| Savoy Productions > A Princess of Kensington > Ganzl
A Princess of Kensington was set in Kensington Gardens where there is immortal trouble brewing. The Fairy Prince, Azuriel, has been suffering from jealousy for a thousand years over the love shared by the lovely fairy Kenna and the mortal Prince Albion. Although Albion is well and truly dead, the mischievous Puck has cosseted Azuriel's jealousy through the centuries and one day the latter determines that he shall see Albion safely married off to a maiden of his own kind – that very day. To calm the angry fairy, Puck and Kenna have to produce a false wedding. For their false Albion they light on one William Jelf, a sailor from the H.M.S. Albion, and to provide a bride Puck disguises himself as Sir James Jellicoe, revokes his acceptance of the young Lieutenant Brook Green as a husband for his daughter Joy, and hands her over to Jelf for the necessary nuptials. Complications ensue with the arrival on the scene of Mr. Reddish and his daughter, Nell, to whom Jelf is actually engaged. Reddish is anxious to get Nell off his hands as she is a 'reformer' and has turned his pub into a coffee house, to the disgust of his cronies. Neither of them is any more pleased than the other mortals at the turn events have taken. Further complications ensue before Azuriel is finally convinced that Albion is no longer a threat and the fairies can return to fairyland, Joy to her lieutenant and Nell to the side of one of her father's friends who, she decides, needs the benefits of her reforming zeal. William Jelf goes back to sea, a highly relieved bachelor.
Hood's previous Savoy ventures The Rose of Persia, The Emerald Isle and Merrie England had all had picturesque settings, but with A Princess of Kensington he was, in spite of the fairies, returning to the here and now which he had handled so well in The French Maid and Dandy Dan. But in neither of these earlier pieces had he attempted to inject very much plot amongst the bevy of jolly characters. In contrast here, he invented a series of complications for his players that was little less than bewildering as people – or, rather, fairies – took on each other's forms or appearances to entangle matters further and further. Nevertheless, he kept up the bright and bantering dialogue for which he was now celebrated and which The Times described as 'genuine fun and liveliness that is not quite wit and not quite humour, but something by itself', and provided a set of lyrics that were almost more Hood than Hood. The Stage found the construction of the piece unwieldy:
but agreed that
Indeed, some of the lyrics were very attractive. A pretty tenor ballad for Lt Brook Green saw Hood at his most poetic:
while a jolly trio 'Love in a Cottage' had Puck describing the 'joys' of poverty to Green and Joy in a fashion by French Maid out of Savoy:
There were other reminiscences of the earlier Savoy, such as a ballad 'The Cloud and the Mountain' which bore a strong family resemblance to 'The Magnet and the Churn' (Patience), but there were also plentiful echoes of musical comedy and a particularly large dose of patriotic songs. The quality of the work was not altogether even. In a song for Joy, 'He Was a simple Sailor Man', Hood stretched his felicity for word play into contortions worthy of the most agile of the mid-nineteenth century burlesque writers with such passages as:
but the larger part of the words of A Princess of Kensington was in the best Hood style.
German had done his part of the work well. His concerted pieces – the finales, an excellent sextet, the bridal music (which The Times considered to possess 'a breadth of theme that has scarcely been observed on this stage since the days of the Greek chorus in The Grand Duke'), and the opening fairy music for soprano (Peaseblossom) and chorus – all found him at his finest level. If the music lacked some of the rumbustiousness of the Merrie England score, that was largely due to the choice of subject. The solos, too, produced some good pieces of which the best was probably the tenor ballad, but none of them stood out or survived as their predecessors from Merrie England had. One piece, however, did and lived on with the best of the songs from the Savoy canon: a male voice quartet for Jelf (Henry Lytton) and his three companions (Charles Childerstone, Rudolph Lewis and Powis Pinder). The Times picked it out for attention while noting:
'Four Jolly Sailormen' was soon the equal in popularity of both the 'well-known ballad' and 'Widdicombe Fair'.
A Princess of Kensington gave plenty of chances to the leading lights of the Savoy company. Walter Passmore, in particular, had a true starring role as Puck, but both Lytton as the put-upon sailor and Robert Evett as the cut-out lieutenant also had excellent roles, and M. R. Morand had some very funny moments as the policeman whose body is taken over by Azuriel. Louie Pounds made a sweet Joy Jellicoe and Rosina Brandram, in what was to be her last role at the Savoy, was cast as the bossy Nell. German supplied some demanding music for his three sopranos: the new prima donna, Agnes Fraser, as Kenna; Constance Drever as Peaseblossom; and Olive Rae as Titania. But prior to the opening Miss Fraser fell ill and Constance Drever, her understudy, was sent on to play the leading soprano part which she did with enormous success, particularly in view of the fact that A Princess of Kensington was her first appearance on any stage. When Miss Fraser returned, Miss Drever went back to the smaller role.
A Princess of Kensington was well received by the hard core Savoyards but its appeal was limited by its curious and complicated second act and its essentially highbrow flavour. It stayed at the Savoy for four months before Greet decided to remove it and, as with Merrie England, he took A Princess of Kensington on the road with its original cast. But it did not prove nearly as popular as its predecessor and part way through the tour Merrie England was added to the company's repertoire.
Greet gave up his lease on the Savoy and Mrs. D'Oyly Carte set about refurbishing the theatre prior to seeking a new lessee. The Savoy remained dark for nine months and when it re-opened it was no longer as the home of British comic opera. With A Princess of Kensington that tradition came to an end. The company which Greet had taken over from D'Oyly Carte stayed with him through the tour until he brought them back to town in The Earl and the Girl, an unashamedly modern piece which had little in common with the works to which they had become accustomed over the years. A Princess of Kensington made its way to Broadway where it was produced in August of the same year with James T. Powers featured as Jelf. Several members of the British cast appeared again in the American version but the presentation was not particularly successful.
Like Merrie England and The Emerald Isle, A Princess of Kensington remained popular with musical groups and amateurs through the medium of its eminently singable music, and a specially published concert edition allowed the songs to be displayed shorn of some of the excess of the plot. Unfortunately, it was the swansong of the Hood/German collaboration from which so much had been expected. With the demise of the Savoy dynasty, the two who had almost succeeded in keeping it alive parted ways, each to gain further fame with other partners in very different careers.
The relative lack of success of A Princess of Kensington cannot be blamed merely upon public indifference to a piece which relied mainly on the light or comic opera strain for its tone and its music, for the Savoy show was followed in by another piece which also had strong leanings towards the more scholarly forms that had fallen largely into disuse. My Lady Molly was Sidney Jones' most seriously written piece to date, and it had been enormously successful in the provinces since its original production in Brighton in August of the previous year. Frederick Mouillot, who had taken the piece up, took a lease on Terry's Theatre which had not housed a musical success since The French Maid in 1896, and transferred the show in with the majority of its touring cast headed by Sybil Arundale in the title role.
Page modified 19 February, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.