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no. 587

Saturday, 13 December 2008

images of theatre and other popular entertainment

Y<I>Dick Whittington and His Cat</I>
programme cover for the pantomime
Harlequin Beau Bell, Gog and Magog, and the Rats of Rat Castle
produced at the Surrey Theatre, south London, Monday, 24 December 1877

(printed by Aubert's Steam Printing Works, 11 Maiden Lane, Strand, London, 1877)

'First impressions are said to be lasting. Any man who has been only strung by a hornet, or kicked by a horse, or bitten by a dog, will sweat to that. Our first impression concerning the Surrey Pantomime, the version of Whittington and His Cat, so wittily written by Mr Frank Green, furnished with such beautiful scenery by Mr Brook; supplied with merry and tuneful music by Mr Sidney Davis; with quaint and costly properties by Mr Jackson; and with mechanical effects by Mr W.F. Robinson; gorgeously dressed; admirably Stage-Managed by Mr J.H. Doyne - was that it completely put in the shade everyone of its predecessors; and that it would be found well worthy the patronage of the crowds of sight-seers certain to patronise it. That impression has only been confirmed by a second peep at its multifarious attractions, and it will decidedly last until, with the arrival of another Christmas, Mr Holland again comes to the front with a liberal hand to show his determination to enhance his well-won popularity, to hold his own against all rivals, and to maintain the high prestige of the house he manages so well for pantomimic splendour, and for pantomimic fun and fancy. Morning and evening performances alike find the house crowded from floor to roof, and from the moment when the curtain raises upon Rats' Castle until the full glories of the Fairy Home of Pomona have been revealed the interest of the visitors is never permitted to flag. It is all life, bustle, briskness, brightness, beauty. There are sweet sounds for your ears, pretty pictures for your eyes, and no end of comicality to make exactions upon your risible faculties. For, without doubt, all concerned have summoned to their aid

Sport that wrinkled care derides,
And laughter holding both his sides.

'Just permit Mr Holland and Mr Brooke to take you by the hand and lead you to the Floral Retreat in the Empyrean Realms of Bliss, and you will forget all about the outside world and its thousand and one trials, and troubles, and vexations. It is a land of sunshine filled with flowers, and peopled by fairies will versed in the harmony of colour. Dancing and the arrangement of the most picturesque groupings from their favourite occupations, in which they are gracefully and artistically led by the accomplished Misses Lizzie and Annie Elliott. With regret you will quit this beautiful scene. But regret will be banished when you get a peep at the Lord Mayor's Show, a wonderful example of stage pageantry, complete to its minutes details, and evidently prepared at great cost. Every one of the great City companies is faithfully represented; Temple Bar come hobbling along on crutches; Cleopatra's Needle towers aloft; Sir John Bennett makes futile efforts to sit down in the Aldermanic chair; men in armour guide their wonderfully made steeds; the proportions of an elephant and a camel are only dwarfed by those of the gigantic Gog and Magog; Dick and his faithful Alice, resplendently arrayed, are borne along in triumph; and presently the whole stage is filled with a picture so quaint and so gorgeous that it is likely to dwell long in the memories of all those who are fortunate enough to witness it. The streets of London on 9th of November that we can call to mind have seen such a show as this, and, if the Alderman who is destined next to occupy the Mansion House is ambitious to out rival all his predecessors when show day next comes round, we would earnestly advise him at once to visit the Surrey and take a leaf out of Mr Holland's book. Among the hardest workers in the cause of fun in the Opening we must give a very prominent position to Mr Charles Pearson - ''the Sussex Dwarf'' - and to Master Abrahams, who represented Dick Whittington's Cat. To look at Mr Pearson is to laugh. In the very words of the song which he so funnily sings, we may say -

To have some little larks he has formed a little plan,
And little crowds should flock to see this funny little man.

'His face is only less comical than his legs. The latter form almost a complete circumference for a world of hilarity. We know that he will not take offence when we smile at his personal peculiarities, because these, with his wonderful sense of the humorous, form as it were his stock in trade. His soul - we suppose even so little a body has one - is evidently in his work; and certainly to his exertions is attributable some of the very keenest enjoyment of the visitors, who laugh at him and with him, and applaud him most vociferously. And then that Cat! Never was known so versatile a pussy. It is as quick as the proverbial streak of greased lightning; it can dance a hornpipe or turn a somersault, and to its power of mischief there is no end. Master [David] Abrahams has evidently studied the habits of the creature carefully; and if ever we are troubled with rats we shall be disposed to enlist his services, cherishing the belief that, with his extraordinary agility, he will be sure to cat them. Nor must we begrudge another word of praise for those excellent comedians Messrs Arthur Williams and Harry Taylor, who add so much to the fun in the characters of Simon and Betsibella; to the Misses Topsy Venn and Nelly Moon, delightful representatives of Dick and Alice; to Miss Minnie Venn, who, with her sister, gives so pleasing a display of vocal and saltatory skill; to Miss Nellie Vane, the pretty and vivacious Captain Eglantine; to Miss Minnie Marshall, who makes a charming Beau Bell; to Mr J. Keeling, the sable King of Barbary; to Miss Nellie Russell, who does not hesitate to black her face in the cause of comicality; to Messrs Hinde and Forster, who so well support the dignity of Gog and Magog; and to Messrs Brunton Reeves, Price, George, Prior, and Lumsden, and the Misses Lily Clare, Davis, Lily De Vere, Hall, Attwell, Clark, and Lizzie Wilson, who all render welcome service. The Harlequinade proves a very lively and a very merry affair, thanks to the efforts of Mr Tom Lovell, one of the funniest of Clowns, who finds willing and able support in his predatory doings at the hands of Mr Albert De Voy as Pantaloon; Mr C.H. Pearson furnishing more merriment in the character of John Bull, Mr Albert Le Fre proving a nimble Harlequin, Mr Prior a busy policeman, and Miss Rachel Brookes a graceful Columbine.'
(The Era, London, Sunday, 27 January 1878, p. 7b)

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