Les Deux Orphelines

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Les Deux Orphelines ("The two orphans") is a historical play in five acts by Adolphe d'Ennery (1811-1899)[1] and Eugène Cormon (1811-1903)[2]

Also known as Les Soeurs Gérard (The Gérard Sisters) or even as Motherless in one adapted English version.

The original text

A melodrama set during the French Revolution, it premiered in French on 20 January 1874 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris. Published in Paris by Tresse and Eugène Fasquelle, Éditeurs, 11, rue de Grenelle, 11, 1875.

Translations and adaptations

Translated into English as The Two Orphans by J. Oxenford (John Oxenford, 1812-1877[3]) was first produced at the Royal Olympic Theatre, London, (under Mr. Henry Neville's management) September 14, 1874 and published by Samuel French in the 1870s. It is styled "a drama, in eight tableaux, divided into six acts". This is probably the version used in South Africa by Disney Roebuck and The Wheelers.

Another English version, also translated as The Two Orphans, by N. Hart Jackson opened in the United States at A.M. Palmer's Union Square Theatre on December 21, 1874 and became a popular melodrama in the USA.

In some sources it is suggested that the play may have also have been adapted under the title Motherless (circa 1910-15), by an unnamed author. However this is more likely to have been a stage adaptation of the novel by that name by Fanny Eden (Fanny Eadon Horner, 1849–1945) - perhaps better known by its Dutch and Afrikaans translation as Moederloos.

The play was also turned into many other works, including an 1877 novel written by the same authors, an 1878 Portuguese opera and was performed the Moscow Art Theatre in 1927 by Konstantin Stanislavski[4] as The Gérard Sisters (Les Soeurs Gérard). The play/novel was filmed at least four times during the silent film era, including a version by Georges Monca for Pathé (1909, released in the USA with the title, Motherless in 1910) and Orphans of the Storm by D.W. Griffith (1921).

Performance history in South Africa

1876: Performed as The Two Orphans (the six-act Oxenford version) in the Athenaeum Hall, Cape Town, by Disney Roebuck and company on 6, 7 and 9 November, as a farewell benefit for Hilda Temple.

December 4, 1876: Presented by Disney Roebuck's United Service Dramatic Company at the Theatre Royal in Port Elizabeth. Starring Miss Balfe as Louise, Hilda Temple as Henrietta, Mr Yates as Jacques, Mr William Elton as Pierre, who Henry J Vickers, theatre critic for the Eastern Province Herald, wrote a review which was published in the paper on December 5, 1876: "tried hard to do justice to the part, but only succeeded in mixing up Danny Mann and Uriah Heep into a somewhat ludicrous compound very different from what the authors must have intended the cripple to be, and a nasty habit of repeating himself is to be deprecated." (Vickers sued Elton. See William Elton for details of the case). Also starring Miss Georgina Robertson as the Countess, Miss Maggie Duggan as Madam Frochard, Mr Robertson as Armand de Vaudray, Mr W H Thorn as Count de Liniere, Mr Clive Hersee as Lefleur and Miss Fanny Lewis as Marianne.

1878: Performed as The Two Orphans (the six-act Oxenford version) in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by Disney Roebuck and company on 20, 23 and 31 May, and again on 20 June (this last performance accompanied by a performance by the local dance troupe "The Grotesques").

1884: Performed in English as Two Orphans in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, under the management of Henry Harper, as part of a series of plays put on by a company led by H.C. Sidney.

1887: The play was performed in English as Two Orphans and formed part of the repertoire of the Wheeler Theatre Company when they played in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town during April and May. Probably directed by Sutton Vane.

1914: A play called Motherless was performed at the Palladium Theatre in Johannesburg by the London Repertoire Co., with a cast including Hilda Attenboro. Though it is likely that this was a new English version of Les Deux Orphelines, it may also have been a version of Heinrich von Kleist's Der Findling (The Foundling or Motherless Waif in English).


Eastern Province Herald, Tuesday, December 7, 1876.






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. 343, 347, 368-9, 378, 384

New Zealand Herald, 16 October 1915

NZ Truth, 7 October 1916

Rand Daily Mail, 10 June 1919



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