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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 342

updated
Saturday, 3 April 2004

Richelieu Redressed
Olympic Theatre, London, 27 October 1873

May Leslie and Miss Strake

May Leslie and Miss Strake, supernumeries in
Richelieu Redressed, Olympic Theatre, London, 27 October 1873

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, 1873)

Robert Reece's burlesque Richelieu Redressed was produced at the Olympic Theatre, London, on 27 October 1873. Parodying Lord Lytton's five-act play, Richelieu, which had just been revived at the Lyceum on 27 September 1873 with Henry Irving in the title role its cast included Edward Righton, G.W. Anson junior, W.H. Fisher, Emily Fowler and Miss Stephens.

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'The great success of the Happy Land [a burlesque by F. Tomline and Gilbert Beckett], which, brought out early in the year [on 3 March 1873], still holds its place at the Court Theatre, was the first indication that a kind of drama which in spirit, though not in form, would resemble the comedy of Aristophanes, was about to become popular, and certainly we have one sign more pointing in the same direction in the immense applause bestowed upon Richelieu Redressed, a new "parody" written by Mr. R. Reece, and brought out at the Olympic Theatre.
'The old Athenian poet, we need not say, satirized the tragedian Euripides in the Frogs, the demagogue Cleon in the Knights. The limits of one short piece are sufficient for Mr. Reece to throw his darts at two distinct targets, one theatrical, the other political; and the two selected targets, it cannot be denied, are just now objects very conspicuous to the public eye.
'In the first place, the piece is a burlesque on Lord Lytton's Richelieu, which a number of circumstances have brought into rare prominence. The Lyceum Theatre, after many years of varied fortunes, has become, under the management of Mr. Bateman, one of the most important houses in London, appropriated as it is to the representation of poetical plays, in which the decorative element, though complete, is subservient to the dramatic judgment of good fortune, or both, caused Mr. Bateman to engaged Mr. H. Irving, at the very commencement of his enterprise; the fame of the actor has gown together with that of the theatre, and if any one member of the profession is now more talked about than another in theatrical circles, that person is Mr. H. Irving, whose figure as Charles I., associated with that of Miss Isabella Bateman as his Queen, and first seen rather more than a year ago, remained permanent for many months in the minds of all who took an interest in theatrical matters nay, extended the category under which these may be comprised. There is a large class of people who are not in the habit of "going to the play," and perhaps, as a rule, object to dramatic entertainments, but who readily depart from their general usage when some attraction of an exceptionally intellectual kind is offered, where in the shape of a play or an actor. This class is to be added to the larger multitude which took interest in the new drama Charles I. [Lyceum, 28 September 1873], and now takes interest in the revived drama Richelieu.
'Mr. Reece, then, when he indulges in a comical view of the great Cardinal, who is regarded with such serious veneration at the Lyceum, can go to work with the perfect certainly that the subject is thoroughly familiar to every one of his audience, from the foremost stall to the hindmost gallery, and that if his jokes fall flat it will not be through the want of necessary knowledge on the part of his hearers. Cheered doubtless by this conviction, he has constructed a very clever "parody," which, written in blank verse, is more akin to the early burlesques of Mr. W.S. Gilbert than to those of other writers nominally in the same line. Lord Lytton's whole story is crushed into three short scenes, and the "funny" points which it presents are touched with much humour. One of the clumsiest incidents in the play, it will be remembered, is the despatch, signed by the conspirators, which falls into nearly everybody's hands, and does not produce the explosion for the sake of which it is devised, till within a few minutes before the fall of the curtain. The position of this unfortunate document is ludicrously exaggerated by Mr. Reece, who allows it to remain on the stage during nearly the whole of the performance, save when it is, accidentally kicked into the prompter's box, whence it is immediately flung back. The difficulty which occurs in London theatres where English actors are required to speak French is pleasantly indicated by the odd manner in which Richelieu and Huguet pronounce each other's names, and the pleasantry is brought to its height when the two sing a duet, abounding in distortions of Parisian common-places.
'Considered merely as a "parody" on a deservedly popular play, Richelieu Redressed is exceedingly droll, but it is not in this character that it will reach the notoriety which it will probably attain, unless it is stopped short in its career by some pressure without. It is the "Knight side" of the piece, rather than the "Frog side," which evokes the shouts from the audience. All can see that Richelieu, whose apology for a Cardinal's robe barely conceals the attire of a modern "Right Honourable," is not meant for Richelieu at all; that the anxiety which he displays as to the result of certain elections has little to do with any conspiracy of the 17th century; and that when, after attempting to lift an unwieldy sword inscribed "public approbation," he lets it drop, but consoles himself by remarking that he has still a "Birmingham blade which is bright" the last word in this proposition is not to be regarded as an adjective. If any difficulty remains on the subject it is completely removed by the "make-up" of Mr. E. Righton, who never so thoroughly identified himself with a character as he does with this "Right Honourable" Lord Cardinal [This is a reference to the politician John Bright, who in 1873-74 was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster]. The part next in importance is Huguet, represented by Mr. G.W. Anson with that richness of colour which caused this young actor to leap into celebrity when he played the bumpkin in Sour Grapes [Olympic, 4 October 1873]. Louis XIII., who, snubbed on all sides, and even pushed about, perpetually asks himself, without sanguine expectations of an affirmative answer, "Am I King of France?" is humorously conceived by the author and ably represented by Mr. W.H. Fisher. Marion de Lorne, much more conspicuous in the "parody" than in the play, and supposed at the end to marry Huguet, afford a comic part to Miss Stephens. The minor personages are all efficiently sustained, chiefly by smartly-attired young ladies, and the piece is beautifully illustrated by pictures from the pencil of [the scene painter] Mr. Julian Hicks.' (The Times, London, Wednesday, 29 October 1873, p.8b)

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John Culme, 2004