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Unrecorded Peking playbill

[Peking imprint] A Diplomatist. Comedy in II acts by Scribe. To be followed by Cox and Box. Operetta by F. C. Burnand & A. Sullivan. British Legation, Peking, January 21, 1873. The curtain will rise at half past eight. Peking [privately printed] 1873
Lithographed pictorial playbill on a single sheet of laid paper, 33 x 20.5 cm. Paper with countermark of Britannia enthroned. In excellent condition, with a single faint fold mark.
We locate no comparable material in institutional collections.

A unique survival: the playbill for a double-bill of amateur theatricals at the British Legation in Peking, staged in the midst of the city's grim winter weather. The first piece, "A Diplomatist", set "at an Italian Grand Ducal Court", has a cast of Italian, French, and Greek nobles. The actors listed are Mr B Hunter, Mr Fieldman, Mr Graham, Mr Bertie, Mr Baldwin, Mr Netherland, Mr a'Dale, Miss FitzGeorge (playing the Countess de Surville), and Mr St. Henry (playing Giulia), which suggests that female roles were played by men and women. The second piece performed was "Cox and Box", Arthur Sullivan's first commercially successful operetta, which had premiered in 1866. The musical farce's three-man cast is played here by Signors Carlo Dolce, Giovanelli, and Campo Virile - presumably cod-Italian pseudonyms for members of the British Legation's staff. The British Legation at Peking was established in 1861, as a result of the Treaty of Tientsin, and retained the character of a frontier outpost, albeit one set in a dilapidated palace, for the following decade. By February 1866, the British student-interpreters of the Legation were staging amateur theatricals, and these continued on an annual basis, if not more frequently. The quality of the lithography is amateur, suggesting our playbill was the work of an enterprising member of the Legation's staff. There were European missionary presses active in Peking from the 1860s, which printed Chinese-language Biblical and religious material from woodblocks. We have found no evidence of other Peking presses using lithography at this date.