Showing posts with label George Lauri. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Lauri. Show all posts

Sunday, July 2, 2023

George Lauri


George Lauri- The Tragic Comedian

Born England c1861 Died Sydney, Australia-January 5 1909

George Lauri was one of Australia’s most popular and prolific comedians whose specialty was musical comedy. He was a nimble dancer and possessed a strong baritone voice. During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Lauri played almost sixty roles and was applauded for all of them. However behind the laughing stage performer was a troubled man.

George John Lowe Lauri was born around 1861 in London and was the son of John Lowe Lauri. In later reports John was described as either a pantomimist or the ballet master of the Alhambra theatre in London. What is certain is that John was a theatrical and worked extensively in Europe and America. John changed the family name from Lowe to Lauri in order to stand out in the theatrical world.

George Lauri’s early life has not been fully documented. He apparently made his stage debut aged nine, playing a monkey in a production of King Carat in the United States. George travelled extensively through England and America in his early years and probably made several appearances. At one time his parents apprenticed him to an architect but the theatre was in his blood as during his years with the architect he used to sneak off in the evenings and play small parts in local theatre productions. He used an assumed name and developed skills that would later enthrall Australian audiences.

By the age of 21, George had left architecture and was working at the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton England. Whilst working there he met a lovely young soubrette named Marietta Nash. The two married in London in 1882 and around 1884 they had a son, George M Lauri.

Marietta and George appeared in a variety show called A Bunch of Keys which was quite successful. George also worked in the United States and reputedly appeared in Dorothy on Broadway with Marie Tempest. George played the role of Lurcher, the sheriff, a baritone part.

While appearing in the United States in the late 1880s George was approached by Australian theatre impresario JC Williamson. Williamson was looking for a replacement for William Elton, who was the comedian for the Royal Comic Opera Company in Australia. The company had a high reputation and specialised in Gilbert and Sullivan and other light operas. Williamson saw Lauri and invited him to Australia to take Elton’s place. George agreed and he, Marietta, and their young son made the journey to Australia to begin a legendary career.

George made his first appearance on Australian soil in December 1891 in The Merry Monarch at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. The cast included William Elton, Howard Vernon and Florence Young. George Lauri was thus immediately surrounded by the best comic opera talent in Australia. He was also listed as producer for The Merry Monarch which was possibly an indication of future ambitions.

During that summer in Melbourne, George also appeared for the Australian Dramatic and Musical Association which was formed for the relief of distress of dramatic and musical performers. George performed at a benefit for this organisation in January 1892.

In June 1892, George made his first appearance in Sydney, with the Royal Comic Opera Company in a three act opera called Marjorie. He was described as ‘a comedian with high credentials from England and America.’

After the conclusion of Marjorie the company staged The Gondoliers. This was the first real test of Lauri’s abilities. The part of the Duke of Plaza Toro was one that had belonged to William Elton. and George was again surrounded by high class talent including Florence Young and Howard Vernon.

It would have been simple for George to imitate Elton and not take the risk of a unique characterisation. He had, after all, worked with Elton early in the year, yet George decided to recreate the role in his own way.

By July 27th the newspapers were reporting that George was equally as successful as Elton and had won many friends in Sydney. Iolanthe and The Old Guard followed the Gondoliers and by September the Royal Comic Opera Company was taking the show to New Zealand.

The company continued to tour .They returned to Melbourne and Sydney the next year. In September 1893, they played The Mountebanks at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney. The production starred Flora Graupner as Nita whilst George played Bartolo the clown. The pair sang a duet called "Put a Penny in the Slot."George was not only a capable singer but he proved a surprisingly good dancer.

In October George appeared in La Mascotte with Australia’s premier comic opera artist, Nellie Stewart. George’s role with the comic opera company followed a set pattern of appearances and tours of Australia and New Zealand for several years.

In August 1897, Williamson presented the Gay Parisienne in which George starred as the parson, Ebenezer Honeycomb. Honeycomb was a married man who got involved with a Parisienne whilst on holiday. The girl follows him home to England, where he fakes his own death to avoid a breach of promise suit. He then proceeds to have a wonderful time at a resort, posing as a Scotsman. His wife, daughter, the Parisienne and her lover come to the resort and chaos ensues.. This was not a Royal Comic Opera production and starred several imported faces. George’s duet with Ada Willoughby, ‘First and Third class’ was encored twice. His was the strongest voice in a company that included Ada, Alice Leamar, Pat Bathurst and George De Lara.

After this Williamson production, George left them temporarily. He joined with Harry Rickards, the Tivoli circuit owner,and presented A Bunch of Keys. This was the same production which he and Marietta had staged in London. The new company was called ‘The Harry Rickards Comedy Company and A Bunch of Keys was ‘produced under the directorship of Mr George Lauri.’

The show was not well received by critics, primarily due to its content rather than the cast. Like many shows of the time, the plot was negligible and an excuse to present a series of variety turns. The cast included Lottie Moore, and featured the debut of Willie Freear, an English comedian.

Marietta Nash, Mrs George Lauri, featured as a wildflower, ‘and a very pretty one too’ and she and George sang a duet, "Top Floor Flat" which was ‘rapturously redemanded’ by an enthusiastic audience. Although the critics were luke warm, the show had a good run of six weeks. It was followed by Dreams or Binks the Photographer directed by George Lauri and starring the same cast.

That December, George made a rare foray into pantomime. The Harry Rickards Comedy Company staged Jack the Giant Killer. It was Rickards’ first pantomime in Australia and was staged at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. George’s performance as the old maid was regarded as ‘highly amusing’ and the production was notable for the ‘Tiller Troupe of Dancers’. ‘They danced with the greatest vivacity and devil but without the slightest degree of vulgarity.’ The lack of vulgarity was a sign of Rickards’ early attempts to gentrify variety entertainment.

By 1898, George had abandoned his brief flirtation with production and was back working for JC Williamson. He rejoined the Royal Comic Opera Company for a Gilbert and Sullivan season that year. The Company included Carrie Moore, Howard Vernon and Dorothy Vane and the  season in Sydney included The Gondoliers with George playing The Duke of Plaza Toro. This was later considered one of his signature roles. George’s characterisation was notable for its ‘high bred, stately pomposity’. The Gondoliers was followed by Yeoman of the Guard.

One of Lauri’s favorite roles was Jack Point in Yeoman of the Guard. The character was one that suffered a sad fate. Disappointed in love, at the end of the opera he falls senseless at the feet of a happy couple. It was a role that allowed George to show a darker aspect to his acting. According to the Referee, ‘the pathos of Jack Point, the jester in The Yeoman of the Guard revealed another and deeper aspect of his art.’

1899 saw George create two roles, one of which was regarded as his best work. In February he appeared in the first Sydney production of The Geisha which co starred Florence Perry and Howard Vernon. George’s performance garnered rave reviews.

At the end of that year, George created the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the first Australian production of Robin Hood. It was a Royal Comic Opera Company production which included Carrie Moore and starred Charles Kenningham as Robin.

The next year, George recreated another of his famous roles, Polydore Poupart in The Old Guard. The production was staged at Her Majesty’s in Sydney and The Referee was enthusiastic saying that ‘there was not a dull moment when he was on’.

At the turn of the 20th century George Lauri had been working constantly on the Australian stage for almost nine years. He had created several comic characters for Australian audience and had played comedic parts in Gilbert and Sullivan, the dame in pantomime and played numerous other roles in musical comedy. He had also branched into production and direction. By 1901 George Lauri was a legend to Australian theatre audiences and a fixture with the Royal Comic Opera Company. He had a steady job in an unstable industry, a loving wife and a healthy son. George Lauri was an Australian success story.

George Lauri Part 2

In the early 1900s, comedian George Lauri was one of the most popular performers on the Australian stage. George was a reliable and respected member of the Australian theatrical profession and in all of his nine years in Australia, he had never missed a booking.After his death, the referee newspaper published part of an interview with George and in it, he discussed the profession of comedian. George said that ‘I hate it, I’d rather be a blacksmith than the stage funny man’ adding that he hated ‘my sham merriment when I don’t feel like it’. He added that he did not enjoy comedy and had ‘suffered for years.’

 Like many comedians there was a dark side to George’s character. Perhaps it was the side that created the ‘ pathos’ of Jack Point which he later stated was his favorite part.

He worked continuously with the Royal Comic Opera Company in the early 1900s. In 1905 he appeared in The Orchid at Her Majesty’s in Sydney. It was a gorgeously staged musical extravaganza that played to standing room only audiences. It ran for over six weeks and was replaced by The Cingalee. At Christmas 1905, George starred in The Girl from Keys.

The next year he performed in Veronique a comic opera with music by Audre Messager. The show starred Florence Young, Margaret Thomas, WS Percy and Haigh Jackson but it  was not reviewed favourably by critics yet was well patronised by audiences. It featured gorgeous sets designed to recreate rural France.

In the middle of 1906 George began to complain of overwork. This was an unusual complaint from a man who was continually performing in one show after another and had been doing so for over ten years. Despite his complaints, when it was suggested that he take a holiday, George refused. He continued his hectic schedule with the Royal Comic Opera Company.

1907 was a crucial year for George and his friends began to notice ‘a profound abstraction and melancholy.’ He would shake it off but it continually returned. Many saw this as the beginning of ‘softening of the brain.’ Despite the concern of his family and friends, George continued working. In January he played in ‘A Country Girl’ and fulfilled a season of engagements at the Opera House in Sydney.

It was later that year, whilst performing in New Zealand that JC Williamson became concerned about George’s health. Williamson was visiting the Royal Comic Opera Company and became alarmed at George’s condition. The Guv’nor ordered the comedian to take some time off.

Yet by July, George was back on stage when he appeared in Sydney in a piece called Spring Chicken. That month Theatre Magazine featured a large picture of George. It also included a small and unusual paragraph about him saying that ‘he has occupied a big space in the heart of the play going public.’

This notice may have been prompted by George’s recent illness. It was a statement of support for the comedian. Perhaps his concerned employer, JC Williamson, had some influence over the piece. It was a timely tribute to the man who had garnered the respect and admiration of Sydney’s theatrical community.

In November 1907 George appeared in Melbourne in The Girls of Gottenburg. It was to be his final performance in that city. In January, the musical was played in Sydney, and he received good reviews from the newspapers.

The show co starred Fanny Dango, WS Percy and Reginald Roberts. In February 1908 the same cast performed in ‘The Dairymaids’. George played an ‘amusing’ sailor man. The Referee described his performance as ‘subdued’ and contrasted it with his usual effervescent characterisations.

It was apparent by this time that George was in need of some prolonged rest. His performance in The Dairymaids may have been an indication that he was once again suffering from depression. Unfortunately he was finding it increasingly difficult to hide his condition.

On April 23rd 1908 the theatrical establishment of Sydney came out in force to honour George Lauri in a benefit. The show was held at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. All of the performers, the orchestra, the stage and auditorium staff worked for free. This was an indication of their high regard for George. The theatre was packed for the performance and hundreds of people were turned away at the doors. It was obvious that the general public shared the feelings of the theatrical community.

George appeared at the benefit as Lurcher in the second act of Dorothy. At the end of the benefit he was visibly overwhelmed. He managed a few words of thanks, but was too emotional to make a longer speech.. After the benefit many people believed that George would not appear again on an Australian stage.

George and Marietta planned to take a six month holiday. Their son, George Junior, was in his early 20s and was engaged as a mining engineer in Kalgoorlie. Presumably using some of the money raised from the benefit, Marietta and George travelled. They visited Colombo and New York.

At Christmas 1908 they returned to Sydney. They stayed at a small private hotel called La Corniche at Bayview, on the Northern Beaches. La Corniche overlooked the sea and the couple stayed there for several weeks. George was under the care of a doctor and Marietta was a devoted nurse. In January 1909, George seemed to be more cheerful and Marietta was probably hopeful that this indicated a return to good health.

On the morning of January 5th 1909, George was sitting on the verandah overlooking the sea, whilst Marietta was inside the house. Around 11.45 am Marietta heard a cry from outside, running out she saw George with his throat cut, a bloody razor on the ground beside him. George mumbled,’ I have done it, I am tired of life.

A doctor was hastily summoned, but it was fruitless. George had severed his jugular vein. Fifteen minutes later, forty eight year old George Lauri was gone.

Obituaries ran in the major papers of Sydney and Melbourne. The Argus in Melbourne described him as ‘one of the most popular comedians who has ever appeared in Australia' The tone of the obituaries hinted that his death was not unexpected.

George was buried at South Head cemetery in a Church of England Ceremony. His wife appeared on stage irregularly thereafter. In 1937 Mariette Lauri died in Randwick, Sydney.

George Lauri graced the Australian stage for over sixteen years. He was a much beloved figure on stage and off. He was a skillful performer, a generous man and one who inspired devotion in others. There was no treatment for depression at the time of George’s death. His disease was diagnosed by an ignorant medical profession as ‘softening of the brain.’ The fact that he battled the illness and created laughter and goodwill in so many people was a tribute to the will, generosity and courage of the man.