RIP Jack Point

There’s always been a great deal of uncertainty regarding the fate of Schrödinger’s… I mean, G&S’s most renowned characters. When at the end of “YOTG” he, according to Gilbert’s stage direction, “falls senseless” at Phoebe’s and Fairfax’ feet, does he do just that – fall senseless – or does he actually die of a broken heart? Well, we now have a pretty clear answer. Or, rather, we’ve had it all along, but not many seem to have known about it. Here’s what Henry Lytton has to say on this subject.

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But now I must proceed with my story. When George Grossmith returned to the cast, I was sent out as a principal in one of the provincial companies, and in this work continued for years. Sometimes we played one opera only on tour – the opera most recently produced in town – and sometimes a number of them in repertory. It was towards the end of 1888 that I first played what is, I need hardly say, the favourite of all my parts, Jack Point in the “Yeomen of the Guard,” the opera which was Gilbert and Sullivan’s immediate successor to “Ruddigore.” And in connection with this part let us finally clear up a “mystery.” It has been a frequent source of enquiry and even controversy in the newspapers.

When at the close of “Yeomen” Elsie is wedded to Fairfax, does Jack Point die of a broken heart, or does he merely swoon away? That question is often asked, and it is a matter on which, of course, the real pathos of the play depends. The facts are these. Gilbert had conceived and written a tragic ending, but Grossmith, who created the part, and for whom in a sense it was written, was essentially the accepted wit and laughter-maker of his day, and thus it had to be arranged that the opera should have a definitely humorous ending. He himself knew and told Gilbert that, however he finished it, the audience would laugh. The London public regarded him as, what in truth he was, a great jester. If he had tried to be serious they would have refused to take him seriously. Whatever Grossmith did the audience would laugh, and the manner in which he did fall down at the end was, indeed, irresistibly funny.

The first time I introduced this tragic version of the part was at Cheltenham. For some time I had considered how poignant would be the effect if the poor strolling player, robbed of the love of a lady, forsaken by his friends, should gently kiss the edge of her garment, make the sign of his blessing, and then fall over, not senseless, but – dead! I had told the stage manager about my new ending. From time to time he asked me when I was going to do it, and then when at last I did feel inspired to play this tragic denouement, what he did was to wire immediately to Mr. Carte: “Lytton impossible for Point. What shall I do?”

I ought to explain that any departure from tradition in the performance of these operas was strictly prohibited by the management. Thus, while I might demur to the implication that my work was impossible, the fact that he should report me to headquarters was only consistent with his duty. But the sequel was hardly what he expected. The very next day Mr. Carte, unknown to me at the time, came down to Cheltenham. He watched the performance and, after the show, the company were assembled on the stage in order that, in accordance with custom, he could express any criticisms or bestow his approval. What happened seemed to me to be characteristic of this great man’s remarkable tact. He first told us that he had enjoyed the performance. “For rehearsals to-morrow,” he went on,” I shall want Mr. So-and-so, Mr. So-and-so, Miss So-and-so, Miss So-and-so,” and several others. The inference was that there were details in their work that needed correcting. Then he turned to me, shook me most warmly by the hand, and just said very cordially, “Good night, Lytton.” And then he left. No “Excellent”- that might have let down the stage manager’s authority – but at the same time no condemnation. It was all non-committal, but it suggested to me, as it actually transpired was the case, that he was anything but displeased with my reading.

Gilbert and I, when we had become close friends, often had long talks about this opera, and particularly about my interpretation of the lovable Merryman. I told him what had led me to attempt this conception, and asked him whether he wished me to continue it, or whether it should be modified in any particular way. “No,” was his reply; “keep on like that. It is just what I want. Jack Point should die and the end of the opera should be a tragedy.”

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So, here we go. It pains me just as much as it does you… or more.

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Meetup group for all G&S fans in London created

…and can be found here: https://www.meetup.com/Gilbert-Sullivan-Enthusiasts-of-London/

The idea behind this group is quite simple, really – it is to create a London- (and perhaps South East England-) based community of G&S lovers who would like to meet their fellow fans in real life, be it for a sing-along, a night at the theatre or just over a cuppa talking about nothing in particular.
Everybody can join or even schedule events in this group. And no, you don’t need to be a die-hard G&S geek and know precisely when and where “The Pirates of Penzance” had its premiere or who originally played the part of Yum-Yum in “The Mikado”. If you fancy hosting an event, just message me and tell me about what you would like to do, and I’ll make you organiser. There is no cost to it, I’m simply doing this because, I’m hoping, this will be great fun!

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Some people are rather easy to impress…

…well, at least a century or so ago. Henry Lytton, George Grossmith’s understudy, remembers:

One of the finest compliments ever paid to me as an artiste occurred at Hanley. We were playing “Yeomen.” Many of our audience that night were a rough lot of fellows, some of whom even sat in their shirt sleeves, but there could be no question but that they were keenly following the play. Everywhere we had been on that tour there had been tremendous calls after the curtain. At Hanley when the curtain fell there was a dead silence! It was quite uncanny. What had happened? Were they so little moved by the closing scene of the piece that they were going out in indifference or in disgust? Gently we drew the edge of the curtain aside, and there, would you believe it, we saw those honest fellows silently creeping out without even a whisper. He was dead. Jack Point was dead! I changed in silence myself. The effect of the incident had been so extraordinary. And when I went down to the stage door a crowd of these rough men were waiting. Somehow they knew me for Point. “Here he is!” they shouted. “Are you all right, mister, now?” Then, as I walked on, they turned to one another and I overheard one of them say: “He wasn’t dead, after all.” As they saw the end of the opera they verily believed something had gone wrong. Such a thing in the theatre may possibly be understandable, but that the illusion should have lingered after the curtain had dropped, and even after they had left the theatre and come really to earth in the street, seemed to me extraordinary. The “Yeomen of the Guard” was staged again the following night, but this time the audience must have been told by their pals that they had actually seen me afterwards, and that it was “only a play.” Jack didn’t die – not really. It was only “pretended.”

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Bart Simpson and Sideshow Bob are G&S fans, too, didn’t you know?

So, here we go, in case you didn’t realise Sideshow Bob had a penchant for comic operas 🙂 Start watching from 1:50.

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Ko-Ko’s List has never sounded more scary

…and it’s not even because it’s in German, but you have to admit the performer’s – Max Pallenberg from Austria, who even had a street in Vienna named after him in 1955 – rendition does display some similarities to a certain dictator from the mid-20th century.

Also, the image the poster used for the video is a rather creepy one.

In “The Life and Reminiscences of Jessie Bond”, Jessie laments the Germans having modernised and thus “mangled” “The Mikado”, referring to things like radios and cars. This recording is from 1923, and it’s most likely that she was talking about this particular interpretation. Pallenbergs mentions a gramophone rather than a radio, but the fault here may lie with Jessie, who had only heard of the German production, but who never actually saw it. Here, his Ko-Ko has put on his list people who have a gramophone with only one record and who keep playing it from noon to 7 pm.

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Pirates of Penzance 1888 programme

Thanks, eBay 🙂
Programme issued for the first revival of the “Pirates of Penzance”; this particular one is dated 21 March 1888. Wondering how much a brochure from the original run would have cost! Will continue searching for first editions, though really don’t think they’re affordable…

Pirates of Penzance programme

Pirates of Penzance programme

Pirates of Penzance programme

Pirates of Penzance programme

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G&S according to Mitchell & Webb

Probably the best sketch series in the entire show!

David Mitchell and Robert Webb had this absolutely terrific sketch show that ran for four years and is now available on Netflix (well, at least in the UK). Their humour may well be one of the most British things ever put on film. This here is an ultimate highlight, and it’s also quite safe for work 🙂

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