1930 July to September


On the stage – for six days – TALBOT O’FARRELL’S ROAD SHOW – Talbot O’Farrell was a 51 year old English music hall singer (a tenor, whose repertoire included both sentimental and comic songs). He was born in the north of England, and worked as a policeman in Hull prior to a career in entertainment and achieved moderate success as Jock McIver (Scottish comedian and singer), before adopting an Irish persona as Talbot O’Farrell around 1912 and was billed as “The greatest Irish entertainer of all time”. In 1922, he performed in Sydney, Australia and appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in 1925. At the time of this show he had the honour of serving as King Rat of the Grand Order of Water Rats. This, his latest revue, stopped off in Southampton as part of an extensive UK tour and paved the way for a succesful career in films.

Talbot O’Farrell captured by Pathe in 1930

14th July – THE REVUE SHOP

On the stage – for six days – Archie Pitt‘s latest revue, THE REVUE SHOP, came to the Empire and featured established music hall acts The Barry Twins, Clifford Morgan and Stanley Arthur. It couldn‘t measure up to his previous production at the Empire which had starred his wife Gracie Fields.

Archie Pitt singing with his wife

21st July – CLOSED

THEATRE CLOSED – The theatre closed for two weeks for the extension of the electrical circuitry to facilitate electric house lighting and the installation of an electronic sound system. As with other major Moss-Empire houses, facilities were added to allow for the projection of talking pictures.

4th August – THE SQUALL

On the stage – for six days – THE SQUALL – Sybil Thorndike was back at the Empire in 1930 in the British Premiere of a Broadway play “The Squall” by doctor’s wife, Jean Bart, ahead of the London opening at the Globe Theatre. It is set near Granada in Spain and tells the story of a gypsy girl, Nubi, who escapes the clutches of the gypsy chief and is given refuge by senora Mendez (Thorndike) in the family home; Nubi seduces both the husband and the son and in retaliation Mendez contacts the gypsy chief who comes to take her back.

Sybil Thorndike features in this 1929 Pathe short

11th August – LILAC TIME

On the stage – for six days – LILAC TIME – Southampton got its first taste of “Lilac Time”, now on its fourth revival and setting out on tour following a London season at Dalys and the Lyric Theatres. The show was based around the music of Franz Schubert and the Empire was lucky in having the West End stars leading the cast as the tour set out. Frederick Blamey played Schubert, Gertrude Wolffe as Lili and Thorpe Bates was Baron Schober. The musical unfolds in Old Vienna as the young composer, Franz Schubert, writes a beautiful love song dedicated to his beloved Lili. But he is too shy to sing it himself, and asks his best friend, Baron von Schober, to sing it to her. Sadly she falls in love with the Baron instead of poor Franz, who has to find consolation in their happiness – and in his music. Sub-plots tell of Lili’s two sisters, Willi and Tilli and their boyfriends; a temperamental prima-donna and a jealous Count.

It was based on the 1916 Viennese operetta “Das Dreimädlerhaus”. The English version premiered at the Lyric Theatre in December 1922. It was enormously popular, and this was its fourth revival in the West End. Some of the earlier versions used the original German version name “Lili” instead of “Mitzi”

A Lilac Time duet from the 1950s

18th August – SENTENCED

On the stage – for six days – SENTENCED – Franklin Dyall returned to the Empire on August 18th, 1930, again, with his wife Mary Merrall in a new play which he produced “Sentenced”. The drama begins with a new and novel trial piece set in the Old Bailey in 1911. Dyall plays the part of the judge, Justice Hatton and the story unveils, starting the previous year. Mary Merrall plays the role of Leonora, the murder victim. The play is a two-acter and the evening was rounded off with a one act comedy featuring the two stars, “Why Shelmardina Was Late For Dinner” by world famed Michael Arlen.


On the stage – for six days – HERE COMES THE BRIDE – adapted from the play by Edgar MacGregor & Otto Harbach opened at the Empire this farce incorporated a lot of Spanish/ Mexican dancing, acrobatics, an apache dance, a mannequin parade of the latest gowns and a chorus line that frequently popped on and off for no apparent reason. It went down well with audiences and critics alike. Having opened at the Piccadilly Theatre on 20th February, 1930 it transferred to the Lyceum where it ran until 19th July, 1930. The music was by Arthur Schwartz and the lyrics were penned by Desmond Carter. The following year Schwartz opened ‘The Band Wagon’ on Broadway with Fred Astaire.

An excerpt from the 1930 production

1st September – RIO RITA

On the stage – for six days – RIO RITA – had been a big hit on Broadway, presented by Florenz Ziefeld in February 1927 and running for 494 performances, it was reckoned to be one of the last, great, ‘light musical comedies’ or ‘Follies-based’ type of musical. It opened for a two week run at the Southampton Empire on 17th March 1930 ahead of its London premiere as the opening attraction at London’s newest theatre, the Prince Edward. Unfortunately “Rio Rita” failed to take off with London audiences. The writer Edgar Wallace had been called in during the Southampton run and asked to do some re-writing to help save the show, but in London it came off after just 59 performances. A film version had been made in 1929 with Bebe Daniels and John Boles, and this film had been shown in London six months before the stage version opened. There was a great deal of argument about whether the film had killed the theatre business, and whether films should be shown before any planned stage production. However, since the film itself had been a flop, the arguments faded and as the show had been a hit with the Southampton public it returned on 1st September 1930 for a further week as it kicked of its British tour with a different cast this time headed up by Howett Worster, who had been the male lead in the Drury Lane production of ‘Showboat’, Freddie Forbes and Daisy Elliston.

A 1930 recording by Howett Worster

8th September – PAVLOVA

On the stage – for six days – PAVLOVA – Anna Pavlova was a famous Russian prima ballerina and choreographer. The company she founded in 1911 was the first to tour ballet around the world. Shortly after Pavlova purchased Ivy House in Golders Green, London, which would be her home for the rest of her life, she opened a small ballet school for a few select English girls. Since she was often on tour, it was difficult to run her school with any kind of consistency. Nevertheless, she did provide the early training for a few promising young dancers who would go on to professional careers of their own. Over the years she established herself as a world leading ballerina.

In 1930 Pavlova was 50 years old when she set out on this particularly arduous tour of England, which this date at the Empire was one of the first. When the tour completed later in the year she took a well earned vacation as her 30-year dance career had come to physically wear on her. After Christmas she decided to return to Holland and while travelling from Paris to The Hague, her train became stuck in a snow storm and while waiting to be rescued Pavlova became very ill, and worsened on her arrival in The Hague. She sent to Paris for her personal physician, Dr Zalewski to attend her. Victor Dandré wrote that Anna Pavlova died of pleurisy in her hotel room at a half hour past midnight on Friday, January 23, 1931, with her maid Marguerite Létienne, Dr. Zalevsky, and himself at her bedside. Her last words were, “Get my ‘Swan’ costume ready.” Victor and Marguerie dressed her body in her favourite beige lace dress and placed her in a coffin with a sprig of lilac. At 7am, a Russian Orthodox priest arrived to say prayers over her body. At 7:30am, her coffin was taken to the mortuary chapel attaching the Catholic hospital in The Hague. In accordance with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on, as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been. Memorial services were held in the Russian Orthodox Church in London. Anna Pavlova was cremated, and her ashes placed in a columbarium at Golders Green Crematorium, where her urn was adorned with her ballet shoes (which have since been stolen).

A look at Pavlova’s career

15th September – JEW SUSS

On the stage – for six days – JEW SUSS – is a dramatic play based around the life of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer who was an 18th-century Court Jew in the employ of Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg in Stuttgart. As a financial advisor for Duke Karl Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, he also gained a prominent position at the court and held the reins of the finances in his duchy. He established a duchy monopoly on the trade of salt, leather, tobacco, and liquor and founded a bank and porcelain factory. In the process, he made multiple enemies who claimed, among other things, that he was involved with local gambling houses.

When Karl Alexander died suddenly, Oppenheimer was arrested and accused of fraud, embezzlement, treason, lecherous relations with the court ladies, accepting bribes, and trying to reestablish Catholicism. The Jewish community tried unsuccessfully to ransom him. After a heavily publicized trial during which no proof of his guilt were produced, he was sentenced to death. When his jailers demanded that he convert to Christianity, he refused. He was taken to the gallows on 4 February 1738, and given a final chance to convert to Christianity, which he refused to do.

The lead role was played by Mattheson Lang and the role of Norma by a young Peggy Ashcroft. The Southampton visit was the second date on the UK tour following a West End run at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre.

Watch the 1934 film based on the stage play – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMTHwuQnIKA

Maeet Mattheson Lang courtesy of Pathe

22nd September – PAUL ROBESON

On the stage – for six days – PAUL ROBESON – was a 32 year old American bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was a star athlete in his youth. His political activities began with his involvement with unemployed workers and anti-imperialist students whom he met in Britain. His sympathies for the Soviet Union and for communism, and his criticism of the United States government and its foreign policies, would lead to him being blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

He received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School while playing in the National Football League (NFL). At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions. After graduating, he became a figure in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God’s Chillun Got Wings.

Robeson began a recording career in1925 which started with the spirituals “Steal Away” backed with “Were You There”. Robeson’s recorded repertoire would go on to span many styles, including Americana, popular standards, classical music, European folk songs, political songs, poetry and spoken excerpts from plays. Robeson first performed in Britain in a touring melodrama, Voodoo, in 1922, and in Emperor Jones in 1925, and scored a major success in the London premiere of Show Boat in 1928, settling in London for several years with his wife Eslanda. While continuing to establish himself as a concert artist, Robeson also starred in a 1930, London production of Othello, the first of three productions of the play over the course of his career.

This concert at the Empire marked Robeson‘s first nationwide tour as a recording artist Robeson and he used it as a platform to promote racial equality stating that the best way to diminish the oppression African Americans faced was for his artistic work to be an example of what “men of my colour” could accomplish rather than to “be a propagandist and make speeches and write articles about what they call the Colour Question.”

A preview of Paul Robeson’s 1930 film “Borderline” with his wife Eslanda Goode

29th September – TOPAZE

On the stage – for six days – TOPAZE – is a 1928 play in four acts by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. It tells the story of a modest school teacher who is fired for being too honest and decides to become a dishonest businessman. The play premiered on 9 October 1928 at the Théâtre des Variétés. It premiered on Broadway in February 1930 with Frank Morgan in the title role and ran until August. This production then visited Southampton with Raymond Massey and Alicia Delysia starring, before being made into a film which would be released in 1933.

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