Sensational realism suddenly developed into tragic
reality on the stage of the Novelty Theatre a few
minutes after midnight on Monday of last week,
when a terrible accident occurred, without parallel
in the story of the London stage. The venerable farce,
Ici on Parle Francais, had given place to Mr. Frank
Harvey's stirring melodrama, Sins of the Night, and
the fifth act had nearly drawn to its close. The
audience had followed the plot of the play, which
was being presented for the first time in London,
with eager interest, through all its developments,
including more particularly the seduction and
supposed murder of the sister of one Pablo, a Creole,
by the villain of the piece, Manuel Ramez. Sympathy was powerfully enlisted on the side of the
injured Creole, played by Mr. Wilfred Moritz
Franks, and when, in the final scene - Squire
Thorne's drawing-room - Pablo checks the triumphant, laughing exit of Ramez and stabs him to the
heart, the excited, emotional spectators cheered
lustily, little dreaming that for once a real tragedy
had been acted before their eyes in place of the usual
sham and illusion of stageland, and that Mr.
Temple E. Crozier lay dead behind the curtain, the
victim of one of the saddest mishaps which ever cut
short one young life, full of vigour and promise, and
shadowed another until Time with merciful fingers
shall dull the record of terrible disaster.
'I have kept my oath - my sister is avenged - die, villain, die!' cried Pablo, and in another moment Ramez lay upon the stage with the stiletto only too surely in his heart, bravely telling his horror-stricken comrade 'not to worry,' and that he was 'all right', when he overheard Franks moan out in dazed fashion, 'What is the matter - what have I done?' Intensely pathetic is this story of the two handsome young fellows, full of creditable ambition, excellent friends, suddenly divided for all time in this tragic fashion, and saddest of all that the accident was preventable, and due, probably, in some degree, to the not unnatural vanity of youth, which led the young actor who played Pablo to prefer a jewelled stiletto of his own - a present from his relative, the late Ada Cavendish - to the ordinary property dagger provided by the management. It may even have been - for actors are notoriously superstitious - that the unfortunate young fellow regarded the stiletto as an omen of success in a new part, for to life's ironies there is no end. Be that as it may, as the audience filed out into the street, full of excitement, and with nothing but praise for the liberal programme provided for them by Miss V. St. Lawrence - the clever and charming lady under whose capable management a theatre, long under a cloud, is fast being turned into a success - a sad group had gathered round their dead comrade, and what would have been a congratulatory reunion after a successful production was changed into an occasion of mourning. Miss St. Lawrence has run the theatre with her own stock company, with Mr. Temple Crozier as one of her leading men, in which capacity he was popular with the whole company. Mr. Crozier, who was a son of the Rev. Temple Crozier, of Coston Rectory, Melton Mowbray, was only twenty-four, and had, like so many actors, been originally intended for commerce, and spent eighteen months with a well-known firm in Liverpool. But the stage fever was upon him, and after a variety of experiences in the north, he eventually got an engagement at the Novelty as 'heavy lead.' Without doubt, Mr. Crozier had a promising future when Fate cut the thread of his life so prematurely and so pitilessly, for he was good-looking, young, talented, popular, and daily gaining a varied experience which must have told strongly in his favour as the years went by. But it was not to be, and while hundreds were still talking over his latest impersonation, he lay dead, in the evening-dress de nigueur of the stage-villain, with his fine face made up to represent the swarthy Spaniard in whose guise he was destined to speak his last word upon the stage.
Miss St. Lawrence was in her dressing-room at the time of the accident, and when the sad news was broken to her she fainted. She has widespread sympathy, for everyone interested in stage matters has watched her experiment at the Novelty with cordial goodwill.
Death upon the stage is no unheard-of thing in the chronicles of the play, but the present case has no positive parallel in the annals, at all events, of the London theatres.
In the case at the Novelty there has never been for an instant any doubt that the unhappy occurrence was purely an accident, possibly due to the excitement of one or both of the actors. The moral of the tragedy is, without question, that dangerous weapons should be absolutely forbidden for use upon the stage. Diderot may go to extremes in declaring that the best actor is he who is devoid of sensibility, but Sir Henry Irving has pointed out that actors have their own temperaments, and cannot always avoid feeling their part.' But,' he adds, 'it is quite possible to feel all the excitement of the situation and yet be perfectly self-possessed.' Yet, he takes care to point out, untrained actors, yielding to excitement on the stage, have been known to stumble against the wings in impassioned exit.' Mr. Franks is not an untrained actor, but he is young and probably acutely sensitive, and it is possible that excess of excitement may have had a good deal to do with the sad fatality at the Novelty. At any rate, be this as it may, the one obvious moral of the tragedy is that stage weapons should invariably be harmless.
The Sketch, 19th August 1896
The theatre opened in 1882 and changed its name to the Folies Dramatique Theatre in 1883, then back to the Novelty in 1884. It became the Jodrell Theatre in 1888, then back to the Novelty Theatre again the following year. Became the New Queen's Theatre in 1890, but then changed back to the Novelty Theatre again later in the same year. Changed again to the Eden Palace of Varieties in 1894 and back to the Novelty in the same year. Closed in June 1898 and rebuilt as Great Queen Street Theatre in 1900, then Kingsway Theatre in 1907. [see Lost Theatres of London by Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson for more information]