The Strange Gentleman – 1836 – a Comic Burletta
On 29 Sep 1836 Charles presented his first play, a Comic Burletta in two acts. Its first performance was at the St James’s Theatre. It ran for sixty evenings, staged as The Strange Gentleman by Boz.
It was a dramatic adaptation of The Great Winglebury Duel that appeared in Sketches by Boz.
The theatre had opened the year before in King St, St James’s. The founder could not achieve any success, it was later managed by actors from 1879-1888 and did prosper. It would be demolished in 1957.
The characters arrive at a village inn called ‘The St James Arms’ and much confusion ensues.
Mrs Noakes allocates the rooms to the arriving guests, and considers the catering for them. The waiters rush around to fulfil her commands.
But the Strange Gentleman refuses the commercial room offered and requires a private room. Mrs Noakes protests that it is not their way to give a private room to a person arriving in a gig, with one portmanteau and who is not known to them.
The Strange Gentleman confides that he had stayed at the Royal Hotel previously, but it was so noisy. He had also tried the Old Assembly Room, but here he was. They agree the dinner as a broiled fowl and mushrooms.
He refuses to leave the room to see his bedroom, he also refuses to permit the Boots to take his portmanteau there.
Left alone he talks to himself, he has a letter he describes as an illegal death warrant, it comes, he believes, from his desperate rival Mr Horatio Tinkles. Tinkles invites him to Corpse Common to get his gruel, It is to be a duel, with pistols,
melodramatically he has booked one breakfast at the Royal – for the survivor. He considers escape but dismisses it.
He thinks of his affianced Miss Emily Brown, and assumes he must attend, that would look best. But he decides to let the authorities know and hopes they will arrest him. Then after release he could marry the girl and pocket her fortune.
He writes the letter to his enemy and another to the local mayor, and tips the ‘Upper’ Boots to deliver it. The Boots claims to know him, calls him Spring, and reluctantly leaves to deliver the letters.
The Strange Gentleman assumes he will be arrested shortly, he goes to his bedroom with his portmanteau to change. He contemplates how the local newspaper will write this up.
Mrs Noakes shows Mary and Fanny Wilson into his room to find him gone, the ladies say they will wait on him.
Mary confesses that her swain, John Johnson plans for them to go to run away to Gretna Green. Fanny is keen to accompany her, and assumes her admirer Charles Tomkins will follow them and they too can be married. It is made clear that they assume the Strange Gentleman is Tomkins because Fanny has told him to check in and not give a name. They sing a song.
The Strange Gentleman returns and he and Mary mistake who they are, she thinks he to be Tomkins, he is confused that the mayor has sent a woman to arrest him. He is delighted when he misinterprets her comments to assume that his rival is financially embarrassed, and tries to kiss her in thanks.
John Johnson arrives and protests, the situation gets more confused as Mary leaves and returns with Tom Sparks and three waiters, The scuffle ends the first Scene.
Scene II is in another room of the Inn.
Overton arrives with Julia Dobson. He confronts her about her plan to run away with a young man. He identifies himself as an attorney and the local mayor, he protests that she tries to embroil him in this planned elopement.
Julia had planned to marry a Mr Woolley, but he had died leaving her his estate. Woolley had made some advances to Overton at her request and she agreed to free him of the current situation if he repays these. He considers that the loans might be forgotten if she elopes. They have an implicit agreement but she asks him to meet with her intended, a nobleman, who has signed in to the Inn as a lunatic awaiting his aunt, her, to take him to an asylum in Berwick. When he asks her how to find him she explains she had urged him to write some nonsense to the mayor, and to identify his room number.
Overton presents the Strange Gentleman’s note, and they discuss that it is therefore a nonsense. He asks a waiter where is room 17 and who is the occupant?
Scene III is back in the original room. Overton arrives to the Strange Gentleman in good spirits given his misunderstanding, he addresses him as ‘My Lord’, then seeing his confusion assumes they should keep matters confidential. The mayor urges him to be ready to escape in a postchaise and four. Confusion mounts as the mayor assumes the Strange Gentleman his playing the lunatic. The Strange Gentleman assumes Overton to be crazy.
Tom Sparks, the Upper Boot returns and they each think the other to be crazy, Act I finishes.
Act II Scene I starts where we were at the end of Act I,
Tom guarding the Strange Gentleman. Mrs Noakes, Overton, a chambermaid and two waiters enter. The Old Gentleman protests that Overton sent a madman to watch him. Overton admires his playing the lunatic. They continue noisily in their confusion, the Strange Gentleman demanding that Overton arrest Tom, the mayor admiring the performance.
John Johnson arrives to protest the noise, the Strange Gentleman assumes him to be a constable and calls on him to arrest Tom. They all now believe the Strange Gentleman to be mad and remove him to his bedroom. Overton still admiring his protests.
Charles Tomkins arrives at the room, and refuses to give his card. Another Strange Gentleman!
Charles wonders if Fanny has arrived. She arrives convinced of Charles’s madness, confusing the Old Gentleman to be him, and that he had been confined to bed. Her coldness makes him protest and she sees this as confirmation of his madness.
Scene II is in a gallery of the Inn, outside the bedrooms, a chambermaid shows Charles his room. Charles becomes suspicious of a pair of boots. Mrs Noakes enters followed by Mary and Fanny. Fanny asks the room number of the Strange Gentleman.
Mrs Noakes calls Tom from the room and he confirms he has punched him and he is now quiet. Mrs Noakes shows Julia Dobbs to her room and asks for the room number of her ‘nephew’. Mrs Noakes shows John Johnson to his room.
The characters play ‘musical rooms’ based on their various misunderstandings. Overton arrives to get the Strange Gentleman into his chaise. Julia Dobbs in a large cloak arrives and realises that it is not Lord Peter. Mary realises that it is not Charles Tomkins.
Julia and the Strange Gentleman are drawn to each other, both having lost their potential spouse. The Strange Gentleman proposes and they take the chaise.
Charles comes down with Fanny, John arrives with Mary, and three chaises leave for Gretna.
· The Strange Gentleman
· Dobbs, Julia
· John, Waiter 1
· Johnson, John
· Noakes, Mrs
· Overton, Mr Owen
· Sparks, Tom
· Tom, Waiter 2
· Tomkins, Charles
· Will, Waiter 3
· Wilson, Fanny
· Wilson, Mary