Madame Sans-Gêne

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Madame Sans-Gêne ("Madame Devil-May-Care") is a historical comedy-drama in three acts, with a prologue, by Victorien Sardou (1831-1908)[1] and Émile Moreau (1852-1922)[2].

Also found as Madame Sans Gêne.

The original text

Set in Paris, it tells the story of Napoleon I and a laundress, Catherine Üpscher, an outspoken 18th-century laundress who became the Duchess of Danzig when she married Marshal Lefebvre.

The play opened at the Théâtre du Vaudeville, Paris, on 27 October 1893, with a cast that included Réjane (as "Catherine", a role she would go on to play throughout her career), Madeleine Verneuil ("Caroline of Naples"), Edmond Duquesne ("Napoleon"), Léon Lérand ("Fouche"), Adolphe Candé ("Lefevbre") and Georges Grand ("Neipperg"). The play was revived many times in France as well as touring the English provinces in 1897. The text was published in Paris by Albin Michel in the same year.

Translations and adaptations

The first recorded English translation (by an unnamed author) opened in the USA at the Broadway Theatre on 41st Street on 14 January 1895, closing on 6 April.

Translated/adapted into English and produced by J. Comyns Carr (1849-1916)[3] for Henry Irving's company, with Irving and Ellen Terry in the leads in 1897. The production played on both sides of the Atlantic, opening at the at the Lyceum Theatre, London, on 10 April 1897 and at the Knickerbocker Theatre, New York, on 21 October 1901

Translated and adapted as a comic opera in three acts called The Duchess of Dantzic by Henry Hamilton (1854-1918)[4] and Ivan Caryl (1861-1921)[5]. First produced in London at the Lyric Theatre in 1903, the opera ran for 236 performances. Subsequently, it enjoyed a successful New York production at Daly's Theatre and other productions around the world, and was revived in London and performed regularly by amateur theatre groups, particularly in Britain, until the 1950s.

It was also adapted as an opera called Madame Sans-Gêne, composed by Umberto Giordano with a libretto by Renato Simoni (opening at the Metropolitan Opera on 25 January 1915, conducted by Arturo Toscanini).

Three silent films were made of it, in 1900, 1911 and 1925, followed by three sound (1941, 1945 and 1961).

The play was serialised in novel form by Raymond Lepelletier in Le Radical and published in 1894 by Librairie illustrée, Paris.

Performance history in South Africa

1904: Madame Sans-Gêne first performed in South Africa in English at the Good Hope Theatre, Cape Town, on 1 February by the Frawley Company, featuring, among others, Daniel Frawley (as "Napoleon"), Mary van Buren ("Catherine") and Hugh C. Buckler ("De Neipperg").

1904: After a countrywide tour, the Frawley Company's production was repeated in August of the same year in the same Cape Town venue.

1906: The Duchess of Dantzic first performed in South Africa by the Wheeler-Edwardes Gaiety Company in the Opera House, Cape Town, on 28 May, featuring Wybert Stamford and Anna Hickish.


D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 418, 421, 425

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