“The Emperor of Make Believe”

Ernest Thesiger as Hans Christian Andersen

Westminster Theatre, London

June 3 - 20

21 perf


“In his character of Hans Christian Andersen, Ernest had to appear in the company of a monkey.  On attending the first rehearsal, Ernest was introduced to the beast; extending his long and delicate forefinger, he said playfully, ‘Hello little fellow. You and I must get to know each other.’  The monkey obviously took great exception to such a prospect and bit, venomously, three or four times into poor Ernest’s flesh.  Blood spouted from the wound, and Ernest, muttering through his pain, ‘Oh dear, I think you have gone a little too far,’ turned a deathly pale and fainted outright.  He was carried to a nearby dressing room and laid on a sofa, while someone was urgently sent to fetch a doctor, who cam and cauterized the wound.  The rehearsal commenced in his absence, but about an hour later, to our amazement, Ernest reappeared, and announced his intention of renewing acquaintance with the wicked monkey.  In soothing tones, he invited it to ‘have another go,’ at the same time holding out his bandaged finger in invitation.  The monkey this time politely ignored it, much to our breath-taking relief.  I never remember witnessing a more heroic gesture.”

Walter Fitzgerald, Fifty Years of Strutting and Fretting

“....needless to say his performance is rich in intelligence.  He has made a gallant effort to accommodate his own naturally emphatic personality to the dreaminess of the maker of fairy-tales. and his success with the audience Wednesday last week seemed complete.”

The Stage, June 11, 1936

“The great Jenny Lind is the heroine and Hans Andersen is the hero of ‘The Emperor of Make Believe,’ by Madge Pemberton and Malcolm Morley, the new play at the Westminster Theatre.  Its them is the affection between them, but although the play has charm it has not sufficient to carry the day, or more accurately the evening.  Moreover, it plot is too slight to hold our interest on this score.  As a study of the character of Andersen, it does not quite come off because the authors have allowed themselves to venture too much into the whimsical.  We are shown the author of the famous fairy tales as someone whose inability to overcome some of his childhoods fantasies is at the same time his strength as a writer and the cause of a great amount of personal unhappinee.  Mr. Ernest Thesiger, making a welcome return to the stage after an absence of several years, gives an admirable study of Andersen.  It is a part which well suits his personality.”

Western Morning News, June 6, 1936

“After eighteen months’ absence in the film studios, Ernest Thesiger, startling[ly] like some of the pictures of the great story-teller, returns to the stage as Hans Christian Andersen in this fantasia on his private life by Madge Pemberton and Malcolm Morley.

When it was first staged at the Embassy some weeks ago Baliol Holloway played the leading part, and comparison was fascinating.

Mr. Thesiger was quite as selfish and abrupt as Mr. Holloway, but less tender - this was especially noticeable in the handling of the scene where the organ grinder and his little monkey come in to greet the writer on his birthday, in which Mr. Holloway’s penitence for rudeness was anxious and earnest, while

Mr. Thesiger’s was abstracted and brief.  Mr. Holloway was whimsical in a Barrie-ish way; Mr. Thesiger was more A.A. Milneish. The one had a more emotional humour, with a feeling that one needed a handkerchief ready; the other, despite Mr. Thesiger putting his head on the table ostensibly to cry his eyes out, was brighter and lighter.  Both had the forlorn look of a lost animal on a wet night; but whereas Mr. Holloway’s Andersen was a homeless mongrel hopelessly conscious of its own state; Mr. Thesiger’s was a wise tom-cat who, one felt, was really canny enough to look after itself.”

The Era, June 10, 1936