Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Spotting (Part 2) - The first Scot to play Holmes?

Walter Bentley in 1880 (image courtesy Wikipedia).
[NB: Part 1 of this series looked at 3 actors in 1894-5. To read it please click ).

If we discount the copyright performance of Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes" (Duke of York's, June 12, 1899), Max Goldberg's substantial 4 Act melodrama, "The Bank of England", (Shakespeare Theatre, Clapham, November, 1900) predates the American's portrayal of the detective on the English stage. 

For some years, the two would run in parallel (even described as companion pieces), with the Goldberg still playing in Australia in 1916. USH notes the play toured in England until at least 1906, with other actors as Holmes including St. John Beecher, Hubert S. Chambers and Charles H. Lester. 

1902 - Scotland.

Recently turned 53, Walter Bentley toured "The Bank of England", starring as Sherlock Holmes, in the country of his birth. I can place him in 3 venues:
1) Saturday 15 November at Falkirk Town Hall (scroll down HERE ).
2) Tuesday 25 November at Ardrossan Assembly Hall (scroll down HERE ).
3) early December at Dunfermline, Fifeshire (scroll down HERE ).

Born William Begg in Edinburgh, Bentley would appear to be the very first Scotsman to act the part of Sherlock Holmes. Moreover, he was an actor of international standing by 1902, especially noted for his tragic Shakespearean roles (he played Hamlet for many years) and his excellent elocution, the latter perhaps inherited from his father, the Rev James Begg, a noted Presbyterian preacher and descendant of Robert Burns.

Bentley is now viewed as a major figure in the history of Australian theatre. It was in Sydney in 1927 that depression brought on by a year's suffering from cancer led him to shoot himself. The more I research him the more respect he garners and I recommend the reader to follow these links should you wish to get to know the man:-
1) Wiki Entry 
2) Bentley and the Australasian Stage
3) Walter Bentley Season 1900.
4) Bentley Found Shot 1927.
5) Bentley's Walking Stick in the Powerhouse Museum.

Part 3 of this series will turn to Gillette's play and a little-known portrayal in New Zealand (1910). I shall close this section on "The Bank of England " with three links to subsequent (better-known) Australasian productions, the second of which contains a detailed account of the melodrama itself:
1) April 2 1904: notice of the play starring Charles Blake at The Opera House, Wellington, NZ: HERE 
2) May 23, 1904: review of Blake portrayal with full story of the play: HERE
3) June 7, 1909: review of the play starring Roy Redgrave at The King's Theatre, Melbourne: HERE

Walter Bentley as Hamlet (image courtesy Wikipedia).

 © Ray Wilcockson (2014) All rights Reserved

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