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no. 311

Saturday, 30 August 2003

A Chinese Honeymoon,
Strand Theatre, London, 5 October 1901

A Chinese Honeymoon

The score cover for A Chinese Honeymoon
featuring a portrait by W. George after a photograph by Bassano, London,
of Beatrice Edwards as Soo Soo, The Emperor's Niece.

(lithograph by H.G. Banks, printed for the copyright holders, Hopwood & Crew Ltd, London, 1901)

George Dance's highly successful musical comedy, A Chinese Honeymoon, with music by Howard Talbot, was first produced at the Theatre Royal, Hanley, Staffordshire, on 16 October 1899, and then toured England and Scotland for much of the next two years. (For details, see Kurt Gänzl, The British Musical Theatre, The Macmillan Press Ltd, Houndmills and London, 1986, vol.I, pp.724-726). Of the original touring cast only Lionel Rignold as Mr Pineapple made it to London where he was eventually replaced by Arthur Williams. The first of the touring Mrs Pineapples was Florence Wilton; the part was also played by Fanny Wright and Violet Raymaur. In London Mrs Pineapple was first played by Ellas Dee, understudied by Fanny Wright, and then succeeded in turn by Marie Dainton and Gracie Leigh. Picton Roxburgh, the tallest actor on the English stage, took the part of Hang Chow, The Emperor, in London, a part he had played on tour in succession to Richard Saker. Soo Soo, The Emperor's Niece, was first played on tour by Violet Dene; in London the part was assumed by Beatrice Edwards who, leaving the company, was succeeded at various times by Lily Elsie (when she introduced the hit song, 'Egypt'), Kate Cutler and Mabel Nelson. The comic female role of Fi-fi was originated on tour by Kate Howell, succeeded by Lillie Vernon and Lillie Soutter; in London it was played by the popular Louie Freear and then by Hilda Trevelyan.

A Chinese Honeymoon ran at the Strand Theatre for 1,075 performances, closing on 23 May 1904. For further information, follow these links: London, New York.

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The first London cast was as follows:

Hang Chow (Emperor of Ylang Ylang) Picton Roxborough
Chippee Chop (Lord Chancellor) E. Boyd-Jones
Hi Lung (Lord High Admiral) Percy Clifton
Tom Hatherton Leslie Stiles
Mr Pineapple Lionel Rignold
Florrie (a bridesmaid to Mrs P) Fay Wentworth
Violet (a bridesmaid to Mrs P) Blanche Thorpe
Millie (a bridesmaid to Mrs P) Rosie Edwardes
Gertie (a bridesmaid to Mrs P) Florence Burdett
Mrs Brown (official mother-in-law) Miss M.A. Victor
Yen Yen (maid of honour to Soo Soo) Jessica Lait
Sing Sing (maid of honour to Soo Soo) Fanny Wright
Mi Mi (a waitress) Madge Temple
Soo Soo (the Emperor's neice) Beatrice Edwards
Mrs Pineapple Ellas Dee
Fi Fi (waitress at the hotel) Louie Freear

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'The playgoing public owes many a debt to Mr. W.S. Gilbert, and it is particularly grateful to him for having discovered, for stage purposes, the land of the Mikado. Countless thousands, if not millions, of theatre-goers and music lovers have found enjoyment in all parts of the world in the delightful comic opera which brought forth the full brilliance of its witty author and inspired Sir Arthur Sullivan in the composition of some of the very best music which ever emanated from his gifted brain. Again, but for the piece in question, it is doubtful if we should have had the gay and tuneful Geisha [Daly's, London, 25 April 1896] or the clever and melodic San Toy [Daly's, London, 21 October 1899]. So that, directly and indirectly, we owe much indeed to the author and composer of The Mikado [Savoy, London, 14 March 1885]. Our indebtedness is further increased by A Chinese Honeymoon, which is suggestive of the method of Mr. Gilbert even if it does not remind one of the unceasing melody and the musicinaly skill of Sir Arthur Sullivan. The scene is laid in China at the present time, and the story is sufficiently whimsical and the various complications are undoubtedly funny although – a pardonable fault in comic opera – they are decidedly extravagant. The Emperor seeks a bride who will marry him "for himself alone," so he despatches an English skipper, who has been promoted to the post of Lord High Admiral of the Chinese fleet, in search of the paragon in question. But the conditions are rather hard, for the high state of the Emperor is withheld and the unlucky admiral has to pretend that he represents a billposter.
'It may be easily understood that the admiral returns from his quest without success. As a lingering death is the penalty of his failure it need hardly be said that he resorts to all sorts of expedients in order to avert the punishment. As there are various fair ones still at hand the balls is kept rolling, and some comical effects are obtained by making the abnormally tall Emperor think that he is betrothed to a diminutive "slavey" [a maid-of-all-work]. To these ingredients add a cockney tradesman married to a jealous wife who insists upon her four bridesmaids travelling with her for detective and protective purposes, "throw in" – as they say in the cookery books – a pair of young lovers, together with a sprinkling of quaint – even if imaginary – Chinese customs, and a fairly amusing concoction is prepared. Let it also be said that the imbroglio while diverting is innocent enough, and, save for some questionable lines in the second act, there is nothing whatever to offend Mr. Gilbert's "young lady of fifteen," or anyone else for that matter. If Mr. Dance will just revise his libretto – it only means the cutting out of half-a-dozen lines – he will have given us an amusing story without a flaw. "For this relief much thanks," for although the London playgoer may not be in the throes of "bitter cold" just yet he is decidedly "sick at heart" when he thinks of the vulgarity and suggestiveness which prevail in many of our so-called theatres just now. Mr. Howard Talbot's music is right, cheerful, exhilarating, and some of it is certainly of the order known as "catchy." Other composers, including Mr. Ivan Caryll and Mr. Ernest Vousden, who conducts the music of the piece, also contribute effective numbers.
'A great element in the success of the production is the comical appearance of Miss Louie Freear, who plays the "slavey" and keeps the house in a roar of laughter whenever she is on the stage. Her quaint facial expression and her curious antics belong to herself, and would seem to have been given to her by nature as compensation for her diminutive size. As a contrast the Emperor is impersonated by an actor of unusual height, Mr. Picton Roxborough, whose bland and perpetual smile is apparently so natural that it is constantly enjoyable. "The long and the short of it" in this piece are in every way excellent and, moreover, the idea is not run to death. The cockney tradesman is humorously represented by Mr. Lionel Rignold, and Miss M.A. Victor carries out in her well-known style the comical idea of an "official mother-in-law" imported from England by the Emperor, who rules the roost and inspires dread even within the bosom of the august potentate who has "invented" her. A newcomer, Miss Beatrice Edwards, who appears as the princess of the customary type, has a pleasant voice which wants proper control. The production if beautifully mounted the scenery and costumes being capital in all respects. In regard to the former it is curious to observe that while the programme gives the names of tradesmen, the names and addresses of the people who have supplied the costumes and the hats being duly set forth, no mention is made of the scenic artist. This is quite in keeping with the modern manager, who no longer regards the painter of his scenery as of the same importance as the dressmaker and milliner.'
(The Tatler, London, Wednesday, 16 October 1901, p.128)

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'Miss Beatrice Edwards was the well-known possessor of a beautiful voice long before she became a member of a theatrical company. In June, 1898, full of nervous fears, she made her début as Muriel in The Old Guard at the Theatre Royal, Dublin. The engagement of the company there extended over four weeks, in each one of which a change was made in the programme. The comic operas performed included Pepita, Olivette, and Madame Favart, in all of which she appeared.
'Then almost immediately an engagement followed to play Mimosa in The Geisha on tour. Four two years she continued in that and only resigned it at last to play Maia (another of Miss [Marie] Tempest's parts) in A Greek Slave. Her appearance at the Strand Theatre, where she is the Princess Soo Soo in A Chinese Honeymoon, made an excellent impression, and there is little probability of her being permitted to leave London for long.
'Previous to going on the stage Miss Edwards was one of the Royal Welsh Choir, and had the honour of singing before Queen Victoria. She was only sixteen when she became a member of that celebrated organisation, with which she paid a professional visit to the World's Fair at Chicago in 1893. Miss Edwards is a native of Cardiff and confesses that he real ambition in life it to play a good part in a successful drama. Her only superstition connected with the theatre is a very uncommon one. She believes that it is unlucky to whistle in a dressing room. Miss Edwards lives at Holland Park [west London], and in addition to being a charming singer is an adept at tennis.'
(The Tatler, London, Wednesday, 19 November 1901, p.276b/c, with photograph of Miss Edwards as Soo Soo by Bassano)

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Arthur Williams and Marie Dainton

Arthur Williams and Marie Dainton as Mr and Mrs Pineapple
in A Chinese Honeymoon at the Strand Theatre, London.

(photo: probably Bassano, London, 1902/03)

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