Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Spotting - Some little-known Stage Portrayals 1894-1911 (Part 1)

H O Clarey as Sherlock Holmes Spotter 1894.

Prelude. November 26, 1893.

No Sherlockian can fail to appreciate the irony that, upon the very day "The Final Problem" was first published in several US newspapers (see Editions), Charles Brookfield made his debut as the Great Detective at London's Royal Court Theatre in the review, "Under the Clock". 

In December, hard on the review's heels, came the copyright performance of "Sherlock Holmes: A Psychological Drama in Five Acts" by Charles Rogers at the Theatre Royal, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. The mysterious John Webb would play Holmes in the play which began touring on 28 May, 1894 at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

"Claude Duval"  1894-5.

Even before Arthur Conan Doyle left for his first American tour in late September, 1894 had seen the premier of a third early stage pirating of his creation. On July 23 Arthur Roberts & company gave the first performance of "a new musical piece founded on an episode in the life of Claude Duval (blend 1664 and 1894)." [see HERE ] at the Princes Theatre, Bristol.


"Claude Duval" by William Powell Frith 1860.

The infamous highwayman was 21 in 1664 and the first of the musical's two acts is subtitled 'The Coming of Age'. In blending periods the writers were drawing on a convention recently made popular largely through Chicago's Columbian Exposition, marking (a year late) the 400th anniversary of the explorer's arrival in the New World, "Little Christopher Columbus" being another example.

Almost to the day Conan Doyle set sail for New York, Claude Duval opened in London on September 25 at The Prince of Wales.
A detailed description including a cast list naming H O Clarey as Sherlock Homes-Spotter (sic) appeared on 1 November in The Theatre . The drawing at the head of this post is from my copy of The Graphic (October 6).
It is clear from The Theatre review and Theatrical World of 1894 that the whole enterprise was both devised to showcase the comic talent of Arthur Roberts and underwent revision in the course of its run. I recently acquired the Prince of Wales programme for November 19, 1894 which shows, I think, an attempt to strengthen musical and cast by securing James Welch for the part of Sherlock Homes-Spotter (sic). H O Clarey is retained as the newly-created Mons Le Maire, Spotter's French Representative.


James Welch as Holmes Nov 19 1994 programme.

The loose plot in which Roberts as Duval repeatedly evades the all-singing, all-dancing, ineffective detective provided ample opportunity for numerous disguises in both roles (as sampled by The Graphic's artist) and comic improvisation.
  By April, 1895, the production has taken to touring in what appear to be the very capable hands of Harold B Nelson's Company. I am indebted to the Facebook account "Historical Sherlock" for reproducing extracts from The Era for April 27 showing the touring cast and review of a performance at The Elephant and Castle, London, on April 22, with W T Thompson as Sherlock Holmes-Spotter (sic).

The burlesque was still touring in October (with the same cast) at the Theatre Royal, Belfast (see Full Programme ).

Biographical Notes.

Respectively we may now name H O Clarey, James Welch and W T Thompson as the World's third, fourth and fifth portrayers of Sherlock Holmes. The next major representations on the English stage will be Max Goldberg playing Holmes under his stage name, 'John F Preston', in his own unauthorised play, 'The Bank of England" (from November, 1900 at the Shakespeare Theatre, Clapham);  William Gillette (from 9 September, 1901 in his "Sherlock Holmes" at The Lyceum) and Clarence Blackiston (from 29 October, 1901 in the parody burlesquing Gillette, "Sheerluck Jones" at Terry's Theatre).

The Duval sketch from The Graphic is the only visual record I have thus far found. Other researchers are cautioned not to confuse this Claude Duval with Solomon & Stephens' 3 Act comic opera of 1881 (see HERE ). 

While I have no image or information about W T Thompson, the other two actors became rather better known.


H O Clarey as The Admiral in "The French Maid" (The Sketch, May 26, 1897).

Hood and Slaughter's hit musical The French Maid ran a total of 480 performances from its premiere at the Bath Theatre Royal on 4 April, 1896. Moving to Terry's Theatre in The Strand, from 24 April, 1897, it put H O Clarey back in the London spotlight, playing the Gilbertian part of Admiral Sir Hercules Hawser. (see HERE ). A fair idea of his stage persona may be gained from the Daily Mail 1897 review, where he is defined as "a kind of John Hare of the musical comedy stage" (scroll down HERE ).



Sherlockians will be well aware that James Welch directed that "Sheerluck Jones" parody whose success so infuriated William Gillette. In 1906 The Sketch featured him as one of its Masters of the British Stage and I have blogged HERE of his participation in that year's June tribute to Ellen Terry at Drury Lane on the benefit's General Committee alongside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Seymour Hicks (the stage's first Dr Watson).

I shall conclude Part 1 of this series with a link to the anonymous Punch parody of February 19, 1902 "Conan Doyle on Trial at Bow Street Court". In it, Doyle and Gillette are jointly accused of exhuming the body of Sherlock Holmes for purposes of gain - prosecution for the Crown is given the name Mr James Welch K. C.
Read it HERE .

NB: Part 2 will pick up this survey of little-known stage portrayals in the Scotland of 1902 and introduce the first Scot known to have played The Great Detective. Here is his walking stick, still in existence.



To go straight to Part 2 Click HERE  © Ray Wilcockson (2014) All rights Reserved


NB: 2016 update: some time in 1894 a Mr Newman played "Forelock Combe" in "Babes in the Wood" at Princess's Theatre.