Friday, July 1, 2011

July 31, 1879 --- The Wreck of the Pinafore

A brawl disrupts the performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's production at London's Opera Comique Theatre. HMS Pinafore had opened to negative press in the West End - Disraeli wrote, "I have never seen anything so bad."  After some changes, however, the show had achieved "hit" status at the gloomy theatre, reached only through a narrow tunnel off the Strand.

But the early problems had left impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte a bit short and he had fallen out with his financial backers and left on a show tour of America with matters quite unsettled. One of the unhappy investors is a gentleman known as "Water-Cart" Bailey, whose riches stem from a monopoly on London's street cleaners. His hired ruffians in tow, Bailey burst in upon the theatre during the second act, crying. "Come on, my boys, now's the time."

The mission of the intruders is to seize the props, scenery and costumes. The stage manager, a Mr. Barker, is thrown down a flight of stairs and badly injured. Stagehands, ably assisted by the production's many extras dressed in navy blues, engage Water-cart's hooligans. One of the actresses, Jessie Bond praised "the jolly Jack Tars" on their "glorious naval victory." The defenders are ably assisted by the actress who plays "Little Buttercup." One report noted the "stoutly-built bumboat woman distinguished herself greatly." Amid the melee, the intruders yell "Fire" to panic the audience. However, "with commendable presence of mind," George Grossmith - who stars as Mr. Porter, the "ruler of the Queen's Navee!" - steps out of character to reassure the audience that the disturbance merely stems from the disputed possession of the scenic effects.  That is Jessie and George in the photograph.

Through it all, the audience, enjoying - as it were - some free entertainment, cheers lustily and awaits the outcome. The police arrive and manage to separate the combatants, Watercart's men leave empty-handed and the 374th performance of Pinafore continues. Assault charges are filed against Bailey and others but they were dismissed upon agreement to pay Mr. Barker's medical bills and assurances that the dispute would continue in the law courts and not backstage.

The affray - which brought D'Oyly Carter hastening home from the States - convinced him to seek his own theatre, leading to the founding of the famous Savoy Theatre in 1881.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, it's really rude to not wait until the end of a play to take away the scenery! ;-) How'd he ever plan on getting his investment back if the show couldn't go on?

    It's great to know the backstory on the creation of the Savoy Theatre!