D'Oyly Carte Prompt Books
You can download and view the entire contents of these fascinating original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company prompt books used in Savoy theatre productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the late 19th century.
Prompt books were used by theatre stage managers to record notes about all aspects of a play to help them keep track of the play as it progressed and to make sure everything was going according to plan.
The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu, opened at the Savoy Theatre on 14 April 1885. Some critics were initially unsure, such as one from The Whitehall Review who would: 'scarcely augur for it a lasting or a popular success'.
However, Rutland Barrington, the original Pooh-Bah wrote that: 'From the moment the curtain rose on the Court swells...to its final fall it was one long succession of uproarious laughter at the libretto and overwhelming applause for the music.' Sullivan noted in his diary: 'Tremendous reception… Seven encores taken - might have taken twelve.'
The Mikado prompt book 'Z'
This is believed to be a pre-production prompt book from about 1885. The handwriting appears to be that of Mr W.H. Seymour, D’Oyly Carte’s stage manager at the Savoy Theatre at the time of the original production. It has been identified as probably the book used at original rehearsals and contains stage diagrams for blocking, property plots, textual cuts and changes as well as four pages of manuscript notes on the Japanese dances.
The manuscript note towards the end of the book, ‘Order of calls 1895/6’, indicates that this was also used for later revivals by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
View the contents of The Mikado 'Z' prompt book (pdf, 8.9 MB)
The Mikado prompt book
The manuscript notes on this prompt book, believed to be late 1880s, also appear to be by Mr. W.H. Seymour. However, its printed text is later than that of The Mikado 'Z' prompt book and includes printed notes on the date of
the first production, the cast list and credits for the choreography, costume design and costume makers. There are various differences in the text which confirm that the 'Z' prompt book was an earlier edition. An example is the omission of Ko-Ko's speech 'I expect my three wards…' at the end of the Little List song on page 10 of this prompt book, compared with its inclusion on page 7 of the 'Z' prompt book.
This prompt book also contains stage diagrams for blocking, property plots, textual cuts and changes and a pencil note on the fly-leaf in Richard D'Oyly Carte's hand: '1st issue. The printer's name appears at end.'
View the contents of The Mikado prompt book (pdf, 7.5 MB)
Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant, was the first three-act opera by Gilbert and Sullivan that Richard D'Oyly Carte produced and opened at the Savoy Theatre on 5 January 1884. Coming after their sparkling fairytale Iolanthe in 1882, Princess Ida was a completely different proposition, dealing with the subject of women's education. It was based on a burlesque act that Gilbert had written which, in turn, was based on Tennyson's poem The Princess.
Princess Ida prompt book
This is believed to be from 1884. A pencil note on page 2 in Rupert D'Oyly Carte's hand reads: '1st Issue. This was original (sic) prompt copy at Savoy Theatre in W.H. Seymour's handwriting'. It is prefaced with a manuscript 'Property Plot' but contains relatively few diagrams for blocking. There is a full note on the fight movement opposite page 46 but there are relatively few textual changes.
View the contents of the Princess Ida prompt book (pdf, 5.9 MB)
The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty, had its world première at the Fifth Avenue Theatre on 31 December 1879 when Gilbert and Sullivan were in New York with the D'Oyly Carte Company performing HMS Pinafore. There was no copyright agreement between the UK and America and there had been so many unauthorised versions of the opera that Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte decided to present an authorised version and to mount the first production of their new opera in New York. To forestall piracy there was no printed libretto available for the audience and for ten months later. In an effort to protect their work at home, a scratch performance was also given for one matinée performance only at the Royal Bijou Theatre, Paignton on 30 December 1879 by D'Oyly Carte's first touring company which was then appearing at nearby Torquay.
The Pirates of Penzance had its London opening on 3 April 1889 at the Opéra Comique, by which time Gilbert and Sullivan had rehearsed and launched three additional touring American companies, each of which would have needed a prompt book.
The Pirates of Penzance prompt book 'E'
A pencilled note on the fly-leaf identifies this prompt book as an 'early issue' which could be some time in the 1880s. It contains stage diagrams for blocking, notes on moves or some textual additions. For example, page 19: 'I assure you, Frederic…' and cuts the choruses at the end of page 21. Brief notes on properties and calls appear on relevant pages. There is a reference to lighting opposite page 30 when the Major General's daughters appear with lighted candles: 'Sun half up, floats pull up. Change green to white float'.
Pirates of Penzance prompt book
This prompt book has also been considered quite early and was possibly used in the 1880s. It has a manuscript 'Gas Plot' and 'Calcium Plot' for the lighting and a 'Property Plot' for both acts. It contains stage diagrams for blocking and some full notes on movement like, for example, opposite page 29 when the police hide and the pirates enter. However, it contains only a few textual additions, cuts and changes.
View the contents of The Pirates of Penzance prompt book (pdf, 5.2 MB)