Original Australian Cast
Saturday, November 14th, 1885
Initial run: 34 performances

The Mikado

Mr. John Forde


Mr. Frank Boyle


Mr. Howard Vernon


Mr. W.H. Woodfield


Mr. H. Benham


Miss Nellie Stewart


Miss Ida Osborne


Miss Lillie Forde


Miss Alice Barnett


When some three years ago the aesthetic opera of "Patience" was announced at the Theatre Royal there were numerous prophecies as to the reckless inexpedience of attempting such a production, where the raison d'être was scarcely understood; experience proved the sagacity of the management; and the sterling favour with which the story of the love-sick maidens and their hero Bunthorne is still regarded, was conclusively shown in the recent revival. In the Japanese opera the argument against "Patience" might be urged with greater vehemence, for in the sense in which the craving for something Japanese has taken hold of the English public we are in Australia far behind; yet judging from the merits of the work and its reception by a crowded house on Saturday evening, "The Mikado" bids fair to distance all other work, by the joint authors as much in public favour as it undoubtedly differs from them in material.

That no fewer than nine numbers were encored, and that two of them were sung three times, is emphatic testimony of the favour with which the opera was received by the immense audience; and this favour will, it is believed, increase rather than diminish when, after a certain familiarity with the whole, there is opportunity for examining the details more than is possible when the eye and ear are strained to the utmost. The International Exhibition of 1880 introduced many specimens of Japanese art and manufacture to the people of Sydney, and the examination of the Japanese court made many persons recognise and appreciate the evidence of a civilisation as thorough in its way as it was distinct from any preconceived notions of our own.

The curiosity thus excited has been since sustained by periodical shipments of Japanese wares of many kinds, and we have long been accustomed to the gentlemen of Japan figuring in lively paint

"On many a vase and jar,
On many a screen and fan"

in attitudes queer and quaint; but these pictures had been received rather in the light of representations of unattainable luxuries, and as novelties beyond our reach...The surroundings of this strangely habited chorus are entirely new to the stage, and the view on the rising of the curtain is perfectly unique. In what is styled the courtyard of Ko-Ko's official residence there is a building of Japanese architecture, of which the miniatures were seen in the quaintly ordered cabinets and whatnots of the exhibition season....

The music and libretto have been already noticed in these columns; but both gain infinitely by the representation. In the libretto, in spite of new locality and novelties, in law there is a certain sameness in Mr. Gilbert's work. Pooh-Bah and Ko-Ko soliloquise much in the fashion of the Chancellor, and the very phrases of former operas recur ofttimes in this; but the novel nomenclature, the freshness of the business, and the unique surroundings give a new phase to the most familiar portions....We have had troubadours in many styles, but the representation of Nanki-Poo (Mr. Frank Boyle) as the second trombone of the Titipu town band is unlike them all. Of his acting little can be said, save that he prostrated himself with apparent ease before his seeming superiors, and that he sang the music of his part well. The song of Pish-Tush (Mr. Benham) is in capital style, a taking melody with a varying accompaniment, the imitation of the harp in arpeggios, pizzicato, and arco alternating in the violins, a refrain taken up by the chorus, and the whole warmly encored.

A still greater surprise awaited the audience, when Mr. Woodfield, as Pooh-Bah entered. All were excellently made up, but the disguise in this case was perfect, and the tableau continually afforded by the play with the large crimson fan and the white and gold mantle was very effective. The music here and throughout the opera is eminently characteristic, and though imitation is abundant, there is not the repetition of his own music which marks the other operas of Dr. Sullivan, while the originality and grotesquely weird style is singularly attractive. The accompaniments are very elaborate; the crashing of the brass and the braying of the trumpets were given with force, and, side by side with the fan business, the action of the singers, Nanki and Pish, made a very amusing number, while the dialogue between Pooh-Bah, Nanki and Pish, the sort of insult for which the first betrays State secrets, and his readiness to combine all the offices and absorb all the salaries of the Executive, imply that Japanese morality "officially" is not on a lofty plane.

Ko-Ko (Mr. Howard Vernon) wears one of the gorgeous costumes which have been exhibited in George street, with the addition of a superb sword, and followed by attendants, the entrance of the Lord High Executioner was most imposing, and this with the popularity of the actor, secured much applause...After an elaborate argument with Pooh-Bah in several of his capacities, a train of little ladies, schoolfellows of Yum-Yum enters. Each of these maidens, 18 and under, has raven hair, coiffées à la Japanois, tiny fans, and gems ornament them all. They have all the mincing step and sidelong motion which travellers assure us are typical of the race...they range themselves on either side of the stage, while the favoured trio, Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo, and Pitti-Sing come upon the scene...but for the voices no one could recognise Miss Nellie Stewart, Miss Lillie Forde, and Miss Ida Osborne.

(There follows a lengthy description of the rest of Act One with a note that to avoid wearying readers a detailed account of the second act would be reserved for a future notice)

The central character The Mikado (Mr. John Forde) is excellently played, the part of Yum-Yum is more prominent, and the chorus of girls, "Braid the raven hair," leads to a charming scene in which the bride-elect, after the fashion of Marguerite with the jewels of Faust, admires herself in the mirror. A delicious madrigal (encored), a trio doubly encored, a grand spectacular procession as the Mikado and Katisha enter; a scene bewitchingly lovely, which caused a furore of applause and many calls for "Gordon," with a grand finale, sufficiently indicate that the second act is equal to the first act.

The band did well, though the conductor's baton was too often audible. The principals exerted themselves to the utmost, and the smoothness with which a work upon such new lines was gone through on the first night is highly creditable to all engaged.

The success of "The Mikado" is fully assured, and the opera will, it is believed, exceed all predecessors in the time during which it will be supported by the people of Sydney. The mounting is magnificent.

Sydney Morning Herald. Monday, November 16th, 1885.

The Sydney public gravitated to the theatre Royal on Saturday night with more than average pertinacity. Talk of "The Mikado" had got abroad. Waves of air carrying the mysterious title swept the streets, and whenever one went one's tympanum was assaulted, and the genius of curiosity aroused. That proved that those responsible for the introduction of the Japanese monarch were no Philistines in the matter of business. They brought up, no only the dead walls of the city, but a considerable quality of dense atmosphere. And they turned their purchases to profit.

Gilbert and Sullivan have joined heads and hands so often, and the union has been the basis of so much genuine pleasure to the public, that the announcement of this, their latest work, created lively anticipations.

The part of KoKo was taken by Mr. Vernon. He was easier than as Lord Chancellor in "Iolanthe". Although greater exaggerations would have been tolerable under the romantic garb of a Japanese dignitary than in the gown of the first of England's judges. Mr. Vernon's sense of humour enforced moderation on Saturday night. The patter business did not require so much glibness of tongue, and he was thus able to be satisfactory distinct. The song "On a tree by a river," was well given and accompanied by capital acting.

Mr. Benham was Pish-Tush, a noble lord. The first piece of business he got to do created a slight prejudice against him. He looked very jolly, very happy, and very Japanese. But he seemed not to have breath enough for several lines in his great song. Then, further on, he emitted a few bars in a way that made one think he had too much breath. It was a case of running out of stock and then delivering it in wholesale quantities.

Mr. Woodfield made an excellent Pooh-Bah. He held all the official appointments at Titipu, except that of Executioner, and carried himself with a due sense of his importance. Insults, when they took the form of cash-bribes, offended him deeply. But he acted like a sensible man, and pocketed them without raising a scene. Some of the most humorous things in the play fall to him, and in the spoken and acted parts there is nothing lost.

Mr Forde played the Mikado. He does not make his appearance until midway into the second act. The ceremonial of the entry is elaborate. Possibly no such scene of dazzling and romantic splendour has ever been witnessed in a Sydney theatre. The music given to the monarch was not as attractive as that which fed to others. Besides, his song was out of all proportion too long. Nevertheless, he succeeded in making it "go."

His son, Nanki-Poo, had, on the other hand, plenty of opportunities. He had to sing of love and despair, of joy and sorrow. Mr. Boyle filled(?) the part. It was, of course, that of a young and rather sickly lover, but Mr. Boyle's rendering of it was too spiritless. The quality of the tenor's voice is already known. It possesses much sweetness and clearness, and covers a liberal range. But it is weak in sympathetic power, and his manner of acting deepens the sense of disappointment with the voice. It is true that Nanki-Poo was Oriental, and had to be given with some of lackadaisical nervelessness characteristics Western peoples associate with Asiatic life. But they were carried too far by this substitute of the son of an Emperor. Besides, the rest of the company was Oriental, and, men and women, they were free from lackadaisical nervelessness.

The ladies played and sang well. The "Three little maids from school" was an extremely dainty morsel. Miss Stuart (ed. Stewart) and Miss Osborne were especially nimble, and their companion Miss Forde, would likely have triumphed with them through the night had she got more to do. But the part that holds the strongest interest is Miss Barnett's Katisha. This has power, humour, and abundant sentimental burlesque . She has her face spoiled considerably, but she hardly makes herself old and ugly enough to fulfill the meaning of the part. She says in one place, "You hold I am not beautiful because my face is plain. You know nothing. Learn that it is not in the face alone that beauty is to be sought. I have a a left shoulder blade that is a miracle of loveliness. People come miles to see it. My right elbow has a fascination few can resist. It is on view Tuesdays and Fridays. As for my circulation it is the largest in the world." No good point given to Miss Barnett is lost.

"The Mikado" is simply a Sullivan-Gilbertian production. It has the distinctive features of their other intellectual children. This is as it naturally should be. But it is not as robust or organically sound as its predecessors. It is more richly clothed. It is surrounded with scenery of extreme beauty. The warm colour of the luxuriant foliage clings to it. But, as a whole. it lacks sustained intellectual significance. It stands out from the other operas of these fortunate men as the apotheosis of the tyrannous twins, Hard Cash and High Reputation.

Sydney Bulletin. Saturday, November 21st, 1885.


The Melbourne Cup was run for yesterday under the most favourable circumstances possible, and the attendance appears to have been larger than ever. The spectacle, which was marked by more than ordinary splendour, is graphically described in the telegraphic accounts of our special correspondents, who depict the scene as presented to them from many points of view. The crowding of thousands of spectators to Flemington by road and rail, the fashionable concourse on the lawn, and the vast assemblage which spread itself over the space allotted to the public are described, and full account is given of the racing for the Cup, and for the other events which make up the day's programme. The result of the race for the greta prize was entirely unexpected, the winner being found in Sheet Anchor, an outsider. Grace Darling was second, and Trenton third.

Sydney Morning Herald. Wednesday November 4th, 1885.



HOBART, Monday:

The reports from the country districts and around Hobart show that a great deal of damage has been done by the recent heavy rains, which only ceased about 2 o'clock today. Orchards have been swamped, gardens destroyed, hop poles carried away, and generally a great deal of loss has been incurred. At Hobart a number of small houses near the wharf were flooded, and great distress was occasioned thereby. The Huon mails were brought back this morning, as 80 feet of the road had been carried away, and they will have to be sent by sea. Two more lives are reported to be lost. The fall of rain amounted to 8.70 inches in 24 hours.

Sydney Morning Herald. Tuesday December 1st 1885.


The street architecture of Sydney is not only greatly improving but it is greatly changing its character. Land has become so valuable that it is necessary to secure for a building by altitude what it may lack in superficial area. The result of this new departure in house-building is that structures with seven or eight floors are becoming common. By-and-bye we may follow the example of New York more closely and go still higher. Lately plans were filed in that city for an apartment house to be fifteen stories in height and to rise 182 feet from the street. Our buildings have not yet attained such eminence, because the necessities for it have not arisen. There is abundant evidence, however, that the time is approaching when the majority of the present buildings of Sydney will be dwarfed by the side of the towering palaces of the future.

Sydney Morning Herald. Tuesday October 23rd 1883.


The Waxworks Exhibition opposite St Andrews Cathedral continues to be a centre of interest, and is largely patronised. On Saturday numbers of persons thronged the building, and appeared deeply interested in what they saw. Saturday was the last day of the exhibition of the wonderful fat boy, a prodigy aged 10 months, and of abnormal weight. The management is having several novelties prepared for the Christmas holidays, principal amongest them being a group representing Christ blessing the little children. Since this exhibition opened in Sydney it has been visited by about 140,000 persons

Sydney Morning Herald. Monday, November 16th, 1885.

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