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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of John Brougham, Actor & Dramatist

john-broughamJohn Brougham, Irish American actor and dramatist, is born in Dublin on May 9, 1814.

Brougham’s father is an amateur painter, and dies young. His mother is the daughter of a Huguenot, whom political adversity has forced into exile. He is the eldest of three children. Both of his siblings die in youth, and, the father being dead and the widowed mother left penniless, he is reared in the family and home of an uncle.

Brougham is prepared for college at an academy at Trim, County Meath, twenty miles from Dublin, and subsequently is sent to the University of Dublin. There he acquires classical learning, and forms interesting and useful associations and acquaintances. He also becomes interested in private theatricals. He falls in with a crowd that puts on their own shows, cast by drawing parts out of a hat. Though he most always trades off larger roles so he can pay attention to his studies, he takes quite an interest in acting. He is a frequent attendant, moreover, at the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street.

Brougham is educated with the intention of his becoming a surgeon and walks the Peth Street Hospital for eight months. However, misfortune comes upon his uncle so he is obliged to provide for himself. Before leaving the university he, by chance, becomes acquainted with the actress Lucia Elizabeth Vestris.

Brougham goes to London in 1830 and, after a brief experience of poverty, suddenly determines to become an actor. He is destitute of everything except fine apparel and he has actually taken the extreme step of offering himself as a cadet in the service of the East India Company. But, being dissuaded by the enrolling officer, who lends him a guinea and advises him to seek other employment, and happening to meet with a festive acquaintance, he seeks recreation at the Tottenham Theatre where Madame Vestris is acting.

Brougham’s acquaintance with Madame Vestris leads to him being engaged at the theatre, and he thus makes his first appearance on the London stage in July in Tom and Jerry, in which he plays six characters. In 1831 he is a member of Madame Vestris’s company and writes his first play, a burlesque. He remains with Madame Vestris as long as she and Charles Mathews retain Covent Garden Theatre, and he collaborates with Dion Boucicault in writing London Assurance, the role of Dazzle being one of those with which he becomes associated. His success at small or “low” comic roles such as Dazzle earn him the nickname “Little Johnny Brougham,” a moniker which he embraces and which boosts his popularity with working-class audiences.

In 1840 Brougham manages the Lyceum Theatre, for which he writes several light burlesques, but in 1842 he moves to the United States, where he becomes a member of William Evans Burton‘s company, for which he writes several comedies, including Met-a-mora; or, the Last of the Pollywogs, a parody of John A. Stone and Edwin Forrest’s Metamora; or The Last of the Wamponoags, and Irish Yankee; or, The Birthday of Freedom.

Later Brougham is the manager of Niblo’s Garden, and in 1850 opens Brougham’s Lyceum, which, like his next speculation, the lease of the Bowery Theatre, is not a financial success, despite the popularity of such works as Po-ca-hon-tas; or, The Gentle Savage. He is later connected with James William Wallack‘s and Augustin Daly‘s theatres, and writes plays for both.

In 1860 Brougham returns to London, where he adapts or writes several plays, including The Duke’s Motto for Charles Fechter. In November 1864 he appears at the Theatre Royal in his native Dublin in the first performance of Dion Boucicault’s Arrah-na-Pogue with Boucicault, Samuel Johnson and Samuel Anderson Emery in the cast.

After the American Civil War Brougham returns to New York City. Brougham’s Theatre is opened in 1869 with his comedies Better Late than Never and Much Ado About a Merchant of Venice, but this managerial experience is also a failure due to disagreements with his business partner, James Fisk. He then takes to playing the stock market. His last appearance onstage is in 1879 as “O’Reilly, the detective” in Boucicault’s Rescued.

John Brougham dies in Manhattan on June 7, 1880.

 

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The Opening of the Gaiety Theatre

The Gaiety Theatre, a theatre on South King Street in Dublin off Grafton Street and close to St. Stephen’s Green, opens on November 27, 1871 with John Spencer, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as guest of honour and a double bill of the comedy She Stoops to Conquer and a burlesque version of La Belle Sauvage. Designed by architect Charles J. Phipps and built in under seven months, it specialises in operatic and musical productions, with occasional dramatic shows.

The Gaiety is extended by theatre architect Frank Matcham in 1883, and, despite several improvements to public spaces and stage changes, it retains several Victorian era features and remains Dublin’s longest-established, continuously producing theatre.

Patrick Wall and Louis Elliman purchase the theatre in 1936 and run it for several decades with local actors and actresses. They sell it in 1965, and in the 1960s and the 1970s the theatre is run by Fred O’Donovan and the Eamonn Andrews Studios, until Joe Dowling, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, becomes director of the Gaiety in the 1980s. In the 1990s Groundwork Productions take on the lease and the theatre is eventually bought by the Break for the Border Group. The Gaiety is purchased by music promoter Denis Desmond and his wife Caroline in the late 1990s, who undertake a refit of the theatre. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism also contributes to this restoration fund.

Performers and playwrights associated with the theatre have been celebrated with hand-prints cast in bronze and set in the pavement beneath the theatre canopy. These handprints include those of Luciano Pavarotti, Brendan Grace, Maureen Potter, Twink, John B. Keane, Anna Manahan, Niall Tóibín and Brian Friel.

The theatre plays host to the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest, the first to be staged in Ireland, during the Gaiety’s centenary year. Clodagh Rodgers, a contestant in that particular contest, later presents her RTÉ television series The Clodagh Rodgers Show from the theatre in the late 1970s.

The Gaiety is known for its annual Christmas pantomime and has hosted a pantomime every year since 1874. Actor and director Alan Stanford directs both Gaiety productions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Irish entertainer June Rodgers stars in the Gaiety pantomime for years, until she begins to headline the equally established Olympia Theatre panto. The Gaiety shows have included Irish performers that appeal to home grown audiences, including a number of Fair City actors. Pantomimes in the 21st century have included versions of Mother Goose (2006), Beauty and the Beast (2007), Cinderella (2008), Jack and the Beanstalk (2009), Aladdin (2010), Robinson Crusoe (2011/12), Peter Pan (2013/14), Red Riding Hood (2014/15).