Trilby on the Stage

Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Dorothea Baird in the London staging of Trilby, from The Illustrated London News, September 21, 1895. Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

It wasn’t long before Trilby was adapted for the stage, opening in Boston in March of 1895 to accolades from the audience and critics alike. Its immediate success prompted several touring versions and a relocation of the original cast to the Garden Theatre in New York within a month of its debut in Boston. By 1896 there were 24 productions of Trilby running simultaneously in the United States. In September 1895 the play opened in London, starring Dorothea Baird as Trilby and Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Svengali. The novel had not been as popular in England as it was in America, but the play catapulted it to new heights, as noted in the British publication, The Gentleman’s Magazine:

Never before in our time has a book been so suddenly exalted into a bible. It flowed in a ceaseless stream over the counters of every bookshop on the American continent. It was discussed in the dialect of every state in the Union. Clergy of all denominations preached upon it from their pulpits. [. . .] Finally, somebody made a play of it, and fanned an adoration that had not yet begun to flag, higher and higher above the fever line of the human thermometer.