On February 2nd, 1842, the Officers of the London Garrison, Canada West, performed a Melo-Drama—Sir Isaac Pocock’s Miller and His Men:
We chose the Garrison’s Miller for our theatrical re-enactment because we were tickled by the idea of “repeating” a show had already been brought back “by particular request”. We have no record of the first production of Miller in London, but we must presume from this advertisement that there was another, earlier London performance of Miller in 1840 or 1841.
We know from Daniel Lysons’ autobiography that when he was stationed in London he “had charge of the theatre and painted the scenes.” Our re-production of Miller and His Men includes one of Lysons’ paintings as a scene backdrop, as well as paintings by other officers stationed in the London Garrison in the 1840s, including John Herbert Caddy and Sir James Alexander.
Lieutenant Daniel Lysons, detail from Grand Military Steeple-Chase of May 9, 1843
Alexander described Lysons as “an officer of great talent and taste.” By his own account, Lysons was “a smooth faced boy” then, and regularly took on the ladies roles. At the time, all of the female roles were played by men. Lysons apparently excelled at these. A review of one of his performances from the London Herald of February 18th, 1843, reports:
Emma Leslie (Mr. Lysons, Royals.) wore the petticoats with an ease and grace well becoming the character. Every emotion, every gesture and movement, indicated a familiarity with the peculiarities of womankind, that does not fall to the lot of most men. Had we not known that he was a man, it would have been almost impossible to have convinced us to the contrary. (p. 2, c. 6)
We know that Lysons played Ravina in Miller and His Men when his regiment (the 1st Royal Scots) performed the play in Québec, and since he was still playing female roles in 1843, there is every chance that he also played Ravina when Miller and His Men was performed in London, Canada West. As a nod to this tradition, in our production of Miller and His Men, three of roles that men played are now being played by women!
Alexander, James E. S. L’Acadie; Or, Seven Years’ Explorations in British America. London, EN: H. Colborn. 1849, p.237.
Lysons, Daniel. Early Reminiscences. London, EN: John Murray, 1896. p. 161.