In "'The Cricket' on the Stage" (1952) Malcolm Morley describes the American stage-history of Dion Boucicault's Dot:
Produced at the Winter Garden, New York, on September 14th, 1859, it marked the entry into management of Boucicault and William Stuart. The piece was to see long service on the stage, being used as a vehicle for the talents of such stars as Joseph Jefferson and John E. Owens who, between them, must have taken Dot to every possible playhouse in English-speaking America. These actors were attracted to the character of old Caleb and the part grew and grew in prominence as they added lines and elaborated the business over the years they acted in the play.
Boucicault, in his version [of Dickens's novella], introduced immortals from Shakespeare. . . . The drama was set, as it were, in a fairy frame; the opening being not unlike the commencement of the characteristic Christmas pantomime. In a wood Titania and Oberon met with Fairy Home who told them she was guarding the hearth of the Peerybingles. The people in the story were then seen in a vision before the play proper began. Joseph Jefferson played Caleb, a role he was to enact in several subsequent revivals. Certain of his admirers regarded the performance as his best, placing it above that of Rip van Winkle in which he was seen the world over. Associated with Jefferson at the Winter Garden was Agnes Robertson (Mrs. Dion Boucicault) and Mrs. John Wood. The first made an appealing Dot and the second revelled in the risibilities of Tilly, the first of her long series of Dickens characters.
In later showings Dot was sometimes given with,and sometimes without, the fairy opening. Jefferson, himself, tinkered with the script and so, too, did John E. Owens. The latter played the part of the old toymaker, on and off, for twenty years: from Christmas, 1859, when the piece began a two months' run at the Varieties Theatre, New Orleans, to 1879 in New York. QQi was decidedly a favourite play in the United States and Canada. [Dickensian 48: 21].
Even if the play received the Lord Chamberlain's license on 11 April, 1859 (as Philip Bolton in Dickens Dramatized suggests), it was not produced in America until the autumn of that year in New York. This delay may be explained by the seasonal nature of the piece, as well as by Boucicault's indebtedness to Webster. That Webster did not stage the play himself until after Boucicault had returned to London (summer 1860) suggests that he knew of the dramatist's intentions to bring the play back to England and had compacted to assist him in that and other productions at the New Adelphi.
Boucicault, by making a sharing agreement (in- stead of accepting the usual lump sum payment) with Webster. . . for The Colleen Bawn and The Octoroon in 1860 and 1861, profited to extent of thousands of pounds (the exact figure is unknown). [The Revels History of Drama in English, VI, 52-53]
Boucicault indicated to a parliamentary select committee on the question of dramatic copyright that he took half the profits of London and provincial houses at which his plays ran. "By these means Boucicault netted several hundred pounds a week, but his contractual methods were aggressively unorthodox and he himself an exceptionally big-name dramatist and box office attraction" (Revels History, VI, 53). Compare Boucicault's royalties to the thirty-five pounds per annum that adaptor and dramatist Charles Reade earned at the time, and one may better appreciate his success.
The Lord Chamberlain's Manuscript of Dot
Title page, Licensers copy. Click on image for larger picture and additional information.On the 10th of April 1862 on behalf of his New Adelphi Theatre Ben Webster submitted a holographic copy of Dot, A Drama in Three Acts to the Lord Chamberlain's Licenser, W. B. Donne, who granted the license the following day. Each recto page is written on, but each verso is blank. Page 63 is blank, and page 64 gives merely W. B. Donne's name and address, lending further evidence that the pages were numbered in another hand after the leaves had been bound. The manuscript contains sixty-one numbered pages of text, the first (unnumbered) page being a title page that provides licensing information. There is a final, unnumbered page on which has been written vertically near the spine "W. B. Donne Esq. / 40 Weymouth Street / Portland Place." Two postage stamps, tensetendoned vertically, have been applied to the bottom of this page; although heavily cancelled, they are clearly the red-brown one-penny denomination dating from the period 1854-7.
The 1862 Production of Boucicault's Dot
Although licensed for Ben Webster at the Adelphi on 11 April 1859 (probably in anticipation of Boucicault's returning from America to produce it in London), an actual production of the piece was not reviewed in the Illustrated London News until April 19, 1862 (No. 1140, Vol. XL, p. 393). Of the 14 April 1862 New Adelphi production of Dot the reviewer of the Illustrated London News remarked that
New scenery of the most beautiful and complex kind has been painted for the piece by Mr. T. Grieve, and is of such rare excellence as to form of itself a sufficient attraction. But the play is also capitally performed. The Dot of Miss Louise Keeley is perfectly charming, and the Bertha of Miss Simms a fine piece of artistic acting. Then there are Miss Woolgar in Tilly Slowboy and Mrs. Marsten in Mrs. Fielding, while Mr. Toole and Mr. Emery leave nothing to wish for in Caleb Plummer and John Peerybingle. Mr. Billington is lively and effective in Ned Plummer, and Mr. Stephenson, in Tackleton, as disagreeable as could be desired. There can be no doubt that Mr. Boucicault has given to the stage a version of this famous story which will last as long as boards are boards. [19 April, 1862, p. 393]
The Cast of Dot
Emery had been Peerybingle in the Dickens-sanctioned adaptation of The Cricket on the Hearth at the Lyceum in 1846, and had long been identified with the part. Later, reports T. Edgar Pemberton in Charles Dickens and the Stage (1888), John Billington was to enact the role "with a rough power and pathos that never fails to secure the. . . sympathy of his audiences" (p. 173); in this production, he was Ned Plummer. Sarah Woolgar (Mrs. Alfred Mellon) was apparently hilarious in the role of the nurse, Tilly Slowboy. "With his quaint and genial approach," comments Morley, "John Lawrence Toole scored a big hit as Caleb Plummer" (p. 22). Morley does not indicate why Agnes did not recreate her American performance as Dot; it is quite probable that her pregnancy (which culminated in the birth of her fourth child, Patrice, in August) prevented her performing; in any event, Louise Keeley, daughter of the famous actor-manager couple, took the role in the Adelphi production. Even without Agnes's theatrical income the fortunes of the Boucicaults were sufficiently buoyant that on 23rd of June they were able to undetrake the lease of Drury Lane. Toole made something of a career in enacting characters from Dickens, having been the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist (from the January 1854 production at the Amphitheatre, Edinburgh, until the October 1883 production at the Lyceum, Edinburgh), Bob Cratchit in the Adelphi's December 1859 revival of Stirling's A Christmas Carol (directed by Ben Webster), Toby Veck in The Chimes, Benjamin Britain in The Battle of Life, Tetterby in the Adelphi's 1863 revival of Lemon's The Haunted Man, and Sergeant Buzfuz in the 1871 Hollingshead adaptation Bardell vs. Pickwick at London's Gaiety Theatre. He was seen in sixteen separate productions (the last being the September 1893 version at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Liverpool) of Boucicault's Dot as Caleb Plummer. The Examiner for 19 April 1862 commented that Toole's performance as the blind toymaker was the chief attraction of the Adelphi production:
Best of all is the Caleb Plummer of Mr. Toole, which is a piece of really good acting, in which none of the pathos of the part is either sacrificed or caricatured, while every touch of Mr. Dickens' genial humour that still clings to it in the dramatic version is well re-produced. Mr. Toole's Caleb Plummer is an advance upon everything he has yet done above the range of burlesque and farce. [Quoted in Bolton, p. 281]
Boucicault's Dot Performances While Dickens Lived
Winter Garden Theatre, New York City, 14 September 1859.
Varieties, New Orleans, Christmas, 1859.
Boston Museum, February, 1860.
Boston Academy of Music, 27 December 1860.
New Adelphi Theatre, London, 14 April 1862.
Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, 1862.
Theatre Royal, Birmingham, 1864.
Broadway Theater, New York City, 13 March 1865; revived 2-15 April 1866.
Sadler's Wells, London, 21 April; 5, 7-12 May 1866.
Selwyn's Theater, Boston, 1867-8.
Queen's Theatre, Long Acre, London, 1869: 4-9, 11-16, 25-30 January.
Winter Garden Theater, New York City, 31 October 1869.
Gaiety Theatre, London, 24 December 1870; 1871.
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Booth, Michael. English Plays of the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969. Vol. 1.
Boucicault, Dion. Dot. A Drama in Three Acts. 10 April 1862. Add. MS. 53013 (E). Licensed 11/04/1859. The Lord Chamberlain's Manuscript Collection, The British Library, London.
Boucicault, Dion. Selected Plays of Dion Boucicault, ed. Andrew Parkin. Washington, D. C.: Catholic University Press of America, 1987.
Colby, Robert A. "Thackeray and Dickens on the Boards." Dramatic Dickens, ed. Carol Hanbery MacKay. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1989. Pp. 139-151.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 1998.
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Leech, Clifford, and T. W. Craik, eds. The Revels History of Drama in English, Vol. VI: 1750-1880. London: Methuen, 1975.
Lemon, Mark, and Gilbert Abbott à Beckett. The Chimes; or, Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. London: John Dicks [1845?].
MacKay, Carol Hanbery. "'Before the Curtain': Entrances to the Dickens Theatre." Dramatic Dickens, ed. Carol Hanbery MacKay. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1989. Pp. 1-10.
Morley, Malcolm. "'The Cricket' on the Stage." Dickensian 48 (1952): 17-24.
Parkin, Andrew. "Boucicault, Dion." Victorian Britain, An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. London: Garland, 1987.
Pemberton, T. Edgar. Dickens and the Stage: A Record of His Connection with the Drama as Playwright, Actor and Critic. London: George Redway, 1888.
Last modified 13 December 2002