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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Hush-a-Bye Baby
Review of the production from The Times
Thursday, December 27, 1866

The pantomime at this theatre is entitled Hush-a-by Baby on the Tree-top, and is the composition of Mr. C. Millward. It was last night very effectively put upon the stage, and was well received by a crowded house. The plot is tolerably simple. The hero and heroine – Fortunio, younger son of King Kafoozleum, and Olive Branch, daughter of Ladybird, Queen of the Fairies – are kidnapped by Hop-o’-my-Thumb, King of Frogland, and, suspended in cradles from the tree-top in the forest, are left to perish like the babes in the wood of the Norfolk ballad. Hush-a-by, the good genius of Nurserydom, comes, however, to the rescue, and intrusts the helpless innocents to Latch-key and Wedding-ring, champions respectively of celibacy and marriage, who agree that their long-standing contest for precedence shall be decided by the conduct of their wards.

Fortunio and Olive Branch, suddenly arrived at years of discretion, incontinently fall in love, and the wooing promises “not long a-doing,” when they are unexpectedly reclaimed by their parents, and the young man finds a rival in his suit, in the person of his elder brother Heydiddle. To add to his uneasiness, his father, from pecuniary motives, urges him to marry Waxdoll, heiress of Woodenhead, King of Lowther Arcadia. He encounters Heydiddle in a tournament, and comes off victorious, but his hopes are again doomed to disappointment, for Hop-o’-my-Thumb by a coup de main overpowers and dethrones Kafzooleum and Woodenhead. Fortunio, thrown into prison, moralizes over the vicissitudes of fortune:–

“Strange times are these, when in a single day
“Kings lose their crowns, and kingdoms pass away.”

Olive Branch, notwithstanding her constancy to Fortunio, is on the point of being forced into a union with Heydiddle, when Wedding-ring comes to the help of the lovers, and the course of true love henceforth runs smooth. Latch-key, touched by so edifying an example, forswears his preference for single blessedness, and pays his addresses to Hush-a-by.

The piece is enlivened with song and dance, and the scenery and costumes are of a gorgeous character. Ladybird’s bower, in particular, is admirably depicted, consisting as it does of a series of arches fringed with crystal pendants, radiant and sparkling, with the smiling valley of fairyland in the background. It serves, too, to introduce a “Grand Ballet of Ladybirds,” the corps being about 50 strong, and executing all kinds of graceful gyrations.

The transformation scene, the “Grove of Golden Palms,” is also exceedingly fanciful and brilliant, and is a marvel alike of decoration and mechanism. It called forth hearty and repeated plaudits.

The acting was excellent throughout, Miss C. Parkes and Miss Burton sustaining the parts of hero and heroine, while Mr. Milano represented Hop-o’-my-Thumb, and Mr. Atkins, Heydiddle. With the exception of one or two hitches, which will no doubt be remedied in future representations, the piece went off very successfully.

The harlequinade excited much merriment, as usual; “Little Rowella” made an effective Clown, the Misses Simmonds and Grosvenor being Columbines, Mr. Beckingham, Pantaloon, and Mr. Honeywood, Harlequin. There were hits at the Reform agitation (a policeman being belaboured by a party of “roughs”), as well as the eccentricities of modern advertising and other foibles of the day. Taking the entertainment as a whole, Astley’s is entitled to, and will no doubt receive, a fair share of patronage from holyday folk.

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