Tag Archives: theatrical scenery and effects

Hail Storms, Dancing Kangaroos, and a Guillotine: A theatrical benefit: 1793

A tinsel-trimmed portrait of popular early 19th-century actress Fanny Kemble. showing her as "Portia" in The Merchant of Venice.

A tinsel-trimmed portrait of popular early 19th-century actress Fanny Kemble. showing her as “Portia” in The Merchant of Venice.


[From the St. James’s Chronicle.]

Mr. Baldwin,

As I observe that many of our eminent performers are greatly at a loss to draw out a proper bill of fare for their benefits, suited to the present enlightened dramatic taste, I have taken the liberty to offer the following as a model; and I have no doubt but that he or she who follows it, will find it greatly to their advantage.

Mr. ____’s Night.

By desire, the Tragedy of


Macbeth—By a Gentleman, being his first appearance on any stage.

In the first scene will be introduced.

A real Hail Storm.

End of Act. I. (for that night only) the two Kangaroos from Exeter Change, will make their appearance in a dance.

End of Act II. A Hornpipe, by the gentleman who performs Macbeth.

End of Act III. The real Turkish Ambassador will walk across the Stage, attended by his suite.

End of Act IV. Lady Macbeth will recite Garrick’s Ode to Shakespeare, with John Gilpin’s Journey to Edmonton,

During the Play,

The Witches will sing Poor Jack, the Little Farthing, Rushlight, the Jolly Lamplighter, and other Airs, in character.

At the End of the Play

An entire New Epilogue,

By an eminent literary Gentleman;

In the course of which will be introduced,

A real River, with actual Salmon, Trout, and Whitebait.

Between the Play and Farce,

A new Interlude,

(Written for this night only,) called

Harlequin in Paris,

Or the Humours of the Guillotine;

(In which, by particular desire, Harlequin will take a flying leap through a cauldron of burning brimstone,

The like never performed in this world.)

The characters in the Interlude,

(For that night only,) all by Frenchmen.

A dance of Murderers, by the principal Performers of this Theatre.

To conclude with a procession of the Guillotine,

(As performed in Paris with universal applause, for upwards of a twelvemonth past;)

And a real Head, lately imported in an American bottom.

End of the Interlude,

A Solo on the Violin,



To conclude with

The Cries of London


The Tombs in Westminster Abbey.

To which will be added,


And other Entertainments,

As will be expressed in the Bills of the Day.

The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797, Stephen Jones, Charles Molloy Westmacott, editors, 1802

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has seen entirely too many bills announcing just such eclectic entertainments.  Theatrical amateurs (such as the gentleman playing Macbeth above, perhaps an echo of Robert “Romeo” Coates.) were the terror of the London scene, but the amateurs’ financial contributions to management’s coffers made up for any dramatic shortcomings. There is an amusing description in Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby about the many “bespoke” or benefit evenings given in honour of the actress Miss Snevellichi.

Just to be Relentlessly Informative, Garrick is David Garrick, who, in some cases, rewrote Shakespeare, including a slightly happier ending for Romeo and Juliet. From the late 1790s several kangaroos were kept at the famous menagerie housed at Exeter ‘Change. One of the males would sometimes wrestle with the keeper, and often got the better of him. Theatres competed to produce the most realistic effects and scenery such as a real hail storm and a river stocked with fish. An account from 1831 tells of a realistic earthquake staged in a New York theatre, accompanied by thunder, lighting and “the stench of…sulphur.” An “American bottom” is not, as might be expected, a cheeky reference to a reality television star, but an American cargo ship.

An example of a theatrical benefit play-bill.

An example of a theatrical benefit play-bill.


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