This set of slides is called ‘The Old Actor’s Story’ and I’ve used it many times in my magic lantern shows. Normally, Victorian plots are fairly straight forward and almost all of them have a moral theme, either that alcohol is the source of all evil which, of course, it is or that when yet another child dies in poverty at the end of the story, we, society, really must do something about this deplorable situation.
This one seems to lack such purpose. It is, instead, a roller coaster of action and changes in plot direction and I’ve not seen another set quite like it.
The old actor is telling his story to a young man and it (well my much shortened version) goes like this.
“When I was young, I married my sweetheart, Nelly, and we joined a band of strolling players.
We moved to London with a promise of stardom but our manager ran off with all the money.
We were offered work in Australia and boarded a ship bound for Melbourne, which we regretted within hours, as we were sea-sick.
Nellie was very poorly, then the ship’s surgeon said that she was dead!
I attacked the surgeon in a rage, so they locked me in a storeroom and put me in chains.
The ship caught fire and, fortuitously, the flames burnt down the storeroom door. I dragged my chains back to our cabin where I found Nelly alive!
Together we managed to clamber up to the burning deck, even though I was still in chains.
We saw a lifeboat that had come to save us and with one mighty effort, Nellie freed me from my shackles.”
The last verse is …..
‘We were on the lifeboat just minutes, when a steam ship passing by
took us on board, then to Melbourne, where it landed us by-and-by.
We’ve played many parts in dramas, since we went on that fateful trip
But we’ve not played a scene together, such as that on the burning ship.’
Sounds like a tall tale to me!