Tarantara – Act 1, Scene 3

© R S Denton August 2013
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ACT 1 SCENE 3:  28 Dec 1881 – from Patience to Iolanthe

 (The curtain is down, Carte enters in front of the curtain to some recorded applause)

Carte     My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.  You are present at an extremely auspicious moment.   You are being given a glimpse of the future for theatre.

Savoy Theatre

As you may know, when the Savoy Theatre opened its doors just two months ago it was the first theatre, nay the first public building, ever to be illuminated by electric lighting.  We viewed it as an experiment and therefore still retained the gas lighting for use if the electrical system failed.

For those here present with an interest or some knowledge in engineering science, it is lit by one thousand two hundred incandescent lamps made by Messrs J W Swan of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the electricity is supplied by 120 horse-power steam engines located on open ground adjacent to the theatre.  

As you might appreciate this was an enormous technical undertaking and initially we took the decision to continue in the short term with gas lighting for the stage area and to use electric lighting only in the auditorium.

The new lighting not only improved the illumination but also the atmosphere in the auditorium.  Unhelpfully a gas light consumes the same amount of oxygen as several people while adding unhelpful smells and increasing the heat for the audience.  Our new incandescent lamps give off little heat, do not consume oxygen and do not create a smell.

Tonight, during this matinee performance on Wednesday the 28th December 1881 we are proud to announce the stage area from here on in will be lit electrically.   Let me assure you that this new lighting is perfectly safe.  As you can see I have wrapped a muslin cloth around this lamp while it is switched on.  (He takes out a hammer and smashes the bulb).  As you can see the broken lamp is extinguished but it has not even singed the muslin.


Tomorrow too is an important moment for Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Patience’ it will be the performance of Patience here in London and its 100th performance at the Standard Theatre in New York.  To mark this occasion we have prepared a souvenir programme and as you leave the theatre you will have the opportunity to acquire a copy.

My sincerest apologies for delaying your entertainment, I will now hand over the stage to ‘Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride’.

(Carte exits to cheers, returns for two calls before he leaves the curtain lifts to the set of Patience)


Patience: I cannot tell what this love may be
and MzSopr as ANGELA

’Tis Patience – happy girl!  Loved by a poet!

Your pardon, ladies.  I intrude upon you!  (Going.)

Nay, pretty child, come hither. Is it true that you have never loved?

Most true indeed.

Most marvellous!                            

And most deplorable!

I cannot tell what this love may be
That cometh to all but not to me.
It cannot be kind, as they’d imply,
Or why do these ladies sigh?
It cannot be joy and rapture deep,
Or why do these gentle ladies weep?
It cannot be blissful as ’tis said,
Or why are their eyes so wondrous red?
Though everywhere true love I see
A-coming to all, but not to me,
I cannot tell what this love may be!
For I am blithe and I am gay,
While they sit sighing night and day.
Think of the gulf ’twixt them and me,
Fal la la la!’ – and ‘Miserie’!

Yes, she is blithe, etc

If love is a thorn, they show no wit
Who foolishly hug and foster it.
If love is a weed, how simple they
Who gather it, day by day!
If love is a nettle that makes you smart,
Then why do you wear it next your heart?
And if it be none of these, say I,
Ah, why do you sit and sob and sigh?
Though everywhere, etc.

For she is blithe, etc

Ah, Patience, if you have never loved, you have never known true happiness!  (All sigh.)

But the truly happy always seem to have so much on their minds. The truly happy never seem quite well.

There is a transcendentality of delirium – an acute accentuation of supremest ecstasy –  which the earthy might easily mistake for indigestion.  But it is not indigestion – it is æsthetic transfiguration!


(The curtain drops and a table setting with a wood panelling surround moves in from one side.  It is mid-1894 – the Savoy Grill – Carte, Shaw and Wilde are sat at a table.  During the dialogue they are served.)

Carte     I took the liberty of inviting Oscar to join us for lunch here at the Grill.

Shaw     He is most welcome.

Oscar Wilde

Wilde    Who am I to refuse a meal prepared by Auguste Escoffier?  He and your invention of the after-theatre supper have raised the standards of gastronomy in London.

Carte     You two know each other of course?

Shaw     There does appear to be some belief that everyone from the old country must know every other.  But of course in this case we have met several times before.  Carte, you provide management for Wilde I believe? (Carte nods)

Carte     The additional six chapters of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ are coming along?

Wilde    They progress, but it becomes difficult to concentrate.  I cannot help but keep returning to the Marquess of Queensberry’s recent tirade.  Last month he turned up unannounced at Tite Street.  He burst in and spluttering foul words and loathsome threats, “I do not say that you are it, but you look it, and pose at it, which is just as bad. And if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you.”

Shaw     And reported far and wide that you showed the white feather!

Wilde    Far from it I replied, “I don’t know what the Queensberry rules are, but the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight.”

Carte     How is Bosie taking it?

Wilde    He is wonderful, as always. (He looks off wistfully.)

Carte     (Embarrassed he turns to Shaw) Receipts for ‘Arms and the Man’ are still strong?

Arms and the Man

Shaw     Yes and plans for taking it to New York are well in hand.

Carte     Oscar, we were discussing the trials and tribulations that arose between Gilbert and Sullivan. 

Wilde    Let me declare that there is absolutely no truth in the rumours circulating that my new play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was in any manner inspired by Gilbert’s ‘Engaged’, I absolutely refute the claim that I have borrowed several incidents from it.  I plan for ‘Earnest’ to open next year.

Carte     Oscar’s arrival in to our discussion is impeccable because of course the next G&S piece to consider, ‘Patience’, and the personage of Oscar Wilde are so inextricably intertwined.

Shaw     I thought Gilbert denied modelling Bunthorne on Wilde?

Wilde    (With a clear glint in his eye) You see it is Gilbert that is plagiarising me, for ‘Earnest’ is about bunburying, Bunthorne can only be a direct allusion to my work!

Shaw     (Realises Carte is not familiar with the term) It’s a term for a person who maintains two different lives, two different personas, one while in town and quite another when in country.  It permits the individual to avoid the normal social constraints.

Carte     (He takes this in, but moves on) Gilbert insists that he did not aim to parody an individual, he wanted to enlist George du Maurier’s assistance, to draw upon the many characters in his Punch cartoons.  But he realised that Edward Burne-Jones paintings provided him all that he might require.  Certainly the costumes were purchased from the new Regent Street store, Liberty’s, to seek to emulate those paintings.

Wilde    I believe that Grossmith in playing Bunthorne has effected the mannerisms, dress and features rather more like that of James Whistler.  I always believed myself to be more the Grosvenor character than Bunthorne himself.  Grosvenor says something about his irksome gifts being for the enjoyment and delectation of others.  In that one line Gilbert captured the essence of me!

Carte     I believe that he wished to create a character composed of many aesthetes. The poet Charles Algernon Swinburne influenced him too; at one stage the character Grosvenor’s first name was stated as Algernon.   But of course he originally planned his protagonists as curates, based on his Bab Ballad ‘The Rival Curates’, but he feared he might be attacked for blasphemy. 

Shaw     Ah!  All great truths begin as blasphemies!

Carte     By switching his attention to aesthetes he could freely use his words to challenge their affectations, the so-called stained-glass poses adopted by followers of the movement, without fear of complaint.

Shaw     But Oscar, you styled yourself as the ‘Professor of Aesthetics’, so it is little wonder that the common assumption is that Bunthorne is you.

Wilde    Gilbert and I met on one occasion and he stated, quite rudely I thought, ‘I wish I could talk like you.  I’d keep my mouth shut and claim it as a virtue’.  I replied ‘Ah, but that would be selfish!  I could deny myself the pleasure of talking, but not to others the pleasure of listening!’

Carte     I can imagine his reaction to that.  But I was not referring to the general view of Bunthorne being Wilde.  The two are as much interwoven because I arranged for Oscar a lecture tour of America, promoting him as the ‘originator of the aesthetic idea’ and to talk about the English Renaissance.  It launched him there while preparing the ground for ‘Patience’ to follow.

Wilde    I did notice that my speaking engagements appeared to presage your touring companies arrival into a city!  Eleven months, 140 lectures, 15,000 miles travelled yet I was merely a sandwich-board man for the opera.  But then I love talking about nothing, for it is the only thing I know anything about.

Shaw     Was it this New York tour where you stated to the American customs man that you had nothing to declare but your genius?

Wilde    I also suggested that America had never been discovered, but had merely been detected.  

Carte     Let us not underestimate the power of what you achieved, America was recovering from the horrors of its Civil War and you helped to fashion it so that it would appreciate art and beauty rather than mere materialism. 

Wilde    (Wilde waves a dismissal arm, but clearly enjoys the praise.)  It was not without danger too.  As I arrived in New York they were holding the trial of the assassin of their President Garfield and one of my lectures in the Wild West took place just two weeks after the famous outlaw Jesse James had been betrayed and killed by someone he believed to be a friend.  At some stage Mr P T Barnum even offered me £200 if I would ride Jumbo the Elephant while holding a sunflower!

Carte     I have little doubt however that ‘Patience’ helped Oscar and vice versa Oscar sustained an interest in ‘Patience’, they each profited from the other.

Shaw     But Oscar were you not offended by the allusions in Patience?

Wilde    Not at all, in fact I attended its opening night and absolutely enjoyed the whole experience.  I think if you look closely at the show’s audiences you will see that it is very popular among the aesthetic community; for they abhor moderation, nothing succeeds like excess!

Carte     The Company issued a statement before the show to explain we were not ridiculing the true aesthetic spirit, merely those who masqueraded in its likeness.

Shaw     I believe that the absolute joy in the opera is when the aesthetic poet with all his affectations is confronted by one of Gilbert’s standard paragons, the innocent who has absolutely no appreciation of the point or purpose of the aesthete.

(Curtain rises to the Patience set as the Savoy Grill set slides off)

Bunthorne’s Poem

Patience: Bunthorne’s Poem

Finished!  At last!  Finished!  (He staggers, overcome with the mental strain.)  The poem is finished, and my soul has gone out into it.  (Sees Patience, who has entered.) Ah, Patience!  Dear Patience! (Holds her hand; she seems frightened.)

Will it please you read it to us, sir?

This we supplicate.  (All kneel.)

BUNTHORNE:  (to Patience)
I will read it if you bid me!

PATIENCE: (much frightened)
You can if you like!

It is a wild, weird, fleshy thing; yet very tender, very yearning, very
precious.  It is called, “Oh, Hollow!  Hollow! Hollow!”

Is it a hunting song?

A hunting song?  No, it is not a hunting song.  It is the wail of the
poet’s heart on discovering that everything is commonplace.  To understand it, cling passionately to one another and think of faint lilies. (They do so as he recites.)

“Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!”

What time the poet hath hymned
The writhing maid, lithe-limbed,
Quivering on amaranthine asphodel,
How can he paint her woes,
Knowing, as well he knows,
That all can be set right with calomel?

When from the poet’s plinth
The amorous colocynth
Yearns for the aloe, faint with rapturous thrills,
How can he hymn their throes
Knowing, as well he knows,
That they are only uncompounded pills?

Is it, and can it be,
Nature hath this decree,
Nothing poetic in the world shall dwell?
Or that in all her works
Something poetic lurks,
Even in colocynth and calomel?
I cannot tell.

(Exit Bunthorne)

How purely fragrant!

How earnestly precious!

Well, it seems to me to be nonsense.

Nonsense, yes, perhaps – but oh, what precious nonsense!


(Curtain comes down and Savoy Grill set moves in)

Shaw     I believe that there was some chance that you three, the author, the composer and the manager, might have been broken asunder on your return to the UK, Patience might never have been.

Carte     I came back from ‘Pirates’ in America fully expecting that we would pursue together the spirit of our agreement.  Gilbert afforded me no credit for my ‘copyright’ in the development of the English comedy opera, when I had spent a full decade to bring this about.  He may have believed that another could have done this, but the plain truth is that they did not.  I wrote to them clearly explaining why a man of salary could not have achieved what I did. 

Shaw     Nor did he credit you for the work you did to get them together, and keep them together!

Carte     I had been hurt by Gilbert’s comment in New York that they might take their own theatre and employ some other manager.  As soon as I was back he changed our agreement expecting quarterly payments instead of waiting until the end of the run.  He became increasingly dissatisfied with the accounts we prepared.  He would argue about a paltry sum of £50 expended in a period of nine months that had turned over £30,000.

Wilde    Did Sullivan not come to your aid?

Carte     Sullivan was concentrating on his ‘Martyr of Antioch’ and so offered no mediation, or even comment!  In fact he also left me having to fund his legal action against the Comedy Opera Company.  I paid his solicitor twenty guineas when there was no expectation of me sharing in any damages he might derive from the action.

Shaw     Yet his ‘Martyr of Antioch’ was not particularly well received?

Carte     At one stage he showed me his accounts for the year of 1880, an overall income of a little under £10,000 from which a sum of less than £300 earned for his teaching at the school of music, some £300 for his Leeds Festival work, around £40 each from ‘Cox & Box’ and his work on the Tennyson poems.  Thus £13 in every £14 he earned that year was from his work with Gilbert.

Shaw     Back then that was a very comfortable living; probably twice what Gladstone earned as the British prime minister.  Though of course Disraeli supplemented his salary with his writing.

Carte     The time he spent on ‘Antioch’ merely served to underline his growing belief that he should seek to spend most of his attention on grand works and not prostitute himself on comic opera.  On the day after the opening of ‘Patience’, Sullivan advised me that he would write only one more piece with Gilbert and that he planned to concentrate for the future on Grand Opera.

Shaw     Neither of them credited you for founding the new school of English comic opera, and your raising it to the standard of a fine art.  You had plans of your own of course?

Carte     I had taken both Gilbert and Sullivan to see the land that I intended to buy well before we went to America.  I explained that I planned a theatre behind my offices in the Beaufort Building, but they showed no interest in investing in it.  Michael Gunn who had run the touring companies in Britain and had looked after the Opéra Comique while I was away in America, not only invested himself but helped me in attracting other businessmen to the project.

Shaw     You would have liked them as partners in the Savoy Theatre?

Carte     Of course, it was being built largely to house their future works!  But Gilbert mistrusted me to handle our accounts, he therefore could not see my plans in a favourable light.  But my Savoy Theatre could seat thirteen hundred, the Opéra Comique fewer than nine hundred.  I never even bothered to explain my subsequent plans for the Savoy Hotel.

Wilde    I have always believed that in person Gilbert is very like a number of his more military comic characters.

(Curtain rises to the Patience set as the Savoy Grill set slides off)

Heavy Dragoon’s Song

Patience: The Heavy Dragoon Song

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery,
Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon,

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

Take all the remarkable people in history,
Rattle them off to a popular tune.
The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory –
Genius of Bismarck devising a plan –
The humour of Fielding (which sounds contradictory)
Coolness of Paget about to trepan –
The science of Jullien, the eminent musico –
Wit of Macaulay, who wrote of Queen Anne –
The pathos of Paddy, as rendered by Boucicault –
Style of the Bishop of Sodor and Man –
The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery –
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackeray –
Victor Emmanuel – peak-haunting Peveril –
Thomas Aquinas, and Doctor Sacheverell –
Tupper and Tennyson – Daniel Defoe –
Anthony Trollope and Mister Guizot!  Ah!
Take of these elements all that is fusible,
Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible,
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

Yes! yes! yes! yes!
A Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

If you want a receipt for this soldier-like paragon,
Get at the wealth of the Czar (if you can) –
The family pride of a Spaniard from Aragon –
Force of Mephisto pronouncing a ban –
A smack of Lord Waterford, reckless and rollicky –
Swagger of Roderick, heading his clan –
The keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky –
Grace of an Odalisque on a divan –
The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal –
Skill of Sir Garnet in thrashing a cannibal –
Flavour of Hamlet – the Stranger, a touch of him –
Little of Manfred (but not very much of him) –
Beadle of Burlington – Richardson’s show –
Mister Micawber and Madame Tussaud!  Ah!
Take of these elements all that is fusible,
Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible,
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

Yes! yes! yes! yes!
A Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!


(Curtain comes down and Savoy Grill set moves in)

Shaw     In the event your Court case with the Comedy Opera Company was something of a pyrrhic victory?

Carte     Yes the Judge ruled for us concluding that either the ‘Pinafore’ run had ended at Christmas when the Ministry of Works closed the theatre or the summer after we changed theatres.  But he awarded just one shilling in damages.  Had he awarded more it would have had no effect because the Comedy Opera Company was wound up a matter of weeks later.

Shaw     So had you insisted upon a full share in the damages this would have amounted to four pence!  In preparing for this meeting I notice that you claim ‘Pinafore’ had 571 performances, so in point of fact the Court was incorrect to conclude that its run had ended after just 250!

Carte     I spent very little time worrying about this.  If I talk only of the work that I was doing for Gilbert and Sullivan; I was managing companies performing ‘Sorcerer’, ‘Pinafore’ and ‘Pirates’ around the country; I had four provincial touring companies of ‘Patience’ to organise;  I had to arrange for its opening in the Standard Theatre in New York.  All the while completing the building work, and finalising the move of the London production of ‘Patience’ across to the Savoy.  Not to forget all the effort we applied to license amateur theatrical societies, few appreciated how valuable this would become, not just in the sales of the libretti and scores, the rental of band parts, but they also assisted greatly in nurturing the growth of interest in English comic opera.

Shaw     Did ‘Patience’ move to the Savoy without difficulty?

Carte     It was very smooth, in fact the only late problem we had was when Sullivan inspected the orchestra pit and we had to raise it by eight inches upon his request.  At the time he was burning the candle at both ends.  He conducted the opening night at the Savoy then caught the midnight train to Norwich where he had a festival rehearsal at 10am.  Gilbert did his usual trick of walking the nearby streets while the show was being performed, arriving back just in time for his curtain call and encores.

Wilde    One thing I never enjoyed in the piece was Gilbert’s cruel attack on the lady who was passing her prime, it was terribly hurtful.

Carte     One of his recurring themes I am afraid, Sullivan’s orchestration does manage to make her more of a sympathetic character, rather than a sad one.  I have often wondered whether this view of ageing women is something to do with his dire relationship with his mother?  

Shaw     A glass mirror shows your face, a work of art shows your soul.

(Curtain rises to the Patience set as the Savoy Grill set slides off)

Alice Barnet – the original Lady Jane

Patience: Sad is the woman’s lot
CAlto as JANE

Sad is that woman’s lot who, year by year,
Sees, one by one, her beauties disappear,
When Time, grown weary of her heart-drawn sighs,
Impatiently begins to “dim her eyes!”
Compelled, at last, in life’s uncertain gloamings,
To wreathe her wrinkled brow with well-saved “combings”,
Reduced, with rouge, lip-salve, and pearly grey,
To “make up” for lost time as best she may!

Silvered is the raven hair,
Spreading is the parting straight,
Mottled the complexion fair,
Halting is the youthful gait,
Hollow is the laughter free,
Spectacled the limpid eye,
Little will be left of me
In the coming bye and bye!

Fading is the taper waist,
Shapeless grows the shapely limb,
And although severely laced,
Spreading is the figure trim!
Stouter than I used to be,
Still more corpulent grow I –
There will be too much of me
In the coming by-and-bye!


(Curtain comes down and Savoy Grill set moves in)

Carte     As we entered ’82 Gilbert had four shows running in London.  ‘Patience’ at the Savoy, ‘Princess Toto’ at the Opéra Comique, ‘Engaged’ at the Court and ‘Foggerty’s Fairy’ at the Criterion.  Privately he was engaged on building his house in Kensington with innovations – central heating and four bathrooms.

Shaw     Was it this that inspired you to so many bathrooms in the Savoy Hotel?

Carte     No, I was inspired by American hotels, planning to give American tourists a de luxe place to stay in London.  We have 268 rooms and 67 bathrooms, we use electrical lighting throughout and even have an electric elevator.    The Hotel Victoria on Northumberland Avenue advertises itself as one of the ‘Finest in the World’, it does have 500 apartments but just five bathrooms!

Wilde    We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.

Carte     Sullivan was travelling to Egypt while his Queens Mansions home was being completed.  I set sail for America on New Year’s Day leaving Gunn in charge.  I had plans for part of the trip to be a holiday.  But Gilbert chose the time of my absence to declare increasingly alarm about the expenses of the Savoy. 

He challenged the need for us to spend £210 per week on advertising.  He announced concern that the gas bill at the Savoy, despite its electric lighting, was £10 per week more than the Opéra Comique.  He had calculated that if we sustained nightly receipts of £120 that in the Opéra Comique they would make £9,000 a year but that they would lose £3,000 a year at the Savoy.

Yet he felt perfectly free to spend £20 installing a telephone at his home and another £20 on one for the prompt desk so that he could listen in to performances and later be advised of the takings.  We had to use the letters in his code word FAVOURITES to represent the numeral 1, 2, 3 up to 0, so that nobody could overhear or understand the actual takings, so that £128 would be F, A, T and so on.

Shaw     He had clearly come to mistrust your management.

Carte     His tone became more strident and I wrote to Sullivan to complain that I had worked like a slave for five years, had built a theatre expressly for their operas and deserved the semi-holiday I was taking, and certainly did not deserve the hectoring tone of Gilbert’s letters.  He had raised no objection to the deal with the new theatre, until I was three thousand miles away!

Shaw     Did Sullivan reply?

Carte     At the time he was too engrossed in his time in Egypt.  The only thing that piqued his interest was my plan to build a National Opera house, where his grand works might be performed.  But when we three were finally able to assemble back in the UK, Sullivan’s mother regrettably died. 

Shaw     He wrote ‘In Memoriam’ for his father’s death, ‘The Lost Chord’ for his brother.  What about his mother?

Carte     I believe he was just as affected by the death of his mother and invested this grief in to his work on ‘Iolanthe’.  That is why his music for this is so tender, I think it is his best score.  Fortunately ‘Patience’ was able to run to the end of March in New York and almost to the end of November ‘82 at the Savoy.  Progress on the new opera stuttered what with Sullivan’s jaunts to Cornwall and to the Continent and with Gilbert lavishing time upon his new yacht, ‘Chloris’.

(Curtain rises to the Patience set as the Savoy Grill set slides off)

Patience: medieval art alone retains its zest

Patience: It’s clear that medieval art alone retains its zest
Tenor as DUKE, BBar as COLONEL, and Bar as MAJOR, MzSopr as ANGELA, CAlto as SAPHIR

It’s clear that medieval art alone retains its zest,
To charm and please its devotees we’ve done our little best.
We’re not quite sure if all we do has the Early English ring;
But, as far as we can judge, it’s something like this sort of thing:
You hold yourself like this, (attitude)
You hold yourself like that, (attitude)
By hook and crook you try to look both angular and flat (attitude).
We venture to expect
That what we recollect,
Though but a part of true High Art, will have its due effect.

If this is not exactly right, we hope you won’t upbraid;
You can’t get high aesthetic tastes, like trousers, ready made.
True views on Mediaevalism Time alone will bring,
But, as far as we can judge, it’s something like this sort of thing:
You hold yourself like this, (attitude)
You hold yourself like that, (attitude)
By hook and crook you try to look both angular and flat (attitude).
To cultivate the trim
Rigidity of limb,
You ought to get a Marionette, and form your style on him (attitude).

COLONEL: (attitude)
Yes, it’s quite clear that our only chance of making a lasting impression on these young ladies is to become as æsthetic as they are.

MAJOR: (attitude)
No doubt.  The only question is how far we’ve succeeded in doing so.  I don’t know why, but I’ve an idea that this is not quite right.

DUKE: (attitude)
I don’t like it.  I never did.  I don’t see what it means.  I do it, but I don’t like it.

My good friend, the question is not whether we like it, but whether they do.  They understand these things – we don’t. Now I shouldn’t be surprised if this is effective enough – at a distance.

I can’t help thinking we’re a little stiff at it.  It would be extremely awkward if we were to be “struck” so!

I don’t think we shall be struck so.  Perhaps we’re a little awkward at first – but everything must have a beginning. Oh, here they come!  ’Tention!

 (They strike fresh attitudes, MzSopr as Angela and CAltoas Saphir enter.)

ANGELA: (seeing them)
Oh, Saphir – see – see!  The immortal fire has descended on them, and they are of the Inner Brotherhood – perceptively intense and consummately utter.

(The Officers have some difficulty in maintaining their constrained attitudes.)

SAPHIR: (in admiration
How Botticelian!  How Fra Angelican!  Oh, Art, we thank thee for this boon!


(Curtain comes down and Savoy Grill set moves in)

Shaw     So Sullivan had declared to you that ‘Iolanthe’ would be his last collaboration with Gilbert?

Carte     He had stated quite clearly that there would be just one further collaboration; which was extremely frustrating.  ‘Patience’ had such a success and perhaps most importantly had clearly moved them away from the theme of ‘Pinafore’ and ‘Pirates’; many viewed these as a matched pair.  Their future course could take them anywhere they chose.  But he was adamant.

Shaw     The ‘Peer and the Peri’ was to be the last then?

Carte     Thankfully when Gilbert presented his early thoughts for ‘Iolanthe’ Sullivan promptly agreed it.  But he did not have the courage to tell Gilbert that it would be his last, it was therefore to be my dreaded secret.  You might imagine that I worked to do everything I could to change his mind.

Shaw     ‘Iolanthe’ was something of a return to Topsy-Turveydom?

Carte     This story too was derived from an earlier Bab Ballad that had been based around curates.  It was his ‘Fairy Curate’, a tale about a curate who was the product of the union of an attorney and a fairy. Gilbert realised that there was more to satirise if the humans were not from the legal world, but politics.  He played with the idea of the fairy marrying the Prime Minister, but then wisely settled on the action being set in the House of Lords.

Wilde    But Iolanthe became in essence ‘Fairyland comes to Parliament’.  But then wasn’t the House of Lords always the case? 

Shaw     It is such a private club for the rich and privileged.  It should not exist in a true democracy.

Wilde    I believe that the only form of government suitable to the artist, is no government at all!

Carte     Back in ’73 he had of course parodied Gladstone and others in the Cabinet in his ‘The Happy Land’, The Lord Chamberlain had ordered the parodies to be removed; though the fuss did no harm to the piece’s fortunes.

Shaw     But during preparation I believe ‘Iolanthe’ had another name?

Carte     Yes, still fearful of the American pirates we called it ‘Perola’.  This was what was displayed on the score for the cast and musicians during rehearsals. 

Shaw     Presumably Perola picked per prior profitable plays Pinafore, Pirates, Patience?  (they laugh) However despite all of your precautions the ‘World’ was able to describe a fairly accurate detailed plot of the opera before it was premiered?

Carte     It appears to be impossible to maintain a secret with so many involved in rehearsals.  Gilbert was angry and created a fairly compelling case for the information having been supplied by the player Frank Thornton.  He had been with the company since ‘Sorcerer’ but Gilbert had provided no part for him in the new piece; and had taken this news badly.

Shaw     Plausible then, is that why you rejected him as the stage manager for the New York company?

Carte     That was Helen’s decision she was there organising the American production.  It was only at the final dress rehearsal that Gilbert asked the cast to substitute ‘Iolanthe’ for ‘Perola’.  There was much consternation among the players who feared they might forget to use the new name.  Sullivan rather mischievously told them to use any name they wished. “Nobody in the audience will be any the wiser, except Mr Gilbert – and he won’t be there!

Wilde    Iolanthe was a courageous choice given Irving’s earlier play of the same name.  Wasn’t there also some fuss about facial adornment?

Carte     Gilbert had in fact sought and obtained Irving’s agreement.  But as to your other point, Gilbert wanted the Peers’ chorus to be clean-shaven, many players were very proud of their manly moustaches and protested, but as usual Gilbert had his way with most of them.

Shaw     You were opening it in New York on the same day?

Carte     Yes Alfred Cellier was there in Sullivan’s stead.  He had hurriedly despatched copious notes and the orchestration across to him at the last possible moment.  Once more there was not a completed overture so Cellier was asked to compose his own.

Wilde    I was amused that Gilbert dressed the Queen of the Fairies as a caricature of Richard Wagner’s Brünnhilde, presumably to engage with the current enthusiasm around the country for ‘Götterdämmerung’?

Shaw     And of course Iolanthe rising from the river is perhaps a parody of Wagner’s ‘Das Rheingold’.

(Curtain rises to the Iolanthe Arcadian set as the Savoy Grill set slides off)

Jessie Bond as Iolanthe

Iolanthe: Iolanthe’s release
CAlto as QUEEN, MzSopr as CELIA,

Oh, I should be strong, but I am weak!  I should be marble, but I am clay!  Her punishment has been heavier than I intended.  I did not mean that she should live among the frogs – and – well, well, it shall be as you wish – it shall be as you wish!

Iolanthe!  From thy dark exile thou art summoned!
Come to our call –   Come, come, Iolanthe!

Iolanthe! Iolanthe!

Come to our call, Iolanthe!          Iolanthe, come!

(Iolanthe rises from the water.  She is clad in water-weeds.  She approaches the Queen with head bent and arms crossed.)

With humbled breast, And every hope laid low,
To thy behest, Offended Queen, I bow!

For a dark sin against our fairy laws, We sent thee into life-long banishment;
But mercy holds her sway within our hearts – Rise – thou art pardoned!



(Her weeds fall from her, and she appears clothed as a fairy.  The Queen places a diamond coronet on her head, and embraces her.  The others also embrace her.)

Welcome to our hearts again, Iolanthe! Iolanthe!
We have shared thy bitter pain, Iolanthe! Iolanthe!
Every heart and every hand, In our loving little band
Welcomes thee to Fairyland, Iolanthe!


(Curtain comes down and Savoy Grill set moves in)

Carte     Then it was as if Providence had intervened.  It was as implausible as something out of a Gilbert libretto.  I had signally failed to change Sullivan’s mind on the matter of writing more light opera.  During the summer of ’82 Sullivan’s stockbroker friend, Edward Hall, asked him for and received a £1,000 loan.  He promised to repay it in twenty days.  I feel sure on another occasion Sullivan might have refused, but he was perhaps preoccupied with composing Iolanthe.

Shaw     It was not an insignificant sum.

Carte     It was on the morning of the opening of Iolanthe that Sullivan learned that the firm of Cooper, Hall & Co was ruined and it had taken most of his savings, over £7,000, with it!  This was virtually all that he had accumulated from his twenty-five years of composing.

Shaw     I understand he was something of a gambler and had frittered a great deal away in casinos.

Carte     He has always denied this, but there is enough evidence to suggest that he often lost heavily.

Wilde    You said that Providence had intervened?

Carte     Of course because now he had to revisit his decision not to collaborate further with Gilbert.  Now, he realised that he needed Gilbert and the income that this would derive, though he would come to that conclusion reluctantly.

Shaw     Yet none would have guessed his inner turmoil on that opening night.

Carte     Whenever he lifted his baton any sign of his illness or in this case his financial concerns were completely banished.

Shaw     He is completely the professional, but how was that opening night received?

Carte     One thing we had not expected was the great attraction of the printed libretto.  The electric house lights at the Savoy could not be completely dimmed and as a result many of the audience seldom looked up from the text, there was a great rustling as pages were turned in unison.

Wilde    I feel sure they would have paused from their studies for the procession, Gilbert’s attention to detail with the peers’ costumes and insignia was exemplary.

Carte     The state costumes we used came from the Queen’s own robe-maker.  Further, on the opening night Gilbert had arranged for part of the Band of the Grenadier Guards to presage the procession.  It had an amazing impact.

(The Savoy Grill set moves off and the curtain rises to the Procession of Peers.)

Iolanthe: Procession of the Peers

Iolanthe: Procession of the Peers

Loudly let the trumpet bray!  Tantantara!
Proudly bang the sounding brasses!  Tzing! Boom!
As upon its lordly way, This unique procession passes,
Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!

Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!
Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses!
Blow the trumpets, bang the brasses!
Tantantara!  Tzing!  Boom!

We are peers of highest station,
Paragons of legislation,
Pillars of the British nation!
Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!

(Enter the Lord Chancellor, followed by his train‑bearer.)

The Law is the true embodiment
Of everything that’s excellent.
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my Lords, embody the Law.
The constitutional guardian
Of pretty young Wards in Chancery,
All very agreeable girls – and none
Are over the age of twenty-one.
A pleasant occupation for
A rather susceptible Chancellor!

ALL: A pleasant, etc.

But though the compliment implied
Inflates me with legitimate pride,
It nevertheless can’t be denied
That it has its inconvenient side.
For I’m not so old, and not so plain,
And I’m quite prepared to marry again,
But there’d be the deuce to pay in the Lords
If I fell in love with one of my Wards!
Which rather tries my temper, for
I’m such a susceptible Chancellor!

ALL: Which rather, etc.

And every one who’d marry a Ward
Must come to me for my accord,
And in my court I sit all day,
Giving agreeable girls away,
With one for him – and one for he –
And one for you – and one for ye –
And one for thou – and one for thee –
But never, oh, never a one for me!
Which is exasperating for
A highly susceptible Chancellor!

ALL: Which is, etc.

(Enter Tenor as LORD TOLLALLER.)

And now, my Lords, to the business of the day.


(Curtain drops and rises again.)


Iolanthe – When I went to the Bar as a very young man

When I went to the Bar as a very young man,
(Said I to myself – said I),
I’ll work on a new and original plan,
(Said I to myself – said I),
I’ll never assume that a rogue or a thief
Is a gentleman worthy implicit belief,
Because his attorney has sent me a brief,
(Said I to myself – said I!).

Ere I go into court I will read my brief through
(Said I to myself – said I),
And I’ll never take work I’m unable to do
(Said I to myself said I),
My learned profession I’ll never disgrace
By taking a fee with a grin on my face,
When I haven’t been there to attend to the case
(Said I to myself – said I!).

I’ll never throw dust in a juryman’s eyes
(Said I to myself – said I),
Or hoodwink a judge who is not over-wise
(Said I to myself – said I),
Or assume that the witnesses summoned in force
In Exchequer, Queen’s Bench, Common Pleas, or Divorce,
Have perjured themselves as a matter of course
(Said I to myself – said I!).

In other professions in which men engage
(Said I to myself said I),
The Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Stage
(Said I to myself – said I),
Professional licence, if carried too far,
Your chance of promotion will certainly mar –
And I fancy the rule might apply to the Bar
(Said I to myself – said I!).


(Curtain drops, BBar as PRIVATE WILLIS enters on patrol)

Iolanthe: Charles Manners as Private Willis with Alice Barnett

Iolanthe: Private Willis’ song

When all night long a chap remains
On sentry-go, to chase monotony
He exercises of his brains,
That is, assuming that he’s got any.
Though never nurtured in the lap
Of luxury, yet I admonish you,
I am an intellectual chap,
And think of things that would astonish you.
I often think it’s comical – Fal, lal, la!
How Nature always does contrive – Fal, lal, la!
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal, lal, la!

When in that House M.P.’s divide,
If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too,
They’ve got to leave that brain outside,
And vote just as their leaders tell ’em to.
But then the prospect of a lot
Of dull M. P.’s in close proximity,
All thinking for themselves, is what
No man can face with equanimity.
Then let’s rejoice with loud Fal la – Fal la la!
That Nature always does contrive – Fal lal la!
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal lal la!


(Willis exits as the Savoy Grill set moves in)

Carte     I gave Sullivan time to deliberate.  In February ’83 I was able to agree a five-year partnership agreement with both Gilbert and Sullivan.  The contract obliged them to create new operas upon my providing six months’ notice.  Finally I had precisely what I wanted a long-term arrangement between the three of us.

Shaw     But this turned them effectively in to your employees, surely that would prove the very root for the later resentment and arguments?

Carte     True, but at the time it appeared to be the basis for us all to move forward.  It was clear that Sullivan could recoup his financial losses more speedily and assuredly from his collaboration with Gilbert.  Chappell despatched over 10,000 copies of the vocal and piano scores of ‘Iolanthe’ in a single night!  Further, within a few months, Sullivan was knighted at Windsor for his contribution to music.

Wilde    More cause for resentment I imagine when Gilbert was not knighted at the same time?

Carte     Gilbert made rather too much of not being bothered by this, protesting his disinterest far too strongly.   Sadly what it did achieve was to remind Sullivan that his last grand works were well in the past, his last oratorio ‘The Light of the World’ had been a full ten years before, his last serious work ‘Martyr of Antioch’ had been completed three years before.  General opinion among his peers grew strongly to suggest that a musical knight should concentrate on grander works and not be engaged in comic opera. 

Shaw     Not very helpful to your cause.

Carte     Yet I did have that five-year contract!  We would share a third each of the profits after a rental of £4,000 per year for the Savoy, plus rates and lighting, and any repairs incidental to the performances and rendered necessary from time to time by ordinary wear and tear.

Shaw     But the seductive lure of grander works, would not have helped you sleep easily at night.

(Savoy Grill set exits, Bedroom set appears before curtain)

Iolanthe: Nightmare Song

Iolanthe: Nightmare song

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in, without impropriety;

For your brain is on fire – the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes, and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;

Then the blanketing tickles – you feel like mixed pickles – so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you’re hot, and you’re cross, and you tumble and toss till there’s nothing ‘twixt you and the ticking.

Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap, and you pick ’em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!

Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eye-balls and head ever aching.
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you’d very much better be waking;

For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossing about in a steamer from Harwich –
Which is something between a large bathing machine and a very small second‑class carriage

And you’re giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat) to a party of friends and relations
They’re a ravenous horde – and they all came on board at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.

And bound on that journey you find your attorney (who started that morning from Devon);
He’s a bit undersized, and you don’t feel surprised when he tells you he’s only eleven.

Well, you’re driving like mad with this singular lad (by the by, the ship’s now a four‑wheeler),
And you’re playing round games, and he calls you bad names when you tell him that “ties pay the dealer”;

But this you can’t stand, so you throw up your hand, and you find you’re as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks), crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle:

And he and the crew are on bicycles too – which they’ve somehow or other invested in
And he’s telling the tars all the particulars of a company he’s interested in  

It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices all goods from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors), by treating retailers as though they were all vegetables –

You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman (first take off his boots with a boot-tree),
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot, and they’ll blossom and bud like a fruit‑tree –

From the greengrocer tree you get grapes and green pea, cauliflower, pineapple, and cranberries,
While the pastrycook plant cherry brandy will grant, apple puffs, and three corners, and Banburys –

The shares are a penny, and ever so many are taken by Rothschild and Baring,
And just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing –

You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore, for your
head’s on the floor, and you’ve needles and pins from your soles to your shins, and
your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg’s asleep, and you’ve cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose, and some fluff in your lung, and a feverish tongue, and a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense that you haven’t been sleeping in clover;
But the darkness has passed, and it’s daylight at last, and the night has been long – ditto, ditto my song – and thank goodness they’re both of them over!


(Lord Chancellor falls exhausted on a seat.)

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© R S Denton August 2013