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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren
Review of the Production from The Times
Friday, December 27th, 1867.

In this theatre a crowded house was kept in good humour while waiting for the pantomime by a farce, written by Mr. T. J. Williams, and entitled Cabman No. 93. A little impatience was manifested in the gallery when the farce had concluded, but some one having suggested that “Not for Joseph” was an agreeable song, it was immediately given by some three or four hundred of “the gods,” and the hilarity which this amateur performance evoked continued till the curtain rose on Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren; or Fortunatus! The Three Bears; the Three Gifts; the Three Wishes; and  the Little Man who Woo’d the Little Maid.

The title is a long one, but quite in keeping with the piece itself, which is a very elaborate pantomime indeed. Few managers would have attempted to get up such a pantomime within the very short time Mr. E. T. Smith has had possession of the Lyceum. The want of sufficient preparation was manifest in more than one instance during the first night’s performance; but had everything gone off perfectly smooth, such a result would, perhaps, have surprised persons much more than did the drawbacks for which Mr. Smith felt it necessary to ask the forbearance of the audience. This is a pantomime with not merely a single transformation, but three changes leading up to the comic business; and when the latter commences there are four clowns, two harlequins, a harlequin à la Watteau – played by a lady – two columbines, two pantaloons, five sprites, and two “exquisites,” besides scores of supernumerary comic pantomimists, in the shape of policemen, costermongers, butchers’ boys, &c.

The writer, Mr. W. S. Gilbert, has founded his plot on a supposed combination of evil spirits against Cock Robin and Jenny Wren, which is still carried on even after those lovers have been turned into “the Little Man and the Little Maid.” As a matter of course, there are good spirits also, through whose intervention the sparrow who killed Cock Robin and two accessories to the assassination are turned into The Three Bears. The opening scene is “The Demon Miasma’s Dismal Swamp.” Here the conspiracy is formed against Cock Robin and Jenny Wren; but nothing very remarkable takes place till the abode of Miasma gives place to “The Floral Home of the Spirit of Fresh Air.” This is a really beautiful scene.

A ballet of animated flowers, in which 100 ladies take part, is followed by “The wedding procession of pet dickies.” The pets include birds of various sizes and plumage, from the ostrich to the tomtit. The procession is succeeded by a grand ballet of canaries, each of the 100 young ladies who dance in it wearing an ornamented head dress resembling the head of a canary. All are clad in dresses of gold spangles. This portion of the opening elicited general applause, again and again renewed. In the next scenes “Cock Robin’s Grave, and the Home of the Three Bears,” there is rather too much of that sort of comic business which more properly belongs to clown and pantaloon, and it might with advantage be considerably curtailed.

The sixth scene, a fairy aquarium, affords an opportunity for a grand ballet of gold and silver fish, which is extremely pretty, and drew down nearly as much applause as the ballet of birds. Next came an enchanted wood and more dancing, Mdlle. Finnétte introducing the can-can for the first time on an English stage. It is right to say that the lady’s style of dress on the occasion was different from that in which the dance is done in Paris. Her costume was that of a dancer rather than a danseuse, and, therefore, much of the objection which an English audience would have to the French dance was removed. The performance was well received, and Mddlle. Finnétte repeated it amid loud manifestations of approbation.

The difficulties of scene-shifters and prompters which had for some time been only too evident, and against which the gallery had more than once entered a noisy protest, now reached their culmination. Things would not come right, and at length the curtain was lowered amid whistling and other manifestations of displeasure from above. Amid the storm Mr. E. T. Smith came forward. He thanked the audience for their forbearance, of which he readily acknowledged he had need. He then stated that he had got possession of the theatre only 10 days ago. He hoped his kind patrons would be of opinion that he had done a good deal in the time. Loud and general cheering followed this statement; and Mr. Smith, having stated that no drawbacks would occur in future, retired amid renewed applause.

The curtain was again raised, and the transformation was gone through before its time. It was anything but perfect, but when in working order, which, no doubt, it will be hereafter, it will be a very splendid scene.

The comic business of the pantomime was a success. The entire gallery and all the children, in whatever part of the house, were highly amused and delighted with it, as they manifested unmistakably by continual laughter and handclapping.

Miss Caroline Parkes as Cock Robin, Miss Furtado as Jenny Wren, Miss Minnie Sydney as the Spirit of Fresh Air, Miss Nellie Burton as Health, and Miss Lizzie Grosvenor as Happiness, are all admirable in their respective characters; and the harlequinade is well sustained by Messrs Laurie, Forrests, Waite; the Messrs. Beckenham and Lovell, the Dunsoni Family, the Brothers Marshall, &c. The columbines are Misses Page and Miss Lizzie Grosvenor.

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