Which Is The King?
A Comic Drama in One Act
This light-hearted romantic comedy, which debuted at the Marylebone Theatre on November 6th, 1848, was written by Walter Watts, the manager of that establishment. The play draws on long-established commedia del-arte traditions in its depictions of the woes of two pairs of lovers as they struggle to outwit the machinations of a meddling father and a Pantaloon-like rich old baron with designs on the lovely Amelia. At the center of the drama is French King Henri IV who wanders among his subjects disguised as a troubadour. The merry monarch was played as a breeches role written to feature the charms of Miss Sophia Villars, the Marylebone’s resident specialist in such parts. Songs, romance, mistaken identities, and mischievous mix-ups ensue!
A reviewer from The Morning Advertiser provided the following synopsis of the plot:
Henry the Fourth of France (Miss Sophia Villars) disguised as a minstrel, visits the chateau of M. de Branville (Mr. Tindell)… just at the time that De Branville’s daughter (Miss M. Oliver) is about to be forced into a marriage with Baron Ritzdorf (Mr. J.W. Ray). The young lady mistakes the King for a lover who was to arrive in a similar disguise, and after an explanation she commits herself to the protection of the monarch, who, as may be supposed, easily prevents the dreaded union with the Baron, and obtains her father’s consent to her marriage with her lover.1
M. de Branville
Original London Cast
The show debuted at the Marylebone Theatre on November 6th, 1848. It was listed as second on the bill between productions of “Poor Jack” featuring T.P. Cooke and “The Miser’s Daughter” staring Fanny Vining and J.W. Ray. The Marylebone was at this time hosting a series of guest artists such as Cooke. “Which is the King?” ran for nearly a month, covering the rest of Cooke’s stay. Another of Watts’ one-acts replaced it when Buckstone and Fitzwilliams took up residency in December.
The following are a sampling of newspaper reviews from the show’s run:
A pleasing one act comic drama, entitled Which is the King? was produced here last night with complete success. Henry the Fourth of France (that invaluable monarch for Vaudevilles) is the hero. His Majesty, who is wandering about the country, disguised as a minstrel, found and excellent representative in Miss Villars, whose minstrel costume became her exceedingly. Of course the King is mistaken by some young lady for her lover, who was to come in a somewhat similar disguise – of course the poor young man is hated by her father, who desires her to marry someone else, and of course the King interferes, and “makes two lovers happy.” These materials are common-place enough, but they are well put together, thanks to the really excellent acting of all parties in its production, this amusing trifle was quite successful.2
…T.P. Cooke, the true British sailor, is warming all loyal bosoms by his graphic pictures of the hardy tar who has braved the battle and the breeze. Black Eyed Susan, My Poll and my Partner Joe, and Poor Jack, seem to rejoice in perennial existence, and Mr. T.P. Cooke to have discovered the elixir vitae; for his eye is as bright, his voice as clear, his limbs as pliant, and his trim as taut as when he spun his first yarn, and danced his first hornpipe, many and many a long year since.
New dramas by recognized authors are also produced in quick succession, and the manager has written some exceedingly clever pieces, amongst which we cite a very pleasant original drama, acted last night, entitled Which is the King? of which the plot, though slight, is ingenious, and the language spirited.3
Last night was performed, for the first time, a new and original comic drama, in one act, entitled Which is the King? The materials of which the plot is composed are of very slender description, but they seemed to suffice for the amusement of the audience. Henry the Fourth of France (Miss Sophia Villars) disguised as a minstrel, visits the chateau of M. de Branville (Mr. Tindell)… just at the time that De Branville’s daughter (Miss M. Oliver) is about to be forced into a marriage with Baron Ritzdorf (Mr. J.W. Ray). The young lady mistakes the King for a lover who was to arrive in a similar disguise, and after an explanation she commits herself to the protection of the monarch, who, as may be supposed, easily prevents the dreaded union with the Baron, and obtains her father’s consent to her marriage with her lover.
The performers exerted themselves in their respective parts, and the piece was successful.4
A very smart little piece, called “Which is the King,” brought out here on Monday, gives Miss Villars a capital opportunity of sustaining the part of Henry IV (of France) with great spirit and effect. It is admirably mounted, played throughout with general excellence, and, as a matter of course, entirely successful.
The houses have been excellent, not only in regard to numbers, but the quality of the visitors.5
The script for this play is available at the Internet Archives
Further Reading on this Play
The Lost Plays of Walter Watts – Which is the King: Part 1 – discussion of the economic considerations that may have influenced the play’s composition
The Lost Plays of Walter Watts – Which is the King: Part 2 – Watts plays with notion of dual identity in his romantic comedy
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