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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 313

updated
Saturday, 13 September 2003

The Song of the Sea,
His Majesty's Theatre, London, 6 September 1928

Lilian Davies & Stanley Holloway

Lilian Davies as Nancy and Stanley Holloway as Lieut. Richard Manners
in The Song of the Sea, His Majesty's Theatre, London, 1928.

(photo: Stage Photo Co, London, 1928;
coloured by The Play Pictorial)

The Song of the Sea, a musical play by Arthur Wimperis and Lauri Wylie adapted from the German by Richard Bars and Leopold Jacobson, with music by Eduard Kunneke and lyrics by Arthur Wimperis, was produced under the supervision of the Daniel Mayer Co at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, on 6 September 1928. Devised by Jack Hulbert and Paul Murray and produced by Jack Hulbert, the cast included Stanley Holloway, Claude Hulbert (Jack Hulbert's brother), Jerry Verno, A.W. Baskcomb, Leonard Mackay, Dennis Hoey, Lilian Davies, Winifred Hare, Polly Ward and Mary Leigh. The Song of the Sea closed after 156 performances.

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'Perhaps the first thought which will cross the mind of the spectator when he visits His Majesty's Theatre is the costly magnificence with which The Song of the Sea is presented by the Daniel Mayer Company. Money has been lavished on it with a spendthrift hand, and if it failed in every other respect it is a succés de luxe from the scenic, the spectacular and the stage management aspect. But however prodigal the spending has been it has been done with discriminating zeal, inasmuch as it is not luxury for luxury's sake but just a gorgeous means to a magnificent climax. Musically, it is a most enchanting "show," and those who remember Mr. Kunneke's delightful The Cousin from Nowhere [Prince's Theatre, London, 24 February 1923] will have every reason to be entirely pleased with his achievement in the present instance.
'I have no knowledge of the play on which the Song of the Sea is based, but I should imagine that it was closely allied to the life history of Emma Hamilton, culminating in her final association with Horatio Nelson. The English librettists, however, have presented their own version of the famous love story, in which the actual circumstances have been considerably modified. Nancy, our present heroine, begins life as Emma did, as waitress in a tavern, although the tavern is one patronized by sailors instead of actors. Here her saucy gift for singing and mimicry has made her a popular favourite, and among those who have been attracted by her bright eyes and vocal accomplishment is Lieutenant Richard Manners, of His Majesty's Royal Navy, whom Nancy at first repulses with piquant insolence and then encourages in a more serious vein. Indeed, so earnest is she to all intents and purposes, that the young naval officer desires to make her his wife. Unfortunately, another and finer gentleman appears on the scene in the person of Sir William Candysshe, who offers to take Nancy to London, equip her with fine dresses and surround her with luxury, but not accompanied with the adornment of a wedding ring. All this does Nancy accept with the reservation in her own mind that she makes no surrender except in the status of a wife.
'Later on we find Nancy installed at the British Embassy at Naples, where she apparently queens it in regal style and thereby excites the jealousy of the Princess of Pisa, whom she defies at a splendid gathering by publicly announcing herself as Lady Candysshe, to the great consternation of Sir William. Our naval hero appears once more on the scene, and his presence not only inflames Sir William's jealousy but also excites in him a violent animosity towards the young Lieutenant, so much so that he causes Dick to be arrested and then endeavours to coerce Nancy into surrendering to his wishes by promising to secure a pardon for her lover. Nancy, however, relies on her native wit and ingenuity to secure Dick's safety, and by a plausible ruse so influences the Admiral that instead of being court-martialled Dick has his sword returned by his superior officer, and the curtain falls on what promises to be a blythe and happy wedding.
'Among the other characters introduced is that of the painter, Peter Pettigrew, who we may take it is the stage equivalent of Romney, one of the first patrons of Emma Harte or Lyon. It is he who provides a large measure of the "comic relief," and when it is said that he is impersonated by Mr. A.W. Bascomb the reader will easily understand the personal type of humour that is responsible for not a little of the laughter which attends the performance. Among the more thrilling vocal numbers is the breezy "Song of the Sea," and some dainty melodies for that exquisite vocalist, Miss Lilian Davies. A fine orchestra is under the efficient control of Mr. Percy Fletcher.'
(The Play Pictorial, 'The Song of the Sea' issue, no.321, vol.LIII, London, 1928, p.102)

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Stanley Holloway, Claude Hulbert & Chorus

Stanley Holloway as Lieut. Richard Manners, Claude Hulbert (above) as Bob Blake
and Chorus in the song 'Lovely Ladies' from Act I of The Song of the Sea, His Majesty's Theatre, London, 1928.

(photo: Stage Photo Co, London, 1928)

'So far as their decorative qualities are concerned, the clothes of our menfolk, in this present year of grace [1928], serve merely to provide an excellent background for our own raiment. To appreciate to the full value, to our frocks, of the uniform black garb or men by night, one had only to attend a hunt ball, when the brilliant pink of the huntsmen's coats will be seen to kill, in a most merciless manner, all the delicate hues of their fair partners' apparel.
'A hundred years ago, a man's tailor had need, not only of an artist's sense of line, but also of an artist's eye for subtle shade, as well as a flair for striking colour contrasts. No doubt their achievements in sartorial art detracted somewhat from the beauty of the feminine toilettes, but the splendour of the general effect must have more than compensated the ladies for this. Even a modern-day debutante would be thrilled to take the floor on the arm of a young gallant attired in impeccable style and a symphony of pale blue and light grey.
'The beauty that belonged to dress, of both men and women, in Nelson's day, makes a wonderful display in that fine musical comedy, Song of the Sea, at His Majesty's Theatre. The graceful "Empire" gowns of the ladies, the picturesque costumes of the gentlemen and the brilliance of the naval uniforms of the period combine in creating a succession of beautiful colour schemes and magnificent effects in shaded hues. As for the rustling taffetas, crisp muslins and dainty patterned silks of 1810, they might find their reflection in many of the modes of the present season. The princess style of the Empire gown, with its long, unbroken line to the hem, is supremely right for the tall, willowy woman, and it is shown in a number of afternoon frocks of to-day, especially in those of the popular ring velvet.
'Miss Lilian Davies makes her first appearance in the play as a singing girl, clad in a russet-brown frock of chiffon, with a tiny corslet of brown velvet laced with orange ribbons, and a bright green shawl flung round her shoulders. This is a prelude to a series of some of the most charming period gowns seen on the West End stage for some time past.
'A pale blue-rose frock of crêpe de Chine, with its very high waist and pretty puff sleeves, is trimmed with a border design in pearls, and a fringe of pearl drops outlines the circular yoke. Another, of pale green silk beneath while net, is embroidered with a small fleur de lys pattern worked in gold thread and centred with diamanté. But it is her wedding gown [designed by Guy de Gerald and made by Hoban et Jeanne Ltd, London] that stands alone as a thing of superlative sumptuousness. This marvellous creation is of white velvet, studded with diamonds. The huge puff sleeves are of many-frilled white net, and the glorious long train of white velvet is adorned with an elaborate bow design in diamonds. A scintillating diadem is the accompanying headdress.
'In contrast, but equally becoming, is Miss Davies' last gown, composed of white georgette, spotted with chenille the blue of the cornflowers which festoon the skirt. A wide sash, the exact shade of the flowers, swathes the waist and falls in long ends towards the hem.
'Entirely different in effect, but quite as charming, are Miss Mary Leigh's demure little frocks. Her first is a sweet picture of young girl simplicity during the early years of the last century. Made of peach-pink georgette, this little gown has long, tight sleeves below the puffs, at the shoulders. A triple row of ruching in deeper pink ninon and velvet, is the sole decoration that relieves the plainness of the skirt.
'Winsome Miss Polly Ward is a delightful little maid, dressed in quaint taffeta gowns in gay colours. One of her prettiest is of blue taffeta, looped over an underskirt of blue and red striped silk. White and green, and yellow and blue are used in a similar way in her other frocks, all of which have fishus and tiny aprons of organdie or net.
'Among the most handsome gowns worn in the pay, mention must be made of Miss Winifred Hare's creation of white crêpe de Chine, heavily embroidered in gold thread, pearls and large emeralds. With this is worn a rich cloak of emerald green velvet, line with gold tissue and ending in a long train. The fan that she carries is an unusual one; white ospreys emerge from the centre of a cluster of green ostrich feathers, and it is held by a golden handle.
'Others in the Court scene are attired in bejewelled velvets, with trains and ostrich feather ornaments at the shoulder and high waist.
'The last act displays the wonderful effects to be obtained with a simple red, white and blue décor. Half the chorus ladies are in long tail-coats of red velvet, worn over dresses of red striped with white, and an equal number are in blue coats above gowns in blue and white stripes. Their big poke bonnets are white, underlined with silk the colour of their coats.
'Perhaps even a greater amount of care and attention to authentic detail has been lavished on the costumes of the menfolk in the production. The perfection of the uniforms, both the naval and the military, for instance, is probably appreciated only by the closest observer, and yet the fact that they are genuine reproductions of the real, historical uniforms, no doubt helps to create the atmosphere of the time to a great extent.
'The uniforms have a romance of their own, so also have the tail-coats, frilled shirts and tall beavers of the private gentlemen. Mr. Claude Hulbert presents a picturesque figure in the grey and fawn garb of a traveller of the old coaching days, with his full skirted coat, velvet shoulder cape and cuffs, and tight-fitting fawn trousers strapped beneath his instep. Then his yellow and black striped waistcoat strikes a gay note with his light blue tail-coat, while a most effective study in black and white is his black satin coat, faced with corded silk, striped with black and white to match the waistcoat, worn with black tights.
'Mr. A.W. Baskcomb also makes an arresting appearance as a gay gallant of the period – especially when attired in a cloth tail-coat of a delicate lavender blue, with which he wears trousers of a pale lavender grey.'
(Jennie Pickworth, 'Modes of Mayfair,' The Play Pictorial, 'The Song of the Sea' issue, no.321, vol.LIII, London, 1928, p.iv)

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