Castaway Crusoe in riverside show

Robinson Crusoe depiction
Robinson Crusoe depiction

Buckingham’s pantomime early in 1904 was Robinson Crusoe – the castaway who spent years on a tropical island.

The Saturday night audience packed a large, temporary, wooden theatre that had been erected in Ford Meadow.

They became absorbed in Robinson’s tale of survival and were in high spirits when the performance finished at 10.45pm.

Then, as the audience left the theatre, they ... no, I’ll let the Daily Express take up the story, entitled Audience as Crusoes – Flood at novel pantomime sensation:

‘The pantomime Robinson Crusoe has been played – or partly played – at Buckingham with a considerable amount of realism.

The audience of some 500 had gathered in a large, portable wooden theatre which had been erected on a meadow near the river and were intently watching the progress of Robinson’s adventures as portrayed by Mrs Marchmont Tollemache’s company of actors and actresses.

Robinson – a fair young damsel in tights – had just boarded his raft on his lonely voyage from the wreck to the island, when the audience suddenly found they themselves were undergoing a similar experience.

The river outside, under the influence of the heavy rain, had steadily risen above the level of its banks and the meadow in which the theatre stood was transforming into a wide lake, the water penetrated the theatre itself until the audience were standing ankle deep.

Needless to say, Crusoe’s adventures were forgotten under the immediate sensation, and a rush was made for the exit.

Many of the audience floundered in the water in the meadow which was some two foot deep and the scene was a most exciting one.

Eventually, actresses and [ladies of the] audience were carried to higher ground, although their passages were marred in many instances by sudden and unexpected immersion in the water.

On Monday, the meadow was still under water, and horses and carts were employed in removing the boxes and property of the actors and actresses from the island theatre’.

One wonders which yeoman of Buckingham seized the opportunity to carry Robinson a.k.a a fair young damsel in tights from her imperilled island to safety.

As proud as punch, The Buckingham Advertiser re-printed the Daily Express’s article and added some graphic detail. Local readers were reminded of the sterling qualities of the burghers of Buckingham.

At one point, the Theatre Manager stepped forward to ask the audience whether his Show should go on, or would they like tickets for another performance. The Advertiser reported loud cries of “GO ON” and “FINISH”.

It also explained how the audience had been caught unawares: just as circuses use sawdust so did these wandering theatre companies.

As the water oozed through the floor, so the sawdust floated on top, but looked just as solid; not until they got up did the locals realise they were up to their ankles in the oozing Ouse.

Normally, Buckingham floods are “flash” affairs – here today and gone tomorrow.

This one was different – it stretched on well into February.

The audience, delighted by their national fame, held a Smoking Concert (how utterly Edwardian!) in The Woolpack in aid of the artistes who responded by holding more performances of Robinson Crusoe in the Town Hall.