inclined to grumble at my lot as an actor I force upon myself the reflection that I might be worse off as a manager. I went into management at the London Savoy and produced three musical plays—'Fallen Fairies,’ ‘The Mountaineers,’ and ‘Two Merry Monarchs.’ They left the Treasury £14,000 on the wrong side, for, although there was no doubt as to their excellence as plays, getting a success is a costly business in London.”
The reception accorded you by Australian audiences must have made you wish you could transport them to England for the benefit of managers?
“I agree with you. We certainly have had some magnificent audiences. Without a doubt Australians have a great liking for such plays as ‘The Girl in the Taxi’ and ‘High Jinks,’ and I am sure the people of Adelaide will enjoy the latter just as much as they did the other. It really is a splendid performance, and I can assure you that we all enjoy acting in it. The music is catchy, the dialogue snappy, and the situations even more funny than those in ‘The Girl in the Taxi.’ By the way, in ‘The Girl’ Miss Brunton is my wife, but in ‘High Jinks’ she is my sweetheart. Rather a staggerer such a change in relationship all in the short space of two nights, isn't it?”
Yes, it surely is. Theatregoers will envy you your good fortune.
“Who could blame them,” said Mr. Workman, laughingly. “By the way, Miss Brunton has in ‘High Jinks’ a most charming waltz refrain, which I know will please everybody.”
Than Adelaide theatregoers, there are no people in Australia more pleased with Miss Brunton’s great success, I added. And taking up the part of questioner again I sought some information as to how Mr. Workman occupied his time when not acting or rehearsing.
It was then that we drifted into the subject of criminology, and I learned of visits to the darkest of Liverpool’s criminal haunts with detectives who were seeking an absconding cashier; of the raiding of an illicit dancing hall in the underworld of London; and of talks in waterside haunts with men who mostly were “wanted” in some other part of the world. “We never went without being armed,” said Mr. Workman, “but not once were we attacked. Criminals of the lowest type, though many of the men with whom we came in contact might have been, they were content to let us alone so long as they knew that they were not wanted by the detectives who were on the job. What interesting studies those men provided. You have nothing like them out here but I must say you are very well off without them.”
In answer to a final question. Mr. Workman expressed his great admiration of the Australian chorus and ballet. These, he said, could not be bettered anywhere. And he has learned to love the Australian audiences even though, as he admitted, it is rather difficult for a stranger to become used to the different moods that prevail in the capitals of the eastern States.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Friday, 28 May 1915, p.2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134411412
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The Girl in the Taxi was succeeded by High Jinks on Saturday, 29 May and the critical plaudits which had greeted the show in both Sydney and Melbourne were repeated in the Adelaide press, attesting to the musical’s popularity with both critics and audiences alike.
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A SPLENDID PRODUCTION.
ANOTHER “ROYAL” SUCCESS
“MAIL’S” SPECIAL REPORT.
Only a few moments elapsed after the curtain was raised on “High Jinks” at the Theatre Royal this evening before Dick Wayne, an explorer. produced the marvellous perfume. Its effect was instantaneous not only on the artists on the stage, but on the great audience which entirely filled the building. This wonderful discovery had the power of transforming the most severe into happy, dull-free beings, and of infusing into the cold blooded the most amorous of feelings; in a word, the blues were danced clean away. Even when Dr. Robert Thorne, an American specialist in Paris, was faced with death or the option of Mons. Jacques Rabelais kissing his wife, and when he ought to have felt sad, under the spell of the great scent he was blithe and gay. So was the public, and the musical jollity in three acts can be heartily recommended as an exceedingly mirth-creating production. Everybody present was wound up, and happiness and laughter reigned unchallenged.
Many attractions combined to make “High Jinks” an undoubted success— the extraordinarily complicated situations, the high-class performers, the elaborate settings, the pretty dresses, the attractive choruses, and last, but not least, the sparkling music ...
Mr. Field Fisher took the character of Dr. Thorne, and he was one of the first to come under the spell of “High Jinks” perfume. Instead of curt, impolite, and unaffectionate replies to Mrs. Thorne he lavishes kisses on her and other people's wives. The result is he has to make a hurried departure to Beauville, a bathing resort on the French coast, in an attempt to avoid a duel. His enemy, the Frenchman, his wife, and everyone else eventually meet there, and the jinks become higher than ever. Miss Florence Vie as Adelaide Fontaine, a runaway wife, had a heavy part, but she did not appear at any time to be downhearted on account of her loss. She was delightfully ingenue throughout, and especially at Beauville, where Dr. Thorne was paying all the bills. The duet with W.H. Rawlins. “Come Hither,” proved particularly attractive. Paul Plunket. as the Frenchman, was a great success, and his association with Dorothy Brunton in a duet, “Not Now, but Later” was most heartily encored. W.H. Rawlins as Mr. J.J. Jeffeys. an American lumber king, caused many laughs. His repudiation of the idea that he was the champion boxer raised a scream every time. Mr. Alfred Frith as Colonel Slaughter acted right up to his first-class comedy reputation. Dorothy Brunton as Sylvia Dale was not afforded many opportunities, but her songs, “Is This Love at Last?'' and “By the Sea” were among the best selections. Miss Daisy Yates as Mlle. Chi Chi, sang as beautifully as she danced. In the last scene she and her brother gave the Grand Vitesse, a wonderful whirlwind dance, which was encored three times. The other artists fully sustained their roles, and greatly contributed to the enjoyment of the performance.
“High Jinks” will be presented every evening until Friday, and on Wednesday afternoon there will be a matinee.
The Mail (Adelaide), Saturday, 29 May 1915, p.7 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59299040
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The audience which assembled in the Adelaide Theatre Royal on Saturday night to welcome that musical jollity. “High Jinks,” was from a managerial stand-point an absolute record. Every inch of standing room allowed by the law with all the seating accommodation was fully occupied, and what was equally as important so far as the company was concerned, the greeting accorded to each item of the performance was both appreciative and enthusiastic. “The Girl in the Taxi” was a very great success, but the Williamson New English Musical Comedy Company excelled both it and themselves in “High Jinks,” and it is certain that the remaining nights of their all-too-short season will be abundantly successful, This is the more gratifying because the Australian element in the case has been greatly strengthened, for, in addition to the dainty charm of Miss Dorothy Brunton, we have in this second attraction that accomplished Adelaide singer, Miss Marie Eaton, whose beautiful voice was heard to great advantage in the chief musical numbers, and our old friend, Miss Florence Vie, whose skill as a comedienne has won her a high reputation throughout the Commonwealth. “High Jinks” has a subtle charm which captivated the theatregoers of London when it was originally presented at the Lyric Theatre there last year [sic—it did not receive its London premiere until 1916 at the Adelphi Theatre], and which since it was first produced in Australia has won it immense success in all the cities where it has been seen. The people of Adelaide have placed the seal of their approval on the verdict of Melbourne and Sydney, and probably most of those lucky persons who saw the spirited performance on Saturday night will take other opportunities of refreshing their pleasant memories concerning the musical comedy before the season ends on Friday night.
There are three acts, each of which is more hilarious than that which preceded it. The first is a pretty setting representing the sanatorium of Dr. Thorne, near Paris, with a handsome residence on one side, a surgery on the other, court yard with a stone wall and iron gate in the centre, and distant view of Paris in the background, in which the outline of the Eiffel Tower is a conspicuous feature. The second and third acts are at Beauville, a fashionable bathing-place, with the Hotel du Pavilion exterior, and a vast expanse of esplanade terrace, and azure sea to begin with, and afterwards the warmth and luxury of electric lights and a throng of banqueters and night birds. The principals move about in the various scenes amid a kaleidoscopic chorus composed, as the theme of song or action suggests, of nurses, housemaids, seaside strollers, French shop girls, cabaret dancers, fashionable promenaders, gaily-apparelled guests, bathing parties, waiters, and other bright beings, all of whom are attired in picturesque costumes harmonising most artistically with the general color scheme. The plot of the story is a mere secondary consideration ...
The fun begins very early, and it remains until after the final curtain fall, for three times the delighted audience insisted upon the curtain being raised again, so that they might see the company marching past in review order, to the lilting music of "High Jinks,” and the last time, the curtain being only knee-high, the vision was of many twinkling feet, with such upward continuations as served to identify sex and character. Miss Dorothy Brunton was even more alluring and gladsome than in the previous comedy. Her dresses were dreams of prettiness, and her singing, dancing, acting, and speeches were all so many additional embellishments to her natural charm. There was a sentimental seriousness about her first ballad, “Is This Love to Last?” but there was a sprightlier note in “By the Sea” and a rollicking lightness in “Not Now, but Later,” while in “The Bubble,” illustrated by toy balloons which sailed right up to the dome of the theatre, the serious note returned. Miss Marie Eaton’s rich and beautiful voice was always enjoyable, whether in “Dancing the Blues Away,” in the opening act, or in the richer melodies of “Sammy Sang the Marseillaise,” with the martial splendor of the French national air ringing through the chorus. It was in her ragtime-operatic number, however, with Messrs. Workman and Maguire as the Mephistopheles and Faust, that Miss Eaton soared to her most magnificent heights, and the tumultuous applause which followed brought about a double repetition of the scena. Seldom in musical comedy is so effective a rendering given of such full and lustrous harmonies. Miss Florence Vie had several catchy songs to give, in which she did herself full justice, but her chief mission was of “the liberty, love, and laughter” brand. She had the principal comedy part, and she rose to the requirements of the situation with consummate skill. She received a cordial greeting on her initial entrance, and she kept the merriment on the boil wherever she went. Her acting and her speech were equally mirth-provoking, and she was always a welcome figure, a leader and an expert exponent in any of the revelries. Miss Daisy Yates was not only well placed in her part as Mlle. Chi Chi, but, with Mr. Sydney Yates, she danced the “Grand Vitesse” in such an exhilarating fashion that it had to be given three times before the performance was allowed to proceed. Misses Gwen Hughes, Nellie Hobson, and Cecil Bradley were good in less important roles. Mr. Workman, as Dick Wayne, the purveyor of the wondrous perfume, was a gay and giddy personage, but principal comedian on Saturday evening was Mr. Rawlins, as the humorous American lumber king, who was brimming over with clever sayings and who always had the risible faculties of the audience in operation. All he did and said was so much rich cream, and his speech at the banquet of reunion with wife and child was a masterpiece of heterogeneous cleverness. “Laughter holding both his sides” followed his drolleries and whimsicalities throughout. Mr. Field Fisher (the American specialist), Mr. Alfred Frith (Colonel Slaughter), Mr. Paul Plunket, as the irascible Frenchman, and Mr. Fred. Maguire all sang and acted well, and Mr. Chris. Wren was a typical garcon. The chorus, in their dancing, singing, and complicated evolutions, were invariably equal to the demands made upon them, while the scenery and lighting effects were all that could be desired.
“High Jinks” will be repeated each evening of the week and at a matinee on Wednesday, and on Saturday evening next the favorite actress Miss Nellie Stewart will appear in Beiasco's romantic historical play, “Du Barry.”
Express and Telegraph (Adelaide), Monday, 31 May 1915, p.3 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209988281
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TREMENDOUS “HIT” AT THEATRE ROYAL
ANOTHER SUCCESS FOR WILLIAMSON COMPANY.
How unfortunate it is that some things can only happen in plays. Were it otherwise we could all have a sniff of the “High Jinks” perfume, and then—hey presto! Gone would be care and troubles, debts, and duns, aches and pains, and the whole mass of the worries to which man is heir. A few drops of the wonderful essence sprinkled on the Kaiser might even be the means of ending the war, for he could not be filled with a desire to laugh, dance, and be merry and still retain a demeanor compatible with that of “The All-Highest War Lord.” However, Dick Wayne is only a creature of a playwright's fertile brain, and the wonderful “High Jinks” perfume which he dispenses is but another of those elixirs for which the world has sought, and will-ever seek in vain. The only thing, then, to be done is to do as did the crowd which packed every available space in the Theatre Royal on Saturday evening, and get the benefit of three hours of the infectious frivolity which the “High Jinks” company radiates over the footlights ...
The characters of the piece dance joyously through three acts of sparkling comedy, from the more or less sedate exterior of a nerve specialist's surgery to the promenade of the “Hotel du Pavillion,” Beauville, where, in very truth, it may be said that the jinks are of the highest. And this time the audience is immersed in a mass of harmony—a harmony made out of a number of scintillating and irresponsible details, but nevertheless a harmony that caught hold and gripped, and that will make “High Jinks” remembered as the most excellent example of the French musical farce ever seen in Adelaide …
The third act is the most handsomely staged and decorative of any. It is lit with lamps, adorned with shimmering evening dresses, interspersed with music of the liveliest description, and there is some remarkably clever dancing, in which Mr. and Miss Yates and Mr. Jack Hooper share the honors …
Of course the curtain falls with the whole tangled skein unravelled to the satisfaction of all, and a hilarious “High Jinks” finale sends the audience away laughing heartily and abundantly satisfied.
Of course, if “High Jinks” were not properly handled it might degenerate into a stupid kind of a show, but the Williamson Company which has it in hand swings it along with just the briskness of action and abandon which it demands. The individual members appear to splendid advantage, but those who stand out most prominently are Mr. W.H. Rawlins as Jeffreys the Manila lumber king, Florence Vie as Adelaide Fontaine, and Mr. Field-Fisher as Dr. Thorne. They each have magnificent opportunities for low comedy work and certainly make the most of them. Mr. Rawlins was just as clever as ever. His part was rich in that humor which he is such an adept at portraying, and nothing could have been funnier than his speech at the banquet in which he mixed up his thoughts as a happy husband and the stock remarks of a company director, or his annoyance with people who would confound him with “our former pugilistic champion.” Really it was a great performance. Miss Vie came through with flying colors. She was large, cheerful, and breezy, and her songs were given in the brightest possible fashion. The stage was lively all the time she had it, and especially so during her singing of “the Dixiana Rise” with full chorus, and the duet with Mr. Rawlins, “Come Hither.” Mr. Fisher did exceptionally well as Dr. Thorne. It was the first time Adelaide audiences had seen him in his proper sphere, and the applause which followed was proof of the predilection which they at once conceived for him. As Sylvia Dale, Miss Dorothy Brunton did not have the opportunities which were hers in '”The Girl in the Taxi,” but for all that she was just as charming and sweet as in that piece. One of her numbers, the waltz-song of the play, “Is this Love at Last?” was quite the hit of the evening, and her clear soprano was admirably suited to the vivacious “By The Sea.” Other items for which she received ovations were the duet with Mr. Plunket, “Not Now, But Later,” and a pretty ballad “The Bubble” in which the effect was heightened by the loosing of large, ruby-colored balloons which floated ceiling wards. Miss Marie Eaton did justice to herself as Mrs. Thorne. She also had a fine singing part, and her songs were well suited to her splendid voice. Especially good was her rendition of the ragtime numbers “Dancing the Blues Away” and “Sammy Sang the Marseillaise,” and in the burlesque of the prison scene from “Faust” with Mr. C.H. Workman and Fred. Maguire, she helped to successfully travesty grand opera in a manner that was very clever, for while the parody was conducted on the most humorous lines, the musical “theme” was retained throughout. Though Mr. C.H. Workman was quietly cast as Dick Wayne he nevertheless scored very heavily in the “High Jinks” number, and gave a proper conception of the lover at times in the seventh heaven of delight, and at others plunged into an abyss of despair. Mr. Paul Plunket, as the would-be duellist husband, Mons. Rabelais; Mr. Alfred Frith, as Colonel Slaughter; Miss Yates, as Chi-Chi; Miss Cecil Bradley, as a page boy; and Miss Gwen. Hughes, as the pretty nurse at Dr. Thorne’s studio, were artists who capably assisted towards the general success of the performance.
The play was produced by Mr. Harry B. Burcher, to whom much credit is due for the triumph scored, and a word of praise is due to Miss Minnie Hooper for the many pretty dances she arranged. The scenery from the brush of Messrs. Board and Little was strikingly fine, and a capable orchestra under the baton of Mr. Andrew McCunn was a pleasure to the audience, and an assistance to the performers.
“High Jinks” will run until Friday next when way will then be made for Miss Nellie Stewart’s company. There will be a matinee on Wednesday.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Monday, 31 May 1915, p.2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134411810
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There will be a matinee of “High Jinks” at the Theatre Royal at 2 p.m. to-day. The popularity of “High Jinks” exceeds that of “The Girl in the Taxi,” which fact amply testifies to the merit of this latest production by the J.C. Williamson, Ltd., new English musical comedy company. Overflowing audiences have been in attendance nightly, yet despite its record-breaking propensities this magnificent production must be withdrawn on Friday night to make way for the Nellie Stewart attraction which had been pre-arranged for. Mr. Charles Workman, who reappeared last night, has now thoroughly recovered from the indisposition which necessitated his being absent on Monday night, and his clever work in the part of Dr. Wayne, together with that of W.H. Rawlins as Jeffreys, out rivals their respective parts in the previous production. Miss Dorothy Brunton looks prettier than ever, and her charming manner, delightful personality, clever singing, and dancing are items alone which would make for success in less worthy musical plays. Field Fisher and Alfred Frith also have greater scope than formerly, and in addition the cast has been added to by the inclusion of Florence Vie and Marie Eaton. Those who have not already witnessed “High Jinks” are advised to book at Marshalls', as three of the biggest houses yet known to the theatre are confidently expected. The company will sail for Perth on Saturday, and may possibly play a return season with other new pieces when passing through to Melbourne.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Wednesday, 2 June 1915, p.2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134412195
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A week of “High Jinks” at Adelaide Royal leaves a usually unenthusiastic critic bubbling with enthusiasm. The waltz and the scent motive, coming in again and again, are highly effective; the dancing of the joyous young Australian chorus has a careless swing that captivates; and the acting is simply brilliant, without the buffoonery generally “starred” in musical comedy. Workman has been ill, but a young [Harry] Wotton took his place neatly. Rawlins is an artist. Field Fisher one would like to see in a [George] Grossmith part. And then Plunket and Frith and Maguire brisk up the show whenever they come in. Dorothy Brunton has now fully “arrived.” Florence Vie and Marie Eaton came in for this play, leaving a lot of clever girls to small parts. Business has been big, and is likely to remain so for Nellie Stewart, strongly supported, in “Du Barry.”
The Bulletin (Sydney), 10 June 1915, p.9
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Meanwhile “Jacques” of The Daily Herald turned the spotlight on the work of the musical’s producer, Harry Burcher and stage manager, Redge Carey (who, as the son of actor-manager George P. Carey, had commenced his stage career playing juvenile roles in JCW productions in the early 1900s, before taking up a position behind-the-scenes.)
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“HIGH JINKS” WATCHED FROM NEW ANGLE
HOW A PIECE IS PRODUCED
Let me take you to stageland. It will have to be a kind of a spirit voyage, with my description supplying the necessary picture of all that may be seen from that mysterious spot, the prompter’s corner. There is, of course, the possibility that while I say there were moments when I stood a solitary male in the midst of a gay, chattering, laughing cluster of the pretty girls who form the famous Williamson choruses you will scarcely derive the same satisfaction from the telling as you would from the real thing. Ah, well, we can’t all be lucky. Console yourself with my assurance that it was all most delightful. Much as I enjoyed “High Jinks” from the front on Saturday night, I enjoyed it none the less from the “back” one evening this week. One’s position does not matter so long as an uninterrupted view of the happy situation created by the “High Jinks” perfume is obtainable.
In Charge of Experts.
My guides were Mr. Harry Burcher and Mr. Redge Carey, producer and stage manager respectively of the musical farce which has set Adelaide’s feet a dancing with the lilting strains of the “High Jinks” song. I could not have been in better hands, for in the company of these two leaders I could watch the wonderful evolution from a chaotic mass of scenery of a beautiful seaside scene and the handsome exterior of the gay Hotel du Pavillion, and at the same time learn something of the unfailing attention to the minutest details that is absolutely essential to he successful production of a piece. For the benefit of those who are accompanying me on this tour of stageland let me compare Mr. Burcher to the generalissimo of an army, and Mr. Carey to his chief of staff. The one draws up the plan on which the play must be presented to the public; the other sees that the rank and file do their part towards making the thing a success, that the stage dressing makes up a picture which will be in keeping with the spirit of the performance, and that the myriad mortals whom we never see, the stage attendants, carry out their work swiftly, methodically, and accurately. Nothing must be left to chance. If a performer has to hand another a bill, or a roll of banknotes, or a phial of perfume it is the stage manager who must see that these “properties” are at hand when they are wanted. He is here, there, everywhere. Now in the prompter's corner keeping his eye on the “book,” now issuing instructions to the limelight operators, now hustling the chorus and generally keeping things moving. He is about the only man on the stage who has to work hard the whole evening, and I was by no means surprised when Mr. Carey observed to me, “This job is worth a thousand a year.” After watching him for a couple of acts I could quite believe it.
The man in the street firmly believes that from the “wings” a performance loses all the attractions it presents to the front of the house, and that it fails to overcome in those whose duties are “behind the scenes” an apathy born of familiarity. Perhaps these premises are right in certain cases, but I must say that it was not so the other night. It may have been because the J.C. Williamson firm tolerates nothing tawdry or shoddy in its productions, but at any rate there was just the same freshness and attractiveness about the performers, and the same brightness and completeness of detail about the stage setting, from my viewpoint as there was on Saturday night. And no one could have been more enthusiastic than either Mr. Burcher or Mr. Carey over the excellent manner in which the performance was swinging along. The artists themselves were anything but blase. One might well have believed that they had imbibed the spirit of the “High Jinks” perfume. In the “wings” they laughed and joked among themselves, radiated gaiety, and watched their colleagues “in action” with a keenness that betokened more than ordinary interest in all that was going on. Mr. Burcher treated them like a proud father, and looked the pride he felt.
“They're great,” he said, “That's as good a chorus as I've ever seen in England or America. In fact, I have no hesitation in saying that it is one of the best in the world. The girls are all pretty, and they can dance, sing, and act. In England the girls are fine looking, but they are showgirls and nothing more. They are on the stage because of their looks, and when it comes to singing and dancing, well—” and the sentence finished with an expressive shrug of the shoulders. “And where,” asked Mr. Carey as he pointed to the 12 ladies who are garbed as nurses in the first act of “High Jinks,” “could you find a better-looking lot of girls than those? Aren't they a fine advertisement for Australia?”
“Yes, they are,” replied Mr. Burcher. And I was an enthusiastic supporter.
No Time for Slackers.
Now, while we were talking of the chorus, I remembered that before the curtain rose on the first act I had heard Messrs. Burcher and Carey discussing certain changes, and what would happen to So-and-so if more “ginger” was not put into that person's work. It seemed strange to me that there were any who could be accused of slackness in such a play as “High Jinks,” and I remarked it. “Well,” said Mr. Burcher, “such cases are certainly few and far between. The greater number of our chorus people go into their work because they like it. There are some who are like greyhounds—every night is a first night, with them. But there are others who like a rest. We have no time for the latter, and when we catch them at their games out they go. It's the only way to keep the chorus strung up.” By the way, I observed a remarkable instance of the versatility of the Australian chorister. Mr. C.H. Workman had injured his foot and could not appear in his usual role of Dick Wayne, the explorer, who discovers the “High Jinks” perfume. His understudy (Mr. Wotton) who—I mention this with a great deal of pleasure—is an Adelaide boy, had to go on at short notice and take on the part. Believe me it was no easy task to play up to the fine standard which Mr. Workman has set, but Mr. Wotton did really well, and was congratulated in the heartiest manner by the producer, stage manager, and the principals.
The Presiding Genius.
The presence of Mr. Burcher with the company in Adelaide is an earnest [token] of the fact that the J.C. Williamson management is determined its productions shall be as perfect as possible. Seven years as stage manager at the London Gaiety, the most famous comic opera theatre in the world, have given Mr. Burcher a wonderful knowledge of the requirements of the theatrical public, and an experience in handling and arranging performances, especially those in which comedy reigns supreme, that must be invaluable to any firm which engages him. During his association with Mr. George Edwardes (the proprietor of the Gaiety) Mr. Burcher made 51 trips to America with various companies, and he now looks upon the voyage across the Atlantic as being nothing out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, however, he is no friend of King Neptune's, and he informed me that he was not looking forward with any degree of pleasure to the voyage to Western Australia which he will be taking within the next few days.
Mr. Burcher carries tangible mementoes of his connection with the Gaiety in the shape of handsome presents from many celebrities who from time to time visited the famous playhouse. Among those gifts he particularly treasures one from the Grand Duke Michael (Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army), and another from the late Mr. Vanderbilt, the American millionaire who was drowned when the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine. A tall, slim, Englishman, Mr. Burcher looks younger than his years. He has been connected with the stage for about 16 years, and prior to his appointment as stage manager at the Gaiety was himself in musical comedy, and was understudy to Mr. George Grossmith [Jnr.] This is his first visit to Australia, but he is likely to be with us for some time, as the Williamson firm has him under a lengthy contract.
A Genial Worker.
The revue, “Come Over Here,” was the last company with which Mr. Carey visited Adelaide, so that he has been associated with two of the biggest successes this city has seen in recent years. He complains good-humoredly that he always gets the hardest shows to look after, but the explanation of this doubtless is that “the firm” knows to whom it can safely trust those of its enterprises which call for all the ingenuity, initiative, patience, energy, and skill of that, to most of us, unfamiliar genius, the stage manager.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA), Thursday, 3 June 1915, p.3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134412448
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“'High Jinks” will be staged for the last time at the Theatre Royal this evening. The present season has proved the most successful financially and artistically on record since the rebuilding of the Theatre. To-night should prove one of the heartiest send-offs yet experienced in Adelaide for Mr. J.C. Williamson’s company is remarkably popular … The talented performers will bid farewell this evening … The Musical Comedy Company will leave for Perth on Saturday.
The Register (Adelaide), Friday, 4 June 1915, p.3 [extracts]
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As the completion of the trans-Australian railway line lay just over 2 years away (on 17 October 1917) JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company departed from No. 2 Quay on Saturday, 5 June aboard the S.S. Katoomba arriving at the port of Fremantle four days later with its cargo of scenery, costumes, props., etc. in preparation for a season at His Majesty’s Theatre in the Western Australian capital of Perth.
[To be continued.]
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Columbia studio orchestra conducted by Charles Adams Prince (recorded in New York c.May 1918)—Cat. no.: Columbia 772 [matrix 49414]
Columbia studio orchestra conducted by Charles Adams Prince (recorded in New York c.May 1918)—Cat. no.: Columbia 772 [matrix 49415]
(courtesy of Frank Van Straten)
Adelphi Theatre Orchestra conducted by Howard Talbot—Cat. no.: (HMV C-721 or 04177)
(courtesy of Dominic Combe)
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A COMEDY KING
TALKS OF A THIRTY YEARS’ CAREER
HOW W. H. RAWLINS CLIMBED THE LADDER
Big, breezy, and sunny-natured. That is a description in brief of Mr. W.H. Rawlins, Baron Dauvray of “The Girl in the Taxi,” and J.J. Jeffreys of “High Jinks,” which piece we are all going to thoroughly enjoy at the Theatre Royal to-night. On the stage he has made himself the primest of favorites. It would the same were he to forsake the limelight for the comparative retirement of ordinary citizenship. The man who could be an enemy of such a genial personality would surely pick a quarrel with a friend who offered him a fiver for nothing.
In a cosy room at the South Australian Hotel I ran Mr. Rawlins to earth, and was soon ensconced in an easy chair in front of a cheery fire. Let me say right here that from the very outset everything was in complete harmony. Better conditions for an interview no one could imagine. A group of photographs caught my eye. In one of them—the photos, not my eye—a big man was standing in the midst of a cloud of dust, and his attitude was one of extreme travail. I bent closer to look at the scene, and Mr. Rawlins explained. “Yes,” he said, in answer to an unspoken query, “that individual is myself. No, that’s not an axe; it’s a golf club. And when that picture was taken I was endeavoring to get out of a very bad bunker. I don't appear to be making a very good job of it, do I?” Following this I was shown photos of Mr. Rawlins at golf in company with other English theatrical celebrities, and also a trophy, a handsome silver cigar case, nicely engraved, which Mr. Rawlins won in a match with our old friend of comic opera, Leslie Holland. Out talk of golf led to the relating of some funny stones, one of which is worth repeating here. On one occasion Mr. Rawlins landed at an out-of-the-way place in Wales with his clubs and a fishing rod; for he is also an ardent angler. There were two youngsters on the station, and his appearance led to the following conversation, “They be funny sticks to play ’ockey with.” “G’arn, they ain’t ’ockey sticks, stoopid.” “Well, if they ain't, wot are they?” “W’y, don'tcherknow? E’s going golfishing.” And those lads were not far wrong, for, as the actor informed me, he drove two balls in a small stream adjoining the links that day and had to fish them out again.
Dropping golf, we chatted of things theatrical, and the usual question elicited the reply that Mr. Rawlins commenced his stage career nearly 30 years ago. But even before this he had an adventure as a boy actor. His parents lived at Durham, and on one occasion during a holiday at Newcastle he gratified the ambition of his young life by securing permission to appear as a frog in a pantomime. Part of his duty was to hop across the stage from the prompt to the O.P. side, and, as the stage was in semi-darkness he distinguished his first appearance by missing his way and hopping right into the lap of an old lady who was sitting in a private box on a level with the stage. She gave a scream of fright, and he, childlike, pulled off his frog mask, jumped onto the stage again, and cleared for his life. Next day the papers said that his was the star turn of the evening. Mr. Rawlins still laughs heartily over the recollection of that adventure.
His schooling over, Mr. Rawlins went into a stock company at Manchester, and in those days was associated with the famous Barry Sullivan. “Those companies did a lot of good,” I said. “Yes,” was the answer; “but their methods would not be tolerated nowadays. Now a play is put into rehearsal for a good six weeks before the public gets a glimpse of it, and if a girl has found her way into a company because she has a pretty face and a pleasing voice she is taught to act before the playgoers get a glimpse of her. In the old days what now rank as rehearsals counted as performances—and the public had to pay for them. Of course, the old stock companies made very heavy demands on one, but they soon found out if you had any versatility or ability.”
“While a member of a stock company Mr. Rawlins had an amusing experience at a place called Blackburn. They were there with G.R. Sim’s first play, “Crutch and Toothpick.” which was on the light side, and a bit above the heads of the audience. The first week’s business was of the very worst, so the manager of the hall, who was also the local butcher, and was out for gold rather than glory, told the company they would have to cut out the comedy and put on heavy drama. The company agreed, but there was nobody who could be cast as the villain. At last Mr. Rawlins was rushed into the job, though he had never previously played a heavy part, and the fun began. The audience soon dropped to the fact that temperamentally Mr. Rawlins was no villain. Mr. Rawlins knew that fact far better than anyone else in the house, and it made him so nervous that he jumbled up some of his “lines.” Early in the play he was supposed to deal rather harshly with his wife, and then to call the maid and say, “Take away my wife—I am afraid she is not well.” Instead of that he said, “Take your wife away—I am afraid I am not well.” From that moment the audience was on the qui vive for slips. They found them, and some funny ones they were, too. “I was satisfied when I got through without any more damage than was done to me by verbal bricks,” said the comedian, “it was an uncomfortable experience, but not as bad as one I had on the occasion of my wedding morning. What was it? Why, I went to the pay office to draw some cash, and the answer I got was, ‘'Just how little can you do with?’ Nice sort of wedding present for a chap, wasn’t it?”
No lightweight is W.H. Rawlins. Although he is very keen on sporting, this great bulk of laughter and contentment would probably turn the scale at somewhere about 15 st. now, and to look at him nobody would think that he was once thin enough to play the part of Gobo, the shadow, in “Les Cloches de Corneville.” Yet this was so. However, three years of that role with success and the payroll growing all the time effected a big change, and at the end of the term he was playing the part of the Baillie, which is a “fat” part in more senses of the word than one. It surely was a case of dropping the shadow for the substance.
So many operas, musical comedies, and pantomimes has Mr. Rawlins, the subject of this interview, taken part in, that his memory is stored with all sorts of reminiscences and odds and ends of poetry and music. He has had a remarkably successful stage career, and for over 20 years has been one of the recognised comedy “leads” in London and the large provincial cities of Great Britain. During the greater part of this time he was associated with the late George Edwardes, under whose management he appeared in “Les Cloches de Corneville,” “Falka,” “Pepita,” “Nanon,” “Erminie,” “La Cigale,” “Madame Favart,” “The Shop Girl,” “The Gaiety Girl,” “The Circus Girl,” “The Geisha,” “San Toy,” “The Greek Slave,” “The Messenger Boy,” “The Merry Widow,” “The Dollar Princess,” “The Girl in the Train,” “The Sunshine Girl,” “The Girl in the Film,” and “The Girl in the Taxi.” He has also played in 33 pantomimes. Twice he visited America, once with “The Gaiety Girl” and once with “The Shop Girl,” and has the pleasantest recollections of each tour. His favorite part he believes to be Uncle Matt, in “La Cigale.” Perhaps the fact that he made his first big success in this role may have something to do with his liking for it. “I followed Lionel Brough as Uncle Matt,” he told me, "and after that never looked backwards.” Other roles for which he has a particular fancy are Nish in “The Merry Widow,” and Bolger, in “The Dollar Princess,” but he is very much attached to the parts he is now playing in “The Girl in the Taxi” and “High Jinks.” “They give one such splendid opportunities,” he says. I have told you that in his early days Mr. Rawlins played with Barry Sullivan, and I may add that one of his earliest recollections with the famous Barry was in the part of one of the princes in “Richard III,” He has also fond memories of another delightful public favorite, now, alas, gone to his long rest, and this time another great comedian—Johnnie Toole—with whom he was associated at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
“You should have seen me out this way some time before I actually arrived,” said Mr. Rawlins, when I asked him how it was he came to visit Australia. “I always wanted to visit the great Commonwealth, and had signed a contract to come and take a part in ‘Gipsy Love.’ However, other arrangements were made, and it was ultimately decided that I should come to Australia with ‘The Girl in the Taxi.’ Like the place? Yes, I do. I have been in Australia over 12 months now, and have just signed a new contract to stay another six months. It meant putting off a panto engagement in London, but I'm having such a fine time out here that I don't mind how long I stay.”
“At any rate,” I said, “you have made your audiences love you like a brother.”
“Have I? Well, I'm glad. And in return for that let me say that Australian audiences are simply great. As a matter of fact, they are really too good, for they make such a fuss over you that you are likely to overdo things a bit if you are not careful. Australian artists? Well, what more can I do than point to Miss Dorothy Brunton? She has everything—appearance, charm, a good voice, and any amount of ability. If she were in London she would be the success of the season. And if she ever does go to London they won't be in a hurry to let her leave.”
Mr. Rawlins was due at rehearsal at noon, so the interview came to an end here. I shook hands and said good-bye, having spent a most pleasant time with one who could be nothing else than the best of friends and the most interesting acquaintances.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Saturday, 29 May 1915, p.3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134411638
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MUSICAL COMEDY ARTISTS
ARRIVAL OF MR. AND MISS YATES
WAR INCIDENTS IN FRANCE.
Two musical comedy artists, Mr. Sidney Yates, and his sister, Miss Daisy Yates, were passengers by the Blue Funnel liner Aeneas, which arrived at the Outer Harbor on Friday. They have come to Australia under engagement to J.C. Williamson, arrangements having been made for Miss Yates to appear in “The Girl in the Taxi,” which will be staged for the first time in Adelaide at the Theatre Royal next Saturday night. Mr. Yates [has] played in Australia, … having appeared at the New Tivoli Theatre in Adelaide when it was opened about two years ago. Miss Yates was … with Mr. George Edwardes’ company, and played the part of Mary, the Yorkshire girl in “Our Miss Gibbs” with Mr. Chris. Wren, who acted as Timothy Gibbs. During the voyage of the Aeneas the two artist made themselves very popular with all the passengers. They gave entertainments which were so appreciated that the captain, on behalf of those on board, presented Mr. Yates with a sovereign purse and Miss Yates with a gold wristlet watch.
Although Miss Yates will appear in “The Girl in the Taxi,” her brother has not yet received instructions as to what he is to do or where he is to appear. Since he left Australia Mr. Yates has been appearing in London and France, and was in Paris at the time war was declared. “Had it not been for the war,” he said, “we would not have been here. We were producing a revised version of ‘The Quaker Girl’ in one of the principal theatres of Paris, and having had the final rehearsal everything was ready for the opening night when a uniformed official read out a declaration ordering all men to immediately join their regiments. All our musicians, stage hands, and artists simply had to throw down their tools and join the colors, leaving myself and the women there. Of course the theatre, like others in Paris, had to be closed down, and our agreements were broken.
“Ten days after war was declared we tried to get out of Paris back to England, but as martial law had been proclaimed we found the task exceedingly difficult. The trains were being used to take troops to the fighting line, and it took us three days to get our tickets. About 4000 people were trying to get across to England. The train journey from Paris to Dieppe usually occupies seven hours, but it took us over two days to get there, the delays having been occasioned through having to shunt on to sidings until troop trains went by. We got to Dieppe about half-past one in the morning, but as every hotel and house was packed we could not obtain accommodation, and had the extraordinary experience of sleeping out on the sands all night. We were doubtful about getting a boat next day, but fortunately one came along, and we were taken across the channel to Newhaven. There we experienced further trouble in trying to change French money.”
Mr. Yates witnessed many exciting incidents in Paris when war was declared. Big German shops and business houses were gutted and ransacked, and there were processions by people of the allies through the streets both by night and day. The newspaper offices were bringing out special editions almost every hour, and when their paper stock became depleted they published extraordinary editions on plain paper bags. There was intense excitement and jubilation in Paris when the news came through that Great Britain was entering the war on the side of France.
When Mr. and Miss Yates got back to England they were rehearsing musical comedy for the music halls. After Christmas they went to South Africa, where they appeared in the principal cities, their season there having been extended from six to 16 weeks. It was while in South Africa that they were engaged by J.C. Williamson, Limited, to come to Australia.
The Daily Herald (Adelaide), Monday, 17 May 1915, p.3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134409321
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Since Daisy and Sydney Yates (aka Ellen Maingay Daniels and Sydney Culverhouse) were unrelated*, the Lincolnshire vicarage mentioned in the following article presumably alluded to Ellen’s family background.
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VICARAGE TO STAGE.
CLEVER DANCERS’ CAREERS.
From a quiet Lincolnshire vicarage to the world's leading stages is a far cry, but that sums up the meteoric careers of Miss Daisy and Mr. Yates, whose dancing in “The Girl in the Taxi” at the Theatre Royal has practically held up the houses since [Saturday] last. They reached Adelaide … after a successful tour in Africa, and the large audiences who have seen them here have clamoured for more on every occasion.
“The war is the reason why we are together,” remarked Mr. Yates to a “Mail” reporter. “When the clarion was first sounded we were both in Paris, in opposition establishments. We worked up a turn and intended to do the provinces in England, but it was so attractive that we were at the Coliseum for six weeks, after which we were sent to Africa. In Paris I was a ballet master and producer in four of the leading theatres. I have also done a lot of work for Pathe Freres, but dancing has always attracted me. I brought out a troupe of dancers at the opening of the new Tivoli Theatre.
“Our turn in ‘High Jinks’ ” interposed Miss Yates, “is one of our own specialities. It is a whirlwind dance called the ‘grande vitesse,’ and will give a lot of pleasure. My part in that musical jollity is Mlle. Chi Chi, a dancer, who is one of the chief characters concerned in the humorous muddle so cleverly worked out by the author.
“My first appearance,” she continued, “was at one of the leading provincial theatres in England when I was in ‘Florodora’. I was the first principal boy to appear in a two house a night pantomime. Subsequently I made five tours as Mary in ‘Our Miss Gibbs.’ After having been in ‘The Arcadians’ and a Hippodrome revue I went to Paris, where I had a most enjoyable and successful time.
“This is my first visit to Australia. How glad I am in the circumstances to be away from London with its dark streets. The theatres have no lights at all outside, and it has a most depressing effect on stepping into the street to almost grope one's way through the gloom. This trip is the outcome of the third offer I have had to visit the great Commonwealth, and I am delighted to be here. The Adelaide public has treated us very nicely.”
Miss Yates mentioned that during the trip from America she and her brother entertained the people on the boat with songs and dances. Their appreciation was so great that Lady McMillan, on behalf of her fellow passengers, presented Miss Yates with a watch and her brother with a sovereign purse.
Every morning is spent by the pair practising, and the young danseuse has a busy time in the afternoons, as she is engaged in studying several parts which she will assume in Melbourne.
The Mail (Adelaide, SA), Saturday, 29 May 1915, p.4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59299021
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* Daisy’s true identity was revealed in 1916, when she was granted a divorce from her husband (actor and theatrical manager) Thomas Henry Daniels, whom she had married in March 1906, on the grounds of his desertion of both her and their child for another woman (ref.: The Herald (Melbourne), Wednesday, 20 September 1916, p.1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242377620 ). In 1920 a Supreme Court writ was issued on behalf of Ellen (Daisy), who claimed £2,000 in damages against Sydney Charles Culverhouse (her erstwhile putative ‘brother’ and stage dance partner) in a suit for alleged breach of promise, for which she was subsequently awarded £500 (ref.: The Herald (Melbourne), Friday, 1 May 1920, p.1, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/245598502 & Saturday, 2 May 1920, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/245605417 )
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WHEN SCREAMS COME.
AUSTRALIAN CHORUS GIRLS PRAISED.
“I hate humorous parts,” exclaimed Mr. Field Fisher, who as Alexis, the head waiter in ‘The Girl in the Taxi,’ and Dr. Thorne in ‘High Jinks,’ made everybody in the Theatre Royal laugh with great gusto. “I would like to be the leading tenor, the hero,” he told a 'Mail' reporter. “After all, low comedy is my favourite line,” he continued. “There is so much licence allowed. Gags may be introduced, and that is much appreciated by some of the business firms. A well-known importer of whisky used to send me a box, but the trouble was everybody in the company would hear of it.
“Audiences certainly do vary very much. The Australian practice of giving an artist applause on his appearance on the stage each night is most encouraging, and shows the fine spirit of the people. Humour has to be good, and nothing that is too risque or broad is wanted in Australia. A local touch always goes down in the Commonwealth. A line that will bring a scream in Adelaide invariably does so in Sydney, or vice versa. It is therefore easier to play in this country than, for example, in England. A reference that appeals to the risible faculties of the people in Manchester might be absolutely flat in Liverpool. Where the scream will come can never be relied on over there, and that makes the work of a comedian harder…
“It is just 30 years ago since I started with Sir Henry Irving in ‘Charles I.’ In ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ I took the part of the Prince, and afterwards under Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree I was Prince Arthur in ‘King John.’ Everything was arranged that I should go to America with Lawrence Irving, who died in the wreck of the Empress of Ireland. On the Sunday prior to his departure I had dinner with him in order to talk matters over. Then this scheme to visit to Australia came, and I resolved to take advantage of it. The result is I was not in the ill-fated vessel. He could have been saved himself had he not gone back for his wife. It was just like him. His genius was only just being realised in England.
“My first pantomime was at Covent Garden in ‘Cinderella,’ where I assumed one of the leading parts, although l was only 18 years of age. Since then I have been either the baron or page—two important characters—in pantomime nearly every year except this one ...
“The Australian chorus girls are remarkably versatile. They dance, sing, and act. In England they either do one thing or the other. At home they wander from one company to another, but here they grow up with a firm. They know there is not another to go to, and that probably spurs them on. lt is truly wonderful what the Australian can accomplish, and several instances might be cited where local actresses have been able to take leading parts with success, although they are given only 24 hours’ notice.”
The Mail (Adelaide), Saturday, 29 May 1915, p.5 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59299108
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Following the conclusion of the Sydney premiere season of High Jinks (to make way for J.C. Williamson’s pantomime season, which traditionally commenced in the harbourside city at Easter time) JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company travelled Southwards to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on Easter Saturday, 27 March 1915. With Victor Champion taking the conductor’s chair as its local Musical Director, the cast remained much the same as it had in Sydney, with only a few minor alterations, which included the return of English actress, Gwen Hughes, who took over the role of Dr. Thorne’s nurse, ‘Florence’ from Eileen Cottey, and the addition of speciality dancer, Jack Hooker, who was given a solo spot in the Act 3 cabaret scene.
Melbourne audiences took to the new musical with the same enthusiasm as the Sydneysiders had, which was reflected in the newspaper critiques published on the following Monday.
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE.
The new musical jollity at Her Majesty’s Theatre is infinitely brighter, more cheery and melodious than any half dozen of the same class that have preceded it. It has also the advantage of improving through its three acts, the last one being a climax of irresponsible absurdity that sent the huge audience home in the best of spirits. It comes from American sources and the author is unannounced, but there are ample signs that it has been doctored a good deal in its passage from the States, and after. The music is mostly of the sparkling comedy, with a charming valse theme introduced in the beginning by Miss Dorothy Brunton, a song principally with harp and reed accompaniment, the melody also appearing in the score continually affording opportunities for admirable chorus singing. The second attraction was Miss Brunton’s and Mr. Plunket’s graceful duet and dance, “Not now, but later;” the third the trio, “Faust in ragtime,” with a serious travesty on grand opera by Mr. Workman, Miss Marie Eaton and Mr. F. Maguire, and the fourth Miss Eaton’s rousing ballad, “Sammy sang the Marseillaise,” the soul-stirring strain of the great French war song dominating the number. An additional treat was the exquisite dancing of Mdlle. Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann.
Of course there is a plot, but it has all its work to do to carry the three acts on its back, and there is no strain necessary to follow it. The “High Jinks perfume,” if only smelt for a moment, has the power of turning the staid into jolly dogs, the dour towards roses and raptures and wine, and the cold-blooded to seek dare-devilry and Adventure. Of course it is all hilarious nonsense taken—after the first act—in the very highest of animal spirits, and finishing with a banquet full of surprises, the chief delight being the throwing of joyous handsprings by the lost, heavy father—of course after supper—to the joy of his newly-discovered wife, who has been dancing with all the energy worthy of a certificated pupil of St. Vitus.
Mr. Field Fisher—who may be remembered as the stolid waiter in The Girl in the Taxi—takes the part of Dr. Thorne, an American specialist, the first victim of the perfume expressing, his new found mercurial vitality in attractive dancing, and fresh affection for his wife and for the wives of others, only avoiding a duel by urgent business at a bathing resort on the French coast, whither all the other characters come, the result being higher jinks than ever. Miss Florence Vie appears to every advantage as a woman of the world who has lost her husband, an American lumber king, for years, but manages, for all that, to live on and enjoy life to its full, which Miss Vie makes it very plain she does, throwing herself heart and soul into a performance that kept the stage lively all the time she was on it, especially in her duet with Mr. Rawlins, “Come Hither,“ and “The Dixiana Rise,” with the full company backing her as chorus. Miss Dorothy Brunton’s is chiefly a singing role, and as the adopted daughter of Miss Vie she was rather overshadowed in the dialogue but she gave her songs archly and brightly, making the hit of the evening with the valse number, “Is This Love at Last?” and subsequently in a ballad “By the Sea,” but in the last act she is almost obliterated, and is an onlooker only at the revels. As the stolid American lumber man, J.J. Jeffreys, transformed by the “High Jinks perfume” into a jovial and even dangerous man, Mr. W.H. Rawlins had a character rich in that class of humour in which he is an adept at portraying, and, with Miss Vie, kept the fun always at the topmost notch. A cleverly dealt with character was that of Jacques Rabelais by Mr. Paul Plunket, and departing from stage tradition rightly made him a gentleman—all Frenchmen are gentlemen. His graceful dance and song, “Not Now but Later,” with Miss Brunton, charmed by its verve and refinement. Of the explorer and inventor of the famous perfume, Mr. Workman had not much opening for his undoubted capabilities, but he made a telling hit with his first number, “High Jinks,” and in the duet “Chi Chi,” with Miss Glyn. Miss Marie Eaton was also—as Dr. Thorne’s real wife—assigned a singing part which she dealt with in fine style, and Miss Glynn was heard in a tender song, “The Bubble,” the effect being further illustrated by coloured air balloons that rose and fell, and even made their way to the roof of the theatre, where they found a home amongst the ornate mouldings. Mr. Frith’s Colonel Slaughter, who was also given and did smell of the perfume, was a neat comedy character, and Mr. F. Maguire, who does not appear till late, lent worthy aid by his singing to “Faust in Ragtime”. Miss Gwen Hughes created a pretty Red Cross figure—as nurse at Dr. Thorne’s; Mr. Chris Wren was a satisfactory garcon; Miss Nellie Hobson a rather sedate Madame Rabelais; and Miss Cecil Bradley a spruce Boy in Buttons, alias a page; and Mr. J. Hooker did a rattling double rag-step dance. The scenery by Messrs Board and Little, was captivating, and Mr. Victor Champion conducted skilfully, while a word of praise must be awarded Miss Minnie Hooper for the many pretty dances she has arranged. The piece, which had a very hearty reception by a packed house, will be repeated nightly with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Argus (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p. 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1506452
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For the packed house at Her Majesty’s theatre on Saturday night three hours seemed to pass as so many minutes. The J.C. Williamson New English Comedy Company made a decided hit with “High Jinks,” truly described by Harry B. Burcher, the producer, as a musical jollity.
The scenes are laid in France, first at the sanatorium of Dr. Thorne, an American, afterwards at Beauvllle, a coastal bathing resort. That the doctor, under the influence of the perfume, secretly administered by his chum, Dr. Wayne, permitted himself to be kissed by the wife of M. Jacques Rabelais, was the cause of a maze of misunderstandings, and most of the jollity. Wives became inextricably mixed with sweethearts, husbands dodged duels with the utmost difficulty, yet in spite of all, they sang and danced with a verve that delighted the audience. To sketch the plot would be to presume that it mattered, whereas it was submerged under an avalanche of mirth and mischief, lilting refrains, gay repartee and twinkling feet.
Mr. C.H. Workman (Dr. Wayne, an explorer), the exploiter of the magic perfume, linked it, at the beginning of the first act, with the haunting melody of a song, “High Jinks." The song, the perfume, and Mr. Workman were then essential to the continuance of the piece.
Miss Dorothy Brunton (Sylvia Dale, in love with Dr. Wayne), received an ovation for her most important number, “Is This Love at Last?" Her duet with Mr. Paul Plunket (M. Rabelais) was another success. Miss Marion Eaton (Mrs. Thorne) did justice to her numbers, particularly “Sammy Sang the Marseillaise.” Miss Florence Vie (Mrs. Jeffreys, a runaway wife), was responsible for much of the frivolity, and her song “Jim,” was especially well rendered. Miss Gertrude Glyn (Mile. Chi Chi, a dancer), was warmly encored for her tuneful “Bubbles.”
Excellent work was done, with little respite, by Messrs W.H. Rawlins (Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, American lumber king), Field Fisher (Dr. Thorne), Paul Plunket (M. Rabelais), Alfred Frith (Colonel Slaughter), and Fred Maguire (Johnnie Doe). Others who pleased were Misses Gwen Hughes (a nurse), Cecil Bradley (a page), and Nellie Hobson (Madame Rabelals), and Mr. Chris Wren (garcon).
In the third act Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann were seen in a spirited dance. Mr. Jack Hooker contributed an eccentric step dance.
The jollity will continue till further notice.
The Herald (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242276441
The J.C. Williamson Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company having just concluded its final return Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s prior to the advent of High Jinks prompted the Age critic to draw comparisons with the evergreen comic operas.
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE—HIGH JINKS.
The medley of mirth and song staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday well represents the trend of advance—or the line of retreat—in matters musical since the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were written 30 years ago. In actual fact the world has probably become more serious since then. In its plays, and particularly in its musical comedies, it has become more flippant. Compared with Iolanthe or The Yeomen of the Guard, a production like High Jinks is an iridescent bubble on the surface of events. It is a chanson to an epic poem, or, if one prefers it, a souffle to a pancake. But whatever it is or is not, it is capable in the hands of a clever company of being made a very agreeable and light-hearted form of entertainment. And this is what happens to it in the present instance. The crowded audience on Saturday night gave the new production a cordial reception, and left the theatre feeling thoroughly satisfied. The three acts do what they profess to do; they furnish scenes of musical frivolity and light-hearted good humor; they provide some genuinely mirthful situations; and they carry the house along with them at a rapid, almost a breathless, pace. If anyone expects to hear improving moral sentiments or find a serious plot in High Jinks he will be disappointed. If he wants to have his fancy amused and his eyesight captivated he will be thoroughly satisfied. One is reminded at times of the lines in Mrs. Browning’s Wine of Cyprus, which may be applied to this extravaganza. It is:
Bright as Paphia’s eyes e’er met us,
Light as ever trod her feet.
The name of the author of High Jinks does not appear on the program, but it is manifestly a composite work, built up by the collaboration of stage mechanist, dresser, librettist and musical composer—perhaps several of each. The result is really a harmony of its kind; a harmony made out of a number of sparkling and irresponsible materials, but none the less a harmony. The first scene is laid outside a doctor’s house in Paris. An accredited doctor, whether French or American, is not as a rule the kind of man who makes love to his patients, or takes unknown ladies on frivolous missions to the seaside. But there is a reason why the eminent American specialist, Dr. Robert Thorne, should do so in this case. A fellow practitioner has presented him with a wonderful specific; it is a perfume the merit of which is that it will galvanise into sudden life and “flirtatiousness” anyone who takes so much as a breath of it. Even the most serious-minded suffragette, it is claimed, could not resist this perfume; on a second or a third application she would forgive the British Prime Minister, and possibly dance a can-can with him in Trafalgar Square. At any rate, the effect on Dr. Thorne and the members of the High Jinks company is enlivening and exhilarating. There is no need to follow all the complications of the story. The doctor becomes an apostle of cheerfulness. He prescribes seaside resorts and young, good-looking nurses for all of his male patients. As for the women, he conceives it to be his mission to cheer them up by making love to them. A husband of one of them, who is unreasonable enough to object to this form of treatment, is completely pacified when given the opportunity of himself making love to the doctor's wife—or rather of a lady whom the doctor has thoughtfully passed of as his wife. It is all very impossible and very amusing. The second and third act, thrown against the background of a French watering place, introduce pretty dresses, pretty faces and comic situations in bewildering variety. The third act is perhaps the most handsomely staged and decorative of any. It is lit with lamps and adorned with shimmering evening dresses; and it is interspersed with music and very clever dancing, in which Mlle. Vlasta Novotna. Mr. Victor Lauschmann and Mr. Jack Hooker carry off the honors.
The company that interprets this musical medley, and keeps it moving briskly from start to finish, is the one that appeared here last season in The Girl in the Taxi. The individual members, with scarcely an exception, appear to more advantage in this production than in the last, though Miss Jarvis, the leading lady, has in the interim deserted the stage for matrimony and domestic life. The leading part of Sylvia Dale, the young lady who has to pose both as assumed wife and assumed daughter falls to Miss Dorothy Brunton, who quite comes up to expectations. Miss Brunton seems to he improving with each new part. Her useful soprano voice, which she manages very pleasingly, is heard to great advantage in the song ‘Is This Love at Last’ in the first act, and also in the number ‘By the Sea’ in the second act. She shows, too, that she has stage sense and histrionic ability. Miss Gertrude Glynn, who will be remembered as Lady Babby in Gipsy Love, has a congenial part in this production as Mlle. Chi Chi, a dancer. Her clever dancing and good stage presence make her duet with Mr. Workman in the second act both graceful and effective; she is also heard to advantage in a pretty song, The Bubble, in which the effect is heightened by the sending up of large bright-colored bubbles to the ceiling. Miss Florence Vie is a large, cheerful and altogether successful runaway wife—so much so that the audience can hardly agree with the husband who congratulates himself on having a wife who is so considerate as to run away. Miss Marie Eaton performs creditably as the wife of Dr. Thorne, but the effect of her good singing voice would be enhanced if she gave the audience the benefit of the words. Of the others, Mr. Field Fisher does exceptionally well as Dr. Thorne, his dancing agility standing him in good stead. His conception of the part is legitimately humorous. The imposing personality of Mr. W.H. Rawlins fits admirably into the character of Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, the “lumber king,” and Mr. C.H. Workman, though not the ideal lover of romance, is sufficiently well cast as the comparatively serious hero—if anything in the play can be called serious. Mr. Paul Plunket as the would-be duellist husband, Mr. Alfred Frith as a very lively patient, Mr. Maguire as a young man about town, and Mr. Chris Wren as a droll and small sized waiter are others in the cast.
The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154927664
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In addition to noting the absence of an author’s credit for the libretto, The Age critic correctly concluded that the score was a composite work, as Rudolf Friml’s original musical score had been bolstered by the addition of various interpolations, which was standard practise for musical comedies staged in Australia by JCW at this period, with Andrew MacCunn serving as chief musical adviser on such matters. In addition to the “Faust in Ragtime” trio showcasing the combined vocal talents of Charles Workman, Marie Eaton and Fred Maguire, the show also sported two popular American songs from 1914 to highlight the talents of its two leading ladies, “By the Beautiful Sea” (by Harold R. Atteridge and Harry Carroll) for Dorothy Brunton, and “Dancing the Blues Away”(by Joe McCarthy, Howard Johnson and Fred Fisher) for Marie Eaton.
While the most likely source of the interpolated Act III opening chorus “Beauville” was the Act II opening chorus “Friville” (with amended lyrics) from the 1911 British musical comedy Peggy, featuring the music of Leslie Stuart and lyrics of C.H. Bovill, for which JCW held the Australasian performing rights (under a long-standing agreement with London impresario, George Edwardes to acquire the rights to all musicals and operettas staged at his London Gaiety and Daly’s Theatres, which had been instituted by J.C. Williamson himself) since the musical was never professionally staged by The Firm in Australia (although the original orchestra parts remain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.)
The theatre critics for the weekly Melbourne newspapers and periodicals were no less stinting in their praise of the new musical than their colleagues of the daily press.
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By “Peter Quince”
HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE
There were no signs of war or world-troubles upon the playgoing face which, loomed large, shining and smiling at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday evening. The house was densely crowded, and the welcome which was accorded to the members of “The Girl in the Taxi” Company as they made their reappearance was warm to the point of enthusiasm. The new production is entitled “High Jinks,” and is a musical farce, the name of the composer being modestly withheld, probably because it is that of a German. The piece has achieved a great success in America, and will probably do the same here, if one may judge by the favour with which it was received on the first production. “High Jinks” is an hilarious nightmare, as amusing a story as it is wildly improbable, inconsequent and utterly irresponsible. The music is varied, bright and enjoyable, the fact that it is reminiscent of much that we have had before detracting but little from its attractiveness. The name “High Jinks” serves the double purpose of describing the action of everybody concerned, whilst under the influence of the perfume, “High Jinks.” This magical scent has the effect of making any person who sniffs it amorously happy and deliriously demonstrative. The doctor who has tested it becomes at once oblivious to the troubles of his patients, except when they are young and pretty, and require soothing kisses to be administered; rheumatic patients under the influence of the smell shake off their stiffness in a remarkable way, and develop at once amativeness and Terpsichorean energy, whilst its potency is so all-powerful as to send everybody to a charming seaside resort, where the hours are spent in singing, dancing, love-making and strolling on the sands in the most fetching of costumes, full, scant and intermediate. In fact, the spell of the High Jinks perfume is irresistible.
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Hazily seen, through the piece is woven the love story of a Manila lumber king, who has married an actress. They, after a brief honeymoon, had agreed to separate, and at the time the opera commences this separation has endured for twenty-three years. The actress after separation, sent her husband a cable notifying the birth of their little girl. The story of the birth was a “frame-up,” which the pseudo-mother covers up afterwards by adopting an attractive young singer. The lonely lumber king comes to France for the good of his health, and under the influence of “High Jinks” is condemned to a course of treatment at the hands of a fascinating nurse. The actress-wife and the supposed daughter visit the same watering place, and at once find themselves entangled in the web of intrigue and misunderstanding which “High Jinks” weaves everywhere it is permitted to mingle with the atmosphere. An excitable French gentleman and his wife are prominent in the action, as also are many dancers. The final result is that the subtle perfume gets into the nostrils of the audience, and the piece leaves them in a state of “High Jinks,” merriment and an atmosphere of “dunno-where-they-are.”
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In this piece Miss Dorothy Brunton plays perhaps her most important part—that off the adopted daughter Sylvia, and in the character sings in a much improved and effective manner, giving altogether a most creditable rendering of the young, proper and affectionate girl. Miss Brunton has the song of the piece, “Is This Love at Last,” a waltz number of haunting quality. She also scored in “By the Sea” with an effective chorus, and running through the refrain at times is heard the “swish” of the far resounding sea, as the rollers lazily chase each other upon the sands of Beauville. Miss Brunton, of course, looks a delightful picture, and acts with spirit and charm. Miss Gertrude Glyn as Chi-Chi, a dancer, is in this piece a character of minor importance, but Miss Glyn made her as bright and convincing as possible, and scored successes in “The Bubbles,” and in her duet with Mr. C.H. Workman. Miss Florence Vie as the separated wife of the lumber king was quite in her element, and in her quaint appearance, costumes and sayings must be held responsible for a large proportion of the laughter of the evening. As the doctor’s wife Miss Marie Eaton achieved a distinct musical success; the two adjectives must be taken as bracketed together, for her singing of the music was as distinctly successful as the words of the songs were indistinct and unintelligible. Perhaps now that Germany is under a cloud, operatic artists will reconsider the true value of “lieder ahne worte,” and give the author, as well as the composer, an opportunity of being heard and understood. Miss Nellie Hobson as Madame Rabelais, and Miss Gwen Hughes as a nurse, were respectively “bits of all-right,” and Miss Cecil Bradley filled the role of a page with marked success. The gentlemen in the cast may be briefly summarised as “all there” in dialogue, music, dancing, action and the provocation of merriment. They were Messrs. Field Fisher, W.H. Rawlins, C.H. Workman, Paul Plunket, Alfred Frith and Fred Maguire. More of them next week. During the third act a dance by Mr. Victor Lauschmann and Mdlle. Vlasta Novotna was warmly appreciated. The piece was enthusiastically received, and will prove a shining Easter attraction.
Punch (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 April 1915, p.32, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138698513
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE
The complaint as to a slump in matters theatrical can scarcely be well-founded considering the capital attendances at the regular theatres, notwithstanding the counter attractions of picture-shows innumerable. Her Majesty’s Theatre is packed nightly. On Saturday night hundreds were turned away from the doors. “High Jinks” went as befits its name—merrily and boisterously. The piece is strong in comedians, who keep the ball rolling briskly. Mr. W.H. Rawlins is a great favourite as Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, who curses his fate, in being called after the former champion of the prize ring. Poor Jeffreys has come to Paris for the cure, which seems to consist of pleasant treatment by a comely nurse who has no serious objection to playing up high-jinks when required. Mr. Rawlins and Miss Florence Vie are very successful in their humorous duet. “Come Hither,” Mr. C.H. Workman is bright, brisk and lively throughout, and is heard to great advantage in the scene, “Faust in Ragtime,” in which he shares the honours with Miss Marie Eaton and Mr. Fred Maguire. Mr. Field Fisher carries the important burden of Dr. Thorne lightly, Mr. Paul Plunket, gives characteristic tone and action to the impressionable and fire-eating French husband, Mr. Alfred Frith does splendidly as Colonel Slaughter, especially in the banquet scene. The dancing introduced into “High Jinks” forms an important and attractive feature. The pas de deux by Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann is a brilliant and graceful measure, and is loudly applauded, whilst the eccentric double-rag dancing of Mr. Jack Hooker is something in the way of a revolution in step-dancing. The graceful movements and dances incidental to the action of the piece are highly creditable to their arranger, Miss Minnie Hooper. “High Jinks” will be produced every evening until further notice.
Punch (Melbourne), Thursday, 8 April 1915, p.32, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138698627
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE
Packed in every part, there was quite a gala spirit rife at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. From the opening of the overture there was a breath of espiegle and gaiety about the new production, “High Jinks,” that set everyone in a good humor. There is plenty of dash and “ginger” in it from start to finish, and never a dull moment. Events are hurried at the breathless speed and with all the hustle which characterises American productions. The music is bright and sparkling, with catchy airs and a pretty waltz refrain, which, however, is not intruded too much. It has also that rare thing in musical comedy—a plot which is followed almost without a break to the very end. It is thin, but it serves to keep up a strong interest right to the close of the third act.
The story opens outside Dr. Robert Thorne’s surgery, a busy specialist, who is brusque in manner. Patients arrive to consult him, and Dick Wayne, a friend, drops in. He is the inventor of a wonderful perfume, “High Jinks,” with magical qualities, so that a mere whiff makes one genial and ready to frivol. The doctor receives him snappily, then, to make some amends, says he will take his perfume and have a look at it. He does so, with the effect that it makes him skittish, and he scandalises several persons by being caught dancing most energetically. Finally, in the very act of kissing Madame Rabelais, he is detected by her husband, who challenges the doctor and gives him the choice of being killed or allowing Monsieur to kiss Mrs. Thorne. The latter alternative is chosen. The lady is to be at Beauvllle, but a little plot is arranged to have a pseudo wife represent her; and an actress, the adopted daughter of an ex-stage favorite, is chosen to play the role. But Wayne is a devoted admirer of her, and has watched her night after night from a box, and he begins to suspect and to be furiously jealous when he sees her in a compromising situation. There is another patient, who is sent off to recruit with a nurse, J.J. Jeffreys, who tells how he has not seen his wife, whom he married from the stage, for over 20 years.
They all arrive at Beauville, even the stately, real wife of the doctor, and there are many muddles and explanations before it is all straightened out.
To do justice to the production, a specially-picked company is necessary, especially on the masculine side, for each role has to be sustained by a comedian with a sense of character, and at the same time a dancer and more or less a singer. Such a company the management has been lucky enough to find, and consequently “High Jinks,” which is beautifully staged and mounted, has a dash and breeziness which are quite irresistible. All the parts fit the performers as though made for them. C.H. Workman is excellent as Dick Wayne, a role in which he displays acting ability of no mean quality, real vocal talent, and proves himself a dancer who is wonderfully light on his feet. Of Field Fisher, as Dr. Thorne, much the same may be said, except that he is not quite so well endowed as a singer. But right through he keeps to the spirit of the part in an effective way.
Paul Plunket is admirable as the excitable, volatile Frenchman, Mons. Jacques Rabelais. Alfred Frith, as Colonel Slaughter, an elderly military dandy and fire-eater, is another well-worked-out role which provokes humor, and W.H. Rawlins is first-rate as J.J. Jeffreys, who has mislaid a wife and daughter and acquired a too pronounced figure and some digestive ills.
Marie Eaton makes one of the most striking successes on the feminine side. Like Mr. Workman, she comes out strong as quite a dramatic actress, a singer of high merit, and a dancer. The trio in the third act, in which she, C.H. Workman, and Fred Maguire give the “Faust” burlesque in ragtime, represents something very fine vocally, such as is rarely heard in musical comedy; it approaches very nearly grand opera, and arouses the audience to a regular salvo of applause.
Florence Vie, in the comedy part of Adelaide Fontaine, the mislaid wife, is next in prominence and scores a big popular success, for she bubbles over with humor and good spirits.
Dorothy Brunton is sweet and dainty as Sylvia Dale, her adopted daughter, with just the right dash of assertive spirit to prevent Sylvia being too cloyingly sweet. Gertrude Glyn has not much opportunity as Mdlle. Chi Chi, but manages to make the part stand out, and does well in her one song and dance.
Gwen Hughes as the nurse at Doctor Thorne’s, Nellie Hobson as Madame Rabelais, Cecil Bradley as a page, Fred Maguire as Johnnie Doe, and Chris. Wren as Garcon, are well placed in the minor roles. Mdlle. Novotna and Victor Lauschmann give a graceful dance number in the third act.
There are many new ideas in stage effects and movements, and the whole production reflects the greatest credit upon Harry B. Burcher, who supervised the whole. The orchestra, under Victor Champion, does excellent work.
Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 April 1915, p.25, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146577173
Coming on the heels of the Gilbert and Sullivan season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, musical comedy has its differences, its defects, thrown into sharper contrast, but “High Jinks” is as well fitted to stand the strain as anything in the line produced of recent years. That this kind of entertainment maintains its popularity there can be no doubt. The air and attitude of the large audience which welcomed it back on Saturday evening offered convincing proof upon that point. The gaiety of the house was infectious—it increased with the progress of the frolic, which is admirably arranged to create expectation at the outset and carry one on from that pleasant state to the feeling of unbounded, irresponsible gaiety reached in the climax. “High Jinks,” if not consecutive, is sparkling, melodious, and graceful all through. No author has put his name to it, but possibly a dozen have contributed to what is, after all, the least important part of an entertainment, brought to perfection chiefly by stage art and experience. As “The Mikado” has a fresh musical surprise for us in each melodious moment, so “High Jinks,” in other ways and by wholly different charms, keeps one simmering always, sometimes shouting impulsive and unstinted approval. As with “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” [the George M. Cohan play starring Fred Niblo then playing at the Theatre Royal] it is better to leave a good deal for revelation on the stage. Mention of the idea is almost sufficient—a magical perfume, the secret of which is possessed by an American doctor resident in Paris, and the effect of which even at a single sniff is to make moody people bright and bright people intensely gay. It is an elixir calculated to do much good in some communities, maybe harm in others, though no moral that anyone can discover is hinged on or even suggested at Her Majesty’s. The doctor who administers it, and who at the outset is impelled only by scientific zeal, the glamour of a great discovery, is not immune to his own medicine. So he is infected, and his remedy for all ailments—not discoverable in the pharmacopoeia—is to make love to his patients, serious or frivolous, maiden or married alike. If husbands find fault with the method and seek interviews, a whiff of the magic perfume removes all jealousy, all gloom, and thence on—to use imagery suitable to the situation—they are “in it up to their eyebrows.” Two of the acts are set at a charming French seaside resort, with all that the atmosphere and the situation offer or suggest. For the rest of the story—the detail that completes it, the bits in parentheses that have nothing to do with it—but are not less welcome on that account—the curious, as in the case of “Baldpate,” are best referred to the theatre. To those who fail to find full enjoyment, either the magic perfume itself or an everyday tonic is prescribed. In curt analysis, “High Jinks” may be defined as a hybrid between the lighter, brighter side of musical comedy and the just-deceased revue. It is produced—and better played and sung—by the company which appeared in “The Girl in the Taxi,” with whom Miss Dorothy Brunton, now in the lead, has been winning fresh distinction. Miss Brunton has in this instance chiefly a singing part, and fate in the allotment of its favours is unkind to her only in the last act, where she is mainly a picturesque looker-on. In the earlier scenes, however, Miss Brunton does more than enough for her reputation—and chiefly in the song “Is This Love at Last?” In such a production as this the chief comedian is of vital importance. As the doctor driven to gaiety by the diablerie of his own medicine, Mr. Field Fisher has altogether a different kind of character to the waiter of the Jeunesse Doree restaurant, and fresh opportunity reveals in him new and highly entertaining qualities as a comedian. Mr. Fisher is no specialty artist. He grasps and reveals the humorous and the ridiculous on the broadest lines. The doctor has two wives, the one taken before, the other after the perfume. Miss Florence Vie, the after effect, has run away from one husband, a rough and ready lumberman of the back woods, who, getting within range of the joy-bringer, is transformed in the usual way. Miss Vie is decorative, musical, and, like the Waverley pen, “a boon and a blessing to men,” while Miss Marie Eaton, as the wife of the scientific era, sings supremely well, though always with more regard to the value of musical notes than song words, which are, however, of lesser importance. The comedy is sprinkled with good songs and bright situations, and some distinct, if not vital, characters. The frivolous Frenchman of the English stage is very often a grotesque caricature. As a concession to the Entente, Mr. Plunket in this instance corrects such errors without losing anything in effect upon the light side. His Jacques Rabelais is not very Rabelaisian—just Rabelaisian enough. Miss Gertrude Glynn, Miss Gwen Hughes, Mr. Frith, Mr. W.H. Rawlins—who is very happy indeed as the transformed and rejuvenated man of the pine woods—and other artists equip this comedy in a way that offers little chance for betterment. All that stage art can do in colour design and effect to give it suitable setting is accomplished; the dancing of Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann wins unbounded admiration. Nothing better in fun, frivolity, light-hearted and graceful entertainments—with just sufficient of the spice of wickedness—has recently been staged at Her Majesty’s than “High Jinks.”
The Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.24, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142970830
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The critic for The Leader, however, was far more grudging in his praise and seemed to regard the whole enterprise as unworthy of his serious appraisal, and of possessing only a few redeeming features.
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High Jinks, produced at Her Majesty’s by The Girl in the Taxi Company, is described as “a musical jollity,” and is certainly entitled to no higher commendation. It has been devised for the amusement of those who are content with rollicking farce and desire no more intellectual form of entertainment. There is no deception practised, for the title is quite sufficient to indicate the nature of the show. Those of the audience who are not satisfied with the broad effects which evoke laughter, with the inspiring music, and the dancing which seems to be the outcome of irrepressible influence, have no business to give their patronage. High Jinks may be taken to represent the lowest phase to which musical comedy has descended, though we should not like to say that there may not be in the lowest deep a lower deep. It is redeemed from its worst aspects by the tuneful quality of some of the musical accompaniment, and by the kind of tarantelle dancing which furnishes its principal attraction.
The idea, if it can be called an idea, which is contained in the story, is found in the mysterious virtues attaching to a certain perfume. A whiff of this is sufficient to overturn the mental balance of the most staid and correct of individuals, and to send him capering with a nimbleness which defies any sense of restraint. A doctor of irritable temperament and sober demeanor, who was induced to try it by his friend the explorer becomes a new being, eager for amatory converse with his patients and ready to seize on any opening for intrigue. He is discovered by a jealous Frenchman kissing his wife, and to avoid a duel prefers to face the threatened alternative of a retaliation in kind. His own wife he sends off on a wild goose chase, while he arranges for temporarily filling her place with an accommodating dancer, who is quite ready to be kissed by the indignant Frenchman on a basis of substantial pecuniary reward, but as her terms are exorbitant, the doctor thinks he can make more economical arrangements by engaging the services of a grass widow and her adopted daughter. Then follow an inextricable series of complications which are supposed to be irresistibly amusing. Whenever there is danger of a hitch, the intoxicating perfume is brought into action and sets everybody's legs wildly gyrating. Those who are willing to succumb to the suggestion that there is something exhilarating in this form of humor will find ample excuse for riotous laughter, but it is a kind of fooling which may well make the judicious grieve.
The only reasonable occasion for satisfaction in High Jinks will be discoverable in the music, the dancing, and the setting. There are some catchy songs interspersed throughout the performance, and all the principal characters are given an opportunity. The main theme, repeated again and again, has a tuneful quality, and the parody of Faust, given by Marie Eaton, C.H. Workman and Fred Maguire, is of quite ambitious character, though the conversion of Gounod’s magic tone into ragtime may be condemned as a desecration. The dancing is a distinctive feature of the performance, and apart altogether from the funny capers which are an adjunct of the perfume, there are ballets of an attractive kind, and a specially delightful illustration of the poetry of motion supplied by Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann. The costuming and setting of the play are other merits to be acknowledged.
The company does the most it can with the material at its service, though the conditions are not as favorable as those under which the original reputation was obtained. Mr. C.H. Workman is most to be pitied, for his part of the explorer who has to whisk about with the scent bottle is an impossible one. As some compensation, he is given more chances of displaying his vocal ability. He has a song, a duet and the Faust trio, but we miss his humor. Miss Marie Eaton is in greater prominence than usual, and when she has singing to do acquits herself well. Miss Dorothy Brunton bids fair to become a great favorite with the public, and though now lacking in certainty, has qualities which should enable her to achieve success. A pleasant appearance, a charm of manner, and a voice which enables her to sing prettily, are good assurances of recommendation. Miss Florence Vie seems to experience a joy in living which she communicates to the audience, and her style of humor finds a convenient environment in High Jinks. Miss Gertrude Glynn as Chi-Chi, the dancer, combines vocal and pedal gymnastics. Her song, The Bubble, with its quaint accompaniment of colored air balloons, was distinctly novel. The doctor was played by Mr. Field Fisher with a thorough appreciation of its spirit. Mr. Alfred Frith as a volatile Colonel, and Mr. Paul Plunket as the indignant Frenchman, made the most they could of their parts. Mr. W.H. Rawlins as an American lumber king, who was not averse to amorous adventure while in search of his long lost wife, was appropriately ponderous, with an occasional outburst into amazing agility. Aid was rendered also in minor measure by Miss Gwen Hughes as a nurse, by Miss Nellie Hobson as the kissed wife of the Frenchman, by Miss Cecil Bradley as a page, and by a young male member of the company who contributed a lively step dance.
The Leader (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.34, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91370174
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The theatrical gossip columns in the daily press and weekly periodicals continued to promote public interest in the entertainment world by reporting items of interest.
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IN THE PROMPTER’S BOX
Mr. Harry Burcher, “producer” of “High Jinks,” is the latest to sing the praises of the Australian chorus girl. “Her versatility is simply remarkable,” says Mr. Burcher. “In London a chorus girl generally remains a chorus girl, or, at any rate, is seldom able to distinguish herself in an emergency such as the Australian girl is capable of. We have in the chorus of the ‘High Jinks’ company, at the present time, at least six girls who could step out of the ranks and play parts if called upon. The same applies, to some extent, to the male members of the chorus, who are far above the average type of chorus man we have in London. The ranks of the Australian chorus provide a remarkable amount of material for turning into highly accomplished artists.”
The Herald (Melbourne), Wednesday, 28 April 1915, p.1
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Harry Burcher was as good as his word and during his tenure as a producer (or stage director in modern parlance) with JCW, he helped to promote the careers of many Australian performers in his productions, including Madge Elliott, who he brought out of the ballet and cast in her first acting and singing roles, culminating with the titular Cabaret Girl in 1923.
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On and Off the Stage
“I’ve just had quite an interesting experience,” said C.H. Workman, the famous comedian in “High Jinks,” at Melbourne Her Majesty’s. He had just emerged from a book-seller’s shop, and displayed a copy of an English souvenir of “The Chocolate Soldier,” in which he created the part of Bumerli. “I was buying a magazine,” he explained, “when the man behind the counter looked at me sharply for a moment, and then remarked, ‘I think I have got something here that will interest you.’ He handed me a copy of the ‘Chocolate Soldier’ souvenir. ‘You're Mr. Workman, I think?’ I admitted that I was. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘would you care to accept this? I have often thought I would like to meet the original of that picture of Bumerli on the cover. I saw you in the piece in England, and it does seem strange that I should meet you in Melbourne.’ It was quite a strange sensation to me to see my own picture on a periodical thousands of miles from England, and so unexpectedly.”
Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 29 Apr 1915, p.20
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Widespread public sympathy for Belgian refugees displaced from their homeland by the German invasion, which had precipitated Britain’s declaration of war against the aggressors (with Australia following suit in support of the Empire) resulted in many charitable appeals to support the Belgian Relief Fund to provide food and clothing for the beleaguered nation. One such appeal was Belgian Rose Day held on 8 April (to mark the birthday of King Albert of Belgium) which saw Charles Workman and his fellow cast members rubbing shoulders with the Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, and Melbourne’s own hometown operatic diva, Nellie Melba, who was just then embarking on the patriotic fund-raising work that would earn her the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in early 1918. (As a world famous exponent of the role of ‘Marguerite’ in Gounod’s Faust, Melba’s reaction to the interpolated “Faust in Ragtime” trio in High Jinks went, sadly, unrecorded. A curiously comical juxtaposition was provided by a charity matinee staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in aid of the Actors Association of Australia Benevolent Fund and the Royal Comic Opera Company's Sick Fund, on the afternoon of Friday, 8 September 1916, in which Melba sang the prison scene from Faust to end the first part and the New English Musical Comedy Company concluded the entertainment with a performance of the complete second act from High Jinks, which included the musical “travesty” performed therein wherein Faust comes to bail Marguerite out of prison, and Mephistopheles, who has a taxi waiting outside, bewails the fact that it is ticking off dollars while the trio are singing.)
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Decorated motor cars paraded the streets, bands of pierrots, and masked, mysterious ladies sang patriotic songs. The streets were gay with red, yellow and black banners and flags. Several of the shop windows were dressed in the national colours of Belgium, and through the crowded streets went on busily the clinking of coins into tin boxes. Each affair of this kind seems to bring out more girls to collect—there were nearly 700 yesterday in the city alone. Most of the collecting activity seemed to be displayed in the forenoon. The 100,000 artificial roses were sold out by midday, but there still remained the postcards, ribbons, and the real roses. At luncheon time the principal cafes were decorated with roses and Belgian colours, and a number of politicians and leading citizens took advantage of the occasion to say pleasantly true things about King Albert and in praise of the people who stood for a fortnight against the brutal might of Germany.
In the afternoon there was a parade through the city of the decorated motor cars. The motor car is not a thing which lends itself much to decoration, but indubitably the best effect was that obtained by the car which headed the procession—a chariot in blue and white, with two white swans perched over the bonnet, and giving an effect of Lohengrin. The second car, in autumn colours, was also well designed and a good effect was gained by the one which came later in the procession—the body being massed around with blue and white flowers with a Union Jack design at the back, and a pole in the centre to which gaily-coloured streamers led.
His Excellency the Governor and Lady Stanley came in during the afternoon, and halted for a while at Lady Allen’s kiosk opposite the Town Hall; moving on to see the return of the motor procession at the Federal Parliament House. The weather throughout was pleasant and sunny, though rather warm …
MADAME MELBA WINS PRIZE.
At quarter past 2 o’clock the decorated cars, some of which had been acting as kiosks during the forenoon, drove up opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, under the eye of the Lady Mayoress, who judged them, and awarded the prize to Madame Melba. The car for which the first prize was given was that mentioned above as reminiscent of Lohengrin. It was a perfect bower of blue and white, most elaborately and tastefully handled. It was the only thing in the procession which did not look like a motor car, and the prize could only have gone elsewhere by a shocking error of taste. Half a dozen banners were given to half a dozen other cars, and the procession left for the city, via Collins street to William street, and thence through Bourke street to Parliament House. Madame Melba’s car went first, Madame herself distributing the flowers to the crowds which lined the route …
MADAME MELBA’S SHARE.
The official luncheon in [the dining-room of the Oriental Hotel] was given by Mesdames Percy Russell, R. Hallenstein, V. Wisher, and Arthur Woolcott, who had the use of the lounge as a depot. The principal guest was the Prime Minister (Mr. Fisher). The table at which they sat was ornamented by an immense canopy of roses amid foliage, and from the centre rose a fountain of rose-scented water. At the given time the Prime Minister rose and proposed the toast “His Majesty the King,” and then in a few words gave the toast of the day. Early in the afternoon preparations were made for the cafe chantant, for so many tables had been booked that, in addition to the Winter Garden, accommodation in the lounge and dining-room had to be requisitioned. A capital programme was rendered from the musicians gallery, the contributors being Miss Dorothy Brunton and Miss Florence Vie (of the “High Jinks” company), Mr. Lawrence Leonard, Mr. Fred Collier, Miss Elsie Treweek, Miss Anne Williams, Mr. H. Hamilton, Miss Rosa Walton and Miss Florence Finn. Programs were sold for silver coins, and a few which Madame Melba autographed realised fancy prices, as much as £1 being given for one.
At the conclusion of the procession of decorated cars, Madame Melba took tea at the Oriental, her arrival being announced by Mr. F.A. McCarty, who said he had just received from her funds amounting to close on £30, which she had collected during her tour through the city. Madame Melba had intended putting up several articles for sale by auction, but she felt too fatigued to conduct the sale, so Mr. Workman of the “High Jinks” company, and Mr. P. Bush, of the Theatre Royal company, acted as auctioneers with the result that £13/12/6 was raised from two Belgian flags (£8/15/), a prize rose (£1/10/), and two bottles of “High Jinks” scent (£3/7/0). The proceeds from the tea tickets amount to close on £30.
The Argus (Melbourne), Friday, 9 April 1915, p.6 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1508710
Punch (Melbourne), 15 April 1915, p.22
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AUCTION AT THE SAVOY.
The members of the High Jinks company gathered at the Savoy Cafe on Saturday night with the object of helping the Belgian fund. Mr. C.H. Workman, with the co-operation of Mr. H.B. Burcher, directed the proceedings, a feature of which was an auction sale by Mr. Workman. A £1 note was purchased by Mr. Falkiner for £110, and he also secured a pair of poplin curtains for £24. A collection by Miss Marie Eaton realised £17 8/, the total amount received being £131 18/. During the evening an entertainment was given by Mr. Workman, Mr. [Victor] Lauschmann, Mr. Alexander Yakovleuko, Mme. Clere and Miss Eaton.
The Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.50
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Having established his home-base in Melbourne with his wife, “Tottie” and son, Roy, Charles Workman also helped to organise further charitable events with the co-operation of fellow citizens of his adopted city and the active participation of Mrs. Workman.
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Mr. Workman’s Garden Fete
Mr. C.H. Workman, of the “High Jinks” company, with Miss Dorothy Brunton, has organised a garden fete and café chantant, in aid of the Belgian Fund, to be given at Ascog, Southey street, St. Kilda, next Saturday, May 8. There will be numerous attractions, including the attendance of a large theatrical party, who will appear by permission of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. Those taking part in the program will include Mr. Workman, Miss Dorothy Brunton, Mr. Hector Goldspink, Mr. Willie Conway, Miss Elsie Warman, and members of the “High Jinks” company.
The Argus (Melbourne), Saturday, 1 May 1915, p.18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1513887
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FETE AND CAFE CHANTANT.
The residents of Ascog and Whinbank, St. Kilda, were the successful organisers of a garden fete combined with a café chantant and tennis tournament, which was held in the spacious grounds of Ascog, lent by Mrs. J. Grace, on Saturday, May 8, in order to raise funds for the Belgians. Flags and streamers in the Belgian colours decorated the stalls which had been erected on the front lawns, and the gay scene was enhanced by all the young girls assisting wearing white frocks, with aprons and caps in our national and Belgian colours. The opening Ceremony was performed by Mr. C.F. Beauchamp early in the afternoon, but, though the sale of gifts only then commenced, the tennis tournament had been in progress from 10 o’clock a.m.
The arrangements for this were supervised by Miss Mamie Marks, who had been assisted in the preliminary work by Mr. E. Trend. There were between thirty and forty entries, and some exciting matches were witnessed in the concluding rounds. When the final contest took place the daylight was rapidly departing, consequently it was difficult for the players to distinguish the ball. The successful pair, Mr. A Whyte and Miss Jones, just managed to win from Mr. K. Trend and Miss Essie Price. The trophies for this tournament had been donated by W. Drummond and Co. and the balls by the Dunlop Rubber Co. The café chantant was in the billiard lounge, and throughout the afternoon it proved a great attraction, as a large number of well-known artists gave their services on the program, including Mr. C.H. Workman, Mr. Fred Maguire, Mr. C. Wren, Miss Dorothy Brunton, Miss Queenie Paul (all of the “High Jinks” Company), the Misses Elsa Warman, Mansell Kirby, Master and Miss Scurrah, and Messrs. Hector Goldspink, E.H. Leahy, G. Chant, and W. Conway.
The various side-shows included Aunt Sally (in charge of Mr. Trend), bran pies, fortune telling, spinning jennies, motor and pony rides (the car and ponies having been lent by Miss Simmonds and Miss Joseph respectively.) Tables for afternoon tea out on the broad verandah, and those who directed the arrangements there were Mesdames Workman, James, and Richardson. A well-stocked stall for sweets was in charge of Mesdames C.F. Beauchamp, J.B. Macglashan, and Miss Beauchamp; and another which displayed an attractive show of cut flowers and pot plants was managed by Mrs. Raphael. Among those who sold sprays for coats or dresses was Miss Gwen Hughes, of the “High Jinks” Co. In the evening Mrs. J. Grace arranged a palais de danse, which was attended by some hundreds of visitors, and was a great success. The committee of direction for the fete, &c., was formed by Messrs. C.H. Workman, E. Trend, D.O. Reeson, T. Grace, and J.B. Macglashan. It is estimated that the proceeds will result in about £100 being handed to the Belgian Relief Funds.
The Australasian (Melbourne), Sat, 15 May 1915, p.40, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142973169
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N.B. £1 in 1915 would be equivalent to approximately $108.50 in today’s currency; thus £10 = $1,085 and £100 = $10,850, etc. (ref: https://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualPreDecimal.html )
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Other wartime charities were also the beneficiaries of the theatrical profession’s largesse in supporting worthy causes by donating their talents gratis, which also extended to the management providing the performance venues without cost, especially on Sundays when the staging of regular theatrical entertainments was prohibited in accordance with the Lord’s Day Observance Act. Such extra-curricular activities that took place on the Sabbath day were generally given the billing of “Sacred Concerts” in order to circumvent the law. The “Grand Entertainment” organised by the tenor, Walter Kirby, in aid of the Australian and British Red Cross Funds staged at the Theatre Royal on Sunday, 16 May was thus advertised in the local press with the stated proviso that the artists taking part “Will Sing or Talk, as the Spirit moves, in Sacred or Sunday Mood.”
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“HIGH JINKS” COMPANY EFFORT
An attractive program is being arranged for the entertainment to be given at the Theatre Royal next Sunday night in aid of the Red Cross funds. The whole of the “High Jinks” company have volunteered their services. The entertainment will commence at a quarter to 8 o’clock. In view of the urgent need of funds for the Red Cross a big success is hoped for.
The Argus (Melbourne), Friday, 14 May 1915, p.12
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The Melbourne season of High Jinks finally wound up after a highly successful 8 weeks, with the closing performance on Friday, 21 May ending in particularly high spirits (including those of the bottled variety!)
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Animated scenes and humorous happenings marked the last night of the Highs Jinks company at Her Majesty's Theatre. The members of the company had made themselves very popular during their stay in Melbourne, and “in front” amongst the crowded audience were many friends of the artists, who helped to keep the proceedings throughout thoroughly lively—from first to last. The artists themselves entered into the spirit of the evening. The big ragtime scene was one of the hits of the evening, being embellished with many incidents that were not set down in the “script” of the stage manager. It had to be repeated thrice in response to insistent demands, and each time it was gone through with variations. The climax was reached when Mr. Paul Plunket seized a lady member of the wardrobe staff who had been watching interestedly from the “wings” and waltzed her across the stage into the melee of frenziedly-working ragtimers. The final fall of the curtain was the signal for a prolonged demonstration of applause, and a lavish presentation of flowers to the lady members of the company, as well as mysterious looking parcels—the contents of which could be guessed at—to the gentlemen of the cast.
The Leader (Melbourne), Saturday, 22 May 1915, p.49, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91371317
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The New English Musical Comedy Company then made their way Westwards in preparation for their first appearance in the South Australian capital of Adelaide.
[To be continued.]
MR. FIELD FISHER.
A man of varied talents and varied interest, Mr. Field Fisher—who is Dr. Robert Thorne in “High Jinks,” around whom all the story circles—is a very interesting man to meet in private life. He is by no means wrapped up in his theatrical work alone, although he is keenly interested in it, but at the same time he has a little attention to spare for the questions of the day, and so can talk about other things than the theatre. In fact, he does not talk “shop” much at all, although if that subject crops up he follows it without any marked reluctance, for there is no affected pose about him.
He is caught at Her Majesty’s Theatre one morning, and then ensues a search for a quiet corner in which to talk. This involves a regular journey of discovery over a dark stage and round corners, upstairs and downstairs, until we settle in the Lounge, as every other place seems to be in the hands of energetic cleaners. There, in the only two unshrouded chairs, we make ourselves comfortable, and Mr. Fisher almost immediately begins to talk of newspaper work, and says—
“I know something of press-work, for I used to do some of it, or, rather, drawing for the papers—for the Harmsworth publications. Yes, humorous sketches and that kind of thing. The first sketching I ever did was costume designing. This was when I was with Laurence Irving (I was with him for a long time) when he was going to put on the play ‘Margaret Catchpole,’ which, by the way, is Australian, isn't it? At least, she ended her life out here or something of the sort; he was in some difficulty about the costumes, and l undertook to design them, which I did. Then the next thing I attempted was posters and little sketches. One day a member of the staff of one of the papers, ‘The Sketch,’ saw one and asked to be allowed to show it to the editor. He sent for me, and so I was launched on my newspaper work, and did it for some time, finally working for several of the Harmsworth papers and for ‘Comic Cuts,’ ‘Ally Sloper’ and such publications.
“No, I do not do it now. I found it meant that I needed to be in the city, and was too much of a tie; I used to have to be at the offices to see the editor and talk things over.”
Mr. Fisher then launches off into talk about the war, suggested by a sudden recollection of the first actor to lose his life there, whom he knew personally. “It was sad about Mackinder, wasn’t it—one of our best all-round actors. He was offered a commission, but refused, and said he preferred to serve as a private with the men he knew and had always been with. He had been in a position to earn a handsome salary—about seventy pounds a week the year round—and he gave it all up. Did you hear how he died? They received an order one night to change trenches, eight of them; he was the last. When they reached the new trench they found they were only seven, so went back to look for him and found him on his back. They asked him if he were hurt,’ and he answered, ‘I don't know,’ and died immediately. 
“There are so many who have given up so much, and gone to the front. It is fine, isn’t it?”
Then Laurence Irving’s sad death in the “Empress of Ireland” wreck is mentioned, and Mr. Fisher says:
“I was to have been with him then. Even to the Sunday before he left for America it was all arranged, and we had dinner with him to talk things over. Then this offer for Australia came and I decided to accept it, and in consequence was not with them on the wreck. Yes, he could have been saved had he not gone back for his wife, but that was just what he would do; it was just like him.  He was a most absent-minded man; but good natured and a genius. It was only just beginning to be realised in England too. H.B. was the elder son, and inherited the bulk of the money, and at Sir Henry's death the father's mantle fell upon his shoulders, and Laurence had no such help, and had to fight his own way.
“One incident I recall about his absent-mindedness. When I went to America with him on a previous visit, he said the day after we arrived: ‘Come on, and I'll give you a real American dinner!’ This was about four o’clock in the afternoon, after rehearsal. We went to a fashionable restaurant and had a splendid dinner; then the bill came and Laurence put his hand in his pocket, and said, ‘I haven't any money; but it doesn’t matter, you pay.’ He never did have any money. Well, I had about a dollar, so I said: I have no money, either.’ He said: ‘Never mind,’ and explained to the waiter, who he was and that he would send and settle the bill. But the waiter would have none of it, and said: ‘It’s all very well, but that won’'t go with me; we have had that before.’ So after some argument it ended by us going off to Irving’s hotel, accompanied by the waiter, for he would not trust us.”
“You have had command performances at Sandringham?”
“Yes, several times. That was when we had our own little company—my brother and my two sisters. It was known as the Field Fisher Quartette Company, and we used to appear at ‘at homes’ and private entertainments, giving a musical show of a refined nature. 
“It was rather funny how we came to have our first Royal command. We were appearing at the pier pavilion at Ryde—that is near Cowes, Isle of Wight, you know. One of my sisters came off the stage and said: ‘There are two men in front who seem to be trying to be free. I wish you would go and give them a look.' You see, the girls had been rather strictly brought up, and my mother always travelled with us, so they were well looked after. They were fine girls, I must say, though they are my sisters.
“So I went on, and had a look at two men in yachting costume in the front row, and I gave them a look. We continued giving them looks during the rest of the performance.
“Then as we were walking down the pier on our way home, my sisters being on in front, we saw the two men stop them and speak to them—one being very tall, the other short. My brother and I naturally hurried up, and the tall one turned to us—
“I was just saying to your sisters I think they must have forgotten me. I am Abercrombie, and I had the pleasure of meeting you at Lady So-and-So’s.'
“It was quite right, we had been engaged by the Countess and had met the Earl of Abercrombie, and he turned to his companion and said: ‘May I introduce the Prince of Wales?’ That was the present King. He complimented us upon our performance, and said, ‘You must come on board the yacht and do it for us, will you? Of course we were delighted, and they asked could we go the next day. We had to explain we could not manage that, as all our things were packed ready to leave, as that was our last night there, and we were to go to Southampton. But we said we could go on the Monday, and it was arranged. They told us they had been on ‘the yacht’; it was the Cowes Regatta week, you know; but had run short of matches, so had landed at Ryde to get some, and seen our posters, and Lord Abercrombie remembered us and said we must see this—they are good. After telling them how we had come near to throwing them out, we parted.
“We went to the yacht on the Monday, and found one deck all arranged with a nice little stage all fixed up with red at one end. My brother and I were on this fixing things and having a bit of an argument, because he wanted the piano at one side and I thought it ought to be more up the stage, and he was telling me not to be a blithering idiot, and that kind of thing, when I caught a whiff of a cigar and turned to find King Edward standing just inside the curtain watching us. Goodness knows how long he had been there.
“When we started the performance before the King and Queen and Prince and Princess of Wales, and the German Emperor, by the way, who was there on his yacht, the ‘Hohenzollern,’ for the regatta week, we were deadly nervous, you can guess, and feeling pretty anxious as we opened, as we always did, with an instrumental quartette, for they were all good performers. My instrument was the banjo, because I was always the unmusical one. The King—King Edward—was sitting just a yard or two away from us, and when we were about half-way through he settled himself back contentedly and said ‘Delightful, delightful.’ So, you can guess that bucked us up a bit and things went better after that. We had supper with them before we left and found them all charming—so unaffected and natural. Why, another time when we were appearing at Sandringham, the present King came along the passage to the stage himself and said to me: ‘I want you to do that little thing of yours—about the Frenchman attempting an after-dinner speech—because the French Envoy is here and I want to watch his face.’ I did not much like doing it under the circumstances, because I did not know how the Envoy would take it in the absurd broken English. But it was a Royal command, and I had to. I gave it, and they all watched him and laughed delightedly at his expression. They are absolutely unaffected and natural in this way.
“In fact, we appeared at many country houses for the leading people, and always found them most considerate and charming. Only on two occasions were people not nice to us. Once was in Hertfordshire. We were engaged to appear at a country house there. We were driven to the servants' entrance, and given our dinner by the butler in a kind of pantry. Afterwards I said I would like to see the hostess, Mrs.—eh, well, I forget her name for the moment—I have a dreadful memory for names—but say Jones. He told me ‘Mrs. Jones will send for you when she is ready.’ You see, the butler was putting on airs with us, too.
“We were sent for, and I saw the hostess, and went towards her, saying 'Good evening,’ when she put her hands behind her back as though she was afraid I was going to shake hands with her.
“They had rented the place, and were giving this big affair, had sent out invitations everywhere. And Hertfordshire is probably the greatest county for country houses; there are ever so many well-known people [who] have homes there. By this time we had come to know most people who were anybody, for we had appeared so frequently at house parties. The guests had arrived and we found we knew nearly everyone. Suddenly the people of the neighbourhood—the Gowers—came rustling in; they are conservative people, keep up great style at their home, drive about with a coach and four- etc. Well, they came straight up to us, shook hands, said how pleased they were to meet us again, and chatted to my sisters. When the hostess saw this she nearly fell upon our necks—wanted us to stay all night, in fact, would have kept us a week or two if we would have stayed.
“We had our little company for eight years. Then one sister married, and later the other. My brother and I tried to fix things up and engaged two girls who had had musical comedy experience and were clever, but somehow we could not make things go the same. We had always worked very hard, we were up at nine every morning practising and trying things over. But with the other girls it was not the same. They did not take the same interest and would not work. When we were on tour they used to go off and have a good time. People began to say the Field Fisher quartette was not the same—had gone off. So we disbanded. My brother gave up the profession, and is now a barrister, and I am the only vagabond left.
“Since then I have been on the stage. I had some experience before—I had appeared with the [Henry] Irving company as a boy.”
Mr. Fisher talks of his work and how he enjoys it when he has a congenial part to play. Asked about his pastimes he says:
"Well I still keep up drawing, though not for publication. It is confined mostly to albums now. I am fond of tennis, but otherwise do not go in for any sport.”
One thing very pleasant for Australians to hear is Mr. Fisher's admiration for the all-round cleverness of the Australian girl and the chorus girl in particular. He generously implies that the grade of cleverness and versatility among the ladies of an Australian company compare favorably, not with English choristers, but English principals.
Mr. Fisher in manner and speech is very English, and has a slight suggestion in his way of speaking of what we deem the dude, but his travels have made him cosmopolitan, so that there is not the English reserve with it, which is often so difficult to pierce.
Table Talk (Melbourne), 22 April 1915, p.26, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17433603
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ENTERTAINMENT AT THE ATHENÆUM.
The opening entertainment of the season at the Athenæum in Bury St. Edmund’s, on Thursday evening, was extremely successful, considering that the weather was unfavourable, and that the season is early, and for this result the fame of the Field-Fisher Quartette is responsible. The local associations of the talented visitors doubtless had something to do with the satisfactory attendance, but apart from this fact, their reputation as first-class artistes would have been sufficient to attract an audience. The quartette comprises the Misses Marjorie and Evelyn Field-Fisher, and Masters Alfred and Eric Field-Fisher. The first-named young lady has an excellent voice, and is a clever performer on the guitar, while her sister is a remarkably graceful dancer, and also manipulates with skill the mandoline. Master Alfred Field-Fisher is a banjoist and recites with wonderful expression, and his charming little brother dances and plays the mandoline with the grace and feeling of a born artiste. Indeed, to attempt to define the capabilities of any one of the quartette would be futile, and the qualifications which we have mentioned are simply those in which they excel. For variety the program could not have been improved upon, its items ranging from selections from the latest comic operas to plantation melodies, and from a pathetic ballad to Spanish and other dances. But the entertainment was something more than merely clever and pleasing. It was essentially refined. Nothing was lacking to make it popular, and yet upon no single item could the finger of a reproving censor be laid. The performance was of an undeniably high-class order, and its originality, and the cleverness of the artistes, were all the more appreciated by the select and large audience assembled. This was the first visit of the quartette to Bury, and the cordiality of their reception clearly demonstrated that they had more than fulfilled the favourable anticipations formed of them. At no time did the performance fall flat. The program scintillated with items at once tuneful and artistic, several of which were enthusiastically encored. The mandoline, guitar, and banjo quartettes were highly appreciated, the variety of the selections meeting all tastes. “The Mountebanks,” and “La Cigale,” were drawn upon in this respect, and a “selection of popular airs,” in which was introduced “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,” was loudly re-demanded. Miss Marjorie’s songs met with marked favour, notably the Spanish and Italian songs, “Sara Zetta” and “Nuna Palona,” and “One day Margot." The graceful dancing of Miss Evelyn was a feature of the entertainment, emphatic marks of approval rewarding her execution of the “Pas seul.” “How Grandmama danced,” was admirably recited and acted, and was followed by a minuet and tableaux by Miss Evelyn and her younger brother. She also went prettily through a Spanish dance; Master Eric, an exceedingly clever child, played the mandoline with considerable expression and wonderful correctness, and he was loudly re-called for the solo “Cavalleria Rusticana.” The recitations of Master Alfred Field-Fisher were commendable expositions of the recitative art, and he gives much promise in this respect. For each recitation he was loudly encored, and responded with humorous little selections. The dumb show recitation, “The Village Blacksmith,” which was clearly given, met with an especially enthusiastic reception. The same performer, as a banjoist, and with the bones, also lent considerable assistance to the musical portion of the program. The performance was an excellent one throughout, and the Council of the Athenæum are to be congratulated upon their first entertainment of the season.
The following was the program:
Quartette, “La Cigale,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo (introducing the songs “Doubt not” and “Our dear old home.”) The Quartette; quartette, “Sweet Innisfail,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo. The Quartette; dance (Spanish), “Toreador,” piano and castanets, Evelyn and Eric Field-Fisher: quartette, “Hock Hamburg March,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo, The Quartette; song (Spanish), a “Sara Yetta,” and (Italian) b “Nuna Palona,” guitar. Miss Field-Fisher; recitation, “Man with one hair,” Alfred Field-Fisher; song, “Rory Darling” (Hope Temple), Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; duet, “Little Johnny Jones,” piano, Evelyn and Alfred; solo, “Cavalleria Rusticana,” mandoline, Eric Field-Fisher; dance, “Scarf dance,” piano, Evelyn; song, “Aloha” (Sandwich Island National Song), mandolines, &c., Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; quartette, selection from “The Mountebanks,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette; quartette, “Selections of Popular Airs,” mandolines, &c. The Quartette; recitation, a “How Grandmama Danced,” Evelyn; dance, b “Minuet, with Tableaux,” piano, Evelyn and Eric; song, “One Day Margot,” piano. Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; trio, “Cup of Tea,” piano, Evelyn, Alfred, and Eric; trio, a “Daffodil,” b “Christmas” (Lindsay Kearne) Mandolines, &c., Marjorie, Evelyn, and Eric; recitation (silent), “The Village Blacksmith,” piano, Alfred Field-Fisher; dance, “Pas Seul,” piano, Evelyn; quartette, “Plantation Melody,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette; quartette, “Good night,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette.
During the interval the performers were introduced to the Mayor and Mayoress, by whom they were warmly congratulated on their success. Mr. Field-Fisher was so much gratified by the enthusiastic reception given to his family at the Athenæum, and so pleased to renew his own acquaintance with the good old town of Bury after a lapse of many years, that he has kindly concerned to arrange for a return visit by the quartette at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Bury and Norwich Post and Suffolk Standard (Bury St. Edmunds, England), 27 September 1892, p.7
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British character comedian and singer, Alfred Field Fisher was born Thomas Alfred A. Fisher in Cambridge in the county of Cambridgeshire, England in 1876, the eldest son of brewer, Thomas Field Fisher and his wife, Louisa Fanny Fisher (nee Hanson). His siblings included an older sister, Margaret (Marjorie) Lowther Fisher (b. 1873), younger sister, Evelyn Isabel Fisher (b. 1878) and two younger brothers, Thomas Eric Field Fisher (b. 1881) and Caryl Hillyard Barclay Fisher (b. 1887). The four older children began performing together as a quartette in the late-1880s in aid of local charities at their local theatre in the London suburb of Bedford Park and their act proved to be so successful that they were urged by the press; actor, Harry Nicholls; playwright, Alfred Calmour, and others to join the ranks of professional entertainers. Impresario Sir Augustus Harris subsequently engaged them to play leading parts in a juvenile fairy play, which was produced at Covent Garden in 1889. In addition to public and private performances of their family act, the talented siblings were also individually cast in a variety of juvenile roles in plays in London and the provinces, with older sister, Marjorie also venturing into comic opera in the early 1890s. Amongst the early stage roles enacted by Alfred was doubling as both The Prince and the Pauper for Mrs. Oscar Beringer’s 1890 stage adaptation of the Mark Twain tale at London’s Gaiety Theatre, when both characters (principally played by the playwright’s daughter, Miss Vera Beringer) were required to share the same scene, and playing a prince in Sir Henry Irving’s production of Charles I at the Lyceum.
Alfred Field Fisher arrived in Australia in May 1914 to reprise the role of the Romanian nobleman ‘Dragotin’ (which he had played for over a year in the British provinces) in J.C. Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company production of the Franz Lehár operetta, Gipsy Love which premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 June. He then transferred to JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company for The Girl in the Taxi in July 1914 and remained a stalwart of the latter company throughout the 1910s and early ‘20s. In 1926 he joined Frank Neil’s Comedy Company to tour in such farces as Are You a Mason?, Charley’s Aunt, The Nervous Wreck and Getting Gertie’s Garter, and performed in the pantomimes Mother Goose and Little Red Riding Hood. A fellow member of Neil’s Company, Vera Fisher (nee Wallace) had married Alfred in the West London district of Kensington in April 1905. In 1930 they toured South Africa with Frank Neil’s Comedy Company, which was so well received that the visit, originally planned to last three months, was extended to ten months and made three complete tours of the South African theatre circuit. Returning to Australia (following a return visit to England at the conclusion of the tour) Fisher rejoined Frank Neil’s Company for Almost a Honeymoon at the Bijou Theatre in Melbourne in April 1931 and other productions. In 1932 he made his feature film debut in Melbourne in the George Wallace comedy His Royal Highness for F.W. Thring’s Efftee Film Productions, followed by Diggers in Blighty and Waltzing Matilda for Pat Hanna Productions in 1933. (Further film roles ensued in Charles Chauvel’s Heritage in 1935 and the Cinesound productions Mr. Chedworth Steps Out, starring Cecil Kellaway, in 1939 and Dad Rudd, M.P., starring Bert Bailey and Fred MacDonald, in 1940, both directed by Ken G. Hall.) Fisher also performed in the Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott revivals of The Quaker Girl and Our Miss Gibbs for JCW in 1933 and reprised his original role of ‘Dr. Robert Thorne’ for their revival of High Jinks in 1935. After a brief sojourn for F.W. Thring in the stage production Mother of Pearl starring Alice Delysia in 1934, Fisher returned to the JCW fold to appear in a succession of musical comedies, plays and pantomimes throughout the remainder of the 1930s, including Yes, Madam, Anything Goes and Under Your Hat and played the title role in Sinbad.
Concurrent with Fisher’s stage appearances, were his performances on radio in comedy sketches and plays (including those that he had written himself) and musical comedies (starring Gladys Moncrieff) for the ABC. He was first heard over the airwaves as a cast member of the JCW production of the musical Kid Boots (starring George Gee and Josie Melville) which was broadcast from the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne by 3LO during the Gala performance given on the evening of Saturday, 25 July 1925 in honour of the visiting American Fleet (followed by a further broadcast from the theatre of Act 2 on Saturday, 15 August 1925) however his first studio performances of his self-penned comedy sketches and duologues with his wife, Vera, were broadcast from 2BL in Sydney in January 1930. In June 1933 Fisher reprised the role of ‘Dr. Thorne’ in two separate studio broadcasts of High Jinks relayed by the ABC National network from 3LO and he also performed in two radio serials that he had scripted: The Adder from 2BL in 1933 and The Old Folks Abroad (with Vera) in 1937, broadcast from 3AR, Melbourne. At the time of his death in Sydney on 8 September 1940 (at age 63) he had been due to rehearse for a radio production of the musical comedy Good News for the ABC national network, for which his role was subsequently recast.
Fisher’s last stage appearance was as the valet ‘Brassett’ in Charley’s Aunt at the Minerva Theatre, Sydney in July 1940—a play in which he had performed a variety of roles since its original London premiere in 1892. An acknowledged master in the art of stage make-up, which was often commented upon in reviews, Fisher boasted in a 1926 newspaper interview that he had a collection of over 100 wigs with which he could transform himself at a moment’s notice into the many and varied character roles that he portrayed on stage. A comprehensive list of Field Fisher’s Australian stage credits is given on the AusStage website at https://www.ausstage.edu.au/pages/contributor/230701
Preparations continued for the Australian premiere of the American musical comedy High Jinks, which was scheduled to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 6 February 1915 at the conclusion of J.C. Williamson’s New English Musical Comedy Company season of The Girl on the Film and JCW’s Press Agents ensured that the theatre-going public were kept well informed of its upcoming production.
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“High Jinks,” which is to be staged for the first time in Australia by the J. C. Williamson management on Saturday next, at Her Majesty’s, is the light lyric order of entertainment. It was presented over a year ago in New York by Mr. Arthur Hammerstein, son of Mr. Oscar Hammerstein, of grand opera fame, and it had a run lasting right through the summer. As a rule most of the American theatres close during the summer, and it requires a very bright attraction to withstand the hot season; but Mr. Hugh J. Ward found “High Jinks” equal to the test when he was in New York last year. It was one of the few shows running, and as he remarked, “the only musical one at that.” In fact, he considers it a very amusing entertainment, farcical, and with ingenious complications. While he was at the theatre he met three Sydney men in the foyer, who spoke of the musical play with enthusiasm. The J.C. Williamson management has secured a cast eminently suited to the piece, and one which, it is believed, will compare favourably with the one Mr. Ward saw at the Lyric Theatre, New York. The fun in “High Jinks” is admittedly evolved from an absurd idea, arising out of the discovery by a Dr. Wayne of a perfume, which, upon being inhaled, bring out a man’s social instincts, which, however, have to be more or less restrained, owing to convention. The producer of “High Jinks” Is Mr. Harry Burcher, from the London Gaiety Theatre, with Mr. Ward, who is actively interesting himself in the rehearsals.
Next Saturday will be “Actors’ Day.” Annually the members of the profession in Sydney give a day to the Actors’ Association of Australasia, whose funds go to the benefit of the less fortunate of the craft, and the event is generally anticipated as a very pleasant reunion. The White City will again be the venue of an entertainment, which will last from 1 to 5 p.m. Mr. Fred. Niblo, Miss Josephine Cohan. Miss Ethel Dane, Miss Dorothy Brunton, and a host of others will have charge of the stalls and side-shows; and, as a number of society ladies are also giving their services in looking after the refreshment rooms, there will be no stint of free and loving service in a worthy cause.
All the White City attractions will be open to enhance the success of “the day,” and Mr. T.H. Eslick and his staff are throwing themselves with enthusiasm into the work of preparing for the entertainment.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Saturday, 30 January 1915, p.8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15564072
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The opening of High Jinks coincided with Actors’ Day at the Sydney amusement park, The White City, based at Rushcutters’ Bay, which had been designed and built by the English civil engineer and architect, T.H. Eslick (who had also been responsible for the design and construction of Melbourne’s Luna Park) and had first opened on 3 December 1913. Amongst the members of the theatrical profession taking part in the festivities for the charity event was American actor (and future film director) Fred Niblo, then in the final year of a 3 year theatrical tour of Australasia with by his wife, Josephine Cohan for J.C. Williamson Ltd., which included seasons of plays by his brother-in-law, George M. Cohan. Others in attendance included leading players, Julius Knight and Irene Browne, comedian, Jack Cannot, pantomime star, Daisy Jerome and JCW Managing Director, Hugh J. Ward. The event also received the patronage of the New South Wales Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland. The New English Musical Comedy Company was represented by the chorus girls, who sold programs and its leading lady, Dorothy Brunton, who sold flowers and was also the subject of an anecdote published in that day’s World’s News.
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At Her Majesty’s, Sydney, Miss Dorothy Brunton, who is to play Sylvia Dale this Saturday in “High Jinks,” sings a recruiting song in “The Girl on the Film.” This is Paul Ruben’s number, “Your King and Country Want You.” It is a woman’s appeal to the manhood of the nation to enlist. In the refrain occur the lines:
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.
We shall want you and miss you,
And with all our might and main,
We shall love you, hug you, kiss you —
When you come back again!
One night during the week Miss Brunton found two young soldiers waiting at the stage door for her. “May we speak to you, Miss Brunton?” one asked. “Yes,” she replied. “What is it?” “Well,” said the spokesman, “I am going to the front with the next lot of Australians. My friend, Billo, here, has just came back from Rabaul. We heard you sing to-night that you would kiss us when we came back again. Now what are you going to do about it? Billo, here, is back. He’s all right for his kiss. I was wondering if I could get mine in advance!”
World’s News (Sydney), Saturday, 6 February 1915, p.5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131503078
The premiere of High Jinks proved to be a great success with Sydney audiences, as reported by the theatre critics in the Sunday newspapers and their counterparts in the following Monday’s press. However, just as the German origins of The Girl on the Film had been obfuscated, so, too, were the names of High Jinks’ Hungarian-born librettist, Leo Ditrichstein, American-born (of Danish descent) lyricist/co-librettist, Otto Hauerbach (later known as Harbach) and Bohemian (Czech)-born composer, Rudolf Friml conspicuous by their absence, both from the theatre programme distributed at Her Majesty’s and the subsequent reviews of the production, lest the war-conscious audience be put off from attending by the mere mention of such Germanic-sounding names.
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“High Jinks” certainly sums it up. Few plays are fitted by their title like the unusual enlivener that burst upon the big audience at Her Majesty’s last night.
The story is quite equal to the strain of supporting the succession of bright numbers that rattle through the three hours of lively stage traffic. Sometimes there is a suggestion of congestion but the road to gaiety is never impassable. A full thoroughfare, too, is always brisker and brighter than one in which a thin stream of people meander. That is the difference between Melbourne and Sydney streets. In Melbourne the streets are too wide for the traffic; in Sydney you have to hop about to avoid being hit by something.
Last night the rush on the stage of Her Majesty’s kept the audience hopping. At times the music caught their feet with the merry jingle of bright movement—syncopated for the most part—and there was plenty of color to hold the eye.
The color scheme. of “High Jinks” is pitched in a brilliant key. All the dresses are vivid. So is the story, by the way. This tells of a young doctor who discovers a perfume, the particular virtue of which is to send the sniffer thereof into a transport of joy. He begins to bubble with life and assume a roving eye. Anything that is in sight he is after. Violet Lorraine used to sing in one of the pantomimes:
Why do those things with trousers on
Follow those things with blouses on
Something in the seaside air!
To the seaside air of Beauville, where all the characters in “High Jinks” spend the second and third acts, there is added the perfume, already mentioned. It is most potent as an inducer of the mood irresponsible—or should we say that it produces the indicative mood, indicative of being out for a good time?
How the characters get to the seaside is a story in itself. Dr. Thorne, an American physician practising in Paris, is besought by an inflammable Frenchman to take a safety pin out of his wife's throat. The patient is so grateful for the relief thus granted, that she embraces and kisses the doctor. The Frenchman is so incensed by observing this demonstration that he challenges the doctor to a duel. As an alternative he asks to be presented to Mrs. Thorne so that he might kiss her. To avoid this insult to his wife—also the Frenchman is fascinating and likely to make headway—the doctor gets Sylvia Dale, a young actress, to impersonate Mrs. Thorne. Together with Miss Dale’s chaperone, the doctor and Sylvia go to the seaside. They are registered as man and wife, though they occupy separate apartments.
Complications ensue when the inventor of the perfume, who is engaged to Sylvia, and Mrs. Thorne arrive, severally, not jointly, at Beauville. An apparently inextricable tangle is continued. This is added to by the arrival of J.J. Jeffreys —no relation to the champion—and his finding out that Sylvia's chaperone is his long lost wife. To be exact, she has been lost twenty-three years. Sylvia is supposed to be her daughter, but J.J. Jeffreys is dismayed when Sylvia tells him her age is twenty-one.
The turns and twists in the fun-making are very amusing to observe. They would, however, give one a headache if he essayed to elucidate them. Indeed, the only lucid intervals in the evening are—the intervals.
Taken at a lively pace, one has to keep mentally alert to keep up with the author. There is no breathing space in the numbers either—they are breathless. In fact, one comes away from the theatre with a feeling that one has laughed himself into a high state of good humor, and visions of delightful girls “dancing the blues away.” If one could only get a week-end ticket to Beauville and a phial of the “High Jinks” perfume, the tourist traffic would be enormous. Everyone at Her Majesty’s last night would be booking berths to-morrow and looking up the fares to-day.
To the producing staffs great credit is due. The pace never stops, and a master hand may be discerned in this very fact. Mr. Harry Burcher was the producer, Miss Minnie Hooper the ballet mistress, Mr. Andrew MacCunn the musical director, and the whole was supervised by Mr. Hugh J. Ward.
“High Jinks” has an admirable company. Miss Dorothy Brunton as Sylvia Dale was charming. Her number with Mr. Paul Plunket, as the inflammable Frenchman, was a sheer delight. It is entitled “Not now, but Later.” Mr. Plunket decidedly voted in favor of “Now.” Miss Brunton has a dainty waltz refrain, “Is this love at last?” All her work is finished, clever and attractive. Mr. Workman shares one or two numbers with the golden-haired little Australian. Their voices blend harmoniously, and the skilful acting of the English actor makes his performance a notable one. Mr. Field Fisher “eccentricises” the part of Dr. Thome, and gets plenty of genuine laughs. So does Mr. Alfred Frith as a quaint, elderly beau, Colonel Slaughter. A lumber king is the role assigned to Mr. W.H. Rawlins, and the “High Jinks” perfume has a wonderful influence upon him. Miss Vie (as the chaperone). Miss Gertrude Glyn (as a naughty actress posing as a nurse), Miss Marie Eaton (as Mrs. Thorne) and Miss Eileen Cottey are all “in the picture.” A graceful dance is given by Mlle. Novotna and M. Lauschmann in the Cabaret scene of the third act.
One of the hits of the evening was the ragging of the prison scene from ”Faust.” The cast was Mr. Workman, Mephistopheles; Miss Eaton, Marguerite; and Mr. Maguire, Valentine. It is a knockout number, and the audience would be listening to it yet if the singers were agreeable.
The well painted scenes were by Mr. Leslie Board and W. Little. The Cabaret set, with the English Channel in the background, was particularly effective.
The first matinee will be on Wednesday.
Sunday Times (Sydney), Sunday, 7 February 1915, p.6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120792475
Meanwhile The Sun’s critique was a virtual love letter to lead comedienne, Florence Vie!
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Thank you, Miss Vie. When the producer asks it, few people can in such a rollicking spirit as you slap the old fellows on their bald heads and say, “Oh, go hon.” You did a lot of it in the third act, when your business was to turn the supper scene into one of those devil-may-care restaurant sprees; and the audience liked it so much that no matter how puffed you were, they wanted you to keep going for another quarter-hour. But you had to say no. You are getting like Hamlet, you know; embonpoint and short in the wind. You show wonderful vitality and love of fun. “I don’t know how you do it, but you do.”
But in addition to this jollity, Miss Vie, you can manage quieter effects, as you did in the first act, and part of the second. The formal thanks of the first paragraph are tendered to you because of all the individuals concerned In the musical comedy, you were the one who supplied the greatest propelling force for the general gaiety.
(We must interrupt these few remarks to you, Miss Vie, in order to inform the public that the musical comedy High Jinks, an American extravaganza, was produced at Her Majesty’s Theatre by Harry B. Burcher, yourself, and others last night.)
Of course you don’t imagine, Miss Vie, that we think you the only good thing in the piece. The piece is generally pleasing, and promises to hit the public taste better than any musical comedy from America since The Belle of New York. It contains lots of ragtime, of which some people grow tired: but others are just beginning to feel enthusiastic about it. Your own songs are raggy. To tell the truth, you don't sing them as well as you could when you were the end girl in the Midnight Raiders; but you weren't engaged for your singing.
Forgetting yourself for a moment, Miss Vie, what do you think of Marie Eaton? It is a fine thing that this dashing singer should be so well placed. Give her something bold in the way of dress and something florid in the way of music, and she will do better in the role than anyone else now in Australia could. It is a pity that that black-and-white square-cut garment hung so awkwardly in the second act. Her other costumes were The Thing, and she stormed the trenches as usual with her singing.
You must share the general opinion, Miss Vie, concerning the finale of the first act— that it was striking both in its musical arrangement and in its setting. Let us mention also that your legs were easily recognisable in the quaint recall given after the first act. That was a clever trick. After the curtain rose to the recall, the whole company pranced across the stage; then danced across in close file; then showed only their legs beneath a hardly-raised curtain. Little quiffs like that add to the popularity of a show.
Be good-natured, Miss Vie, as we know you are; join with us in congratulating Dorothy Brunton on a decided success, but you needn’t take responsibility for the statement that her voice was thin in singing. She acted with great daintiness and charm.
Alfred Frith, as Colonel Slaughter, was a good study all the time; and when he sat drinking beside you at the supper-table, he was just full enough to be funny. He got drunk like a gentleman; a silly, old gentleman; and you and he together provided some great comedy of the broad sort.
Of course, Florence (we use the Christian name as the night advances), you have often seen Field Fisher’s real face. It isn’t often seen by audiences, but was revealed last night when he played Dr. Thorne. It is a funny face, isn’t it? And he's a funny comedian, a first-rate laugh-maker. He shares your success.
Perhaps, Flo, you admire C.H. Workman more than we do. He always seems to us so darned matter-of-fact in his alleged comedy. His singing passes muster. But there you are; he’s the lead—so why criticise him?
That was a bad failure of a Frenchman you put into the show, Florrle. Paul Plunket playing Jacques Rabelais. If he came into the lines at Soissons talking with that heavy, accent and barking his final “Ha” and “H’m” like that, he would be shot as a spy. His usual complement, Gertrude Glyn, was tacked on to the rest of the cast as a dancer Chi-Chi, who flirted indiscriminately. She was gentle, amiable, and undistinguished; as is her habit.
Ah, Florence, don’t you wish you could pirouette like Vlasta Novotna? She and Victor Lauschmann don’t put much striking originality into recent dances; but the spirit and movement of life are in them.
W.H. Rawlins as the Lumber King turns out to be your long-lost husband. He does you proud, if it was you who taught him to act; for his performance was a specially good piece of heavy comedy.
The show is a good one; but honestly, Flo, it’s a bit naughty in parts, isn’t it? Men employing casual wives “scientifically,” and booking up double rooms in hotels—though there is of course never a hint that they occupy them. And bits of the dialogue here and there . . . but blue is a color which doesn’t displease Sydney audiences.
You understand, Miss Vie, that the reason why the notice is written in this way is in order to get your name into every paragraph; because the writer thinks that your share in the success deserves that amount of mention.
Space fails. There is room only to say that the comedy is smart, and fairly consecutive in spite of so many loosely-strung numbers; the setting is handsome, the dressing bright, if not extravagant, and the songs better than usual. The waltz refrain, Love at Last (Dorothy Brunton) will be popular. The burlesque of Faust in rag-time goes well with those who like rag-time burlesque—and apparently 99 of the 100 do.
First matinee next Wednesday.
The Sun (Sydney), Sunday, 7 February 1915, p.4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229323706
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“High Jinks,” the new “musical follity” at Her Majesty’s Theatre, is a gorgeously-dressed piece of hilarious nonsense, for the most part noisily scored to suit the uproarious high spirits of a bustling crowd on a well-filled stage. At the same time it boasts two fascinating melodies which delight the general ear. The scent-theme is heard as often as Dick Wayne (C.H. Workman) waves the magic “High Jinks” perfume beneath the nose of one of his victims, with the result that “the veriest icicle glows with the warmth of spring, and the prude becomes a daredevil.”
In this way the sight of various people gliding and springing like puppets whenever the string was pulled to the sparkling orchestral piece that emphasised the comic situation never failed to put the audience in high good humour. The second theme on which the popularity of the musical farce will be founded is a charming “valse lente” in the Viennese style, first introduced in song-form by Miss Dorothy Brunton, with plangent harp and flowery reed-phrases in the dainty scoring, and afterwards taken up as a chorus, and happily repeated whenever the action threatened to flag. The irresponsible merriment of “High Jinks” revealed tedious places here and there in the earlier scenes, but really clever acting by all concerned triumphed and the advantage of a capital last act in which Mr. W.H. Rawlins and Miss Florence Vie carried all before them, so prized-up the entertainment as a whole, that it may be confidently “tipped” for a good run.
Mr. Rawlins makes leisurely headway before he becomes prominently “in the running” for first honours, his part being that of a ponderous. elderly American timber king. This stout old way-back, one J.J. Jeffreys, cherishes sentimental recollections of Adelaide Fontaine (Florence Vie), an actress who deserted him 23 years before, and a year after their separation mendaciously announced that he was the father of a lovely baby-girl. The reconciliation between the two, their duet “Come Hither,” Mr. Rawlins’ prosy supper-speech, and the joyous surprise of handsprings from an elderly actor of high tonnage, were amongst the uproarious delights of the evening. Miss Vie’s quietly humorous aplomb as a woman capable of enjoying a champagne lunch with undiminished zest no matter what perilous complications may develop, and her calm indifference to the fact that Sylvia Dale was not her daughter at all, as “papa” must quickly find out, kept up the interest of the plot. Rag-time was evidently all the rage when the musical comedy was written and Miss Vie’s comic numbers were mostly in that idiom, which, with chorus and brass effects, almost invariably leads to sheer noise. The blue of her costume in “Jim” clashed horribly with the hostile tone of the blue blazers of her attendant Swains—and at eight to one the lady should give way!
The principal figure in the story was Mr. Field Fisher, as an American specialist in Paris, a Dr. Thorne, who struck only occasional sparks of humour from dull dialogue, but looked the part, and comically expressed in dance the joys of “High Jinks.” Besides her well-rendered valse-song, Miss Brunton as Sylvia Dale, played her rapturous little love-passages prettily, and though the enunciation of her first song was quite indistinct, she hit the mark in “By the Sea.” Herein a roguish-looking bevy of bathing-girls threw themselves in easy attitudes upon an imaginary shore whilst the rhythmic “swish” of a shingly beach was suggested from the wings as on additional accompaniment. Miss Marie Eaton (Mrs. Thorne) was twice encored, in association with Messrs. Workman and Fred Maguire, for a ragtime burlesque upon the prison-trio from “Faust.” Mr. Workman did not reveal new points as an actor, but his tuneful voice was well used in various duets, including “Chi-Chi,” with Gertrude Glyn. This latter artist’s best effort was the tender song “Bubbles,” the idea of which was further illustrated by coloured puff-balls launched upon the bosom of the air. Laughter was caused by Mr. Paul Plunket's amusing, through weird, caricature of Jacques Rabelais. Mr. Alfred Frith’s soundly-drawn portrait of Colonel Slaughter, a military boarding-house buck, proved of immense service in the supper-scene. Beauville, with the purple shadows of night suffusing a breath of turquoise sea, formed the central tableau by Leslie Board. Here, also, Vlasta Novotna won applause by her dazzling pirouettes within the embrace of Victor Lauschmann. Mr. Harry B. Burcher directed this successful production, Mr. Andrew MacCunn conducted the music, and Miss Minnie Hooper the dances, and all were included in the recalls of enthusiasm at the close.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 8 February 1915, p.4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15549955
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MUSICAL JOLLITY AT HER MAJESTY’S.
There is a good deal of smart comedy in “High Jinks,” which was produced by the Williamson management at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. The development of the story, with its numerous absurd complications, is far more coherent than the majority of pieces of the class, and was undoubtedly well thought out. One can quite imagine an author getting rather mixed himself in working through this scheme, in which wives and pretended wives pay such important roles.
It emanates from the act of a doctor (Robert Thorne) being caught by a truculent Frenchman (M. Jacques Rabelais) kissing his (the Frenchman’s) wife. Rabelais wants either a duel with the doctor or to kiss the other’s wife. Thorne, under the advice of Dick Wayne, supplies another wife for the kissing, and away everybody goes from the doctor’s sanatorium near Paris to Beauville, a French bathing-place, where the scenes—particularly that at a supper in the Hotel de Pavilion—are extremely gay. Leslie Board’s picture of this bathing resort is decidedly a success. The idea of Dick Wayne’s perfume that acts as a kind of rejuvenator, though not entirely new, is responsible for fine wholesome fun. In parts the comedy gets close to the danger line, but people seem to like that.
As for the music, much of it will appeal to those who like ragtime, and Sydney’s taste is certainly inclined that way nowadays more than ever, perhaps for lack of higher musical encouragement. There is a kind of ragtime burlesque on “Faust” (sung by Miss Marie Eaton, Mr. C.H. Workman, and Mr. Fred Maguire), over which the audience went fairly wild. But everything was like that in the uproarious supper scene.
Mr. Field Fisher’s performance of the part of Dr. Robert Thorne was cleverly humorous, especially while he was under the influence of the “High Jinks” perfume, invented by Dick Wayne (a part smartly played by Mr. C.H. Workman). Excellent humor was exhibited by Mr. W.H. Rawlins, as an American lumber king, who had lost his wife for over 29 years, and discovers her at last in Adelaide Fontaine (a character played on broad lines by Miss Florence Vie), and Mr. Alfred Frith, who made everybody laugh at the supper table, as Colonel Slaughter. Mr. Paul Plunkett’s Rabelais was eccentric, but not convincing. Miss Dorothy Brunton (Sylvia Dale), Miss Gertrude Glyn (Mlle. Chi-Chi). Miss Marie Eaton (the real Mrs. Thorne), and Miss Nellie Hobson (Madame Rabelais) each had her admirers.
Evening News (Sydney), Monday, 8 February 1915, p.8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115825612
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AMERICAN COMEDY AT HER MAJESTY’S.
Ever since a few peculiarly seductive bars of waltz music made “The Merry Widow” one of the successes of its period, composers in two continents have been striving to find some other peculiarly seductive bars, so as to make some other musical comedy the success of some other season. They have not succeeded overwell, but In “High Jinks,” produced at Her Majesty’s on Saturday night, there Is a frequently recurring little melody, which in a month’s time will be whistled by every messenger boy in Sydney. “High Jinks” is the name given to a new liquid, the taste—even the aroma—of which possesses remarkable properties. Under its influence “the icicle glows with warmth of spring, and the prude becomes a devil,” and the change is announced by a lilting little strain, which sets everybody's feet a-dancing. They dance through three acts of comedy, from the more or less sedateness of a specialist’s surgery to the balcony of a Beauvllle hotel, where the jinks are, in truth very high.
But “High Jinks” has come to stay. Being American, its music is syncopated fairly well, out of compliment to the prevailing musical fashion, though a little bit of syncopation is not unpleasant, if only by way of variety. Yet the purely musical side of “High Jinks” is clever. Mr. Workman’s first song sets a high standard, both for soloists and chorus. Half a dozen numbers, which come within the legitimate scope of the play—notably a waltz song, “Is This Love at Last,” by Dorothy Brunton-—are far removed from the commonplace. One interpolated, number—“Faust” in ragtime—whilst standing out as an offence against everything associated with the memory of Gounod, a horrible travesty upon one of the world’s masterpieces, is so clever, as to make it almost the musical success of the evening. The final trio of “Faust”—Mephistopheles, Faust, and Marguerite—singing the triumphant “Holy Angel in Heaven Blest,” is actually produced and sung in horrible ragtime by Miss Marie Eaton, Mr. C.H. Workman, and Mr. Fred Maguire. The parody is a piece of gigantic American impudence, but its cleverness is undoubted. There is similar cleverness throughout the whole performance, which, produced on a substantially lavish scale, may be quoted as one of the best things of its kind that America has produced in recent years. And the few bars of real live melody give promise of providing a sound foundation for a successful career.
Dr. Robert Thorne, an American specialist in Paris, is a very grave, austere, scientific person, interested only in patients and in science. He is the despair of his wife, until Dick Wayne comes along with the liquid discovered outback somewhere, which has the curious effect on the nerves already referred to. He submits it to Thorne as a property with millions in it. Thorne is a scoffer and will not listen to Wayne. In order to prove its potency, however, Wayne smuggles some into the doctor's drink. At once the little melody is heard coming up from the first violins, the flutes take it up, then the clarinets, then the full orchestra—and the metamorphosis is complete. The staid scientific icicle is infected with the warmth of a human spring. He suffers a grateful Parisienne to kiss him just as her husband happens to be looking on, and the Frenchman insists on either a duel or the privilege of kissing the doctor's wife by way of compensation. The rest is comparatively easy. The Frenchman may kiss anybody so long as it is not the doctor’s wife, and in order to secure this end various impersonations have to take place.
One of the doctor’s patients is Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, an American lumber king, who lost his wife 23 years ago. Adelaide Fontaine happens to be the wife, and circumstances draw her to Beauville at the time her husband is there undergoing a cure. She has a protege, Sylvia Dale, who is to be introduced as the doctor’s wife. Jeffreys has a particularly pretty dancer attending him as a nurse, and the mix up leads to a great finale. Through it all runs Colonel Slaughter in the role of more or less idiotic commentator.
There are quite a number of situations which progress as far as they legitimately can, but a whiff of “High Jinks” sets the fiddles going, the fiddles infect the flute, the flute the clarinets, and the parties concerned dance themselves out of all the difficulties that seem to be looming ahead.
Three characters stood but conspicuously—Mr. W.H. Rawlins as the American lumber king; Mr. Field Fisher as Dr. Thorne; and Miss Florence Vie as Adelaide Fontaine. The first named was always clever. His speech at the supper table, into which he tried to introduce a few local references when he had better have adhered to the “book,” was the only flaw in an otherwise great performance. Mr. Fisher was an immediate success. His smile, developing breadth with the accompanying music, was irresistible. Miss Vie, in a part which in more or less readymade, also came through with flying colours. One misses the twang which would have put the perfecting touch to the extravagant and loud Americaine, and the critic has not to say too much of Miss Vie’s singing; but the lady, nevertheless, took a big share in the honors of the evening. Mr. Workman has not much scope in the more or less stodgy part of Dick Wayne, whose chief business seems to be singing, and to spread the aroma which sets everybody else on the move; but Mr. Frith’s Colonel Slaughter was another of the successes of the night. Mr. Paul Plunket was the Frenchman—earnest, but not French; just as Miss Gertrude Glyn, in her part of Mdlle. Chi Chi, a dancer from the Folies Bergeres, was very interesting—but not Parisian. Her “bubble” song near the end deserved a recall.
The musical honors were shared between Miss Marie Eaton as Mrs. Thorne, and Miss Dorothy Brunton as Sylvia Dale, both of whom were fortunate in having to sing songs that were suitable to their style of voice, and in the various numbers in which they were joined by Mr. Workman (who carried all the male vocalisation) all did well. The chorus work was excellent. The dancing was clever, the dresses pretty, and the staging lavish, and there is everything in the production to warrant extended popularity. There will be a matinee on Wednesday.
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), Monday, 8 February 1915, p.8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238847276
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The musical aspects of High Jinks were also given their due by JCW’s respected Sydney-based Musical Director, Andrew MacCunn and the interpolated Act III trio “Faust in Ragtime” (not in the original New York production) even received comment (and grudging praise) from the “serious” music critic of The Daily Telegraph, echoing that of the paper’s drama critic.
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The musical director of High Jinks had innumerable rehearsals with the orchestra and principals before the production at Her Majesty’s last night of the piece.
“There are people,” Mr. MacCunn says, “who imagine that there is no art in light tunes. There is. How many composers of grand opera have tried to ‘dash off’ a musical comedy and dismally failed? The gift of melody is as decided a gift as, say, the gift for writing graceful verse. There is also some special talent required for presenting it. I have rehearsed and conducted grand opera; in fact, I did nothing but that for some years. And it is easier work than musical comedy. Opera, so far as the best works of great composers is concerned, is musical gold. Musical comedy is glitter, without being gold. Therefore it has to be made to seem like it, to be polished until it sparkles brilliantly. There is a whole box of tricks one has to master before he can get the brilliance from the scores. One has to got the vocal brightness from the choruses, the orchestra, and the principals, who in every case are not perfect musicians. Even with such skilled readers of music as Mr. Workman, Mr. Maguire, and Miss Eaton, we have had endless rehearsals for the Faust ragtime trio. The harmonies, the syncopation, and the tricky vocal acrobatics all have to be got with such a degree of certainty and ease that no effort Is apparent. The average person in an audience imagines that lack of effort in an artist denotes that a thing is easy. Few realise the time that artist expends in perfecting a number so that effort is concealed. Many stage aspirants are misled into thinking a thing easy through it looking that way. It is one of those stage paradoxes that the easier a man’s job seems the more difficult it actually is! That is how it is with the music of High Jinks, for instance.”
The Sun (Sydney), Sunday, 7 February 1915, p.13, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229323678
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“High Jinks” perpetrates an extremely clever “paraphrase” of the prison scene in Gounod’s “Faust.” It is a polyphonic tangle of sound for three voices, accompanied by the orchestra, that must have demanded unremitting rehearsal. Old contrapuntal Bach would be filled with envy if he could hear it. So clever is it that the “parody” is lost sight of, a fortunate circumstance for those who have enshrined Gounod’s masterpiece in their hearts. But where will these musically irreverent liberties end? Perhaps we shall hear the Austral Quartet engaged to play ragtime at Bridge parties, and the stately Philharmonic chorus chanting cake-walk variations on Handelian themes. Seriously, though, no music-lovers would like to see overmuch of this trifling, however clever, and however well executed. The sublime is so near the ridiculous, it is said, that when next we see Goethe’s hapless Marguerite, her tragic distress will not touch us, remembering its humorous travesty in “High Jinks.” In a way, no doubt, the burlesque can show good cause; the trail of the artificial is spread over such scenes as the one in question. The new version of the “Faust” prison scene is but a modern commentary upon the older operatic conventions. It is obviously put forward as an item in the business of relieving much-tried humanity from the monotony of everyday existence; as such it is to be accepted in the same spirit as it is placed before the public.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), Saturday, 13 February 1915, p.6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238844951
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Meanwhile the weekly Bulletin’s critique of the show was in typical flippant fashion, accompanied by Harry Julius’s comical caricatures.
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“High Jinks,” the latest JCW light musical show, now kicking cheerfully at Her Majesty’s, Sydney, is the usual French comedy with its fangs drawn. There is just enough left in it to suggest that, in its original state, it must have been a death-adder. There is, for instance, the passage-at-arms between the pretty actress-nurse and the elderly rich American, who has been sent away in her charge by a doctor made frivolous by a whiff of the wonder-working “High Jinks” perfume. Finding that she has registered as his wife at two hotels (they have just been politely moved on from the first), he strikes a virtuous attitude and asks her what she means by it. “Why!” she drawls amazedly, “I thought it was expected of me!” The plot is quite simple and conduces to hilarity. After one whiff of the “High Jinks” raffing gas, everybody becomes uproarious and morally irresponsible and runs away with the other party. It is the sort of central idea that would become boresome if done to slow, yearning music by a lot of staid, easy-going principals with the fat of middle-age thick upon them. Fortunately the music—of which there is a good supply—is nearly all lively and tuneful, and the few Jinkers who are not young and handsome have some other advantages.
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Dorothy Brunton is the usual fluffy vision in a cream-puff part and a couple of songs, one of which, a remembersome waltz, is sung with taking ease. Her careful voice-production is in delicate contrast to Marie Eaton’s method of using her high soprano, which is forced unpleasantly, especially in a superfluous Faust burlesque several yards too long. However, Miss Eaton's acting is uniformly good, and so is cheerful Florence Vie’s. The fair and willowy Gertrude Glyn as usual looms up in one or two gowns that stun the stalls; but a wide, sunny smile disarms criticism. She almost succeeds in being pathetic with a song in which large rubber balloons are referred to as soap bubbles. Field Fisher, C.H. Workman and W.H. Rawlins, the chief comedians, put up a remarkably good plain-clothes performance. Rawlins is the best off for “fat,” as the moral American invalid mentioned above. Chris Wren (French waiter) and Alfred Frith (burlesque Colonel) form a good comedy second-line. Paul Plunket succeeds in being the sort of infatuated stage Frenchman that numberless other actors have failed to be; and the dainty little Vlasta Novotna whirls gracefully with partner Victor Lauschmann in a smart third-act specialty. The mounting and dresses are good, and the chorus and orchestra do their duty; but the Iron Crosses and other decorations must be handed to the 14 capable principals.
The Bulletin (Sydney), 11 February 1915, p.8
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With the increased perils faced by commercial shipping from the UK and the Continent, which were subject to possible attack by German battleships and U-boats, the importation of overseas artists for theatrical engagements by J.C. Williamson’s was severely hampered and consequently Australian actresses were promoted to leading roles in its productions – a situation that was remarked upon and celebrated by the Sydney Sunday Times.
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Three critics of the “Sunday Times” held a hasty consultation last night, resulting in a collaboration upon three Williamson attractions. Each critic was struck by the prominence achieved by Australian artists at the principal Sydney theatres. Australians were conspicuously represented at Her Majesty’s, the Theatre Royal, and the Criterion. It is noteworthy that the three leading actresses at each performance were native-born.
At Her Majesty’s, Miss Dorothy Brunton appears as Sylvia Dale, the sympathetic role of “High Jinks” on the feminine side. Miss Brunton gives a performance worthy of any light musical offering of any theatre in the world. She has in addition to many small graces that go to make up charm, admirable acting assets. Her technique is certain, and reflects the mind of a thorough student of dramatic art. Although a mere girl, she brings to her performance the wide experience of a carefully trained vocalist and actress. It is a sheer delight to watch her in the various numbers of the score that are allotted to her. One of these in particular, “Not Now, But Later,” represents the perfection of stage effect. Not only is she skilful in her singing of this, but the dance she shares with Mr. Paul Plunket, is neat and cleverly rhythmical to a degree seldom witnessed on the lyric stage. There is little doubt that if Miss Brunton had come to us from abroad she would be recognised as the most successful engagement of years.
In the same theatre there is an artist of exceptional merit in Miss Marie Eaton. Miss Eaton is another Australian who shows a true sense of the theatre. All her work is ably considered and her effects wonderfully sure. She has also singing abilities away ahead of what might be expected in the class of attraction in which she figures. Her vocalism is brilliant and theatrically effective. In the Faust trio she displays a gift of syncopation that is extraordinary outside the native American. Contrasted with this, is her spirited rendering of “When Sammy Sang The Marseillaise,” a number that would be a hit in pantomime.
There are two other young Australians who show promise in this bright show—Miss Cecil Bradley, who speaks the lines of a French boy in buttons with remarkable verisimilitude, and Miss Eileen Cottey, who appears as the demure Red Cross nurse of Dr. Thorne.
Then there must be mentioned the excellent work of Miss Minnie Hooper, the Australian ballet mistress of the Williamson management. All the chorus elaborations are hers, and they would do credit to the most ingenious inventor of enlivening and hustling stage movements of the New York productions. Miss Hooper is also to be congratulated upon the splendid material she has to her hand in the beautiful and intelligent chorus girls who are such a feature in “High Jinks.”
Touching on the dramatic side of the Williamson forces, the company at the Theatre Royal [in “The Sign of the Cross”] exhibits several Australians of conspicuous merit. Outstanding among these is Miss Lizette Parkes, who plays Mercia to the Marcus Superbus of Mr. Julius Knight. Miss Parkes got something out of this character last night that is new to Australian playgoers. She interpreted Wilson Barrett's heroine on lines of originality that show her to be no mere copyist or slavish follower of tradition. Miss Parkes made Mercia spiritual, and brought to the role a simple dignity that exercised a powerful emotional appeal. Heretofore we have seen statuesque and sometimes cold impersonators of the Christian girl whose faith is equal to the test of martyrdom. For the first time one realised the true inwardness of the character, and it remained for an Australian to bring it home to us in its full force.
Sunday Times (Sydney), Sunday, 14 February 1915, p.6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120797610
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In support of the war effort (and also as a good public relations exercise) J.C. Williamson’s was at the forefront in organising extracurricular promotional activities for it company members.
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Mr. Hugh Ward, the Sydney director of J.C. Williamson, Ltd., is interesting himself a good deal in connection with the police and firemen’s carnival next Saturday, and he instructed Mr. Matheson, the manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre, and Mr. Rock Phillips, the property master, on Saturday to have dress rehearsals of the tableau of Britannia at the theatre yesterday.
About 20 members of the “High Jinks” Company were in attendance, and the morning was spent in arranging the tableau, which will be most effective, and will lead the parade.
Two other members of JCW companies are to be in the procession as Joan of Arc and the Statue of Liberty. Mr. Ward will decide this morning who will fill the parts mentioned.
Members of the Australian Vaudeville Artists’ Federation were also engaged yesterday in rehearsal for the carnival. They are to have tableaux of Australia and Montenegro, and, judging from the displays, their efforts towards making the procession a spectacular one are certain of success.
The members of the Stagehands’ Society, under Mr. Rock Phillips, have received permission from Mr. Ward to wear pantomime costumes in the procession.
The brigades of ladles who are to appear in different national costumes and represent the allied countries have been busily engaged with the organisers, making final plans for the carnival, and they are having costume rehearsals early this week.
At the Showground the theatricals who appear in the procession will also take part in the afternoon's program.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 22 February 1915, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15562972
The arrangements for the Police and Firemen’s Patriotic Carnival on Saturday have been completed. Over 20,000 tickets have been sold.
The procession is to leave the Domain at 10.20 o’clock In the morning, but the processionists will be in the Domain at 9.30 o’clock. The parade will be nearly two miles long, and the displays are considered to be the finest of their kind yet shown in Sydney. Miss Alma Phillips, of the Julius Knight Company, as Joan of Arc, will lead the French section. In the preparation of her armour and headgear, her father, Mr. Rock Phillips, property master for J.C. Williamson, Ltd., has used some chain-mail which was fixed to the crown worn by the late Mr. George Rignold when he first appeared at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in “Henry VIII.” The British Empire tableau, with Miss Hope Hunter, of the “High Jinks” Company, as Britannia, and Miss Dolan, of the Julius Knight Company, posing as the Statue of Liberty in the French section, will be features. In fact, all the sections will be well represented. A fireman, Mr. Ephraim Stoneham, head of the mechanical department at Fire Headquarters, will be dressed as John Bull. The Canadian representatives have a splendidly arranged tableau, and Mr. A. Gordon Wesche, superintendent of the P. and O. Company in Australia, has given permission for 100 Indians now in Sydney to march in the Indian section. There will be Maoris on parade, and vaudeville artists and baseballers have arranged tableaux, while the naval, military, police, and fire brigade forces will each be in strong force.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Thursday, 25 February 1915, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28113947
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Charles Workman, too, played his part in providing “copy” for the relentless publicity machine put into motion to promote J.C. Williamson productions.
A HORRIBLE SITUATION.
CHARLES WORKMAN'S STORY.
Many extraordinary experiences have been encountered by Charles Workman, the infectiously humorous comedian, who, as Dick Wayne in High Jinks, is high priest in chief of that rollicking musical farce. When engaged at the Savoy Theatre, London, in the regime of Gilbert and Sullivan it was the custom to play at least one afternoon a week, and the opera chosen for the day show was invariably different to that on the evening bill, On this particular occasion Mr. Workman had been playing Jack Point in The Yeoman of the Guard during the afternoon, and having got rid of the trials and tribulations of the pathetic jester, went to his lodgings for a rest previous to the night performance.
At the usual time Mr. Workman proceeded to dress for the evening’s entertainment. Presently a red-headed youth called, “Mr. Workman, on the stage, please,” and the favorite comedian at once made his way towards the stage and took his stand in the wings. Suddenly his hair began to rise on end, his backbone became frozen, he shivered as in a palsy, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He heard the chorus in full blast singing as they bowed and kow-towed towards the wings where he was standing, “Defer, defer, to the Lord High Executioner.”
Heavens, The Mikado, and he dressed for The Yeoman of the Guard! There was no help for it. He had to go on. Consternation was depicted on the faces of the people on the stage. Presently it gave way to merriment. First they giggled, then guffawed, and finally roared. The audience, taking up the general laughter, stamped and yelled. With one wild look Mr, Workman flew from the stage, tearing off the fateful garments as he ran, reached his dressing-room, and with a despairing shriek threw himself from a third-story window on to the paved courtyard beneath. Then he woke up, and found that he had tumbled out of bed, having torn to ribbons a new pair of pyjamas.
The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 28 February 1915, p.13, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page24526170
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British comedienne, Florence Vie also contributed her fair share to the theatrical gossip columns.
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BEAUVILLE AND COOGEE.
FLORENCE VIE COMPARES THEM
“Nobody has asked me for a pattern of the bathing gown I wear in High Jinks,” said Florence Vie with, comic ruefulness, after mentioning the fact that the chorus members were receiving requests as to who made theirs.
“You see, my purpose is to be grotesque. All my effects in the clothes way in this production are bizarre … I am a humorous vulgarian. If the character is not accepted in that spirit, then there is ‘nothing to it,’ as the Americans say.
“I am referred to as 'a little September morn.’ Really I feel more like summer afternoon—at Coogee. There, however, I would probably be wearing a floppy cottonette Canadian, judging from observation of the beach. I have noticed that the surf beach garbs of the ocean bathing places about Sydney are utilitarian rather than aesthetic. I wonder what would be said if our Beauvllle girls in their dainty costumes invaded Coogee one Sunday morning. The press agent ought to try it. I think there would be a sensation. But in Australia the surf is an enjoyment. Girls go in and splash about. Looks are their last concern. At the French watering places they don’t go near the water. You see them parading in beautiful bathing gowns, and most of them don't get any more wet than the chorus in High Jinks could get in the painted ocean.
“All things considered, I think the Coogee way is better. There you can feel nice. At Beauvllle you can only look nice—‘By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea!’”
The Sun (Sydney, NSW) Sunday, 14 February 1915, p.13, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page24526030
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As the Sydney season of High Jinks drew to a satisfactory close after a run of six weeks of dispensing fun and frivolity to its war-weary audiences, its esteemed Musical Director found himself on the receiving end of some unscripted high jinks perpetrated by the company members, as related in the Personal columns of the next day’s newspapers.
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Mr. Andrew MacCunn, who has for some years now successfully conducted the J.C. Williamson orchestras, experienced the surprise of his life at the close of “High Jinks” at Her Majesty's Theatre last night. Raising his baton with confidence for the National Anthem, his orchestra responded with an exuberant rendering of the “Wedding March,” whilst a crowd of front-stall patrons joined the artists in pelting the embarrassed musician with confetti. Mr. MacCunn’s secret was a secret no more! He is to marry Miss Forester to-day.
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) Thursday, 18 March 1915, p.8
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Following the Wednesday evening performance, Hugh J. Ward presented MacCunn with a silver salver from J.C. Williamson, Ltd., a cabinet of cutlery from the company, and entree dishes from the orchestra.
Andrew MacCunn was duly married to Adelaide-born musician, Miss Laura Forrester at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Phillip Street, Sydney by the Rev. John Ferguson on 18 March. The bride was given away by Mr. E.J. Tait, who at that time was the General Manager of the Sydney branch of J.C. Williamson Ltd. Her Majesty’s Theatre Orchestra attended the church and played musical selections.
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CLOSE OF “HIGH JINKS”
“High Jinks,” which has crowded Her Majesty’s Theatre throughout its run, came to an end last night amidst scenes of enthusiasm and floral presentations. Indeed, there can be no doubt that, but for the interruption of Easter, the American “musical jollity” would have held its place for weeks to come. The musical comedy provided plenty of good parts, and Messrs. Fisher, Workman, Rawlins, Plunket, Misses Brunton, Glynn, Eaton, and Vie were all seen to advantage in it. The J.C. Williamson Company will introduce this piece in Melbourne next Saturday as the Easter attraction.
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Saturday, 20 March 1915, p.21
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As JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company wended its way Southwards via train to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on Easter Saturday, 27 March 1915, its Sydney counterpart prepared to pay host to the pantomime Cinderella, which had entertained Melbourne audiences for a good 8 week season over the Christmas–New Year period, followed by a stopover in Brisbane during early March.
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High Jinks (A Musical Jollity in Three Acts). Book by Leo Ditrichstein and Otto Hauerbach [Harbach]. Based on Leo Ditrichstein's farce Before and After, (adapted from the French farce Les Dragées d'Hercule by Maurice Hennequin and Paul Bilhaud). Music by Rudolf Friml. Lyrics by Otto Hauerbach [Harbach]. Produced by Arthur Hammerstein. Opened 10 December 1913 at the Lyric Theatre, moved 12 January 1914 to the Casino Theatre, and closed 13 June 1914 after 213 performances.
High Jinks midi files, featuring the full score of the musical, may be heard online at: https://www.gsarchive.net/AMT/highjinks/index.html
The vocal score for High Jinks published by G. Schirmer: New York in 1913 may be read (and downloaded) from the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/highjinksmusicalf00friml/mode/2up
The orchestra parts for High Jinks extant in the ‘J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials’ at the National Library of Australia (reference: https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/34454117) reveal that the musical was scored for leader; 1st violin; 2nd violin; viola; cello; bass; bassoon; clarinet; flute; oboe; cornets; horns; trumpets; trombone; drums and harp.
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THERE were signs of “a certain liveliness” in Mr. Monte Luke’s studio when the writer called. One star of great magnitude was in possession of the chair, some lesser lights were examining prints; an assistant was hard at work coloring transparencies for the front of the theatre.
The studio at the back of the Theatre Royal, Sydney, is a small one, without trimmings. Subjects don’t need to be cajoled into it, nor flattered while there with comfortable lounges and luxurious carpets. On the way to it the outsider gets some fascinating glimpses of the big JCW property room, and perhaps of some members of a company practising a dance in another room.
Mr. Luke, with the curly hair, the smile that won’t come off, and a cigarette, adjourns to the three by two darkroom to develop plates and answer questions.
“Yes, there have been a good many theatrical celebrities in front of my camera. There were Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton. I was particularly interested in taking Mr. Asche, as I was born a few doors away from his birthplace in Geelong. There were Lewis Waller and Madge Titheradge, the principals of the Quinlan Opera Co., Graham Moffat and the ‘Bunty’ company, and a good many others, including those now playing in Australia—the Julius Knight, Fred Niblo, Muriel Starr companies, and the new English Comedy Co.
“I don’t remember any particular incidents. They all know their business and pose without any trouble. I press the bulb, and the camera does the rest. It’s very easy.
“Did you see the cinema pictures in ‘Come Over Here?’ Jack Cannot, Johnnie Osborne and some others in a car raced along the road and dashed across the railway line in front of a train. That was a thrilling moment for me as a spectator at the camera. People thought it was a fake. It wasn’t. The pictures were taken at National Park. The engine-driver knew nothing about it beforehand. I guess he was a bit startled to see the car cross in the nick of time.
“We have done some fairly good fake pictures. That was some years ago, before this business had extended so much and we were not so busy. On one occasion, there were no pictures of the pantomime animals, and I suggested a wild beast chase in Centennial Park. A camp of hunters was made up, and property lions, giraffes, etc., taken out. We got photographs of a man treed by a lion, men stalking a giraffe, and things of that sort. Another time an actor was mistaken for a burglar and arrested. We got a super dressed up as a policeman, had the scene re-enacted and photographed it.”
By this time the plates were finished with temporarily, some prints had had a bath and we were out in the studio again.
“Of course, speed is an important matter in this business. I remember when Florence Young came over from Melbourne for ‘The Girl in the Train’ performance. I went up to Strathfield to meet her and take a snap-shot of her in the train. The station-master obligingly pushed the train out of the dark underground platform for me, and I got the picture at a quarter to eleven. At twelve noon the print was in the newspaper offices and appeared the same afternoon.
“I valued very much Mr. Graham Moffat’s praise of some work I did for him. He had been a photographer for many years before he became a playwright and actor. Before he opened here with ‘Bunty’ he called in one day at four-fifteen, and at five o'clock his photographs were in the newspaper offices. He said they were amongst the best pictures of himself that he had seen.
“Madame Genee started photography out here. She was getting pictures every week from her husband, who was a fairly good amateur, and she thought she would like to send him as good or better. I went round with her frequently to take snapshots in the Gardens and elsewhere. She picked up the game quickly. A very charming lady was Genee.”
“Do you find the ladies more anxious than the men to have their photographs published?” Mr. Luke was asked.
“I don’t find actresses in a hurry to have their photographs taken, as a rule. Perhaps I should say that their anxiety varies inversely with their experience. There is a stage in the career of an actor when he doesn't want any more photographs taken—at any rate, not until his hair turns white all over.
“At first it is interesting, I suppose, to see one's face all over the place. They become almost as familiar to the public as the King’s head, but he has the pull of an exclusive circulation on coins and postage stamps. But it’s a thing one gets used to, like the job of taking ’em.”
“You were once an actor yourself, weren’t you?”
“Yes, and my knowledge of acting has helped me some here. I was for a number of years in Julius Knight’s company, and with Edwin Geach, Clarke and Meynell, and Philip Lytton. I went into the country and played most of Harcourt Beatty’s parts, and I was understudy to Stephen Ewart in the Ethel Irving Co. It was Mr. Knight who advised me to take up photography. Some of my early pictures pleased him, and I kept at it. On returning from New Zealand with the Ethel Irving Co. I found there was nothing doing for me for a few weeks until ‘Ben Hur’ opened; so I took some photographs on my own account and brought along some suggestions to the management. Not long after I was engaged permanently and provided with this studio and dark room.”
“Did you start with those frames of tinted beauties who might very well pass for angels in the dusk with the light behind them?”
“Not exactly. I used to take pictures of the performers in their make-up on matinee day, and put a set of them in a frame. Coloring came later. Mr. Hugh Ward suggested the transparencies. And then we got the set of powerful arc lamps which enable us to take pictures in the day time without the hard starey expression of photographs taken with a flashlight. To-morrow I’ll be taking a lot of scenes in ‘High Jinks.’ Come along to Her Majesty’s and see it done.”
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The stage was lit for the occasion with white light. The full strength of the company was present as for a full dress rehearsal. The stage manager called out “Take your places, please, for the opening scene,” and the company arranged itself. The camera had been placed on a trestle up the central aisle of the stalls. In a couple of minutes everybody had posed correctly. Mr. Luke focussed the group and with bulb in hand called out, “That’s it; now hold it, hold it, hold it—right!”—click, and the deed was done in less than five minutes. Then groups and single figures appearing in scenes in the first act were taken, the opening of the second act, other groups and individual performers; the camera being removed to the stage for the smaller groups.
“Mr. Workman, will you lean a little nearer to Miss Brunton, please?”
“Now, Mr. Rawlins, if you’ll throw your head back and laugh. I’m ready for you. That’s it. Thanks.”
“Miss—will you pull your foot back, please, it’s in the way.”
It was entertaining to the solitary idle spectator to see a well-known actor or actress in costume and make-up putting on a fatuous grin or pretending to rock with wild laughter. It reminded him of that well-known stage direction on the post card:—“Smile, damn you, smile!” and made him laugh more than a regular performance. Apparently the make-up on the actress's face is not a necessity when photographs are taken with the new lights. Miss Glyn came in a little late and without any make-up, and the photographs taken of her were as good as any. The camera fiend went on, perspiring but imperturbable, until over 150 negatives had been taken. He had started at a quarter past eleven, was interrupted by the rehearsal of a ballet, and had finished at a quarter to two. The whole of the photographs were finished and ready for inspection at a few minutes past five o’clock.
“How many photographs do you turn out in a week?”
“Some weeks, two or three hundred. That would be when a new play opens here. The prints are sent from Sydney to all the other Australian cities and to New Zealand and South Africa. When a new play opens in Melbourne, I run over there in time for Friday’s dress rehearsal and the prints are in front of the theatre on Saturday.”
Every passer-by sees these pictures and apparently likes to see them. The public never gets tired of the faces of the pretty women and the clever men who provide its principal entertainment. That is to say that the public is at least as much interested in the personality of the actor as in his words or songs or even acting. While that is so the photographer who makes as good photographs as Mr. Luke does of theatrical stars is a public benefactor, for he helps to scatter their radiance far beyond the footlights.
The Lone Hand, 1 April 1915, pp.315–317
Growing up in the 1960s, amongst my first picture-going memories was being taken along to various Melbourne city cinemas by my mother to see Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and, a few years later, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Doctor Doolittle and Scrooge. The latter two films introduced me to the ‘world of pure imagination’ of Leslie Bricusse (a term coined by Leslie and his writing partner, Anthony Newley for their musical score to the 1971 film version of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)
Such early childhood influences fostered in me a life-long interest in Musical film and theatre, both as a subsequent collector of recordings and as an amateur performer on the musical stage (with some 28 such productions to my credit, plus numerous musical revues) and, in later years, as a broadcaster on Melbourne community radio 96.5 Inner FM.
Following some ten years of broadcasting operettas and comic operas on my monthly stint as a co-presenter of the Classical music programme ‘Concert Hall’, I was given the opportunity in mid-2011 to host my own weekly two hour programme devoted to ‘Musical Theatre Melodies’ (which celebrated its tenth anniversary in early May of this year.) The format of which allows me to feature one (or two) musicals per week, for which I outline the background history of each show (sometimes with an interview guest) and narrate the storyline to set up each song within the context of the plot, as heard from their respective original cast, revival cast or studio cast recordings.
In addition to the operettas and comic operas of old, ranging from the works of Jacques Offenbach, Johann Strauss Jnr, Franz Lehár, Gilbert and Sullivan, Rudolf Friml and Sigmund Romberg, the programme also pays tribute to the Golden Age musicals of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and others of their ilk, through to the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and up to the present day (albeit somewhat selectively with regard to the latter period.)
In December of 2011, I decided to feature the seasonal fare of the British musical Pickwick (adapted by Wolf Mankowitz from Charles Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club) with music by Cyril Ornadel and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and starring the Welsh tenor (and former Goon) Harry Secombe as the titular hero of the original 1963 London production (plus its subsequent 1965 Broadway incarnation and the 1993 revival by the Chichester Festival Theatre) in which he introduced the ‘hit’ song ‘If I Ruled the World’.
In search of a decent synopsis from which to narrate the plot between each musical number, I happened upon the official website for the award-winning composer/ lyricist/ librettist and screenwriter, Leslie Bricusse (at www.lesliebricusse.com) and reasoned that if anyone could provide me with the required item, then surely the show’s actual lyricist would be a prime candidate.
Filling in my details on the ‘Contact’ page and outlining the purpose of my request, I was surprised to receive an e-mailed reply a couple of days later from Leslie’s personal assistant, Ginger Mason stating that ‘Mr Bricusse would like to help with your upcoming project’ and could I phone him at his Los Angeles office at 9am on the following Monday. Such a response was far beyond my expectations, as I merely assumed that I might receive the requested synopsis via e-mail from an obliging secretary and not that I would be given the opportunity to speak to the man himself via telephone, for which I willingly set my alarm clock and awakened some 15 minutes prior to the scheduled call at the equivalent time of 4am on a Tuesday morning in Melbourne.
My 40 minute (plus) conversation with Leslie that early morn, in which he related the background story behind his involvement with Pickwick, his memories of Harry Secombe and the original long-running West End production, plus his disappointment with the subsequent failure of the musical in New York (where it closed after a mere 56 performances, chiefly due to meddling by the show’s producer, David Merrick, who brought in other writers to provide additional songs to ‘improve’ the US production which, nonetheless, made money for Merrick on its pre-Broadway tour of the country) proved to be the first of many such conversations that I was privileged to have with Leslie over the ensuing years.
Having subsequently mastered the telephone talk-back system at the Inner FM radio studios in Heidelberg, it was my pleasure to introduce Leslie as a guest on 16 of my broadcasts over the following decade, commencing with his stage adaptation of Scrooge the following December. Our conversations covered, not only his various stage and film musicals, but also his friendships with famed comedienne, Beatrice Lillie (whom he dubbed his theatrical ‘fairy godmother’, after she gave him his break both as a professional writer for the stage and as a performer—a latter career path that he ultimately decided not to continue to pursue) and with Sammy Davis Jnr. (who Leslie estimated had championed and recorded over 60 of his songs during his performing career, including his biggest-selling number one US ‘hit’, ‘The Candy Man’) plus such esoteric topics as his 1964 comedy album, ‘How to Win an Election (or Not Lose by Much)’ for which he scored the coup of reuniting the Goons—Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan—on record (which managed to be completed despite Sellers suffering a massive heart attack at the time following his marriage to Britt Eckland); and his and Anthony Newley’s satirical take on the ‘Profumo affair’ (which contributed to the downfall of the British government under Harold Macmillan in 1963) which they sent-up on the comedy album ‘Fool Britannia’ joined by Peter Sellers. Daniel Massey, Michael Lipton and Newley’s then-wife, Joan Collins (recorded at midnight in New York, before an invited studio audience that included many of the celebrities of the day, plus Broadway performers who had been appearing on stage earlier that evening.) With three homes around the world in Los Angeles, Acapulco and the South of France, such interviews were pre-recorded when Leslie was residing in the US (due to the time difference with Australia) but were conducted ‘live to air’ when Leslie was in France (since it was still the early afternoon in that part of the world at the time of my 9pm broadcasts in Melbourne.)
Needless to say all of these telephone interviews with Leslie were carefully preserved for posterity, initially on the now-outmoded Mini-Disc format (which were subsequently transcribed via computer to a suitable digital audio format) and in later years directly to computer hard-drive following an upgrade to the radio station’s studio recording facilities. A number of these may be heard as mp3 recordings on the THA webpage devoted to my Musical Theatre Melodies interviews (with many more to be added in the future).
Earlier this year, I paid tribute to Leslie’s 90th birthday (on 29 January) with a two-hour broadcast, which featured a retrospective summation of his career to date interspersed with musical highlights from his many stage and film musicals, plus his Academy Award-nominated incidental songs, written in collaboration with Henry Mancini and John Williams, for such films as That's Life! (1986) Home Alone (1990) and Hook (1991). (Out of 10 Oscar nominations for Best Original Song or Best Original Music Score, Leslie won two Awards for ‘Talk to the Animals’ from Doctor Doolittle in the former category and Victor/ Victoria with Henry Mancini in the latter category.) I was both pleased and honoured to receive an e-mail from Leslie soon afterwards requesting an audio copy of the complete broadcast to ‘play for [his] friends’, which I happily complied with.
The last time that I spoke with Leslie was on the prior Tuesday to my scheduled broadcast on 20 July to mark the 60th anniversary of the West End premiere of his and Anthony Newley’s first collaboration on the musical Stop the World—I Want to Get Off (an ironic title over these past years of the pandemic) when we pre-recorded an interview via telephone from his home in the South of France (where he and his wife, Evie had ‘escaped’ after spending the first six months of lock-down in LA) As we rounded off the interview with Leslie enumerating the many and various stage, film and concert projects that he had ‘in the works’ awaiting improved conditions once the pandemic had run its course (of which such a list would do credit to a person half his age, let alone a nonagenarian!) I little realised at the time that our conversation would be the last, for Leslie subsequently passed away in his sleep at his home at Saint Paul de Venice in France on 19 October following a short illness. The following Tuesday evening I paid tribute to Leslie on ‘Musical Theatre Melodies’ with a replay of the Stop the World … interview, plus excerpts from my 90th birthday broadcast.
In past years Leslie had provided me with an introduction to his collaborator on the stage musical versions of Jekyll & Hyde and Cyrano de Bergerac, the multi-Grammy and Tony Award-nominated composer, Frank Wildhorn and I had subsequently interviewed Frank about both shows, as well as his own productions of The Scarlet Pimpernel and Wonderland (to mark the 10th anniversary of its Broadway premiere in April of this year.) When notified of my broadcast tribute to Leslie, Frank subsequently contacted me to volunteer to speak of the man whom he regarded not only as a friend and collaborator, but also as a mentor and father figure. I subsequently pre-recorded an interview with Frank giving his personal tribute to Leslie, which was broadcast the following week, preceded by a recording of Leslie’s song ‘Fill the World with Love’ (written for the 1969 film musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips) a goal which Leslie fully achieved during his many years as a songwriter and librettist/screenwriter on this planet.
• Stop the World—I Want to Get Off 60th anniversary interview with Leslie Bricusse—broadcast on 20 July 2021 on 96.5 Inner FM (Melbourne) at 9pm. Leslie Bricusse “Stop the World” interview
• A personal tribute to Leslie Bricusse by Frank Wildhorn— broadcast on 2 November 2021 on 96.5 Inner FM (Melbourne) at 9pm. Leslie Bricusse Tribute
Leslie first visited Australia in late 1958 on honeymoon with his wife, ‘Evie’ (one-time screen actress, Yvonne Warren aka Yvonne Romain) at Point Piper in Sydney with the intention of also gathering material for a projected musical with an Australian setting (which in the event, didn’t come to fruition) however his time spent Downunder did result in a specialty number written for Max Bygraves entitled ‘Tumbarumba’ for which the lyrics consisted of a syncopated recitation of off-beat Australian place-names (which is apparently one of Max’s more elusive recordings—there isn’t even a copy of it to be found posted on YouTube.)
Lollo's double coming here
CHRISTMAS arrivals in Australia include a girl who is frequently billed as Gina Lollobrigida’s double, 20-year-old London actress Yvonne Warren.
On a business honeymoon with her songwriter husband, Leslie Bricusse, she says: ‘We've only got single tickets because we couldn't afford returns.’
Yvonne made the headlines when she lost her £600 engagement ring on the night she announced her engagement
Later she acquired a family heirloom as a gift from Bea Lillie (Lady Peel) when Leslie was Miss Lillie's leading man in ‘An Evening with Beatrice Lillie.’ It's a heart-shaped crystal pendant with a diamond and pearl crown and it once belonged to Sir Robert Peel, who founded the famous London ‘bobbies.’
Yvonne hopes to do some TV work in Australia, while Leslie is planning a musical with an Australian background.
(The Australian Women's Weekly, Wednesday 31 December 1958, p.42, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/48517702
During his visit Leslie also wrote an article for publication in The Australian Women’s Weekly (on 1 April 1959—April Fool’s Day) giving his impressions of the NSW capital—‘This is Sydney’ (with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek) which opened with the paragraph:
‘THE composite picture of Australia in the mind of an averagely stupid Englishman is of 10,000,000 sheep being driven across Sydney Harbor Bridge by Chips Rafferty and Smiley, while a crowd—made up entirely of Test cricketers, Bondi Beach Iifesavers, aborigines, convicts, and kangaroos—look approvingly on, singing “Waltzing Matilda”.’
… and continued in the same comic vein throughout. (The article, which may be read in full at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4935168 raised the ire of numerous Sydney-siders who responded to The Weekly’s invitation to pen a rejoinder for publication the following week, which in turn may be read at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48077375).
It was to be another 18 years before Leslie and Evie returned to Australia when he was invited to take part in the International Music Theatre Forum held at the NSW Conservatorium in Sydney from 16 to 22 January 1977, together with fellow invited guests Stephen Sondheim, Alan Jay Lerner, Hal Prince and London music publisher, Teddy Holmes. In an interview for The Australian Women’s Weekly published on 12 January, journalist, Marlene Daly reported:
Both Leslie and Evie are excited about their second trip to Australia; 18 years ago they spent part of their honeymoon there. He recalled: ‘While I was there, I had one idea that appealed to me, but it never came to anything. It all had to do with the Snowy River Scheme, the story of how it all happened, and I still think it would be a good story to tell.’
(An idea which still didn’t come to fruition—the complete interview may be read at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5846528 , together with that with Sondheim, while interviews with Prince and Holmes continue on the following page at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5846529).
Of his last visit to Australia in 1993 to attend the Antipodean premiere of his stage adaptation of his 1970 movie musical Scrooge, Leslie wrote the following paragraph for his 2015 ‘sorta-biography’ Pure Imagination!:
‘Evie and I … flew to Melbourne for the Christmas premiere at the gorgeous Princess Theatre. I don't know whether it had occurred to the Australian producer, David Marriner, that Christmas in Oz is in midsummer, but the temperature was edging up around a hundred degrees when Santa Claus led the Scrooge Christmas Parade through the streets of the city. Keith Michell was splendid in the title role, and the production was first rate, but I think the Australian government is seriously going to have to consider moving its Christmas to June, their midwinter, if Scrooge is going to continue appearing there, so that the show won't have to continue competing unnaturally with the Australian Open Tennis Championships taking place just down the street in the sizzling hot midsummer sunshine.’
A long-anticipated return to Australia by Leslie and Evie to attend a fully-staged professional premiere of Jekyll & Hyde (which almost came to pass at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in October, 1997, before the creditors ‘pulled the plug’ on producers, Stewart and Tricia Macpherson, who had over-stretched their resources, and again in 2015 when Opera Australia’s projected production starring Teddy Tahu Rhodes was ‘indefinitely postponed’) will—alas!—remain unfulfilled.
Cole Porter’s 1941 musical Let’s Face It! had the distinction of being the only new musical to be staged in Australia by J.C. Williamson’s during the war years of 1940–45.
Although JCW continued to stage new American and British plays, plus locally-produced musical revues and pantomimes, its contribution to Musical Theatre in the early ’40s consisted (almost) entirely of revivals for which The Firm already held the Australasian performing rights, ranging from the evergreen Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas (which toured from 1940 to late 1942 and late 1943 to early 1945); the Gladys Moncrieff star vehicles The Maid of the Mountains, The Merry Widow, Katinka, Viktoria and Her Hussar and Rio Rita, plus perennially popular musical comedies and operettas of the 1920s and early ’30s (including, perhaps ironically, the German operetta White House Inn, albeit with its Austrian setting).
The reason for this was two-fold; firstly the war in Europe halted the availability of both new British musicals and Anglicised European operettas (the wartime London stage also survived mainly on revivals of popular past favourites, plus cheaply staged musical revues, with barely twenty new British musicals produced during the whole of the war’s duration.) American musicals (for which the financial outlay was considerably greater than for a stage play) were generally not produced in Australia until they had proven themselves capable of attracting an audience to the London stage beforehand, thereby demonstrating their universal appeal beyond the borders of the United States to the ever cautious Managing Directors of J.C. Williamson’s at this period—the Tait Brothers. (Of the 28 new Broadway musicals staged by JCW Ltd. under the Tait’s management between July of 1920 to 1938, two had premiered in Australia prior to their production in London and a further four were not produced in the West End at all. During the tenure of Ernest C. Rolls as co-managing director of the-then JCW off-shoot, Australian and New Zealand Theatres Ltd., the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical I Married An Angel was bought directly from Broadway in 1938 at his instigation, and had failed to attract a substantial local audience, resulting in a large financial loss for the company.) Secondly, wartime Government restrictions limited the transfer of large sums of money to overseas countries, which would also encompass rights and royalty payments due to foreign composers, lyricists and librettists.
Wartime rationing, too, limited the available resources needed to mount new productions, and so it proved easier for JCW to open up its well-stocked scenic stores and costume wardrobes to remount popular shows from past years. (The last home-grown Australian musical comedy to be staged by the company was Blue Mountain Melody in 1934 as a star vehicle for the popular team of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, who had since married and made their home base in Britain, and JCW was evidently not going to risk spending money on any further untried ‘local product’ without the built-in box office appeal of such performers to attract an audience.)
Let’s Face It!, however, had two points in its favour with regard to its staging by JCW—it had also been slated for production on the London stage (where it premiered at the Hippodrome on 19 November 1942, amongst only a handful of new American musical shows to play the West End during the war years, which included Cole Porter’s Panama Hattie, Dubarry Was a Lady and Something For the Boys and the Irving Berlin revue This is the Army with its original US all-military cast) plus it had a topical plot that dealt with American army personnel. With the entry of the United States into the war following the Japanese bombing of its naval base at Pearl Harbour on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on 7 December 1941, followed by the formal alliance of Australia (under Prime Minister, John Curtin) with America to fight the Japanese in the Pacific, US servicemen had become a familiar sight on the streets of the Eastern capitals of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, where they had established military bases and training camps.
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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126759768
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The Girl on the Film scenic photos by Monte Luke published in Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 8 July 1915, p. 59, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page16457960
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.T. 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 Plunket 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, http://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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“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, http://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 Signora 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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120279965
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“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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“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 JCW 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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Harry Julius caricatures published in The Bulletin for 24 December 1914, p. 8, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-688238055
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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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.
National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-140991820
State Library of Victoria, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/78312
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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.
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 JCW, 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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229338204
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Photo by Langham Studios (Melb.), Lady Viola Tait Collection, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148752462
Fairfax archive, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-160030337
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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15525840 )
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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 Plunket 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 online 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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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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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583911 )
The Girl in the Taxi principals. Photos by Monte Luke.
Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 22 October 1914, p. 29, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page13430602
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.
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, http://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
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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121116244
An edited version of the same critique also appeared in The Herald on 26 October 1914, p.2, http://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.
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, http://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, http://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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146329287
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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, http://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, http://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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583516
Proscenium of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, showing stage boxes and orchestra pit, 1911.
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.
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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, http://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.
Sir W.S. Gilbert discusses Fallen Fairies with C.H. Workman and Edward German at the Savoy Theatre, 1909.
An equally candid confession by Charles Workman also appeared in the pages of Melbourne’s Public Opinion on the same day.
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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583692
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242276258
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Later that week the Press reported the following news item in the various Entertainment columns.
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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92041938
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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.
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A CURE FOR THE MOST OBSTINATE CASE -
“THE GIRL IN THE TAXI”
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.”
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[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]
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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, http://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).
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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153583401
Cable trams in Swanston Street pass the Melbourne Town Hall, c.1910.
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.
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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242266066
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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”.
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Unscripted real-life romance had also come to the show’s leading lady during her sojourn in the Southern capital.
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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, p.41
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Further details of the happy couple’s whirlwind courtship emerged during their honeymoon stay at the Australia Hotel in Sydney later that month.
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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, http://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.]
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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.
Sheet music cover featuring Russian ballet dancers Vlasta Novotna and Victor Laushmann. Photo by Monte Luke.
National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au:443/tarkine/nla.obj-169994027
Scots-born Musical Director—Andrew MacCunn.
Lady Tait collection, National Library of Australia, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148758663/view
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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page13430946
To be continued …
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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, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15514839
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Peter Pinne: The book that I have co-written with Peter Wyllie Johnston is called The Australian Musical—From the Beginning and it will be in bookstores from November the fifth around the country. It gets released in America on January the first . Published by Allen and Unwin with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre—QPAC—and they are having a launch on Friday [8 November]; followed by a launch in Melbourne, which is going to be at Raheen, on Tuesday the nineteenth of November, and then a Sydney launch at the Genesian Theatre on Sunday the twenty-fourth. Nancye Hayes is going to launch it in Sydney. It’s a book that looks at a hundred and two years of Australian musical theatre from 1916 until 2018.
It starts with Chu Chin Chow in London, which opened in 1916 and played until 1921. For years it was the most successful musical in the world, until Oklahoma! overtook it on Broadway in c.1948. And it was the most successful musical in London until Salad Days overtook it in the late ‘50s.
The book goes as far forward as Muriel’s Wedding, which has just finished playing in Brisbane; Beetlejuice, which Eddie Perfect wrote and which is currently playing on Broadway and, of course, Matilda. It goes through the various eras and the book is divided into two sections—the first is an overview of that entire period and the second is an A to Z in-depth detail of 324 entries, which gives all the information that you need to know: who wrote it; who directed it; which production company did it; who the choreographer was, and where it premiered, plus cast members, songs that were in it, a synopsis and comment about the show—what happened to it, basically. A sample of two critical reviews—some are glowing, some are not. If it has been recorded, and if it has been published in some form or another. The book also has an index of the songs that are listed in the book; an index of people and, of course, an index of the shows that are mentioned.
We chose 324 shows to profile; we had over 700 to choose from in that 102 year period, but we feel that the ones that we have included are the most important. And through the book you can trace the career line of many performers, but most of all—writers and composers.
The book also shows that, from the very beginning, Australian women composers were very important in creating the genre. It also shows that from the very beginning, indigenous culture was in Australian musicals, that’s from 1915 onwards. So, although Bran Nue Dae was marvellous, and very successful (and it’s going to be done on tour next year), it wasn’t the first time indigenous culture was seen on stage.
It also shows the Jewish influence of people on the genre and ‘gay’ influences too. While we weren’t the first country in the world to put a ‘gay’ musical in a main stream theatre, we did some ground-breaking work earlier in the ’70s and the ’80s, which culminated, of course, in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Boy From Oz all very successful musicals.
We cover original scores; we cover juke-box scores; we cover some plays with music, because they’re almost musicals (shall we say), and we also cover what Australian composers and lyricists have done on Broadway and the West End. When we looked at doing a book like this, we realised that, unless we covered London and Broadway, we weren’t telling the full story; so, in other words, you’ll find what Ron Grainer, an Australian did in London; you’ll find what Eddie Perfect did, of course; Tim Minchin, recently with Matilda, they’re all in there. They’re all half-Australian musicals because there is this Australian connection there; it’ll be either a composer or a lyricist or something, and a lot of the other creatives will be from Broadway or from the West End. But it was important to capture all of this, because it would have been incomplete if we hadn’t done that.
Rob Morrison: Indeed—and you cite Chu Chin Chow, which was by the Geelong-born Oscar Asche, who wrote the book and lyrics.
Peter: That’s right. The book is also full of photographs; colour, black and white, and a lot that you’ve never seen before —some that you have, but a lot that you haven’t seen before. And there is no book that has ever been published before that is on the Australian Musical—this is a first!
Rob: Indeed—quite an honour! And do you have a complete chapter on the musicals that you wrote with Don Battye?
Peter: Not a complete chapter, no. I mean, I have written 20 musicals, which is quite a lot, but mine are covered under a chapter called ‘No more gumnuts and wattle’, and that reference came from an interview that I gave many, many years ago when I was explaining that when we started writing musicals we were determined not to go the ‘gumnuts and wattle’ road. Because, up to that time we’d only ever seen musicals that were historical—based on historical subjects and things—and we wanted to do something about contemporary Australian life. We started off like that and a lot of our work was on contemporary Australian life. I mean we started out with a show called All Saints Day and that was based on AFL football and the St Kilda Football Club. But we also did, in 1966, an adaptation of a very successful novel called A Bunch of Ratbags and that was a hard and gritty look at gang warfare and teenagers in the late 1950s in Melbourne.
We did go the ‘gumnuts and wattle’ route later, when we adapted the story of Caroline Chisholm—she was the first lady on our $5 note—but she was English and she helped immigrant girls find work here in early Australia in the 1830 period. So, I think that’s one of the few historical shows that Don and I did. I later did one with Ray Kolle and that was A Bit of Petticoat and that was based on a play by Oriel Gray called The Torrents and it had an environmental theme and ‘women in the workplace’, of course.
Rob: And your spoof of Hollywood musicals—It Happened in Tanjablanca aka Red, White and Boogie too?
Peter: Oh, yes—that’s covered in there. All of mine are covered, and most of everybody else’s are covered. We looked at people who have contributed to the genre and who kept contributing to the genre, regardless of whether they had great success or not; but who kept on writing Australian musicals. So you can find the career of Reg Livermore; you can find Nick Enright’s career there; you find Dennis Watkins and you find, also, at Phillip Street, Dot Mendoza, who penned a lot of musicals and successfully.
So, it’s a wonderful ‘read’. When the publishers sent me an advanced copy a few weeks ago, I sat down to read it—to see if there were any mistakes, of course—well, it took me two weeks to read! There’s a lot of material in there—there really is! But it’s one of those reference books that you can dip into and out of any time you like, and you’ll enjoy it. And anybody who loves theatre—anybody who loves musical theatre—and anybody who’s interested in theatre in Australia, will love it!
Image from Peter Pinne's Caroline
Image from Peter Pinne's Caroline
Rob: Great! And about what proportion of the book did you do and what proportion did Peter Wyllie Johnston do?
Peter: He did the overview section, which is good because he could talk about the shows that I did, because it’s very difficult to write about yourself; and we worked on the A to Z together. So that’s it.
Rob: And many years in the making and no doubt you’re very proud to have it done at last?
Peter: Oh, yes—it took eight years to create. I first met Peter Wyllie Johnston at the ‘Making a Song and Dance’ exhibition at the Victorian Arts Centre in about 2004 and then we got to know each other in the next few years, and then we decided to work together. We signed a contract in 2011 and it was finished in 2018 when we sold it. But we’ve kept adding things up to the last minute, that’s why it is as current as it is. What I didn’t realise at the time, of course, when Peter and I met was that one of my shows had a big influence on him and his love of Australian musicals and that was when he was young and a teenager, his mother took him to a production of Caroline—the original production of Caroline at St Martin’s Theatre—and that then inspired him to follow my career, shall we say. And so, I didn’t know that and I was very chuffed about it —that I’ve had some influence.
Rob: Indeed—not knowing that, years later, he’d actually be working with the author of the production!
Peter: No—of course! I say to everybody ‘go out and buy it’. You can buy it on line—it’s available everywhere on line—and at any bookshop. But go to your local bookshop and buy it; I think that’s a good thing, because I love bookshops and we have a lot fewer bookshops today, and so I think it’s good if you can go and buy it at a bookshop. That would be wonderful.
Rob: And with so many days left till Christmas it will make a great Christmas present for anyone interested in the theatrical scene!
Peter: Indeed it will!
Rob: Well—we wish you every success with The Australian Musical, and hopefully it will go into many more editions as well.
Peter: Well, that would be nice, too!
Rob: Which would no doubt necessitate periodic updates too, to add in a few more Australian musicals in coming years. And other than Eddie Perfect and Tim Minchin, do you feel there are many other promising talents on the way?
Peter: Oh, yes! There’s a lot of promising talents; yes, yes, yes! I mean, what I believe—I was asked this question the other day—and I thought about this long and hard, that there is a great future for the Australian musical, but it needs the State funded theatre companies to come on board. We have them in every State—their funding should be based on whether their seasons include a musical. If it doesn’t then they get less but if they do a musical and it’s Australian, then they get more. I think that’s a very workable system. They used to do musicals like the Melbourne Theatre Company started off doing a revue at the end of the year and then they did musicals.
Rob: Lola Montez for one.
Peter: Yes—and Sydney’s Old Tote did some too. Now I know that recently Queensland Theatre Company have done Ladies in Black, Sydney Theatre Company have done Muriel’s Wedding, and Melbourne Theatre Company have done Vivid White, but it’s not enough to do them every few years. You’ve got to do something every year! We’re only asking for one—but every year. Because the problem is with funding, you can go to the Music board and they’ll say: ‘Oh, no; this is the Drama board that’s responsible for this.’ You’ll go to the Drama board and they’ll say: ‘Oh, no; this is the Music board that’s responsible for this’. So, Musical Theatre loses out and has lost out since the Elizabethan Theatre Trust began back in the ’50s. This is what needs to happen now! The State theatre companies need to step up their game and do one [musical] a year; and that’s not putting on a glorified cabaret concert with three people and calling it a musical. It’s got to be a proper written musical with book, music and lyrics.
Anyway, I’ll get of my soap-box now, but that’s the way of the future—I believe!
The Australian Musical: from the beginning
by Peter Pinne and Peter Wyllie Johnston
Allen & Unwin in association with Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), 2019
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