Eliza Vestris as Orpheus

Eliza Vestris as Orpheus

Madame Vestris was exceptional in that she was the first actress-manager, a successful female performer who leased and ran a London theatre, the Olympic Theatre, from 1830-1849. This picture is from a production called Olympic Devils, a burletta staged as the Christmas entertainment in 1831 and based on the classical Greek legend of Orpheus. The show was appropriately pantomimic in style; the script was full of verbal puns and slapstick humour. In the legend, Orpheus' severed head floated down a river still singing. This effect was created by Madame Vestris sticking her head through a hole in a painted model of some water, and the model being pulled across the stage. Unfortunately the contraption did not move smoothly, and the effect was apparently spoiled by shouts from offstage of 'Faster! Slower! Looser! Pull ... Damn it! You'll strangle her!'. Apart from this the production was a huge success.