I found this yesterday.
1910 was a busy year for Australian Theatre. Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton played to packed houses, Houdini thrilled audiences with daring feats and in May Matheson Lang toured.
The signs of mourning for Edward VII were being removed from Sydney's public buildings when and and his wife, Nellie Hutin Britton arrived. Australia had been talking about them since January. The couple had big reputations gained in London and New York and Sydneysiders were eager to see them.
Lang planned to perform in Sydney and Melbourne and the first of many plays on his agenda was 'Pete' an adaptation of Hall Craine's play, 'The Manxman.'.
The preparation for the play was meticulous. Before his departure from London, Lang had relayed a request to Australia for a baby to appear in the second act. In response, a Sydney man had volunteered his unborn child for the part.The child was born before Lang's arrival and christened 'Pete'.
Lang played the eponymous role of Pete the Manx fisherman. He had prepared for it like a modern method actor, visiting with Manx fishermen on the Isle of Wright, so he could immerse himself in the accent and culture.
Pete opened at Sydney's intimate Criterion Theatre on May 21st 1910. It was melodramatic fare, one critic wrote that ' it's character are almost without exception steeped in pain and misery throughout its telling.'
They had every reason for their angst. The play revolved around adultery, sibling jealousy, questioned paternity, power and greed. It was material that thrilled the public but would, in most circumstances, affronted the moral guardians of Sydney society.
However, this case was different, despite the salubrious plot, the conservative elements of Sydney society were silent and this was due to Matheson Lang. He had the good fortune to be related to the Archbishop of York, a fact emphasised in most interviews. This high ranking relative protected him from the usual condemnation of the nation's prudes.
Matheson had the extra advantage of being six foot tall and handsome, qualities that also prevented criticism of his performance.
Due to these facts and the skill of the actors, 'Pete' was a huge success in Sydney. It played to standing room only audiences through its run.
Sydney critics agreed with audiences and through Lang's performance was outstanding. They praised his realistic portrayal of a fisherman and applauded his restrained display of emotion.
Miss Britton was also praised for her performance in a relentlessly dour role. Her physical beauty was also noted, especially her fine figure and 'interesting' face.
Lang and Nellie performed in Sydney for 9 weeks and were feted and applauded the entire stay. They represented the best of international theatre to audiences who were developing a keen appreciation of quality drama and spectacle.
Lang and Nellie were one of many international artists who travelled to Australia. The long trip was well paid and the audiences less critical than those in the northern hemisphere. Competition for quality international theatre was fierce in the country and theatre managers were rewarded with crowded houses and financial success when that quality was delivered. In return, audiences and local talent obtained a taste of European theatrical tradition that otherwise would have been denied to them.