The Colonel (play)

Last updated

One of the Punch cartoons featuring the colonel Punch - The Colonel 1.png
One of the Punch cartoons featuring the colonel

The Colonel is a farce in three acts by F. C. Burnand based on Jean François Bayard's Le mari à la campagne (The Husband in the Country), first produced in 1844 and produced in London in 1849 by Morris Barnett, adapted as The Serious Family. The story concerns the efforts of two aesthetic impostors to gain control of a family fortune by converting a man's wife and mother-in-law to follow aestheticism. He is so unhappy that he seeks the company of a widow in town. His friend, an American colonel, intervenes to persuade the wife to return to conventional behavior and obey her husband to restore domestic harmony, and the colonel marries the widow himself.


The Colonel was first produced on 2 February 1881, and its initial run at the Prince of Wales's Theatre lasted for 550 performances, an extraordinary run in those days. [1] Simultaneously, a second company was touring the British provinces with the play. On 4 October 1881, The Colonel received a command performance before Queen Victoria (the first play to do so in twenty years (since the death of Prince Albert in 1861). [2] The play transferred to the Imperial Theatre in 1883 and then to the new Prince of Wales Theatre in 1884, built by the producer of The Colonel, Edgar Bruce, from the profits from the comedy's extraordinary success. [3] In July 1887, there was a revival at the Comedy Theatre.


Theatrical poster from Punch shortly after the premiere of Patience and The Colonel. Design for an Aesthetic theatrical poster.png
Theatrical poster from Punch shortly after the première of Patience and The Colonel.

The play, like the Bayard play on which it is based, follows a Tartuffe -type plot: a wealthy family is infiltrated by a religious impostor who threatens to gain control over the family fortune until an old friend comes to the rescue — in this version, an American colonel, the title character of the play. A young husband generally uses the pretence of going to the country to escape his oppressive domestic circumstances. The old friend restores the husband's supremacy in his home by pointing out to the misguided wife the dangers inherent in suppressing innocent and fashionable pleasures in the name of an exaggerated devotion. Burnand's most important modification to this plot consisted in substituting "aesthetic" impostors for the religious hypocrites of the earlier versions — a fake "professor of aesthetics" is pitted against the practical American colonel.

Squire Bancroft, manager of the Haymarket Theatre had asked Burnand to create a new version of Bayard's story. Bancroft, however, decided not to stage the play, giving Burnand more license to freely adapt it. The "aesthetic craze," was an obvious target for Burnand, who had been a regular contributor to Punch since 1863 and had become its editor in 1880 (a position he held until 1906). Beginning in the late 1870s, George du Maurier had published a long series of cartoons in the magazine satirizing the aesthetes. [4] [5] "The Colonel" was a recurring character in Punch. [6] Punch had so frequently attacked the aesthetic movement, as The Observer noted, that The Colonel came at a point when it "might, indeed, have been thought that Punch had well nigh played the subject out." [7] Fun , a rival publication, wryly noted that Burnand should have acknowledged du Maurier as co-author. [5] According to Burnand's memoir, Frederic Clay leaked the information to him that Gilbert and Sullivan were working on an "æsthetic subject", and so Burnand raced to produce the play before the operatic duo's Patience opened. [8]

Burnand was "one of the most prolific dramatic authors and burlesque writers ever known, nearly 200 works standing to his credit." [9]

Roles and original cast

Rowland Buckstone and Cissy Grahame reprising their roles in the 1887 revival Rowland Buckstone and Cissy Grahame in the revival of F. C. Burnand's The Colonel.jpg
Rowland Buckstone and Cissy Grahame reprising their roles in the 1887 revival


Another Punch cartoon Punch - The Colonel 2.png
Another Punch cartoon
  1. Information about long runs in London
  2. Denney, Colleen. At the Temple of Art: The Grosvenor Gallery, 1877-1890 (2000) Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, p. 109 ISBN   0-8386-3850-3
  3. Information on the history of the Prince of Wales Theatre
  4. Introduction to The Colonel. The Nineteenth-Century Marteau, accessed 9 June 2010
  5. 1 2 Stedman, p. 182
  6. cf., e.g., Punch 78 [13 March 1880]: "Distinguished Amateurs.—2. The Art-Critic"
  7. Observer, 6 February 1881, Supplement, p. 1
  8. Burnand, vol. 2, p. 165
  9. Who’s Who in the Theatre, 2nd ed., London: Pitman, 1914, p. 84
  10. Elizabeth Lee performed under her husband's name as Mrs. Leigh Murray. See "Box and Cox". Theatre History, accessed 11 November 2013. Excerpt from A Dictionary of the Drama by W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1904, p. 195

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Squire Bancroft</span>

Sir Squire Bancroft, born Squire White Butterfield, was an English actor-manager. He changed his name to Squire Bancroft Bancroft by deed poll just before his marriage. He and his wife Effie Bancroft are considered to have instigated a new form of drama known as 'drawing-room comedy' or 'cup and saucer drama', owing to the realism of their stage sets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry James Byron</span> English dramatist, editor, writer and actor (1835–1884)

Henry James Byron was a prolific English dramatist, as well as an editor, journalist, director, theatre manager, novelist and actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">F. C. Burnand</span> British comic writer and dramatist

Sir Francis Cowley Burnand, usually known as F. C. Burnand, was an English comic writer and prolific playwright, best known today as the librettist of Arthur Sullivan's opera Cox and Box.

<i>Patience</i> (opera) 1881 comic opera by Gilbert & Sullivan

Patience; or, Bunthorne's Bride, is a comic opera in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. The opera is a satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and '80s in England and, more broadly, on fads, superficiality, vanity, hypocrisy and pretentiousness; it also satirises romantic love, rural simplicity and military bluster.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Hunter Kendal</span> English actor and theatre manager (1843–1917)

William Hunter Kendal was an English actor and theatre manager. He and his wife Madge starred at the Haymarket in Shakespearian revivals and the old English comedies beginning in the 1860s. In the 1870s, they starred in a series of "fairy comedies" by W. S. Gilbert and in many plays on the West End with the Bancrofts and others. In the 1880s, they starred at and jointly managed the St. James's Theatre. They then enjoyed a long touring career.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">German Reed Entertainments</span> English theatre company

The German Reed Entertainments were founded in 1855 and operated by Thomas German Reed (1817–1888) together with his wife, Priscilla German Reed (1818–1895). At a time when the theatre in London was seen as a disreputable place, the German Reed family provided family-friendly entertainments for forty years, showing that respectable theatre could be popular.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Hare (actor)</span> 19th/20th-century English actor

Sir John Hare, born John Joseph Fairs, was an English actor and theatre manager of the later 19th– and early 20th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Effie Bancroft</span> English actress and theatre manager

Marie Effie Wilton, Lady Bancroft (1839–1921) was an English actress and theatre manager. She appeared onstage as Marie Wilton until after her marriage in December 1867 to Squire Bancroft, when she adopted his last name. Bancroft and her husband were important in the development of Victorian era theatre through their presentation of innovative plays at the London theatres that they managed, first the Prince of Wales's Theatre and later the Haymarket Theatre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Strand Theatre</span> Theatre in London

The Royal Strand Theatre was located in the Strand in the City of Westminster. The theatre was built on the site of a panorama in 1832, and in 1882 was rebuilt by the prolific theatre architect Charles J. Phipps. It was demolished in 1905 to make way for Aldwych tube station.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scala Theatre</span> Former theatre in London, England

The Scala Theatre was a theatre in Charlotte Street, London, off Tottenham Court Road. The first theatre on the site opened in 1772, and the theatre was demolished in 1969, after being destroyed by fire. From 1865 to 1882, the theatre was known as the Prince of Wales's Theatre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Collette</span> British composer, actor and writer

Charles Henry Collette was an English stage actor, composer and writer noted for his work in comedy in a long career onstage. He appeared, beginning in the late 1860s, in many Bancroft productions and was engaged by other managers, including J. L. Toole, John Hollingshead, Mary Anderson, Lydia Thompson and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, as well as performing in his own companies. He toured for some years as the title character in F. C. Burnand's The Colonel and played many military men.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nelly Bromley</span>

Eleanor Elizabeth EmilyBromley was an English actor and singer who performed in operettas, musical burlesques and comic plays. She is best remembered today for having created the role of the Plaintiff in Gilbert & Sullivan's first success, Trial by Jury, although she played in that piece for just over three months out of a successful career spanning nearly two decades.

<i>Sweethearts</i> (play)

Sweethearts is a comic play billed as a "dramatic contrast" in two acts by W. S. Gilbert. The play tells a sentimental and ironic story of the differing recollections of a man and a woman about their last meeting together before being separated and reunited after 30 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Olympic Theatre</span>

The Olympic Theatre, sometimes known as the Royal Olympic Theatre, was a 19th-century London theatre, opened in 1806 and located at the junction of Drury Lane, Wych Street and Newcastle Street. The theatre specialised in comedies throughout much of its existence. Along with three other Victorian theatres, the Olympic was eventually demolished in 1904 to make way for the development of the Aldwych. Newcastle and Wych streets also vanished.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nellie Farren</span> English actress and singer (1848–1904

Ellen "Nellie" Farren was an English actress and singer best known for her roles as the "principal boy" in musical burlesques at the Gaiety Theatre in London.

<i>The Forty Thieves</i> 1878 English pantomime

The Forty Thieves is a "Pantomime Burlesque" written by Robert Reece, W. S. Gilbert, F. C. Burnand and Henry J. Byron, created in 1878 as a charity benefit, produced by the Beefsteak Club of London. The Beefsteak Club still meets in Irving Street, London. It was founded by actor John Lawrence Toole and others in 1876, in rooms above the Folly Theatre, King William IV Street. It became an essential after theatre club for the bohemian theatre set, such as Henry Irving, Toole, John Hare, W. H. Kendal, F. C. Burnand, Henry Labouchère, W. S. Gilbert and two hundred of their peers. It soon moved to Green Street. The Club occasionally performed amateur plays for their own amusement and to raise funds for charities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Cecil</span>

Arthur Cecil Blunt, better known as Arthur Cecil, was an English actor, comedian, playwright and theatre manager. He is probably best remembered for playing the role of Box in the long-running production of Cox and Box, by Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand, at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lottie Venne</span>

Lottie Venne was a British comedian, actress and singer of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, who enjoyed a theatre career spanning five decades. Venne began her stage career in musical burlesque before moving into farce and comedy. She appeared in several works by each of F. C. Burnand and W. S. Gilbert and was often in plays with Charles Hawtrey later in her career.

<i>Box and Cox</i> (farce)

Box and Cox is a one act farce by John Maddison Morton. It is based on a French one-act vaudeville, Frisette, which had been produced in Paris in 1846.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edgar Bruce</span>

Edgar Bruce was an English actor-manager, appearing in comedies and later producing plays. He built the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1884.