Monday, October 21, 2013

The Road to The Lyceum - Part 2 - Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes" in Liverpool.

Acknowledge Photo via Stage Whispers Blog by Carla Cushman.
When Gillette returned to England with his 'Sherlock Holmes' in 1901 it was upon a wave of success. Sir Henry Irving had seen the play early in its 235 performance run at the 910 capacity Garrick NY and invited Gillette to bring his production to London's Royal Lyceum. The first of 216 performances took place on Monday, September 9. The Museum of New York has a superb archive of photographs from The Garrick. Please view them HERE . 

It is well known that prior to its London premier, the play was tried out in Liverpool. This post takes us to that city's (lost) Shakespeare Theatre, which, opened in 1888, had an estimated capacity (in 1894) of 3,500. It was just as well, for, as we shall see, such a venue proved ideal preparation for a Lyceum much larger than the Duke of York's for which Frohman's production was originally intended. Tickets for a performance of Sherlock Holmes would be gold dust in both cities.

This leviathan of theatres closed during the 1960's after Sam Wanamaker's stint as Artistic Director. A fire lead to its demolition in 1976. The Arthur Lloyd website has much of interest HERE .

On 21st September, The New York Dramatic Mirror published an informative review of the first night performance of Monday, 2nd September, written by its special London correspondent. Submitted on the 6th, it records a 200 mile journey to join 'an enormous audience...jammed with the best playgoers, American, English, Irish and otherwise'.

The review content is representative of the general view - that the play is a melodrama elevated to an exceptional dramatic level by Gillette's central performance and novel, thrilling stage effects. The combination of an American superstar and Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is irresistible and booking is already heavy for the forthcoming Lyceum season. Some of the players were very nervous, Gillette (initially) a little too 'preachy', but great success seems certain.

Elsewhere, the article throws light on several related areas of interest. We learn something of the Shakespeare's management (well known in America). The article actually opens with a reference to the recent attack on President McKinley and takes that opportunity to stress the Edwardian equivalent of 'The Special Relationship'.

Quite fascinating is the section revealing contemporary copyright issues which leads on from a discussion of why, perhaps, Doyle's short stories are not readily adaptable for the stage. Max Goldberg's 'Bank of England' (a melodrama featuring a  pirated Sherlock Holmes character) is, we learn, playing on suburban stages. They say there's no bad publicity - Goldberg's other current offering 'The Secrets of the Harem' drew the crowds after the Turkish embassy had it prohibited and renamed 'Secrets'. With a wry smile the article tells of an attempt on Thursday 5th by the executors of the estate of the late Charles Rogers to ban Frohman, Gillette & Doyle from using the name 'Sherlock Holmes', citing that playwright's own copyright performance in Hanley, prior to the 1894 Glasgow production of his pirated play 'Sherlock Holmes. Private Detective', starring the elusive John Webb. I leave the reader to savour this in the article which may be read HERE .

Euston Station, London 1896.

  I am fascinated by the logistics that must have been involved in transporting and mounting a transatlantic production  in 1901. Gillette brought his own scenery with him - a plus for Irving in the deal - along with select members of the play's American cast. Given that standard references on the internet indicate certainly only with regard to one performance in Liverpool (on Monday 2nd), I had jumped (as often!) to the assumption Gillette's company had done the easy thing and sailed to Liverpool and so to its theatre. While the port of arrival and immediate destination remain unclear an article in Sydney's Evening News for 10 October, 1901, places Gillette and company in London on Saturday 31st August for a rehearsal at The Lyceum and leaving for Liverpool on a 9am special, Sunday morning. In those days this was at least a five hour journey. The entire train was first class. Gillette certainly did things in style. On arrival they were greeted by such a crowd Gillette's carriage had difficulty leaving the station. 

The article states the Liverpool engagement was 'to try it (the play) on the dog'  and concludes that 'Dog took kindly to it.' So kindly that 'Hundreds turned away; not a seat to be had. Booked right up to end of week.

The last remark would seem to refer most naturally to Liverpool and thus indicates the play continued there until Friday or Saturday. The full article may be read HERE .

If you clicked the link you will have noted the report was submitted on 6th September and was written by Emily Soldine, music & theatre London correspondent for the paper, with input from her son who was a member of the company and had written to her on Tuesday 3rd. He is clearly having the time of his life. And she is just as clearly the proud mum (a theatrical one, as we shall discover.) 

Gillette's English Cast.

Having observed that Emily Soldene had a family connection, I decided to research her son and, at length, the other members of the company assembled to perform Sherlock Holmes in his home country. What I found proved both a fascinating animated  kaleidoscope of Anglo-American 'freetrade' in the world of theatre AND a judicious selection process which brought together a cast that would facilitate acceptance of an American play in the heart of London's theatre land and also ensure Gillette was unrivalled - the biggest, brightest diamond in a setting of less precious jewels.

I hope, by looking in more detail at his supporting actors, to understand more fully the unquestionable  success of Gillette's play in England as well as recording the work of actors and actresses mostly long forgotten. This will be the subject of my next post On the Road to The Lyceum.


  1. Great two part article on Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes". Thanks also to the link to the Charles Rogers article. Issues of copyright are nothing new in the world of Holmes. "The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up."

  2. Thank you for your kind remarks, James. Re: copyright issues - you're spot on there! I shouldn't be surprised if the estate of Charles Rogers entered the current fray in the US courts :)

  3. This is great! I'd be eternally grateful if you can tell me on what days of the week there were matinees of this show in London... Heroine of my novel sees an early performance (which I've moved up a few weeks to late July).

    1. Thank you, Gillian! "The London Stage 1900-1909" by J P Wearing lists Lyceum performances 9/9/01 to 12/4/02 - 213 perf [w/S mat AND extra mats on 13/11/01 & 26/12/01] The 13/11/01 matinee was especially for members of the theatrical profession.
      I hope this helps!

  4. Great! But clarification - is that Wednesday/Saturday matinees or w/ Sat ("with Saturday") matinees?!

    1. I read it as with Sat matinee ( w is lower case).

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.