Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

 

Recollections of the Production of Jane Annie

by

Sir James M. Barrie

The circumstances behind J. M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle's collaboration on the comic opera, Jane Annie, produced by D'Oyly Carte at the Savoy Theatre, London in 1893, were related by Barrie in his autobiography 'The Greenwood Hat: Being a Memoir of James Anon', originally privately printed in 1930 in a limited edition of 50 copies for distribution to his friends and subsequently published, (posthumously), by Peter Davies Ltd., London in November of 1937. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 16, pp. 181 - 185: -

"…real collaboration and how it is done still puzzles me, though I essayed it twice with two of my best friends, Marriott Watson and Conan Doyle. In both cases it was on a play, one being 'Richard Savage' and the other a comic opera called 'Jane Annie.' ………………

'Jane Annie' was a dreadful failure. I had undertaken to do it 'off my own bat' for the D'Oyly Carte's, and went into hiding to escape it, was discovered and brought back and allowed to introduce a collaborator, who was Doyle. (I sat with him on the seashore at Aldeburgh when he decided to kill Sherlock Holmes.) He wrote some good songs, I thought, for 'Jane Annie,' but mine were worthless and I had no musical sense. Also he was so good-natured that if we lost him at rehearsals he was sure to be found in a shrouded box writing a new song for some obscure member of the company. They had only to plead with him, 'I have nothing to say, Mr. Doyle, except half a dozen lines in the first act,' when he would reply, 'Oh, my poor chap, too bad,' and retire into a box, from which he emerged almost instantly with a song. As for me, a boy got into the play merely to gather boots from bedroom doors, but he became the one person I was interested in, and so was soon the leading character, to the indignation of the stars. On the first night at the end a youthful friend came into our box, and Doyle expressed my feelings in saying to him reprovingly, 'Why did you not cheer?' but I also sympathized with our visitor when he answered plaintively, 'I didn't like to, when no one else was doing it.'

I say that I have no ear for music, and indeed it is so true that I have only once been to the opera. It was one of the great operas, magnificently done, with Melba in it, and almost thirty years have elapsed since then, but I still shudder at its tedium. Madame Melba was very nearly, like myself, a native of Kirriemuir. She was born soon after her parents had left there for Melbourne. A few years ago, though we had never met, I thought this an excuse, on finding that we were both inmates of a London nursing home, to send a message to her that I would like very much to go downstairs to see her if she would promise not to sing to me; and she replied that she would love it if I promised not to read any of my works to her. On that understanding we had a happy time.

The D'Oyly Cartes were delightful people to work with. Years afterwards I was wandering on a Highland moor with the late Lord Escher, and in the intimacy that shrewd air creates, one of us (I am not sure now which one) said to the other, 'If you tell me who is the most remarkable woman you have known I shall tell you who is mine.' Then we both said Mrs. D'Oyly Carte."


 


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