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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 523

updated
Saturday, 22 September 2007

FOOTLIGHT NOTES
images of theatre and other popular entertainment
1850s-1920s

Rumpelstiltskin, New Royalty, London, 1864

three carte de visite photographs of characters from F.C. Burnand's extravaganza,
Rumpelstiltskin; or, The Woman at the Wheel,
produced at the New Royalty Theatre, Soho, London, 28 March 1864.

left to right: Miss Pelham as Roseken, Lydia Maitland as Prince Poppet,
Edmund Edmunds as Rumpelstiltskin, and Ada Cavendish as Princess Superba

(photos: Southwell Brothers, London, 1864)

Rumpelstiltskin; or, The Woman at the Wheel,
produced at the New Royalty Theatre, Soho, London, on 28 March 1864

'A lively overture preceded the extravaganza of Rumpelstiltskin; or, The Woman at the Wheel. The wheel is simply the wheel of fortune, from which, by the aid of Rumpelstiltskin, the heroine manages to spin straw into gold. Mr. Burnand, with charming candour, in a brief preface in the book of words, informs us that the story is taken from that of the Brothers Grimm, and that he has helped himself to any other little characters or incident he thought likely to add to the interest of the piece. The wisdom of attempting to tell the story of a burlesque in a brief criticism is, rather questionable. The lively airs, the pretty dances, the naivete and abandon of the actors and actresses, refuse to be set down on paper. Yet for a due appreciation of the story they are necessary, and without them the narrative cannot do justice to the author. Briefly, the story is this. King Tagarag, like many a king (especially of the burlesque and pantomime), has an empty exchequer. He conceives, also like many another stage monarch, a notable scheme for getting the same filled, the novelty of which is not very striking. It is the marriage of his son, Prince Poppet, to the Princess Superba, who has wealth untold. There is one little obstacle to this scheme. The Prince has lost his heart to a miller's daughter. He refuses, and goes to see the miller's daughter, is surprised by his Royal father, who is told that the miller's daughter can spin gold from straw. She is cast into prison until she can prove the assertion. While she is bewailing her inability Rumpelstiltskin, the dwarf, makes his appearance, proposes marriage, offers a bond for signature, and promises to endow her with the ability to spin the gold from straw if she signs. She signs, afterwards spins out the gold, and is about to join hands with the Prince, when the Dwarf appears to demand her hand. An arrangement is made, by which she is to have, however, three days before the fulfilment of the contract, and if in the meantime any one can guess his name it is to be void. By the aid of an old witch this is discovered, the dwarf virtuously endows the bride, and the extravaganza concludes with a stage covered with nuggets of gold huge enough to have a wonderful effect on the money market of King Tagarag's kingdom. So much for the story. It is the least part of the piece. The acting throughout is good. The varied accomplishments of the ladies who gather under the banner of the New Royalty found an ample field. Miss Ada Cavendish looked, dressed, and acted the haughty Princess with skill. Admirable as her Venus, in Ixion [i.e. Burnand's extravaganza, Ixion; or, The Man at the Wheel, produced at the New Royalty, Soho, London, 28 September 1863], was, her Princess Superba is unquestionably better; the scene in which she assumes the wig and gown and appears as Counsel for the Defence is a capital one. Miss Lydia Maitland makes a pleasing Prince Poppet. Mrs. [Charles] Selby's character is not a very great one, but she invests it with a power that makes the scene in which she takes part one of the best of the piece. Miss Pelham, as Roseken, the beloved of Prince Poppet, and Miss H. Pelham also played satisfactorily. Mr. Edmund Edmunds made a promising debut as Rumpelstiltskin. His singing and acting are alike good, and the character is perfectly made up. Mr. Joseph Robins, who plays the mother of Roseken (the Miller's wife), is very droll, and his part as a witness at the trial is admirably done. Broad as it is, the habitues of law courts will recognise in it the fruit of faithful study or that class of witness who are the plague of barristers. Mr. W.H. Stephens, as the King, and Mr. Wagstaff, as Goldensticken, his usher, were amusing. In the second scene, which is the Exterior of Jolinosio's Miss Rosina Wright, aided by a strong corps de ballet, executes some of the most graceful dances we have seen for some time. In scene four the Miller's daughter is put on her trial as a gold spinner, and she accomplishes the task most completely, sheets of gold spreading over the floor and all around as she turns her wheel, and the Hall of the Palace suddenly changing its exterior appearance t represent the same metal. Scene five is pretty, but unpretentious. Scene six, not as much for scenic effect as for parody of a trial which takes place in it, is the best of them all. Author, actors, and actresses have continued to make it so, and it is the best one of its character we have witnessed. It leads up to the "Abode of Golden Gilt," and a well-delivered epilogue by Mrs. Selby, followed by a general dance, terminates this capital extravaganza.
'We deeply regret to have to add that a sad circumstance, which took place on the first night, rendered the task of the ladies and gentlemen on the stage one of peculiar difficulty, and had scarcely less effect on the audience. Mr. H. Seymour, who made his first appearance in the character of the Miller, was seized with a fit that terminated fatally. Mrs. Selby, with much natural feeling and emotion, announced the fact to the audience. Mr. Phelps took up the character, and has continued to play it since. Mr. Burnand also, when called before the curtain, alluded to the sad circumstance under which the latter part of his work had for the first time been played. Mr. Phelps has now studied the part, for which he was at first wholly unprepared, and the piece goes off amid enthusiastic demonstrations of approval.'
(The Era, London, Sunday, 3 April 1864, p.11b/c)

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