Entertaining the poor people at Providence Row in April 1897

This has a slightly bittersweet feel to it. It took place eleven days before great grandpa’s death at home in Belsize Grove, with Uncle Frank deputising for him on the evening. But it does sound like a hilarious evening, for not entirely intended reasons. Mlle. Gratienne’s company are almost certainly worth more investigation. But give every impression of being a real life version of the cast of “Allo, Allo”. They were apparently a small touring reparatory company, living very much hand to mouth, and teetering on the edge of bankrupcy. Mlle. Gratienne was French, from an apparently prosperous background. Her family had owned a vineyard in Burgundy, but were ruined by the Franco-Prussian War. She still owned some property in Paris, and the quarterly rents subsidised the company. Her elderly mother travelled with the company, and acted as her dresser, and was referred to as “Madame” by the company . She played both male, and female parts, and did her own make-up which was “ghostly pale, with large chocolate brown half moon eyebrows”. The shortage of money meant they only performed plays out of copyright to avoid any royalty payment. All in all, the company sound as much of a laugh as the plays.

PROVIDENCE (Row) NIGHT REFUGE AND HOME, CRISPIN-STREET, E.—On Friday, April 23, the inmates of the above were provided with a special evening’s enjoyment in the shape of an entertainment by Mlle. Gratienne and her company. In the absence of the hon. manager, Mr. Alfred Purssell, through illness, Mr. F. W. Purssell presided and was supported by the Rev. M. Fitzpatrick, Mr. T. G. King, Mr. J. W. Gilbert (Secretary) and others. The programme consisted of three plays, the comedietta, £50,000, a comedy Only an Actress, and an interlude Poor Man, in which the characters were ably sustained by Messrs. Leslie Delwaide, Ernest Roberson and Arthur Goodsall, Miss Dora Garth, and Mlle. Gratienne. For three hours the poor people were kept in roars of laughter, and after each piece the performers were recalled and greeted with deafening applause. During the intervals between the plays, music was provided by Miss Octavia Kenmore, and Messrs. Gordon Hilmont and Claude Rivington. A vote of thanks on behalf of the Committee to the performers, who had so generously given their services, was carried with acclamation, and the inmates gave three hearty cheers for Mlle. Gratienne and her friends. The Sisters of Mercy afterwards distributed oranges and buns to the poor people.

The above text was found on p.29,1st May 1897 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at http://www.thetablet.co.uk .

 

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