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Revues

Planché was the first writer to create a musical revue in English, Success; or, a Hit if You Like It (Adelphi, 1825).  Like much of his dramatic output, it was inspired by French traditions (Parisian theaters had produced revues for years).  Success was an experiment, but it captured the audience's fancy and helped ensure further works in the genre.  It opened on a group of tailors and other "votaries of Fashion" singing a paean to their monarch to the tune of "Rule, Britannia": Fashion, according to the story, has been appointed as viceroy to Whim, "the grand autocrat of the world," ruling Britain since its original monarch, Common Sense, has vanished.  Fashion's daughter is the princess Success, and to woo her, various characters from London theatrical productions of that season appear at court.  Among those still familiar to modern readers are Punch, Mephistophilis, and Zamiel, the demon from Der Freischütz.  Two Joans of Arc (from Thomas James Serle's melodrama and Michael William Balfe's opera) appear and exit in a swordfight.  Jocko, the Brazilian monkey first popular in the 1820 French melodrama (a pantomime role by a dancer, M. Mazurier), also appears.  (Part of the implied humor was that Planché himself had translated the melodrama into English and encouraged the audience to laugh at his own work.)  After a flirtation with Punch, it is the monkey whom Success favors and is about to marry when Fashion protests she has "loved first a monkey and then a Punchinello, / run first with one and then with t'other fellow," felt passion for Mozart's operas and then for melodrama, and "even Shakespeare may be borne in turn"  (36).  Rather than allow his daughter to continue to assert her inconstant will, Fashion invites the audience to decide who should marry Success.

Future revues waited almost fourteen years, but eventually Planché wrote The Drama's Levee; or, a Peep at the Past (Olympic, 1838), on the eve of a tour Vestris and Mathews made to the United States.  It opened upon Drama, who laments that Vestris would be leaving Britain in another parody of "Yankee Doodle":

The puns in the second verse refer to George Frederick Cooke, an English tragedian who died in Boston; Fanny Kemble, who married an American named Butler and appeared, at the time, to be unlikely to return to Britain; Irish comedian Tyrone Power (an ancestor of the twentieth-century actor); a married couple, tenor Joseph Wood and his wife, singer Mary Ann Paton; and Ellen Tree, a melodramatic heartthrob; all of whom were touring the United States.

More revues followed this one.  The next was The Drama at Home; or, an Evening with Puff  (Haymarket, 1844), which featured C.J. Mathews as Puff from Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic. In this play, a child dressed to resemble Tom Thumb (C.P. Stratton) was led out by Priscilla Horton, singing yet one more spoof of "Yankee Doodle" (a song featured at Thumb's performances).  The chorus ran "Every wonder here to send,/ Jonathan's a mania," at which James Bland interrupted her in his basso profundo, with "I wish he'd send the dividend/ due from Pennsylvan-i-a!"  (Extravaganzas 2, 293).  ("Jonathan" was a common slang for "American.")  The reference was not only to Barnum and his endeavors, but to the activities of two Pennsylvanian businessmen, Jacob Perkins and Nathan Dunn, who had displayed collections of Chinese artifacts, scientific curiosities, and other "wonders" in London (see Altick 377, 292).  Barnum feared  the child impersonating Thumb would cause Londoners to lose interest in his protégé, but turned the situation to his advantage through clever advertising (see Raymund Fitzsimmons, Barnum in London).  Beside astute advertising, Barnum wrote parodic lyrics for Thumb to sing in praise of himself as an incarnation of the "Yankee doodle dandy."

Afterward came The New Planet; or, Harlequin Out of Place (Haymarket, 1847), which spoofed both popular culture and scientific advances, including the recent discovery of Neptune, as the gods and goddesses for whom the planets are named come to London to see the sights.  Among other scientific and technological advances it treated was the invention of gun cotton by Christian-Friedrich Schönbein, which became a source of humor in a parody of "The Girl I Left Behind Me":

    Nor house, nor land, the shock can stand,
    The longest range you’ll find it,
    Of all the cash you had in hand,
    No trace it leaves behind it.  (169)

The next, the Seven Champions of Christendom (Lyceum, 1849), was the only revue for which Planché did not invent his story.  It used the nursery tale to examine the tense political situations of 1848-49 in Europe, and was intriguing for its compassion toward the poor of Ireland, Italy, and other lands who were being abused by the moneyed classes.  It continued the vilification of Turkey, although the venom was now aimed at the government and its policies (rather than the common Turks) in the tensions between that country and Britain over the rule of Egypt.

Planché reveled in his transplanted genre toward the end of his career.  Four of the nine revues were written from 1853-56.  Two, Mr. Buckstone's Ascent of Mount Parnassus (1853) and Mr. Buckstone's Voyage 'Round the Globe (in Leicester Square) (1854) were written for his old friend, J. B. Buckstone, and featured the latter as a character confiding his difficulties as the manager of the Haymarket (which he had leased in early 1853) to the audience.  The second Buckstone piece is notable in part for a scathing criticism of U.S. treatment of African and Native Americans, and for its recognition of the talent of Ira Aldridge, the "African Roscius," a powerful tragedian from the United States who had just died from illness on a tour of Eastern Europe  (2, 29).  The same work featured a very optimistic patriotism at the outbreak of the Crimean War.  It ended, for instance, showing women allegorically dressed as "Britain" and "France" seated atop the globe  (2, 33-34).

Another revue, The Camp at the Olympic (1853) was written for Alfred Wigan, who had just assumed the management of the Olympic that autumn.  Wigan had seen the first Buckstone piece earlier that year and requested a similar work from Planché.  The revue opened with a then-daring scene; Wigan and his wife (Leonora Pincott) strolling about the empty stage as themselves, wondering what to put on for their first night.  Scenery was introduced eventually by the character of "Fancy" (Priscilla Horton Reed), making it one more source of self-reflexive humor.  She sang a parody of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Donna e mobile" (from Rigoletto, only introduced to England that year--Sands 56) in which Planché made an appeal for the engagement of the imagination, often overlooked in the days of pictorial (highly detailed) stage design:

Fancy, her magical
Influence lending,
Mortals befriending
As much as befooling--
Comical, tragical,
Classic, romantic,
Aping each antic,
Every sense fooling.  (302)
She then calls forth various forms of theater and they state their strengths and weaknesses.  It is Planché's effort to remind audiences of how pleasing theater could be if it were freed from mandatory formulae of slapstick comedy or melodrama.  The piece was well received, but its plea for theatrical reform made no appreciable impact.

The final revue, The New Haymarket Spring Meeting (Haymarket, 1855), again written for Buckstone, was probably the weakest.  In its second act, it pictured the competition for theatrical audiences as a horse race, itself less able to evoke comic situations than the improbable courtships and other absurdities of the other eight, although it still featured the sort of word play Victorians loved.  One of the best such exchanges also contrasts with The Seven Champions of Christendom, Ali Pacha, and The Mason of Buda for mentioning the Turkish government (now allied with Britain and France against Russia) in a favorable light:

    WEST[MINSTER]. All England backs the Sultan ; he must win
            The Crescent Stakes.
    FOOL.                        The Czar will drop his tin.
    TIME.  France has got on him, too, a lot of money.
    LON[DON].  Who rides him ?
    TIME.   A good fellow—Bono Johnny ;
            Both at Silistria and Eupatoria
            He beat Cossack and Muscovite.
     LON.                                         Victoria !
    FOOL. You’ve heard the last joke running the turf ?
            Britannia rules the waves—Russia the serf.  (2, 96)

“Bono Johnny” was an affectionate nickname given the common British soldier, based upon the way Turkish villagers in the Crimea who knew a little Italian attempted to greet the foreigners, also knowing Johnny as a typically English name:  “buono Johnny”  (Selby 225).  “Victoria” is both a shout of victory and of enthusiasm for the Queen.  While in the previous Buckstone piece, the patriotism had been exuberant, here, it only occupied a small portion of the dialogue.  Most of the revue concerned entertainment.  Most acclaimed, however, was the conception of its first act, which pictured the growing London metropolis as a family which squabbles and attempts, somewhat unsuccessfully, to make up, was praised by critics and popular with audiences.

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