We’re used to seeing jugglers performing in theatres, but there seems to have been a short period of popularity of plays (or maybe just one play) about them.
In April 1873 two plays featuring juggling where showing in the north east of England. The New Gaiety Theatre of Varieties in West Hartlepool is showing Life of a Showman on the 4th and 5th April:
And the Theatre at Choppington is showing Juggler of Paris on 4th and 10th April:
This poses a bit of a problem when you look at the details. Despite the plays having different names the characters are the same and so are the cast; we have to assume that it’s essentially the same play. So how are the same people acting in the same play on the same day in towns that are 40 miles apart? Even in those days where a single trip to the theatre would include two or three different full length shows the simply wouldn’t be time to make the journey by horse in the course of an evening.
The answer may be in the source of the posters. These are part of the Wood Collection in the Tyne and Wear archive, and is a collection saved from a printer’s in Hartlepool when they went out of business. As you delve through the old posters you often come across corrections and markings on the posters that show that they’re proofs. So maybe only one of these performances went ahead – maybe neither did.
Whatever the actual occurrence in April, things have moved on by October, and on both the 3rd and 6th Jocrisse the Juggler is showing at the Theatre Royal in West Hartlepool:
In this close up from the poster for 3rd October we can see that the same characters appear as they did in Life of a Showman and Juggler of Paris back in April, but the cast are different this time.
Finally we see what may be another revival on 21st March 1921 – though the only detail we have is that The Juggler is a “Story full of pathos…admirably acted…which cannot fail to interest” – so it may be a completely different show.
Of course none of this tells us if there was actually any juggling in the play, and whether either the juggling or the play are any good. An internet search doesn’t really shed any new light on that point, but the list of new plays licenced in England in 1961 suggests that that Jocrisse the Juggler was originally called Magloire the Prestigiater and was written by Thomas William Robertson. Back then the word ‘juggler’ applied to the object manipulators that we know now, but also to magicians. The word ‘Prestigiater’ implies a sleight-of-hand artiste to me, so this whole article might have been a wild goose chase – but the text is available from www.amazon.co.uk, so I’ll add it to my wishlist!