Friday, September 16, 2022

Amateur Aristocratic Dramatics. Algeria 1865.


A while back I came upon a bundle of photos, from Montevideo, on e-bay. The vendor had labelled them as actresses ... they weren't ... they were society folk all dressed up  ...

So, today, when I came upon a set from Algeria, I was wary. But they were certainly 'theatrical' photos. Oh ho!  I've been here many times before. This is high society play-acting ... a favourite pastime of the bored colonial sub-aristocracy. And the photos are precisely (and proudly) labelled.

A performance of the one-act vaudeville Janot chez les Sauvages at the home of the governess-general of Algeria, Madame la Maréchale McMahon, Duchesse de Magenta on the 27 March 1865. MacMahon would go on to become President of France. His wife, who hosted this soirée was Élisabeth Charlotte Sophie de La Croix de Castries (1834-1900) 

Madame la Maréchale

Madame did not perform in the entertainment, which in the tradition of 'garrison theatricals' was largely performed by men. The piece chosen for the occasion was a favourite one, a comic vehicle (folie de carnévale) written by Théodore Cogniard and Paul Bocage (Théâtre de Variétés, 31 January 1856) to feature the actor Lassagne

Lassagne played the servant, Janot, who is shipwrecked on a tropical island peopled by cannibals. Mistaken by the King for a famous general whom he has called upon to help him in his hereditary war against the King of the neighbouring island, he comically conquers all and gets the hand of the relevant Princess as well.  

For this occasion, the part of Janot was taken by Pierre Olivier Charlier, Comte de Gerson (b 10 May 1839; d 13 December 1893). Gerson was the bearer of a family name celebrated for centuries, but the 
 line had somewhat withered in recent generations, and he was a colonial civil servant who fulfilled the post of deputy mayor of the Mustapha section of Algiers.

The Princess Rococotte (the only lady in the cast) was played by his wife, Marie Caroline Amélie née Caron

The Gersons seem to have been the moving force behind the whole affair, and I have found a second photo of the Countess in her not-very-tropical get up ...

Now, what is that signature? 

Sadly, photos of the rival Kings Vasistas and Boulevari don't seem to have survived, but there is one of the character of Missouloch which was played by a Monsieur G ?Gasson

Over a century and a half ago. And photos of that Algerian one-night-run survive to this day. Let's hope the Cannibal Kings surface one day ...


No comments: