Mr. Melville and the Actress

Actresses had a bit of a reputation in  Victorian times. I can’t imagine that it was entirely fair. There must have  been some very serious and talented women on the stage. But the rest were not  always taken seriously and seemed to provide professional males with hours of  endless amusement and innuendo.
I found an excellent example of this in an  edition The Cambrian newspaper from March  1894. The reporter doesn’t seem to take the issue very seriously – but neither  did the judge.
The newspaper breathlessly reports a court case  from London, under the exciting headline
Mr Melville and The Actress – Alleged Serious injury  at Swansea New Theatre.
Judge Pollock was presiding in a case  between the theatre owner Andrew Melville and an actress and dancer Eva Eden.
Not off to a good start are we? Can that  truly be her real name?  We don’t know  but the serpent in her particular garden was Andrew Melville.
He owned a number of provincial theatres,  including the New Theatre in Swansea,  and the lovely Eva was on tour with the “Maid Marion Provincial Company.” You  might speculate that this does not represent the very highest point in a career,  but I couldn’t possibly comment. The New  Theatre has sadly disappeared into the bland uniformity of what Swansea  likes to call its “Café Quarter.” At the time it was an important venue,  especially since it was directly opposite The  Mackworth Arms Hotel, where the mail coach would terminate. Leggy dancing  girls would have proved interesting to some I am sure, after a long bumpy day  on the road. Convenient. Energising perhaps. But it hadn’t proved such an  attractive venue for Eva.
You see, this whole case rested upon a  carpet. As it were.  It was alleged that  the stage carpet was badly fixed. It was creased and “ruffled.” But as far as  the theatre was concerned, no incident happened at all.
Eva appeared in court in an invalid chair,  quite possibly one of her finest performances. She had been earning £2 10s a  week, plus travelling expenses and costume, but in the second act her foot had  caught in the carpet and she had fallen.
Her injury was such that Eva had to give up  her career. So she was seeking damages of £700 for loss of earnings.
The defendants were very clear. Her  injuries were caused by nothing more than high kicking. This idea appears to  have got the Judge hot under the wig. It was not the sort of stuff that  normally came his way. Eva might have claimed that her “tarantella” was nothing  more than a “skirt dance” but her injury was caused by “trying to kick higher  than she was able to reach with her toe.”
There was considerable laughter in the  court as they tried to untangle this difference of opinion. Richard Hopkins, a  scene shifter at the theatre, was called as a witness. As far as he was  concerned the dance involved “high kicking” and appeared “somewhat reckless.”  Judge Pollock, enjoying himself mightily, commented that he was not aware that  a scene shifter was a “maitre de ballet.” This generated a proper amount of  politely hysterical laughter. Perhaps you had to be there.
He must have thought that all his birthdays  had come at once because there was some detailed talk of anatomy, female  medical conditions and an attempt to determine just how high a leg could be  kicked. But the real issue for the jury was who was telling the truth? Had the  injuries been caused by a carpet or by high kicking, if indeed they existed at  all? They deliberated for almost three hours but they were unable to agree. So they  were discharged.
At this point the case disappears from view,  which is very frustrating indeed. Perhaps it was for Judge Pollock too. What  happened next? I haven’t been able to find out. Did the lovely Eva spend her  life dreaming of a time when she could kick her foot as high as her  shoulder?  Did she develop a life-long aversion  to carpets?  I think we should be told. There  is more work to be done on this story. If I find out anything I will certainly  let you know

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.