Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Case for Sherlock Holmes: In the Footsteps of John Webb [Spring, 1894].

This is the second of four posts about the actor who played Sherlock Holmes at Glasgow's Theatre Royal in 1894. The first (HERE) introduced John Webb (1864-1913), a noted member of George Conquest's company at the Surrey theatre, and indicated there is reason to identify him as the John Webb named in reviews of the Glasgow production. For reference, please see HERE for all reviews and notices, none of which make a connection that, nevertheless, may be inferred from the existence of a clear timeline for the Surrey Webb and absence of any trace of another professional of that name active in the period.

The annotated timeline below begins, with reason, on Easter Saturday, March 24, 1894, and charts all activities definitely attributable to the Surrey Webb until late July. It begins and ends with the same play and role.

MARCH 24 - APRIL 7 Arthur Shirley's "The Lightning's Flash" at the Surrey in the role of villain, Gordon Garville.
[April 9 George I. Hale heads north with a company to tour this play and will reach Glasgow the week before the Sherlock Holmes play. No one from the Surrey is in the new cast and Hale plays Gordon Garville until the end of a week's run at the Royal Princess, Glasgow: May 21-26.]

APRIL 9 - MAY 5 Harris & Pettitt's "A Life of Pleasure" at the Surrey in the role of evil genius, Captain Chandos.

On May 3 John Webb posts (for the second week) the following Professional Card in The Stage:
Webb is drawing the attention of managers. He seeks employment after the traditional close of the resident company's season at the Surrey on May 19 after Whitsuntide. He does not advertise again.

MAY 7 - MAY 12 Harold Whyte's "Fettered Lives" at the Surrey in the role of virtuous Joe Hazleton.

MAY 14 (Whit Monday) - MAY 19 Meritt & Conquest's "The Crimes of Paris" at the Surrey in the role that gave Webb his nickname 'the Surrey Villain': the Vicomte de Vismes.
                                     [The Stage, 10 May, 1894]
I imagine Webb then took a break before journeying to Scotland for rehearsal of the new play. However:

Setting aside the 'John Webb' named in reviews of the Glasgow Holmes play (May 28-June 2), the newspapers are silent on the Surrey Webb until:
JUNE 4 - JUNE 9 Arthur Shirley's "The Lightning's Flash" at Theatre Royal, Jarrow. This is the Hale tour, now heading back south with some cast changes. Hale is now the blinded hero, Stephen Merrick, John Webb is back as the villain, Gordon Garville and his wife, Nellie V. Warden has assumed the role of Selina Snack. This cast proceeds the following week to the Theatre Royal, North Shields and remains together until tour's end in late July.

On Thursday May 31, during the week of "Sherlock Holmes" in Glasgow, The Stage published the following Professional Card:

This professional communication to managers was inserted either by the Surrey's John Webb or by another actor with the same name. To accept the latter explanation would be to dismiss the rich circumstantial evidence in favour of the former, a known, reliable, respected and available actor in great demand. This trifle of an advertisement places the Surrey actor on stage as Holmes: for any manager reading it, there was only one John Webb, needing no further description. in addition, had Holmes been played by a local Scot, I'd expect mention of other roles in the Glasgow Herald and he'd likely have taken part on stage in the June 11 bumper benefit for F. C. Cowlard, acting manager of the Theatre Royal (he does not).

Webb knew the theatre was scheduled to close from June 4-10 to prepare the benefit. He needed work. It may well have been unnecessary to place the Professional Card as Hale was arguably still in Glasgow and Webb, surely, was already in rehearsal the previous week of Hale's play. 

Whichever, I'd say that at the end of May (Hale) and the beginning of May (Cordyce & Rogers) there were two theatrical managements who, realising John Webb of the Surrey was free, were doing a passable imitation of Moonraker's Hugo Drax savouring the thought of employing Jaws:

"Oh, yes, well, if you can get HIM, of course!"

In my next post I shall examine both the Glasgow production and its previous copyright performance in Hanley from the stand point of Charles Rogers and Henry Cordyce to illustrate why it was timely and wise for them to engage John Webb.


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