The Somnabulist

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The Somnabulist is a play in two acts by William Thomas Moncrieff (1794-1857)[1]

Also found as The Somnambulist, or The Phantom of the Village or La Somnambula

The original text

Called "A Dramatic Entertainment", it is in fact in a burlesque based on La Somnambule, ou L'arrivée d'un Nouveau Seigneur, a scenario for a ballet-pantomime by Eugène Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer, music composed by Ferdinand Hérold. Produced in 1827 and quite popular in Paris, the unpublished Scribe work inspired many more works, including Vincenzo Bellini's well-known Italian opera La Sonnambula, or The Sleepwalker[2].

Moncrieff's text was published as The Somnabulist in Issue 224 of Dicks' Standard Plays. Published as The Somnambulist, or The Phantom of the Village by J. Cumberland, 1899

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

1857: Performed by the Boscawen Amateurs in Simonstown on 28 December, with Who Speaks First? (Dance) as a benefit evening for the Indian Sufferers Relief Fund.

1862: Performed often (as La Somnambula) by the Christy Minstrels, during their three-month long tour of the Cape Province. The company was led by Mr Melvyn, with Mr Norton, Mr Rainford and Joe Brown. The director of the orchestra was Mr Stewart

1869: Performed as La Somnambula in the Mutual Hall, Cape Town by the Miranda-Harper Company.

1875: Performed as La Somnambula in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town by Disney Roebuck and his company, with Christmas Eve, or The Duel in the Snow (Fitzball)

1901: The Somnabulist performed in the Oddfellows Hall, Cape Town, by Morris Waxman and his Hebrew Artistes


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. 140, 408

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