Der Ruritanische Widerstand - The Ruritanian Resistance

Stage Productions

US 1895 (Edward Rose)


Edward Hugh Sothern (1859-1933) starred as Rudolf Rassendyll and Rudolf V, with Miss Kimball as Flavia and Miss Shotwell as Antoinette, at the New York Lyceum Theatre. Frank M Witmark's waltzes were used in the production. James Hackett, who starred in the 1913 film version, later replaced Sothern on stage. The Edward Rose adaptation included a prologue depicting the affair between the future Rudolf III and the Countess of Burlesdon in 1733.

Sheet Music

E H Sothern as Rudolf III

E H Sothern as Rassendyll

Duel Scene

Harper's Weekly
vol 39, no. 2027
p. 1023 (large file)


Review by Edward A. Dithmar, Harper's Weekly vol 39 (1895), no. 2027, p. 1024

FOR nearly two months the most successful play in New York has been the dramatization of The Prisoner of Zenda, made under the eye of the author, Anthony Hope Hawkins, by Edward Rose, an English playwright hitherto of no great renown. It came into view just as the long-continued popularity of the stage version of Trilby was beginning to wane, and in the hottest spell of the belated summer. It drew a crowd every night, and could, perhaps, be kept on the Lyceum theatre stage profitably for a whole year. But Mr. Sothern and his associates must depart on their long winter tour of other towns before another month has passed, taking with them their whimsical romance of love and bloodshed in the nineteenth century.

As in the case of Trilby, the theatrical sages all shook their heads deprecatingly when the early announcements of a stage version of Anthony Hope's best story were made. They are not to be judged harshly on that account. Dramatizations of novels are generally unsatisfactory. That of Trilby is not a case in point either, but perhaps it is not worth while to go back to that now. It is certainly a very popular stage entertainment, and probably there is a million or so in it yet. But the sages were all wrong about The Prisoner of Zenda. A fanciful romantic story, founded on a comic hypothesis, full of adventure and incident, midnight mishaps under the illusive moon in Strelsau, encounters in the forest, strange happenings in a moat, has been transformed into a compact, vertebrate, absorbingly interesting play. Not a drop of the original rather volatile spirit has been lost in the transfer from one vessel to another. The play contains all of the story. Yet there are only four interior scenes, and a woodland picture in which nothing more exciting happens than the drugging of an uncrowned monarch already hopelessly tipsy. The text is, as the situation requires, piquantly witty pleasingly sentimental, or hotly impassioned The writing is simple and good. Most of Hope's dialogue is employed, but much of it had to he transferred from one personage to another and placed differently. The transfers have been made with good judgment.

The reason why a strain of the Elphberg blood mingled with that of the Rassendylls is told by Hope in few words and rather jocularly. It is one of those tales that seem to be jokes when told at men's dinner parties. But at the Lyceum it is told gravely and forcibly in a prologue - the time, 1733; the place, the Rassendyll house in London. It was a risky device, this prologue, but it is admirably successful. It prepares the spectator to take the impossible romance of Ruritania seriously. There is no lack of humor in the play, but its purport is grave. In the throne-room scene of Act II. the bewilderment of the substitute King reminds the spectator of the old after-piece called The Buckle of Brilliants, and the French operetta Si j'étais le Roi. The situation, indeed, is as old as the Arabian tale of Haroun al Raschid and the spendthrift. But the love at first sight of Flavia and the false King is that which makes the play. It is a passion as true as the love of Hero and Leander, of Romeo and Juliet. Hence the perfect illusion which the harmonious performance at the Lyceum creates. There are no horses no ladders, no ambushed summer-house, no drawbridge and moat. There is comparatively little clashing of steel. The spectator knows that Ruritania is as mythical as the domain of Prester John or that of She Who Must be Obeyed. He is aware that Rassendyll's adventure is as unlikely as any of Munchausen's. But he feels that Rassendyll is, nevertheless, a real man and Flavia a true and lovely woman. The sentiment is never false, the denotements of human character are absolutely true.

The Prisoner of Zenda may not be the highest form of stage art, though the standards are getting somewhat mixed. It is surely higher and better than the ordinary. It is sweet and pure, and it is never tedious. It involves no new reading of the human character, and is neither subtle nor "modern." But it enlivens you, stimulates the fancy, and touches the heart. One moment you laugh joyously, and directly you feel the sympathetic tears in your eyes.

I have called the performance harmonious. Its perfect harmony is its greatest merit. The keynote is struck by Mr. Sothern, who is a sentimental rather than a romantic actor. He commands no great sweep of passion, his fervor is small though appreciable. He has a pleasing presence, a large fund of personal humor, a good knowledge of stage technique. He knows thoroughly what he cannot do, and never attempts the impossible. He carries, in all rôles, that air of good breeding which charms even the masses when it comes under their notice. He acts both the King and Rassendyll, and in the prologue appears also as the Ruritanian Crown-Prince of 1733. To his Rassendyll Miss Grace Kimball plays Flavia prettily and earnestly. She is modern, delicate, and somewhat restrained. The whole performance is equally good. Mr. Buckstone as the Colonel and Mr. Flockton as the Field-Marshal contribute well-composed characterizations that are always in the picture. As the dangerous follower of Black Michael Mr. Selten is exuberant, but not too exuberant. Not one of the minor rôles is ill-treated. The English Ambassador, who is in sight a few minutes only and the adorable wife of the ambitious Mayor of Strelsau who speaks scarcely a word, are not impossible puppets, but persons who, we know, have their own cares, aspirations, and vanities. Promising acting is done in the two widely differing rôles of a harsh, crabbed, elderly Englishman and a gay young Ruritanian by a young actor whose name has been hitherto unknown on the stage, though not in the world, for the name is Howard Gould. The pictures are all beautiful, and the scene-painters costumers, musicians, and electric and calcium light men have done their large share of work for The Prisoner of Zenda most creditably. EDWARD A. DITHMAR.


UK 1896  (Edward Rose)

George Alexander starred in the UK production, at St James's Theatre with Evelyn Millard as Flavia (later replaced by Julia Neilson). C. Aubrey Smith (Sapt in the 1937 film) played Michael. The inscription on the cigarette card is wrong: George Alexander is depicted in the role of Rudolf Rassendyll/Rudolf V.



UK 1992  (Matthew Francis)

David Haig played the Rudolfs in this modern UK stage version at Greenwich Theatre, London, in December 1992. Mark Lockyer played Rupert, Leonie Mellinger was Flavia, and Nicholas Gecks (Fritz in the 1984 BBC 1 serialisation) played Michael.

See review by John Shuttleworth.


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The first cut won't hurt at all,
The second only makes you wonder...
- Propaganda, Duel