Sunday, June 3, 2012

Doyle's Waterloo - Special (1897) Jubilee Post.

"I saw him" (Richard Sharpe).















Sharpe may have had his Waterloo but so did Conan Doyle.

This Jubilee post is about a one-act play starring Sir Henry Irving, written by Doyle which played a significant role in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria in 1897.

   In March 1892, a play arrived on the desk of the great Victorian actor, Henry Irving. Entitled "A Straggler of '15", it was a patriotic, sentimental piece, recording the reminiscences of an old surviving soldier of the Battle of Waterloo. He gave it to Bram Stoker, manager of the Lyceum Theatre, to read - Stoker recalls their response in his biography:

"I think this," I said '"that play is never going to leave the Lyceum. You must own it- at any price. It is made for you."

"So I think too", he said heartily.You had better write to the author today and ask him what cheque we are to send..."

"Who is the author?"

"Conan Doyle".

Irving bought the play's rights, changing the name to "A Story of Waterloo"- then shortening it to "Waterloo".

Striking a chord with his imperial audience, the play was an immediate success from its first performance on Sept 21, 1894 at the Princess Theatre, Bristol. The part of Corporal Brewster was destined to be Irving's most popular and final great role.

Irving as Brewster by Harry Furniss 1893.
Stoker records the events of 1897:

"...when representatives of the Indian and colonial troops were gathered in London for the 'Diamond' Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Irving gave a special performance for them. The event was a formal one for it was given by Royal consent...Some 2000 troops... were massed at Chelsea Barracks...They marched to the Lyceum, the public cheering them all the way. They represented every colour and ethnological variety of the human race from coal black through yellow and brown to the light type of Anglo-Saxon...In the boxes and stalls sat the Indian Princes and the Colonial Premiers...The house was crammed from wall to wall, from floor to floor, the bill was Waterloo and The Bells.No such audience could have been had for this military piece. It sounded the note of the unity of the Empire; all were already tuned to it.  The scene was indescribable, it was a veritable ecstacy of loyal passion...".


Its authorship by the great advocate of empire...place Doyle within an Imperial nexus. That same year as if to undercut such imperial confidence, Bram Stoker's Dracula was published.

But that's another story.

Doyle's Waterloo may conveniently be read on line. Click this link to open the play in a new window Doyle's Waterloo

I can think of no better close to this celebratory post than a piece of music made famous by Sean Bean's Richard Sharpe TV Series - I reckon Sharpe would be one of Conan Doyle's ideal knightly heroes.

Enjoy this fabulous, heartfelt rendition of Over The Hills And Far Away and think of the swelling pride of Irving and Doyle on a halcyon day in 1897. John Tams (of course!) sings
Song for Doyle's Waterloo

Sir Henry Irving in Waterloo.