Goody Two Shoes. Pantomime, 1919

In January 1919, an epidemic of pneumonic influenza swept Sydney. In the days before penicillin, influenza could be fatal. Sydney authorities struggled to reduce fatalities by introducing a series of regulations designed to contain the outbreak. Many of these regulations restricted the movements and gatherings of the population.

By April 1919, the Royal Agricultural Society show, a yearly tradition, had been cancelled. People were forbidden to linger in the pubs for more than five minutes and schooling had been restricted. However these regulations had failed to stop the spread of the disease. One hundred and forty six people had died in the state's hospitals, and many more had died quietly at home. By April 2nd, the Government decided to take drastic action and announced a set of rules designed to permanently halt the epidemic. The regulations were published in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 3rd. They included, masking for all persons in shops and workrooms and the prohibition of all public gatherings. This latter rule closed billiard rooms, library reading rooms, theatres, music halls, picture shows and all other places of indoor amusement. It also cancelled all race meetings and outdoor sports events. These regulations effectively condemned the population of Sydney to permanent masking and deprived them of all avenues of entertainment.

The theatres were closed by this announcement. J C Williamsons, who managed a large chain of Australian theatres, ensured that their patrons realised who was responsible for the closure. On April 4th, they placed a large advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald. It stated that ;

Owing to the action of the public Health authorities the theatres under the control of the J C Williamson management will be closed till further notice.

The population of Sydney was left to fight the influenza epidemic without entertainment

For seven weeks, a frightened populace, their faces covered in gauze masks, scuttled about the city, hardly daring to breathe. The once bright lights of Her Majesty’s , The Royal, The Criterion ,The Tivoli, and the picture palaces were dimmed. In the evenings, the dark streets stood quietly, waiting for the lights to return.

The light returned to the wider world more easily than it did to Sydney. On May 9th, 1919, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the formation of the League of Nations.

A League of Nations has been formed with the object of preventing in the future any outbreak of war among its members.

Amongst the member nations were the British Empire, France, Japan, The United States, Italy, Poland, China and Cuba. This unique coalition aimed to become a beacon of hope for the world.

Hope was not far from Sydney. On that day it seemed that the end of the influenza epidemic was near. Outdoor assemblies were allowed to resume. Race carnivals and sporting events could again entertain the people. Indoor entertainment was still prohibited and thus the theatres remained closed. The Government announced that it was consulting theatre proprietors over the issue. It noted that the medical committee had recommended the reopening of indoor places of amusement on the proviso that masks be worn.

Theatre management companies such as Williamsons, seemed to be pressuring the Government to allow indoor entertainment. On May 12th and May 13th, Williamson placed advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald which indicated that they were willing to resume performances, even if the audience was masked. The odd advertisements read

THE GREAT QUERY

When will the theatres reopen?

We don’t know, and you don’t know, BUT

We can tell you what will happen when we both know

At Her Majesty’s we shall produce

THE PANTOMIME OF PANTOMIMES

GOODY TWO SHOES
OPENING NIGHT ??????
Special Gala Performances

(whenever it is)

Finally on Friday, 16th May 1919, all restrictions were lifted. Schools were reopened, masking was abandoned and all indoor activities were permitted. Theatre managers, were described as ‘greyhounds in their leash, until the word ‘go’ set them all to work"

Her Majesty’s in particular was anxious to resume production on its elaborate pantomime, Goody Two Shoes.

Pantomime was an apt antidote to the depression of the influenza epidemic. In addition it was suitable entertainment for a world that had recently survived the horrors of war. Traditionally pantomime was a joyous celebration of the common man. It involved fairy tale elements such as the battle between good and evil, the over protective parent, a love story, and fantasy scenes. It also incorporated aspects of music hall and characters such as the dame, played by a male actor and the principal boy played by an actress. Most pantomimes also included allusions to current events. All these elements were showcased in Goody Two Shoes.

The Sydney Morning Herald typified the mood of Sydneysiders when it joyously announced the reopening of the theatres. The paper used the theatrical imagery of two masks to illustrate its point.

For the past 7 weeks the people of Sydney have been wearing the tragic mask;

but tonight we shall enter the theatre wearing the comic mask. Incidentally a new use

has been found for that discarded mask..Held by the strings it makes a perfect boot

polisher.

On Saturday, May 17th, Goody Two Shoes opened to a capacity, unmasked, audience, at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. It was elaborately designed, complex and included a large cast. It starred two Americans, Madeline Harrison as Goody, and Maude Gray as the Fairy Protector.

The pantomime opened with a duet by Maude Gray and Lou Vernon. The duet was ‘By Plot and Guile’ and set up the conflict between good and evil. Good as represented by Maude as the Fairy protector and evil as represented by Vernon as the Demon of Discontent.

The next scene was The Village of Blossomville. The village was populated by flowers. The flowers, roses, daisies, tulips, narcissi, daffodils, peonies, pansies, forget me nots, irises and hyacinths, were played by a children’s ballet. Dressed in pink they danced merrily across the stage.

Then it was time for the dame’s entrance. Arthur Stigant, was dressed in jet earrings, white cotton gloves, a red flannel petticoat, ginger hair, and a silver dog collar. His appearance on stage was greeted with loud applause by the gallery. His first solo, "What can the matter be" was followed by several others, one of which, ‘The Maidens prayer’, was considered slightly risqué by the newspapers. This judgment was an indication of changing times and more conservative attitudes amongst theatregoers. Stigant’s duet with Herbert Walton , "For years, an years, an years’ was encored repeatedly, and the two men added several verses to the original tune to satisfy the audience.

May De Sousa, the principal boy, made her appearance after the dame. Her most popular number was ‘Chasing Rainbows.’ The solo was skillfully illuminated by a large crystal globe, which reflected emerald and ruby colours and threw patches of coloured light onto the chorus as it revolved above their heads. This was a unique effect for the time and seemed to be an early form of a mirror ball.

Another popular character was the Toy Soldier. The soldier made his first appearance after the principal boy. Fred Walton played the part and stated that his soldier was modelled on French lines. Walton performed several scenes. In one he had an intimate conversation with two other toy soldiers and presented one with a medal. A topical allusion to the war. In another he courted the spirit of the dance and proved that he could channel that spirit himself when required.

The production was distinguished by elaborate sets and living tableaux. One of the latter illustrated the allied nations. It included figures representing Belgium, France, Italy and Australia, in a battle scene. This was another allusion to current events and seemed to refer specifically to the formation of the League of Nations.

Another scene, much commented upon by reviewers, was the Palace of Cards. This was highlighted by the dramatic March of the Cards. Each suit was elaborately and gorgeously dressed and marched in time to the delight of the capacity audience who wildly applauded and called for the producer and ballet manager. The pantomime also included another dramatic set, toyland. This scene especially designed to appeal to children, showed a variety of toys, such as dolls, tops, toy soldiers and a Jack in the box animatedly dancing across the stage.

Goody Two Shoes also portrayed traditional figures such as Pierrot and Harlequin, delightfully danced by Englishman Sydney Yates and Australian Maggie Dickenson. It also featured novelties such as the pole balancing Kenna brothers. The brothers made their entrance in a panorama of clouds, and then became stuck on a realistic glacier whilst attempting to fly to the North Pole. They sat on either side of the pole as it balanced across a trapeze and illustrated the law of gravity. An appreciative house warmly recalled the acrobats.

The finale of this spectacular production was the Gorgeous Ducal Banquet that featured " the great procession of the menu’. This consisted of Cupids, caviar, salmon, lobster, Plover eggs, pheasants, salads, champagne sweets and fruit, represented by members of the chorus. The audience shouted and cheered for more.

For one moment, Goody Two Shoes, a pantomime rarely performed today, managed to capture the joy and spirit of a world at peace and a city emerging from seven weeks of doom. It brought cheer and light to a gloomy city, and was a popular success for Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney, that May in 1919.

 

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