The online magazine of Theatre Heritage Australia
The online magazine of Theatre Heritage Australia
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Robert Morrison

Robert Morrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 04 September 2021

Let’s Face It! for Australia

01 Curtain call

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 U.S. 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.


C.H. Workman in Australia Title banner photos by Allans Studios published in Punch (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 December 1914, p. 21,

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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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,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 21 December 1914, p. 4,

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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 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,

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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”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee (Sydney, NSW), 23 December 1914, p. 15,

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PLAY AUDIO: Seek the Spy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 24 December 1914, p. 8,

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

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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,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), 10 January 1915, p. 14,

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

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

To be continued …

* (Reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 28 July 1914, p. 2, )

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

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

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The Girl on the Film midi files, featuring the full score of the musical, may be heard on-line at:

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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: ) 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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Additional sources

  • Alison Gyger, Opera For the Antipodes, Currency Press Pty. Ltd., Paddington, NSW, 1990
Thursday, 12 December 2019

C.H. Workman in Australia (Part 3)

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

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

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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, )

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

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

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

    Author’s Collection.

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

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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,

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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,, 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.



By B.J.O.

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

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

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

Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic.), 31 October 1914, p. 8,

An edited version of the same critique also appeared in The Herald on 26 October 1914, p. 2,

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

    Elisabeth Kumm Collection.


Extracts from other Melbourne press reviews


“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,

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

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,

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

… “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,

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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,

  • Paul Plunkett, Dorothy Brunton and Field Fisher.

    Caricatures published in the Truth (Melbourne, Vic.), “MUMMERANDOM”, 31 October 1914, p. 7,; 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.

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


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.”

* * * * * *

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,

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

    HMT Archive.

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

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

The Interviewer.



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,

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

    Private Collection.

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

    Author’s Collection.

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

* * * * * * * * * * *


“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,

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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.

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



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

* * * * * *

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

* * * * * *

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

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 11 November 1914, p. 1,

* * * * * *

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

* * * * * *


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,

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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.

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


Dispensed by


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, )

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).

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



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,

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

    Author’s Collection.


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

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

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


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,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punch, (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 December 1914, p. 21,

To be continued …

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



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,

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New Book Reviewed by a Savoyard.

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

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

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

A Strenuous Day.

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

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

A Mythical Mikado.

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

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

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

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

Japan's Navy.

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

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

Savoy First Nights.

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

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

Prompting Gilbert.

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

Personal Impressions.

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

The Quarrel.

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

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

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


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,

Robert Morrison, ‘Fallen Fairies: the controversy surrounding Gilbert's last opera’, Gilbert and Sullivan Archive,

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

Australian Musical Theatre historian, author and composer/lyricist, Peter Pinne was a guest on Rob Morrison’s weekly Musical Theatre Melodies programme broadcast on Melbourne community radio 96.5 Inner FM on 29 October to mark the 40th anniversary of Nick Enright and Terence Clarke’s musical version of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th Century comedy The Venetian Twins and also took time to talk about his latest opus—an extensively researched and handsomely illustrated volume dedicated to the history of Australian Musical Theatre. The following is an edited transcript of Peter’s ‘on air’ conversation with Rob via telephone from his home in Brisbane.

Peter Pinne and Peter Wyllie JohnstonPeter Pinne and Peter Wyllie Johnston, photographed at Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, November 2019. Photo by Elisabeth Kumm.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 [2020]. Published by Allen and Unwin with the Queensland Performing Arts CentreQPACand 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 sectionsthe 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 showwhat happened to it, basically. A sample of two critical reviewssome 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 allwriters 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: Indeedand 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 Musicalthis is a first!  

  • Reives 003
  • Making A Song And Dance.JPG

Rob: Indeedquite 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 historicalbased on historical subjects and thingsand 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 Chisholmshe was the first lady on our $5 notebut 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 musicalsIt Happened in Tanjablanca aka Red, White and Boogie too?

Peter: Oh, yesthat’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 itto see if there were any mistakes, of coursewell, it took me two weeks to read! There’s a lot of material in therethere 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 theatreanybody who loves musical theatreand 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, yesit 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 Carolinethe original production of Caroline at St Martin’s Theatreand 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: Indeednot knowing that, years later, he’d actually be working with the author of the production!

Peter: Noof course! I say to everybody ‘go out and buy it’. You can buy it on lineit’s available everywhere on lineand 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: Wellwe 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 believeI was asked this question the other dayand 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 Statetheir 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: Yesand 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 onebut 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 futureI 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
ISBN: 9781760529666

Sunday, 15 September 2019

C.H. Workman in Australia (Part 2)

C.H. Workman in Australia(left) Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, c.1908. Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, 85/1286-51. (right) Portrait of C.H. Workman, 1913. Courtesy of Chris Webster.

The players made their way to the wings with eager anticipation, butterflies in their stomach, the smell of greasepaint in their nostrils and the faint murmur of the audience on the other side of the plush velvet curtain in whose hands their ultimate fate would rest. Would the show prove to be a “hit”, providing months of employment to come, or a fast and feeble flop? (Certainly, it had been a “hit” in the West End, but the English players had been told that Colonial audiences had their own individual tastes and could be hard to please!)

The last notes of the Overture finally faded away, the footlights faded up and the curtain rose on the Australian premiere of The Girl in the Taxi at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on the evening of Saturday, 8 August 1914 …

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    Part of the auditorium of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, 1903.

    Mitchell Library, Sydney from Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788-1914, Eric Irvin, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1985.

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    Musical Director, Victor Champion. Photo by Burlington Studios.

    State Library of Victoria,

Certainly, the audience loved the show—they had laughed in all the right places, they clapped and cheered and encored the songs and they gave a rousing reception to the company at the curtain calls—but what would the critics think?

It was only a few hours wait to find out the Sunday paper drama critics’ verdict, but a full day’s wait until the respective daily paper’s appointed scribes delivered their opinions in the Monday morning and evening editions.



“The Girl in the Taxi”, (who was always out of it!) enjoyed a first night of uproarious laughter at Her Majesty's Theatre on Saturday and may be summed up as a farcical comedy of the old French school, with musical numbers. Jean Gilbert's music is of the lightest character, often piquantly scored, and with at least one captivating valse air, and it presents another vital melody, “Suzanne”, likely to be whistled and hummed all over the town.

However, in the main “the plays the thing.” This is by George Okonkowski, and has been adapted by Frederick Fenn and Arthur Wimperis without much deviation, one may reasonably suppose, from the original. In spite of the author's name, the dramatic scheme is of that essentially French character formerly known as a “Palais Royal" farce, and identified on our stage with such pieces as “Pink Dominoes” and “A Night Out.”

Girl in the TaxiAdvertisement from the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 August 1914.The new J.C. Williamson Company formed for “The Girl In the Taxi” proved strong in comedians, and Mr. C.H. Workman as a frisky scent manufacturer. Mr. W.H. Rawlins as the hypocritical Baron Dauvray, Messrs. Field Fisher (transferred from “Gipsy Love”) and Chris. Wren as waiters, and Messrs. Fred. Maguire and Paul Plunket in juvenile light comedy, were included in a septette of fun makers, amongst whom Miss Maggie Jarvis, a bright soubrette with a small, light soprano voice, was also successfully prominent. Except in the case of Miss Jarvis, the new piece affords few vocal opportunities, and the other imported “English ladles” are not singers, merely moving easily through parts that they fail to stamp with any particular individuality. All the same, the cast was sufficiently well formed for the work in hand, and the crowded house revelled in the nonsensical complications of the plot, laughter and applause being the rule of the evening.

The curtain rose upon the Baroness Dauvray's spacious reception-room in Paris, with sienna-marbled wall paper in black-bordered panels (a mid-Victorian “outrage”, which is possibly coming in again), a view of a garden with its fountain and lawns outside, and a harmonious full chorus confidently rendered under Mr. Victor Champion's baton.

Baron Dauvray is the hero of the moment as a newly-elected Academician, the result of his researches in “Heredity”, and the family circle includes the gentle unsuspecting Baroness, Jacqueline, their daughter, in love with Lieut. Rene, and their son Hubert, whose allowance is five shillings a week, so that, after paying his laundry bills, he has but sixpence left for wine, women, and song!

Rene, a dashing young officer in a grey coat, silver epaulettes, and cherry-coloured trousers, is stigmatised by the faultless Baron as “a girl snatcher”, and the supposed scientist refuses to recognise any engagement, because, under the law of heredity, it would be “like grafting a wild oat upon a Lily of the Valley”, nor does he want a weed in his family garden, nor will he accept Rene's suggestion that a rake might be useful in it! Into this Parisian circle Is suddenly precipitated M. and Mme. (Suzanne) Pomarel. Pomarel, a scent manufacturer from a country centre, where he is also a militia colonel, has arrived on purpose to thank Dauvray for adjudicating the “First Provincial Prize for Virtue” to his pretty Suzanne, noted also as founder of the Rescue Club for Grass Widows. Now, Suzanne was formerly Rene's flame, and immediately coaxes him to take her to the gay Jeunesse Doree restaurant, but he persuades the joyous Hubert to take his place; and he also playfully bullies Dauvray into agreeing that if he can detect him in a single peccadillo he will immediately consent to Jacqueline's marriage. Undeterred by this agreement, old Dauvray flourishes an electric torch after midnight in the dark and empty reception-room en route to the restaurant. Good-night music, with tender strains for oboe and flute and harp, charms the ear, whilst electric lights—like will-o'-the-wisps flash about the darkened room. Soon the flute plays a merry, mischievous, school-boy tune, and the lieutenant with Jacqueline, and Hubert with a family picture he intends to pawn, pass out unconsciously in the steps of the gay old paterfamilias!

An imposing interior, in which a semicircular balcony of white leads down to a grand staircase to the restaurant, with curtained supper alcoves on either side, and everywhere luxurious carpets and draperies of "rose du Barry" tints, represented the splendidly-illuminated “Jeunesse Doree.” Amidst these gay surroundings many well worn, but still laughable, situations were presented, including the comic waiters, the lovers alarmed by recognising their elderly relatives, the tipsy husband in military uniform, who is so ludicrously in the way, the final police raid, and the meeting at breakfast next morning, when the new butler proves to be the head waiter of the previous night!

Mr. C.H. Workman, a comedian whose genial humour resembled that of George Giddens in “Are You a Mason?” drew cleverly the portrait of the dapper M. Pomarel, a foolish, doting husband, whose attempted embraces of his elusive little wife always ended in an absurd kiss on the shoulder of her latest costume! A quaint dance, entirely in character, brought forward the comedian with Miss Jarvis in the duet, “The Happy Marriage”, with its buoyant music and trills for flute; and his tipsy solemnity as a colonel in a preposterous uniform, topped by a scarlet feather all awry, kept the audience in convulsions of laughter. Miss Maggie Jarvis, as Suzanne, a plump and smiling English girl with a typical light soprano voice, small, sweet, vibrative, and with little variety of expression, acquitted herself with acceptance both as singer and as a bright and roguish actress. This artist was well placed with a clever light comedian in Mr. Fred Maguire (Hubert), and to whom fell one of the musical trifles which delighted the house, “Not too Fast, and not too Slow.” The “business” of the scene was neatly carried out, and the little melody of the duet was worthy of Offenbach. Miss Jarvis sung also the “Wine Song”, with its high range, harmonious choral entries, and valse refrain, and joined with Messrs. Rawlins, Maguire, and Plunket in the dashing melody of “Suzanne”, which was twice encored.

Mr. W.H. Rawlins played a character of central importance as Baron Dauvray, whose fatuous vanity, pompous hypocrisy, and jolly dog-ism when once “off the chain”, were amusingly shown. Mr. Paul Plunket, though awkward in his uniform, proved a gay and buoyant Rene, and used his light baritone with judgment and effect in the captivating valse-air and chorus, “Lilt that's Lazy, and Dreamy, and Hazy.” His duet with Jacqueline revealed that his partner possessed very little voice, but Miss Gwen Hughes played the girlish role gracefully. Miss Vera Probyn presented on somewhat similar lines the part of Rose Charcot. Rose was the girl in the taxi when Baron Dauvray entered by the other door, and compromised upon the joint exclamation “My Cab, I believe”, with the gallant “Ours, I hope!" Miss Millie Engler, another colourless importation, was in character as the gentle baroness, and D.J. Williams's evident experience enabled him to give passing interest to the character of Charcot.

Mr. Field Fisher made a hit as that melancholy philosopher and world-weary headwaiter, Alexis, and his pose of wounded dignity when recognised at the breakfast table next morning was worthy of a Secretary of State! Mr. Chris. Wren further increased the general hilarity as the second waiter, a sandy-haired little man with his mouth all on one side, wearing a shabby dress-suit, with trousers like a concertina! Mr. Wren has acrobatic tendencies, and unflinchingly endured a marvellous kick-out.

At the close of the evening Mr. Charles A. Wenman (producer) was called before the audience, and Miss Minnie Hooper (ballet mistress) was presented with flowers. Excellent work resulted from orchestra and chorus under Mr. Victor Champion, who opened with the “Marseillaise” and the National Anthem, in which the entire audience, standing throughout, heartily joined. This patriotic demonstration, with the ringing cheers at the end, was neatly carried out as if it had been rehearsed for weeks.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 10 August 1914, p. 4,

[Review written by Gerald Marr Thompson—music and theatre critic of The Sydney Morning Herald.]

IMG 0125

Suzanne (Miss Jarvis) and Pomparel (Mr Workman).

GirlTaxi 010

Newspaper photo of the Two Waiters of the Jeunesse Doree.

Sun (Sydney), Sunday, 6 September 1914, p. 14,

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Producer, Charles A. Wenman, 1909. Photo by Burlington Studios.

State Library of Victoria,

‘Worshippers at the Shrine of Suzanne’ (Maggie Jarvis with Messrs. Rawlins, Plunket & Maguire).

Extracts from other Sydney newspaper reviews



Girls in taxis and their escorts arrived in great strength to see and hear “The Girl in the Taxi,” which was successfully presented at Her Majesty's Theatre last night by a new J.C. Williamson Company, headed by English principals for the first time in Australia. Instead of the war keeping people away, there seemed to be even more than the usual first-night audience, and a great many had to stand.

The play is exceptionally well furnished on the comedy side. “Does she belong to the upper classes?” is the question asked concerning the principal female character. “Well, no”, is the reply; “rather what you'd call the supper classes.” That certainly describes the persons of the chief part of the play, which passes in a gilded cafe.

… In the restaurant scene, where all the trouble occurred, one of the waiters remarks, most truly: “I suppose you take all these couples for husbands and wives? So they are—other people's.” The girl in the taxi is one of the spouses in question. She is Professor Charcot’s pretty young wife, and she hails the same taxi as Baron Dauvray, a bald-headed old roue, who poses in the bosom of his family as a model of all the virtues. The Baron enters a taxi at one door and the lady at the other. He says: “My cab, I believe.” She says: “Mine, I think.” Then the Baron says: “Ours, I hope.” They go off together to the Restaurant Jeunesse Doree.

… The Baron is well-known at the Jeunesse Doree. He is always accompanied by a niece. And none of them know uncle's name. The waiter says of him that he is in the same box. He generally calls his niece ‘Marie’ with the soup, ‘Fifine’ with the fish, ‘Tu-tu’ with the entree, and ‘Darling’ with the liqueurs.

… Among the new play's many claims to popularity are its musical appeal, its sumptuous staging and dressing, its bevies of gaily-attired pretty girls, and the novelty of a new company. The restaurant scene, with its wide central stairway, semi-circular balcony, and cosy supper-rooms, is a finely-designed set, and the spectacle it presents when crowded with spangled revellers is animated and pleasing to the eye. There are many tuneful musical numbers. Two will be whistled everywhere—the waltz (‘Lilt that's mazy and dreamy and hazy’) and ‘Suzanne, Suzanne, we love you to a man.’ They are the plums. The melodious score is by Jean Gilbert, the production by Charles Wenman, and the ballets by Miss Minnie Hooper. The book abounds in bright play on words.—N.L.

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 9 August 1914, p. 4,


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    ‘The wife of one of them. But the question is which?’ (C.H. Workman and Fred Maguire).

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    Dance at the Jeunesse Doree Restaurant.


Much Enthusiasm

As regards the principals. Mr. C.H. Workman, as M. Pomarel, claims first mention because of his fine comedy powers, and the possession of a voice which well fits the requirements of such music as he has to sing. In Mr. W.H. Rawlings, who plays the Baron on broad comedy lines, he has a good second. The work of Mr. Maguire as Hubert, the son, is also of right good quality. Miss Maggie Jarvis, a beauty musical comedy actress, looking quite ravishing in her dainty frock of silver grey touched with pale pink, fills the role of Suzanne with outstanding distinction, and vocally gives evidence of a small, sweet voice, which she has the good sense not to force beyond its natural capabilities. Miss Hughes is also entitled to favorable mention for her treatment of the role of Jacqueline. Willie Mr. Plunket is a sufficiently gallant and handsome young lieutenant without making the very best on all occasions of his opportunities. Mr. Fisher, as the head waiter, has capital scope for his sound comedy powers, and in the role of the second waiter, Mr. Chris Wren is discovered as a pocket comedian, the like of whom we have not seen in Sydney for some considerable time; indeed he supplies some of the very finest work of the piece.

Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 9 August 1914, p. 4,


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    ‘The late Head Waiter of the Jeunesse Dore Restaurant appears in the house of Baron Dauvray and causes consternation’ (standing—Field Fisher and Millie Engler, crouching—Fred Maguire, W.H. Rawlins and Paul Plunket).

Scenic photos from The Australasian (Melbourne), 24 October 1914, p. vi,

While the plot of the show came in for some trenchant criticism from the reviewer for the weekly Bulletin, he none-the-less praised most of the principal cast members, including the soubrette and the lead comedian.


You can take “The Girl in the Taxi” in two ways. One is to approach it as though it were intended to uplift the playgoer in an ethical sense. It doesn’t uplift worth a cent. Everyone in the show is either wicked, or imperceptive to the point of idiocy, or both. Two of the characters want to get married; the chief aim of the others is apparently to get compromised. The heavy father frequents a Paris restaurant, filled with members of the half-world, and there meets his son, his daughter and her admirer, and most of their friends. They all lie vigorously to each other and to the incredibly dull Baroness (wife of the heavy father), who remains virtuously at home. Everyone embraces everyone else's wife, or tries to, and is discovered and is driven, in consequence to lie harder than ever. The erring father finds that his only son has the same dashing temperament as himself, and is the prouder and happier for it. He meets his daughter and the lover whom he had previously barred as a rake, at the Jeunesse Dorèe Restaurant, in the early hours of the morning, and the encounter impels him to agree to their engagement. The lady who had won a “virtue prize” is observed by her inebriated husband having supper with the Baron’s son, and is pursued by him (the husband) sword in hand, twice round the stage. This husband also causes the Baron and his son to be arrested for frivolity—all that the censor has left of the “flagrant délit” scene which probably figured in the original farce. If it were the sort of work that inculcates a Lesson, it would deal Morality a blow which the combined efforts of the Churches could never repair. As it is all palpably nonsensical as a pantomime, it does Morality no earthly harm, and makes those people laugh who have not seen every one of the situations exploited in other plays of the sort a thousand times before. These are the people to whom “The Girl in the Taxi” may appeal, and the right way for them to take it is laughing; for if they cannot laugh they will fume or openly curse, the music being thin, though melodious, and the acting poor, on the whole.

The stars are Miss Maggie Jarvis, who plays Susanne, the Virtue-Prizewinner, and C.H. Workman, who is Susanne's comic husband. She has much charm and grace, and her vibrant little voice is well suited to her numbers. He is a comedian with a personality, and Pomeral, in his hands, is an amusing, and almost human circumstance. W.H. Rawlins (Baron Dauvray) is an indifferent singer, but his unctuous humor has an allurement of its own. Fred Magnus [sic] plays the rôle of the Baron's 20-year-old son with a youthful zest, and Paul Plunkett is a good looking lover with a fine baritone voice. Field Fisher and Chris Wren are a couple of preposterous waiters. Miss Gwen Hughes has nothing much to do but stand round and give an imitation of an affable virgin, which task she performs to perfection, looking perfectly lovely the while. There are several other characters of this sort—nebulous creations which float vaguely into the mind of the onlooker, and a little later vanish forever. The writer almost forgot in his haste (the same thing that David used when be said all men were liars) to mention that the address is Her Majesty’s, Sydney.

The Bulletin, (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 35, No. 1800, 13 August 1914, p. 8,


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    Caricatures by Harry Julius published in The Bulletin, 13 August 1914, p. 8.

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    Caricatures by Harry Julius published in The Bulletin, 20 August 1914, p. 8.

  • Caricatures by Harry Julius published in The Bulletin, 20 August 1914, p. 8.

The production successfully launched, public interest in the piece was maintained by the daily newspaper advertisements, the weekly round of “Green Room Gossip”, featured articles and items on the principal players in the weekly periodicals, plus garden parties, fêtes and social gatherings at which the players could mingle with a star-struck public eager to see their latest theatrical idols making such personal appearances. Charles Workman contributed to his fair share of keeping the cogs of the relentless publicity machine turning by providing a few nuggets to the weekly press of his past experiences with the redoubtable Sir W.S. Gilbert.



Mr. C.H. Workman, who has so much of the fun-making to do in “The Girl in the Taxi,” was well acquainted with W.S. Gilbert, and did much of his early work in Gilbert and Sullivan plays. He has a host of Gilbert stories.

When Mr. Workman was playing Jack Point in “The Yeomen of the Guard”, he had to sing the trio with Elsie Maynard and Phoebe Meryll, and he introduced into it the kissing of each of the girls on alternate notes of the vocal shake.

“Don't you think, Mr. Workman”, said Gilbert, “that there is a little too much kissing?” “You'd cut it, then?” “No, I wouldn't, but I must ask you to!”

Mr. Workman produced on his own account one of the latest of the Gilbert pieces, “Fallen Fairies,” based on the same author's earlier “Wicked World.” When he went to visit Sir William and Lady Gilbert, and to make final arrangements about the play, he was telling Lady Gilbert some German stories, while Gilbert was writing at a desk in a corner of the room, and did not appear to be listening. One of the stories concerned the trombonist who found some new and strange symbol on his music, and after making a weird noise said: “I don't know vot it was, but I blayed it.” “As a matter of fact”, continued Mr. Workman, “it was a squashed fly.” Gilbert quietly interjected, “Are you sure, Workman, that it wasn't a bee flat?”

Gilbert was once mistaken by a short-sighted old gentleman at a club for one of the employees. “Call me a cab” he said, peremptorily. “You're a four-wheeler”, said Gilbert. “What do you mean?” demanded the indignant citizen. “Well, I couldn't call you han'some!”

“Gilbert was rightly very strict about the introduction of new business”, says Mr. Workman, “and there can be no doubt that that is one of the main things that keep the plays so alive and enjoyable. He was such a master of all things connected with the stage, that his ideas could not possibly be improved upon once in a hundred times. If you could persuade him, however, that a new piece of business was his own idea, he would generally accept it if it were really good.”

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 9 August 1914, p. 15,


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    W.S.G. in 1893.

    Author’s Collection.

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    C.H. Workman, 1914. Photo by Monte Luke.

    Author’s Collection.

  • G.B.S. in 1904.

    Author’s Collection.

While the Sydney Sun published Workman’s recollections of the equally redoubtable George Bernard Shaw and thoughts on the then popular public craze for Ragtime music.



A member of the Garrick Club, C.H. Workman, the distinguished London comedian appearing with The Girl in the Taxi, at Her Majesty's, has met on intimate terms many London celebrities. “I went into management at the Savoy”, he said “and produced three musical plays—Fallen Fairies, The Mountaineers, and Two Merry Monarchs. They left the exchequer £14,000 on the wrong side. Getting a success in London is a costly business. The average is about one in a dozen. That one will bring wealth. Sometimes it is got first pop, but rarely. Faraday hit it with The Girl in the Taxi first crack out of the script box, but it had already scored in Paris and New York, and consequently it cost a large sum of money to secure it. It ran well over the year. I was playing the part I am playing here. I seem to be lucky to other managements (touching wood). In the case of The Chocolate Soldier, in which the name part fell to me, it was a two years’ run. There again the management was lucky in striking success with the first venture. But with the successors it was miss one after the other. Bernard Shaw took only a cynical interest in The Chocolate Soldier's success. Of course it was his arms and the man idea. He asked for the script before the piece was put into rehearsal and carefully deleted every line of his original dialogue. Then he demanded that it be announced, “with apologies to Bernard Shaw.” This was done.

“There has been a lot of talk”, said Mr. Workman, changing the topic, “of the origin of ragtime. I developed a theory on the voyage to Australia. On board the piano was not what it might have been. Some of the notes when struck took the count, so to speak. They didn't get up again, consequently, when playing, you had to get them back into position to the dislocation of the tempo.

Thus a waltz became syncopated in the act of knocking the keys up with the backs of the finger tips. Now, my theory is that composers in America—composers are always hard up until they write their successes—had pianos with similarly defective keys. The halting tune thus originated playing over their compositions. Don't you think it rather likely?”

Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 9 August 1914, p. 14,

[N.B. £14,000 in 1911 would be the equivalent to around £1.6m today = $A 2.9m = $US 2.1m]

Later that week, the daily newspapers reported the establishment of the Lord Mayor’s Patriotic Fund, which, by common agreement of the respective Lord Mayors of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, would be a united Australian fund to be used primarily for the benefit of widows, orphans, and others who might be dependent upon Australians who might fall or be wounded in action. (Ref: Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, 11 August 1914, p. 8, )

The combined theatrical managements were quick to respond to the “call for alms.”


Thursday, September 3. has been fixed for the effort of the theatrical profession designed to swell the Lord Mayor's Patriotic Fund. On that day a matinee on a monster scale will be given, every management in Sydney placing the whole of their resources into the undertaking. The organiser is Mr. Hugh J. Ward who will be assisted by a committee that comprises Mr. George Musgrove, Mr. George Willoughby (Adelphi), Messrs. Ed. Covell and Clifton Clarke (Tivoli), Mr. Ben. J. Fuller (National Amphitheatre), Mr. E.J. Carroll (Palace), and Mr. E.J. Tait (general manager for J.C. Williamson, Ltd.).

It is estimated that nearly 1000 people connected with the various theatres will immediately be working for the success of the entertainment. These include, besides the artists of the various companies, the stage staffs of all the managements. The scope of the programme is designed on the grand spectacular scale. Sudden big stage effects will take the audience by surprise. At times 500 people will be grouped in a stage picture. The talent available to be drawn upon is unusually plentiful. There will, for instance, be more than thirty comedians, from the musical comedy, drama, and vaudeville organisations. On September 3 the “Gipsy Love” Company will be in Sydney, en route from Brisbane to Melbourne. This popular combination of artists will accordingly take part. The children of the stage are to be utilised in the big ensembles, and at present the ballet mistresses and producers are already drilling them. Mr. Ward states that the Williamson management is giving a matinee with every company now under its control throughout Australasia and South Africa in aid of patriotic funds.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Thursday, 20 August 1914, p. 8,

Further details of the planned event were released to the press over the ensuing days.



The combined theatrical managers of Sydney are shaping the programme for the monster matinee to swell the patriotic fund. Everything points to an entertainment of unique magnitude and attraction. The numbers of artists available exceed those ever before available for a matinee. Seven organisations will be drawn upon. These are “The Girl In the Taxi”, the company headed by Miss Muriel Starr, the “Gipsy Love” company, Miss Nellie Stewart and her “Du Barry” company, Mr. George Willoughby's Adelphi dramatic company, the Tivoli and National Amphitheatre stars, and Bosco, Talma, and Le Roy, now at the Palace.

Mr. Hugh J, Ward, who is organising the entertainment, estimates that nearly 1000 theatrical workers will be enlisted. Of these many popular dramatic stars are available and no fewer than 30 comedians.

The scope of the matinee allows for big spectacular effects, upon which the producing staff of the various theatres are now busily engaged.

Miss Maud Allan has volunteered to appear, and her offer has naturally been readily accepted.

Many popular favourites not at present appearing before the public will also take part.

The aim of the theatrical managers is to present so huge a theatrical programme that a new record for Her Majesty's, where the matinee will be held, will be established. The existing record for a public fund is £2000 at this theatre.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Saturday, 22 August 1914, p. 14,

[N.B. £2,000 in 1914 would be equivalent to around $A 236,267 today]


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    The Managing Directors of J.C. Williamson Ltd in 1914: Clyde Meynell, George Tallis and Hugh J. Ward.

    Author’s Collection.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday, 26 August 1914, that: “Mr. Hugh J. Ward has brought Mr. Wybert Stamford, one of the Williamson producers, specially from Brisbane to devote his entire attention to the stage details of the monster theatrical gala at Her Majesty's on Thursday week.” (p. 10,, and The Sunday Times subsequently elaborated on the mammoth task that Stamford had taken on by publishing full details of the afternoon’s projected programme.



That the aim of the organisers of the actors’ patriotic gala will succeed in submitting to the Sydney public the greatest programme Australia has known is no idle boast. Particulars of the entertainment announced for Her Majesty's next Thursday leave no doubt about it.

As is fitting, the patriotic appeal will be stirringly made. Mr. Hugh J. Ward has designed a stage pageant on the grand scale, and has secured for the occasion some notable names. Miss Essie Jenyns will represent Britannia; Miss Nellie Stewart, Australia; Miss Muriel Starr, Canada (her native land); Miss Gwen. Burroughs, India; Miss Olive Godwin, New Zealand; and Miss Celia Ghiloni, Africa. The spectacle, which at its climax will have an ensemble of over 500 people, will dramatically depict Britannia's call to the Empire. Britannia will be shown alone in the midst of a raging storm, the clashing of arms symbolising war and its terrors. She places the trumpet to her lips and sounds the alarm, which will be echoed, as it were, round the British world. Then one by one the Dominions will make offering of their blood and their treasure, until the might of Empire is realised in a pulse-quickening scene. Dramatic verses for Britannia and the representatives of the Dominions have been written by Mr. Adam McCay, and music specially composed by Mr. Victor Champion. In the pageant the military are assisting. Guns captured by the Australians in South Africa and presented to “our boys” by Lord Roberts will be swung into action when the picture realises its most stirring moment.

The rise of the curtain on the matinee will disclose the quarter-deck of a British Dreadnought, the orchestra playing “Rule, Britannia.” An admiral will here receive officers of the French and Russian armies. This will offer an appropriate setting for the singing of “The Marseillaise” by Mr. Derek Hudson. The chorus of “Pinafore” will be given in this portion of the programme by the full company.

For the first-part finale the prize National Anthem has been chosen. The words, as is known, are by Arthur Adams, and the music by Theodore Tourrier. This will be the first time in Sydney that the song has been rendered in public. Mr. Derek Hudson will sing it—he sang it with great success in Brisbane last week—and the chorus will be given by the combined “Gipsy Love” and “Girl in the Taxi” Companies. (The Australian National Song, ref: )

The scheme of the first part of the matinee is the old-time minstrel show. Mr. Lincoln Plumer; of “The Chorus Lady” Company, will be interlocutor, and the corner-men are announced as follows:—Bones: Messrs. Jack Cannot, Johnny Osborne, Phil Smith, Claude Bantock. Tambos: W.H. Rawlins, C.H. Workman, Field Fisher, Chris Wren. In addition to amusing interludes in the way of conundrums and interruption, these popular comedians will appear in individual specialties. Mr. Jack Cannot will give imitations of Paul Dufault, Talleur Andrews, Caruso, and other tenors not in this country, and so unable to effectively protest.

Songs in this section of the programme will include “Here's to Love and Laughter” (Miss Olive Godwin), “A Regular Army Man” (Mr. Julius Roscius), “Meet Me To-night in Dreamland” (Miss Celia Ghiloni), Mr. Phil Smith and Miss Dorothy Brunton (duet, “Carnival for Two”), “Susanne” (Miss Maggie Jarvis and corner-men), and numbers by Miss Elsie Spain and Mr. John Ralston.

The second part of the programme will present the greatest selection of vaudeville stars ever seen on one bill in Australia. The Tivoli are sending Paul Cinquevalli, Beth Tate, Baroness D'Astreel, Marco and Fanchon, and Wolff; the National Amphitheatre, Miss Fanny Rice, Cunningham and Ross, and the Bodini Bros.; Mr. E.J. Carroll, Warner and White, eccentric dancers with Bosco, Talma, and Le Roy; and Santo Santucci. Miss Minnie Hooper, ballet mistress of the Williamson management, is bringing forward the clever pony ballet that made so marked a success in “Come Over Here.”

Those attending the matinee—and who will not be there who has the price?—will be delighted to see the names of Miss Florence Young (to sing the big aria from “The Climax”), Miss Grace Palotta (to give her old hit, “Soldiers in the Park”), and Mr. Reginald Roberts, who is to sing, in the programme.

The Cherniavskys, artistic Russian violinists, are also appearing.

The sale of tickets is indicating the tremendous interest the occasion has already created. Yesterday morning Miss Maggie Jarvis and Miss Muriel Starr sold 50 guinea seats in the vestibule of Her Majesty's. Tickets are also being eagerly sought at Paling's, where they are on sale. The plan will open on Tuesday.

Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 30 August 1914, p. 6,

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    A packed auditorium at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, c.1903. Photograph by Talma & Co., Sydney.

    State Library of New South Wales, SPF/3194.

The combined proceeds of the afternoon’s entertainment, preceded by a grand theatrical motorcade through the streets of Sydney and impromptu vaudeville performances given in Railway Square and in front of the Town Hall, were duly reported in the Sydney press as having broken all previous records established for such charity matinees.



The huge actors’ matinee in aid of the Patriotic Fund at Her Majesty's Theatre, Sydney, on Thursday last was a record success—about £2100 being realised. The theatre was packed as it had never before been packed. During the morning an actors’ motor car street raid was carried out, and gathered in £330 in about two hours. The sale of seats and photographs brought in £90. The auction sale of the Union Jack presented by Mr. Hugh J. Ward was a big success and highly amusing. Miss Nellie Stewart held the flag, and Mr. Jack Cannot and Mr. Lincoln Plumer figured successfully as the auctioneers.

Referee (Sydney, NSW), Wednesday, 9 September 1914, p. 15 [extract],

[N.B. £2,100 in 1914 would be the equivalent to around $A 248,081 today; £250 = $A 29,533; £330 = $A 38,984 and £90 = $A 10,632]

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    Pictorial advertisement for The Girl in the Taxi.

    From The Silent Showman, Michael & Joan Tallis, Wakefield Press, 1999.

  • The soubrette—Maggie Jarvis. Photo by Monte Luke.

    State Library of New South Wales,

The New English Musical Comedy Company continued to delight its audiences at Her Majesty’s Theatre, with an added feature introduced into the action of the play commencing at the evening performance on Saturday, 19 September.



The Restaurant Rag is the title of a dance number introduced into “The Girl in the Taxi” last night at Her Majesty's. It is known to the members of the company, however, as The Cabaret Cuddle.

As about 50,000 people have seen “The Girl in the Taxi” since it was produced in Sydney, that number at least are aware that the second act is a cabaret set. It is the Jeunesse Doree, the speed limit in smart and discreet resorts.

Everything takes place there so far as the musical play is concerned, but a novelty dance. The fact of this omission seems to have upset the peace of mind of Jack Hooker and Chris Wren, and goaded them into invention. Between them they evolved the Cabaret Cuddle.

Jack Hooker was on the payroll, but not in the piece. He was last giving a step dance in “Come Over Here” to celebrate the leaving of the midnight choo-choo for Alabam. He considers that, all things considered, he has more justification for dancing in a cabaret in “The Girl in the Taxi” than there was for dancing on a railway platform in “Come Over Here”.

Chris Wren, the diminutive waiter in “The Girl in the Taxi” , has practically no lines to speak. His chief job at the Jeunesse Doree is being kicked out of private rooms when he enters without knocking. This explains in a measure how he and Jack Hooker got together on an idea.

It is an understood thing in stage creative work that any one—or two—with an idea is given full scope in the choice of assistance required. Consequently Mr. Hooker and Mr. Wren had the pick of the chorus, ballet, and show girls to help them. Obviously two men wouldn't rag together in a cabaret. Both Mr. Wren and Mr. Hooker were actually besought by all the ambitious young ladies in the company. After the hesitation of a week or two they finally lost their comprehensive popularity through having to make a definite selection. These were Violet Hooper and Helen Devlin. Miss Devlin is one of the most imposing show girls in the world. She is six feet in silk stockings. Miss Hooper is also Amazonian, but not quite as much so as Miss Devlin. For this reason Mr. Wren, being, like his feathered namesake, diminutive, chose Miss Devlin as his partner. In his Cabaret Cuddle he has become expert in making flying leaps at the statuesque Miss Devlin, who can now catch him, and swing him about to the music of the orchestra. The contrast in heights provides half the fun of the new feature.

Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 20 September 1914, p. 14,

For Australian audiences, (fearful of the unfolding events in Europe and with concerns of how it would effect a young nation loyal to the mother country and the British Empire), The Girl in the Taxi was “just the ticket” to provide good escapist entertainment and make them forget the troubles of a work-a-day world for a good three hours of farcical comedy. Consequently the taxi remained on the rank at Her Majesty’s in Sydney for a good 10 week run, closing on the 16th October and then preparing to head southwards to continue spreading its message of happy times and good cheer to the awaiting masses; (while the ominous storm clouds of war continued to gather apace in Europe.)


To be continued …



The Girl in the Taxi is the English-language adaptation by Frederick Fenn and Arthur Wimperis of the operetta Die keusche Susanne, after the farce Fils à Papa by Antony Mars and Maurice Desvallières. (First produced at the Wilhelm Theater, Magdeburg on 26 February 1910), with music by Jean Gilbert. The German original had a libretto by Georg Okonkowski. It opened at the Lyric Theatre, London on 5 September 1912 where it ran for 385 performances.

The Girl in the Taxi midi files, featuring the full score of the musical, may be heard on-line at:


The Girl in the Taxi (1937)—A British Unity Production released through Ealing Distribution Ltd.

Starring Frances Day, Henri Garat, Lawrence Grossmith, Jean Gillie and Mackenzie Ward with Helen Haye, Ben Field, Joan Kemp-Welch, John Deverell and Albert Whelan.

Screenplay by Austin Melford, after a screen story by Fritz Gottfurcht, after the operetta by Georg Okonowski

Music by Jean Gilbert, lyrics by Arthur Wimperis and Frank Eyton

Produced by Eugene Tuscherer, directed by Berthomieu

Available on DVD on “The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection—Volume 3” from


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    A scene from the 1937 film with Melbourne-born Albert Whelan as ‘Alexis’ and Lawrence Grossmith as ‘Baron Dauvray’.

    Author’s Collection.


CH WorkmanAdvertising card for Utopia Limited, c.1894. Author’s collection.

Singer, comedian and Savoyard C.H. Workman arrived in Australia in 1914 as a member of The Girl in the Taxi company. He spent a total of nine years performing in various stage musicals, operettas and variety ‘turns’ for J.C. Williamson Ltd and on the Tivoli circuit, including tours to New Zealand, India and the Far East, before his premature death in 1923. In this article, the first in a new series, Rob Morrison draws on original interviews, anecdotes and newspaper reports to present a pictorial overview of C.H. Workman's life and career.

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    C.H. Workman in his favourite role of Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard.

    Photo by Elliott & Fry, London. Author’s collection.

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    Portrait of C.H. Workman, c.1907.

    Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. Courtesy of Elisabeth Kumm.


In addition to his recordings from the G&S repertoire in 1910 and 1912, Charles H. Workman featured in the following duets and concerted numbers from the score of Oscar Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier recorded by the Odeon Company in June of 1911.

The Letter Song

That Would be Lovely

Finale of Act II

The renowned British singer, actor and comedian, Charles Herbert Workman was born at 5 Richmond Terrace, Rimrose Road, Bootle, Lancashire on 5 May 1872, the youngest son (of four children), of Sarah and Charles Workman. From his early years he was keenly devoted to musical art in its operatic and comedy forms and his favourite amusement as a youngster was the production of home-made versions of plays he had seen. After schooling at Waterloo College in Liverpool, followed by a stint in ‘commercial life’ as a clerk in a merchant’s office in that city, which he could not stick at, Workman’s early ambitions to tread the boards achieved fruition when his older brother and singing teacher, Albert E. Workman overcame their father’s objections and arranged to have ‘Bert’ placed with a touring provincial D’Oyly Carte Opera Company staging Gilbert and Sullivan’s penultimate comic opera, Utopia, Limited at Torquay, where he made his debut as a chorister in October 1894, before graduating to the roles of Calynx/Captain Corcoran in Stratford-on-Avon in November.

It was through the D’Oyly Carte that he also met his fellow performer and wife-to-be, the Belfast-born Totie Adams,1. around 1897 and following a whirlwind romance and courtship, they were wed in her hometown in 1898 during the opera company’s tour of Ireland in December of that year. Their son, Roy was also born in Belfast in 1902. By this time Workman had worked his way through the ranks to achieve the position of principal comedian of the company and a prime exponent of the perennially-popular patter-songs. Under W.S. Gilbert’s personal direction, Workman achieved fame at the Savoy Theatre, London appearing in the respective repertory season revivals of the evergreen Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas between December 1906 to August 1907 and April 1908 to March 1909, earning particular praise for his portrayal of the tragi-comic jester Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard, of which Gilbert himself expressed his opinion in a public speech: ‘In Mr Workman we have a Jack Point of the finest and most delicate finish, and I feel sure that no one will more readily acknowledge the triumph he has achieved in their old parts than his distinguished protagonists, Mr George Grossmith, and his immediate predecessor, Mr Passmore.’2.

With such praise ringing in his ears, Charles Workman then took on the role of an actor-manager leasing the Savoy Theatre between September 1909 to May 1910 in a venture that proved to be less-than-successful and of which, more anon.

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    Bessel Adams (Mrs C.H. Workman) as Fiametta in The Gondoliers, The Theatre Magazine, ‘Savoy Number’, vol. II, no. 7, Feb 1907.

    Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. Courtesy of David Stone.

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    Postcard of C.H. Workman and his son James Roy Workman. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, London, T1045.

    Courtesy of David Stone.

Turning his attention now to the burgeoning craze for Musical Comedy (which had first been fostered by ‘The Guv’nor’ George Edwardes at London’s Gaiety Theatre in the 1890s), Workman achieved considerable success in principal and featured comedy roles in such shows as The Chocolate Soldier, Nightbirds [Die Fledermaus], The Girl in the Taxi and The Girl Who Didn’t, of which the penultimate provided his passport to further adventures in the land of the Southern Cross. When approached by J.C. Williamson’s London representative, Pat Malone, to recreate his role of Pomarel in the subsequent Antipodean production scheduled for early-August 1914, Workman readily accepted (with the added impetus of his doctor’s advice to seek sunnier climes to assist with his recovery from throat problems).

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    C.H. Workman as Monsieur Pomeral, with George Carroll as Emile, in The Girl in the Taxi, London, 1912.

    Private collection.

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    Poster for The Girl in the Taxi, Lyric Theatre, London, 1912.


Packing his trunks and accompanied by Totie and 12-year-old, Roy, Workman joined with his fellow principal players of the Lyric Theatre, London (who had also been engaged for the Australian tour of The Girl in the Taxi by Malone), aboard the RMS Orontes, which set sail from the London docks on 19 June 1914 travelling to Australia via Gibraltar, Toulon, Naples, Port Said and Colombo.3.

J.C. Williamson’s efficient publicity department, under the direction of Claude McKay, having already primed the local press with ‘copy’ concerning the imminent arrival of a new Musical Comedy company of English principal players as far back as late March,4. now swung into full action and ensured that there were reporters on hand to greet the ship at its first Australian port of call in Freemantle, Western Australia on 21 July.

Theatricals En Bloc.

Quite a large contingent of theatricals arrived at Fremantle to-day on board the R.M.S. Orontes. They are bound for Sydney where they will open a lengthy Australian season in the musical comedy, “The Girl in the Taxi.” The members of the Orontes company are as follows :—Messrs. C.H. Workman, W.H. Rawlins, Fred. Mcguire [sic] Paul Plunket, D.J. Williams, Chris. Wren, Hugh Huntly [sic]; Misses Maggie Jarvis, G. Hughes, Milly Engler [sic], Beda Probyn [sic], and Helen Hobson. In fact, the Orontes carries a complete musical comedy company, which is billed to open in Sydney on August 8, and which is engaged to stay 18 months in Australia.

Daily News (Perth, WA), Tuesday, 21 July 1914, p. 10,

[The article continued with a profile on the background and career of the company’s soubrette, Maggie Jarvis.]

The Orontes continued its voyage to Adelaide, where further press coverage and interviews followed on board ship following its arrival on there on Saturday 25 July.5.

By the time the ship had docked at Port Melbourne en-route to Sydney, a press photographer was on hand to capture for posterity the assembled company’s first visit to Antipodean shores, with a photo that was published in the Melbourne Australasian on Saturday, 1 August 1914.6.

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    Left – The Girl in the Taxi Company on board the Orontes, July 1914. Right – Workman on board the Orontes, July 1914.

    Photos by H. Neville S. Skeffington. Published in The Australasian (Melbourne), 1 August 1914, p. 67. State Library of Victoria.

When the Orontes had at last arrived at Circular Quay in Sydney harbour on Thursday, 30 July, the Australia-wide theatre-going public’s interest and appetite had been thoroughly whetted in eager anticipation of the delights to come from the latest Musical Comedy production to arrive Downunder from the fabled West End theatres, of which its weekly exploits, fads and fashions continued to receive wide newspaper coverage and readership around the nation. Of the new arrivals to the Sydney shores, the company’s chief comedian was spotlighted for a couple of puff pieces in the press; the first making front page news in a few paragraphs in the evening editions, while a more detailed profile appeared on Sydney-side breakfast tables the following morning.


Mr. C.H. Workman, the leading man of The Girl In the Taxi Company, who arrived on the Orontes this morning, says he endeavors to live up to his name. He hurried through his breakfast, supervised the packing of his luggage, said dozens of good-byes, and within an hour of the time of arrival he had rushed off the boat and was on his way to rehearsal.

“You can never tell how the public will take a play,” he said, “but London enjoyed it for thirteen months and declared it to be the best thing of its type they had seen for many years. Personally, I think it grand. I created the part I will play here. It is funny, it's full of interesting situations, and it carries a story. In fact, it's more like a French farce set to music than the ordinary run of comic operas. The first act is good. The second is better, and the third, which the public expects to weaken, is the best of all.”

Mr. Workman was for many years with Gilbert and Sullivan's Opera Company, and he thinks that comic opera is coming back to its own. Revues have been so numerous that the public wants a change.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Thursday, 30 July 1914, p. 1,


Mr. C.H. Workman, whose position as a comedian in musical pieces on the English stage approximates to that of his English predecessors on this side of the world, William Elton and G.P. Huntley, arrived here yesterday from London by the Orontes. The newcomer will head the company formed by J.C. Williamson, Ltd., for the production of “The Girl in the Taxi” at Her Majesty's Theatre on August 8. In this piece he will play his original London character. Miss Maggie Jarvis, Mr. W.H. Rawlins. Mr. D.J. Williams, and the other artists of the combination, arrived here two or three days ago, and complete "finishing" rehearsals will begin to-morrow.

Mr. Workman, unlike most comedians, was primarily a singer. As a boy he was soloist at the Emanuel Congregational Church, Liverpool, and later he studied as a baritone under his brother, A.E. Workman, a voice producer of reputation in that great city.

His first appearance on any stage was as Captain Corcoran in “Utopia Limited,” that character from “Pinafore” having been reintroduced by W.S. Gilbert as one of the Flowers of Progress imported as examples of manners and morals in the imaginary kingdom. This was at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, so that the new career was taken up under romantic conditions. After some months Mr. Workman applied to D'Oyley Carte [sic] in London, who sent him on tour, and it was whilst appearing in “Patience” as Bunthorne's solicitor that he won promotion in a part whom he had "nothing to say and still less to sing."

However, the audacious young artist invented an exit. When heartily cursed by the other characters, he executed a whimsical pirouette of horror, contrived so as to bring him within range of a vicious boot with a kick in it, and this kick landed him, after a lofty aerial flight, in the wings. It happened that Mr. D'Oyley Carte [sic] visited the show unexpectedly, observed the innovation, soundly rated the young artist for thus tampering with the traditional "business"—and at once promoted him to the Savoy Theatre! Mr. Workman was placed in the chief character in a curtain-raiser, “After All,” in which he appeared 500 nights, and a little later he replaced George Grossmith in “His Majesty,” playing the name part. After a Scottish tour, which opened at Dunfermline on Christmas Day, when he played Jack Point in the afternoon, and Ko-Ko at night, Mr. Workman was appointed principal comedian to the No. 1 company on tour and during ten years he played all the central Gilbert-Sullivan characters (except “Ruddigore”), and made a big reputation in the great provincial centres. In 1906 he toured South Africa with success, and then he played all the Gilbert-Sullivan characters at the Savoy Theatre. Mr. Workman briefly describes his subsequent London career in the words:–

“I then became lessee of the Savoy for a starring season, and produced ‘The Mountaineers,’ Gilbert's last piece, ‘Fallen Fairies’ (to Edward German's music), and Reginald Somerville's ‘Two Merry Monarchs.’ The first two pieces did not catch on, but the last pleased the public, and would have put me on my feet as an actor-manager but for the lamented death of King Edward. However, without loss of time I accepted the role of Bumerli, which I created at the Lyric Theatre during the immense run of ‘The Chocolate Soldier.’ Constance Drever was the Nadina, and the cast included two Australians, Roland Cunningham, (Alexis) and Lempriere Pringle, as well as Elsie Spain, now in Sydney. We played 12 times a week, then ten times, and never less than eight times. I stood the work splendidly, having a good natural, ‘forward’ production for a light baritone singing role, ranging up to the high A flat. The prima donnas were knocked out right and left, and, in all, I sang with 13 of them in 18 months! My next engagement was also at the Lyric, as Max Cliquot in ‘Night Birds,’ and I was also the chief comedian as the scent manufacturer in ‘The Girl in the Taxi,’ and, before leaving for Australia, I appeared in Jean Gilbert's ‘The Girl Who Didn't.’ ‘The Girl in the Taxi’ is a wonderfully bright and taking production, and I feel sure that Australian playgoers will be pleased with it.”

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Friday, 31 July 1914, p. 7,

Constance Drever and C.H. Workman in The Chocolate Soldier, 1910.

Photo by Foulsham & Banfield. The Play Pictorial, vol. XVI, no. 98, 1910. Courtesy of Dominic Combe.

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Constance Drever, C.H. Workman and Australian actor, Claude Flemming, in Nightbirds, London, from The Play Pictorial, no. 115, vol. XIX, 1911.

Courtesy of Andrew Lamb.

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C.H. Workman as Count Max Cliquot in Nightbirds, London, from The Play Pictorial, no. 115, vol. XIX, 1911.

Courtesy of Andrew Lamb.

Elsie Spain as Mascha in The Chocolate Soldier, 1910.

Photo by Foulsham & Banfield. From The Play Pictorial, vol. XVI, no. 98, 1910. Courtesy of Dominic Combe.

Under the practised hands of J.C. Williamson producer, Charles A. Wenman and the experienced guidance of its Sydney-based ballet mistress, Miss Minnie Hooper, the imported English players joined their Australian counterparts (who had already begun rehearsals some weeks earlier), and the production continued to take shape and achieve its final polish in readiness for its scheduled opening night a mere week-and-a-half away.

Some months prior to this in the Melbourne-based workshops of ‘The Firm’ located at the rear of the southern capital’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, carpenters, scenic artists, dressmakers and all other artisans and craftsmen attendant to the staging of a major musical production had been hard at work reproducing in fine detail the costume and scenic designs that had so enthralled and enchanted London audiences at the Lyric Theatre during the show’s initial West End run of 385 performance some two years earlier, and the fruits of their collective labours were freighted to the northern capital via train to be ‘bumped in’ at Sydney’s regal counterpart.

The Girl in the Taxi, Acts 1 & 3 – Reception room in Baron Dauvray’s house in Paris. The scenery was painted by JCW’s scenic art department based on original designs by Baruch & Co.

JCW Scene Books, Theatre Heritage Australia, Book 08-0075.

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The Girl in the Taxi, Act 2 – Restaurant Jeunesse Dorée.

JCW Scene Books, Theatre Heritage Australia, Book 08-0075.

Meanwhile half-a-world away, on 28 June 1914 an assassin’s bullets put paid to the lives of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, whilst on a tour of Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shots that would reverberate around the world and would leave lasting scars that would take many generations to heal.

On 5 August at the Spring Street Parliament House of the nation’s then temporary capital in Melbourne, the Prime Minister, Mr Joseph Cook announced that: ‘Australia is now at war. Our duty is quite clear—to gird up our loins and remember that we are Britons’, pledging full support to the mother country following his British counterpart, Mr Herbert Asquith’s declaration of war against Germany in the House of Commons the previous day. German troops had invaded Belgium hours earlier breaking the terms of its 1839 agreement with Britain and France to respect Belgium neutrality. Following Asquith’s announcement, huge cheering crowds surged through London to gather outside Buckingham Palace, to sing the national anthem. Similar patriotic demonstrations followed suit throughout Australia once the news had been cabled to Antipodean shores.

But the theatrical profession pays little heed to the world of politics for ‘The Play’s the Thing!’ and ‘The Show Must Go On!’

Opening night approached, preceded by sitzprobes with the theatre’s orchestra under the baton of Victor Champion, plus the refinement of the lighting plots and technical rehearsals for the benefit of the back-stage crew under the direction of the Stage Manger, Redge Carey, followed by dress rehearsals with the cast becoming fully comfortable with their costumes and the scenery on the stage of the theatre itself.

Time passed until the big day finally arrived, with its attendant opening night nerves and backstage cries of ‘Break a leg!’ and that curious Australian theatrical expression—‘Chookahs!’ The call-boy made his appointed rounds of the theatres’ dressing rooms, starting with a knock on the respective doors of the principal players located at stage level and ending with those of the communal chorus boys and girls located off the first floor galleries in the ‘flies’ above— ‘Overture and Act one beginners please!’

To be continued...


Special thanks to: Dominic Combe, Scott Farrell, Elisabeth Kumm, Andrew Lamb, Andrew Lee Hart, George Lowe, Chris Webster & David Stone; also State Library of Victoria & Victoria and Albert Museum (London).


Mountaineers 001 2

Workman as Pierre in The Mountaineers, London, 1909.

Photo by Dover Street Studios. Courtesy of Scott Farrell.

FallenFairies 001

Workman as Lutin in Fallen Fairies, London, 1909. From The Sketch, 29 December 1909, p. 361.

Courtesy of Scott Farrell.

SavoyLondon 001

Savoy Theatre, London, 1881. Drawing by Charles J. Phipps.

H. Beard Print Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, S.1121-2011.

TwoMerryMonarchs 001

Robert Whyte Jr, Lennox Pawle and C.H. Workman in Two Merry Monarchs, London, 1910.

Photo by Foulsham & Banfield. Courtesy of Scott Farrell.

TwoMerryMonarchs 002 2

Programme for Two Merry Monarchs, Savoy Theatre, 10 March 1910.

Courtesy of Scott Farrell.

HerMajestysSyd 002

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, c.1908.

Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, 85/1286-51.

WorkmanCH 005

Portrait of C.H. Workman, c.1914.

Photo by Monte Luke. Author’s collection.

HooperWenman 001

Minnie Hooper and Charles A. Wenman discussing a ballet.

Photo by Monte Luke. Punch (Melbourne), 5 December 1912, p. 28. Trove,

ChampionVictor 001

‘Victor Champion conducting’, from Theatrical Caricatures by Harry Julius, with marginal anecdotes by Claude McKay, Bookstall Co. Ltd., Sydney, NSW, 1912, p. 52.

Author’s collection.

WorkmanCH 004

A post-WW2 aerial photo of C.H. Workman’s birthplace at Richmond Terrace, Rimrose Road, Bootle, Lancashire, England (now demolished).

Courtesy of Chris Webster.

TwoMerryMonarchs 003

Poster for Two Merry Monarchs, London, 1910. Printed by David Allen & Sons.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London, S.2019-1995.



  1. Totie Adams (Mrs. C.H. Workman) was born Caroline Josephine Bessel Adams in Belfast on 18 July 1870, the daughter of Caroline (née Valentine) and James Adams. She performed under the stage name of Totie Adams when she first appeared in the programs of D’Oyly Carte’s ‘C’ Company in 1899 playing featured soprano roles. As Bessel Adams, she later appeared in smaller soprano roles with D’Oyly Carte’s ‘C’ (later Repertory) Company from 1902 through November 1906. She also appeared with her husband in the First London Repertory Season of the G&S operas at the Savoy from December 1906 through August 1907, after which she retired from the stage. See also:
  2. Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte by François Cellier & Cunningham V. Bridgeman, p. 408.
  3. The Times (London), shipping adverts of 1914.
  4. Daily Herald (Adelaide), 24 March 1914, p. 3,
  5. The Register (Adelaide), 27 July 1914, p. 7,
  6. The Australasian (Melbourne), 1 August 1914, p. 67,


C.H. Workman featured in the following duets and concerted numbers from the score of Oscar Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier recorded by the Odeon Company in June of 1911.

  1. ‘Sympathy’ – Miss Evelyn D’Alroy & Mr. Charles Herbert Workman (Odeon 0703 or 66841)
  2. ‘The Tale of a Coat’ (Sextett) – Members of the Lyric Theatre cast (including Miss Evelyn D’Alroy, Miss Elsie Spain, Miss Amy Augarde, Mr Roland Cunningham, Mr Charles Herbert Workman & Mr Tom Shale) (Odeon 0705 or 66826)
  3. ‘That Would be Lovely’ – Miss Evelyn D’Alroy & Charles Herbert Workman (Odeon 0704 or 66833)
  4. Finale of Act II – Members of the Lyric Theatre cast, (including Miss Evelyn D’Alroy, Miss Elsie Spain, Miss Amy Augarde, Mr Roland Cunningham, Mr Charles Herbert Workman, Mr Tom Shale, Mr Lempriere Pringle & Chorus) (Odeon 0703 or 66827)
  5. ‘The Letter Song – duet’ – Miss Evelyn D’Alroy & Mr Charles Herbert Workman (Odeon 0704 or 66846)

Recordings courtesy of Dominic Combe [Palaeophonics 135],


François Cellier & Cunningham V. Bridgeman, Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte: reminiscences of the Savoy and the Savoyards, Isaac Pitman and Sons, London, 1914

Scott Farrell, The Final Savoy Operas: a centenary review, e-book, 21 March 2013

Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchensen, Musical Comedy: a story in pictures, Peter Davies, London, 1969

Viola Tait, A Family of Brothers, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1971

Various newspapers & journals including: The Australasian (Melbourne), The Bootle Times (Bootle), Daily News (Perth, WA), The Play Pictorial (London), The Register (Adelaide), The Sun (Sydney, NSW), The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Table Talk (Melbourne), The Times (London)