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no. 351

Saturday, 5 June 2004

Lady Dunlo (née Belle Bilton), Agnes Delaporte, Victor Stevens, et al
in William Yardley, Edward Rose and Augustus Harris's burlesque,
Venus; or, The Gods as They Were and Not as They Ought to Have Been,
Grand Theatre, Islington, 22 September 1890

Lady Dunlo (née Belle Bilton)

Lady Dunlo (1867-1906) in the title role of Venus
(née Belle Bilton of the Sisters Bilton, English music hall dancers and duettists)
English burlesque actress, later Countess of Clancarty

(photo: Bassano, London, 1890)

The burlesque Venus, written by Edward Rose and Augustus Harris, was originally produced at the Royalty Theatre, London, on 27 June 1879. In a version rewritten by William Yardley it was revived at the Prince of Wales's, Liverpool, on 26 March 1890. During a subsequent tour Venus arrived in London at the Grand, Islington, on 22 September 1890.

Venus, cast

The cast of Venus at the Grand, Islington, 22 September 1890

'Mr Charles Wilmot, lessee and manger of the handsome and commodious house at Islington, and his manager, Mr H.A. Freeman, did a profitable stroke of business when for six nights they secured Mr Augustus Harris's travelling burlesque company to appear in the old Royalty burlesque Venus, furnished with novel attractiveness. The house on Monday evening [22 September 1890] was fairly crammed, and even in the higher priced parts the supply of places was not equal to the demand. On Tuesday there was a similarly great gathering of Islingtonians who love burlesque, or whose curiosity to see the successful heroine of a recent cause celèbre [Lady Dunlo (Belle Bilton) in the Dunlo v. Dunlo and Wertheimer divorce case] prompted them to attend, and during the week the patronage has been of the sort that brings grist to the managerial mill and gratification to the managerial heart. Venus at the Royalty was a rather sombre and depressing goddess; but, in the words of a popular vocalist's popular ditty, "she's another colour now." She has been written "up to date;" has been given a clear and intelligible story; has been furnished with new songs, new jokes, and what burlesque lovers now demand to have and take delight in when they get it – new "business." Moreover, the goddess of Beauty has been surrounded by beauty, and by beauty that is in close alliance with talent, for Mr Augustus Harris has exercised his customary judgment in the selection of his artists, and it would be quite safe to say that there is no better burlesque company than this particular one at present on the road. The fun commences at Vulcan's forge, where for a respectable forge, as the proprietor puts it, there are some sad goings on. Vulcan has good reason to wax jealous even here, but there is more reason later on at Prosperine's picnic on Mount Lebanus, for his fair spouse is wooed by not only the adored Adonis, but by a small army of the gods, and there is reason to say, as says Mr [W.S.] Gilbert in one of his comic choruses [in The Mikado], "here's a how d'ye do." Mercury, the newsman, assists at this picnic, and takes copious notes of what he sees – notes that lead to numerous threats of libel actions, the editor of a smart paper for smart people being visited and alternately coaxed and threatened by those who consider themselves pointed at in a certain pungent paragraph in Mercury's newspaper. This burlesque supplies one of the most comical scenes in the burlesque, and on Monday night, when Jupiter talked about the damage his reputation might sustain if the said paragraph were not contradicted, and Mercury, as editor-in-chief, replied [in reference to Lord and Lady Dunlo], "Well, why don't you marry the girl?" the house was fairly convulsed with laughter. In the pretty scene of the forest later on the angry Vulcan slays the amorous Adonis, whose apotheosis gives excuse for a pretty dance of anemones and for a general departure to the Immortals' Club, and further on to a trial in the Olympian Law Courts, where the resurrection of Adonis saves Vulcan from condemnation. Vulcan was represented with unflagging humour by Mr Victor Stevens, in whom we long since recognised one of the very best of our burlesque actors. He is an artist of quick resources and infinite variety, and seems every ready to help the author with an impromptu gag. His frequent applications to a pump to cool the jealousy which is getting very hot in Vulcan's breast and Vulcan's head were very amusing, and he got not a little applause by asking for it and waiting till it came. His song in the opening scene, "It's simply a matter of business," was rapturously encored, and with Mr Harry Fischer, the Pluto of the crowd, he made one of the big hits in the representation in a duet and dance, in which they "wore two faces under one hat," and by simply turning round doubled their characters. An old trick this, but the artists contrived to give it something of novelty, and their success was attested by overwhelming applause. Lady Dunlo as Venus of course commanded a large share of attention. Her beauty was at once admitted, and recognised, too, was the advance she has made since she deserted the music halls. She has shaken off some of her self-consciousness and affectation, and, although chief among the goddesses, did not assume too great an air of superiority. She delivered her lines with commendable emphasis, and in the little singing and dancing she had to do acquitted herself in praiseworthy fashion. The experienced Miss Grace Huntley took a prominent place as Cupid, and her saucy, spirited style found ready favour with the audience, who insisted on a repetition of her sweetly sung song, "Love that lives for evermore." Quite a bewitching little Psyche was pretty Miss Kitty Loftus, who was honoured with a similar compliment in her archly rendered ditty "A Regular Swell." The Three Graces, Euphrosyne, Aglia, and Thalia, were charmingly represented by respectively Miss Alice Lethbridge, Miss Violet Malvern, and Miss Alice Carlton. Miss Lethbridge is as dainty a dancer as has ever been seen behind the footlights, and the almost breathless silence of the spectators while she indulged in what was, indeed, the poetry of motion indicated most eloquently the enchantment se exercised. A handsome and altogether charming Adonis was Miss Agnes Delaporte. Her vocal ability was of great value to the production, and her spirited rendering of the drinking song, "There's nothing like fizz," seemed to exhilarate her audience as might have done the "sparkling" of which she so sweetly and merrily discoursed. Miss Daisy Baldry as Prosperine, Miss Ethel Salisbury as Bacchus (a very thirsty soul), Miss Ellicott as Mars, Miss Richardson as Jupiter, and Miss Cole as Neptune are all entitled to special mention. The loudest laugher and the longest was undoubtedly the outcome of the sayings of Whimsical Walker as Mercury and the brayings of his now celebrated donkey. This asinine wonder has made hosts of friends among circus patrons, and is likely to add largely to the number in his new sphere of operations. "Do not forget me" is what he sings, and it must be said that those who hear him will long remember the music. Mr Walker without his "moke" [donkey] is exceedingly droll, and in Mercury's editorial sanctum serves up a feast of fun that is both rich and rare. The principals were supported by a brightly arrayed, well drilled, and thoroughly musical crowd. Altogether, Venus was well worthy of the enthusiastic verdict of approval passed upon it.'
(The Era, London, Saturday, 27 September 1890, p.9c)

Agnes Delaporte Victor Stevens

left, Agnes Delaporte (fl. late 19th/early 20th century), English actress and singer;
right, Victor Stevens (1853?-1925), English actor and dramatic author

(photos: left, Bassano, London, circa 1900; right, Frank Brown, Leicester, circa 1893)


'Mythological lore has lately been much in vogue for burlesque purposes. We have had the Bridge of Love at the Lyric [a poetic play with Ada Cavendish, Letty Lind, Clara Jecks, et al, 9 June 1890, transferred from the Adelphi], and at the Grand Theatre, in the somewhat inaccessible district of Islington, has been crowded nightly during the past week with people anxious to witness Mr. Augustus Harris's company in Venus. There is always something genuinely refreshing about burlesque, for there is no need to worry about abstract theories; nowadays, no serious play can be successful unless it consists of a superfine analysis of some obvious emotion. Venus seems to me to be a fairly good specimen of its class. There is no unwearisome unravelling of a complicated plot, for the very excellent reason that there is not plot at all, and there is no new and original dissertation on the relation of the sexes, because the distinction of sex, notwithstanding the fact that she wears a field-marshal's uniform, and is escorted on to the stage by the strains of the "British Grenadiers." In burlesque the utterly incongruous is accounted artistic, so nobody is surprised when Venus goes to a pic-nic in a large Parisian bonnet, or when Vulcan and Pluto dance together in modern evening dress suits. In the first act the curtain rises on Vulcan's smithy. Vulcan (Mr. Victor Stevens) is discovered by a body of assistants, who strike the property anvil and generally disport themselves in a very Trovatore-like manner. The house, however, was all impatience for the entrance of Venus herself. For was not Venus to be represented by Lady Dunlo, erstwhile Belle Bilton, the heroine of one of the most celebrated divorce cases of our time? When the fair Bell – I beg her ladyship's pardon – Lady Dunlo did appear, the house rose at her, and she seemed to be quite unnerved by the warmth of her reception. Who will dare to say after this that the English are not a chivalrous nation? She was dressed in a sufficiently diaphanous pink costume, and looked charming. However, it is not necessary to describe each of the three acts in detail: suffice to say that there are the usual sentimental solos, comic songs, choruses, and ballet which are the characteristics of this form of art. For a travelling company the dresses and scenery are excellent, though, perhaps, a little too reminiscent of Old Drury [i.e. Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, of which Augustus Harris was manager].
'Miss Agnes Delaporte, who sang well, made a very shapely Adonis, Miss Grace Huntley was all dancing and dimples as Cupid, and had some pretty love scenes with Psyche (Miss Kitty Loftus). As the leading member of the Three Graces, Miss Alice Lethbridge danced delightfully. She is, perhaps, rather too delicately built, but her frail beauty suits her style of dancing, and the proverbial pin-drop would have sounded like a thunderclap during the breathless silence with which the house watched her. (This is, perhaps, hyperbole, but not matter.) The authors have christened her Euphrosyne; did the Graces make dancing their speciality?
'However, stern critic as I am, I must beg your indulgence for a few moments while I address her in verse.

O fairest of all the fair three,
Let one glance
Of your beautiful eyes rest on me
As you dance;
If my heart could be read like a book
Would you spurn
My poor homage, or give me one look
In return?
As Euphrosyné you are ill-styled;
Why not choose
To be known as the dance-loving child
Of the muse?
Gods and goddesses all would agree
To your claim,
And Terpsichoré henceforth should be
Your right name!

'I did not think Mr. Victor Stevens was very funny as Vulcan, but the audience liked him, and their sentiments were well expressed by my right-hand neighbour, who kept repeating to his lady-love, "He is a regular caution, ain't 'ee?" [i.e. very amusing] This is, I suppose, the height of popular appreciation. But best of all was the ex-circus clown, who rejoices in the name of Whimsical Walker. He is Mercury, the court newsman, and is made up as a society journalist (poor society journalists!) and has a very funny scene in a newspaper office, which is in the very wildest spirit of burlesque. All his business was excellent, and he kept the house in a roar for five minutes with a pantomimic imitation of a man fishing and bathing. But, of course, the chief interest was entered in Lady Dunlo. She is not quite so lackadaisical in manner as she used to be; she sings and dances with more than average ability; and I think Mr. Harris was perfectly justified, artistically, in engaging her, for she is very beautiful. If you ask me whether this is quite consistent, I say, with the man at the music hall, "There's a doubt!"'
(The Hawk, London, Tuesday, 30 September 1890, p.378)

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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)
José 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.

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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