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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 347

updated
Saturday, 8 May 2004

Ariel
Gaiety Theatre, London, 8 October 1883

Fairy chorus, Ariel, Gaiety, 1883

The chorus of fairies in the burlesque
Ariel, Gaiety Theatre, London, 8 October 1883

(photo: unknown, London, 1883)

F.C. Burnand's burlesque fairy drama Ariel, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, was produced at the Gaiety Theatre, London, on 8 October 1883. Nellie Farren undertook the title role and Arthur Williams appeared as Prospero.

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'To criticize Ariel at the Gaiety adversely, to pretend to say it was not the most brilliant production of this or any other age, to dare to hint that the loss of Mr. Edward Terry is most acutely felt, or that the Gaiety company is not what it was, would be to draw down on our devoted heads sarcastic advertisements in the daily Press [probably a reference to John Hollingshead, manager of the Gaiety and former journalist, who was an inveterate advertiser], the scorn of the leading comic paper, and the studied impertinence of the popular sporting oracles. To say that Ariel is written down to the intelligence of the typical masher is sufficient to say that it could not contain any definite sign of the merry geniality and robust humour of its author. It is not at all likely that the Johnnies and Chappies of the Gaiety brigade take the slightest interest in the art that The Theatre endeavours to foster and encourage, and it is mot certain that the directors and sympathizers with The Theatre differ toto cúlo from the Gaiety brigade. The world is wide enough to hold partisans of either school. It has been said, and unfairly said, that it takes a very heavy hammer to force a joke into a Schotchman's head. The author of Ariel evidently thinks that the masher's cranium is harder still, so he refuses to take the trouble to force a smile upon the sheep's faces of an uninteresting crowd. To say that a burlesque is written for the special patrons of the Gaiety is enough to say that it is pap foot for overgrown infants of amiable temperaments and blameless exterior. The author of a criticism of Ariel in a comic paper, mainly devoted to ridiculing all who do not consider Ariel the most side-splitting and hilarious entertainment ever produced, professes himself as objecting to "gush." Probably he omitted to revise the proofs of his article, for he does not practise what he preaches. Incidentally, however, he touches on a subject on which must has been said from time to time in these columns. He writes as follows:-
'"Objecting to 'gush' as we do, we could wish that in the interest of true criticism the critics' night were everywhere postponed until the third performance of any new piece." We wonder if that opinion would have been changed if the "gush" had been ladled out pretty freely within a few hours of the first performance. As we have repeatedly pointed out, the production of a new burlesque or any other play is considered as news of the day, and treated accordingly by the conductors of newspapers. This is an implied compliment to the drama of every degree. If things go on as they are going on now, it is quite certain that the newspaper-reading public will no longer allow the news of the world to be postponed in favour of the recorded history of the latest melodrama or the newest burlesque. Newspaper space is valuable, and the burlesque that can wait three days to be criticized, may well wait for three weeks or any indefinite period. It is either news or the reverse; and it is surely a false policy to demand that recognition in the daily press of the country should be removed from what is now generally recognized. If the mashers like Ariel, if the management is satisfied, if the author is pleased and looks upon the production with pride, why, of course it must be good. Let the author take a leaf out of the book of Augustus Harris [manager of Drury Lane Theatre], and boldly advertise "By far the best burlesque I have ever been associated with!" An inelegant sentence, but in strict accord with managerial modesty. Cela va sans dire! There is no more to be said about it. But it is not beyond the regions of probability that even Miss [Nellie] Farren and her clever companions have from time to time given more favourable specimens of their art, although their popularity was never more strongly pronounced. The Gaiety is popular, Mr. [F.C.] Burnand is deservedly popular, the company is equally popular; but critics are not necessarily idiots because they consider the pubic time is occasionally wasted, or because they deplore the existence in the stalls of a steady contempt for all humour, a wretched hankering after the childish in art, and an inert materialism that is necessarily the opponent of fancy and imagination.'
(The Theatre, London, Monday, 1 November 1883, pp.271 and 272)

Nellie Farren


Nellie Farren in the title role of
Ariel, Gaiety Theatre, London, 8 October 1883

(lithograph song sheet cover published by Hopwood & Crew, London, 1883)

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Gladys Cooper


Gladys Cooper as she appeared in Havana,
Gaiety Theatre, London, 1908

(photo: Bassano, London, 1908)

A sample of John Culme's hand made greetings cards,
currently available at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The above greetings card and others like it have been made to celebrate Terence Pepper's current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, devoted to Bassano's early 20th Century photographs of theatrical celebrities. Images of Gabrielle Ray and Gladys Cooper are featured in the exhibition as are some of their contemporaries on the London stage, including Gertie Millar, Moya Mannering, Gaby Deslys, Olive May and Gina Palerme. The exhibition runs until 31 August.

A special CD entitled Gaiety Girls has been produced to coincide with the exhibition, available at the National Portrait Gallery bookshop and also direct from Tony Barker. With masterly transfers by Dominic Combe from rare original recordings, and twelve pages of sleeve notes by Patrick O'Connor, the CD comprises the following tracks:
Alice Delysia - I Know What I Want (1933)
Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale - Hold My Hand (1932)
Cicely Courtneidge and Harold French - A tiny flat in Soho Square (1927)
Dorothy Brown and Roy Royston - When I Waltz With You (1926)
Josť Collins and Kingsley Lark - The Last Waltz (1922)
Mamie Watson and Roy Royston - Japanese Duet (1920)
Marjorie Gordon - Tickle Toe (1918)
Ada Reeve - Is It Nothing To You? (1915)
Moya Mannering and Leslie Henson - Meet Me Around The Corner (1915)
Haidee de Rance and George Grossmith Jnr - They Didn't Believe Me (1915)
Connie Ediss - I Like To Have A Little Bit On (1911)
Olive May - The Lass With A Lasso (1911)
Gaby Deslys - Tout En Rose (1910)
Denise Orme and Arthur Grover - Swing Song (1906)
Delia Mason and Maurice Farkoa - My Portuguese Princess (1905)
Evie Greene - Try Again, Johnny (1902)
Ellaline Terriss - Gaiety Medley (1903).
The disc also includes the following unique recordings of broadcasts from the 1930s: Gertie Millar - Keep Off The Grass; Phyllis Dare and W. H. Berry - Let Me Introduce You To My Father; Ethel Levey - Ragtime Medley; and Evelyn Laye - The Call Of Life.

My own contribution to this event includes a talk Ė Growing up with Bassano - about my 45 years as a collector of theatrical photographs, to be given at the National Portrait Gallery on Sunday, 9 May.

The National Portrait Gallery has also published a number of postcards for the occasion, taken from original Bassano negatives, which are available from the gallery's bookshop

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