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Babil and Bijou

Ocean bottom-feeders, earth-dwelling gnomes, a populace of vegetables, and a group of rebellious apes populate Dion Boucicault’s sprawling nineteenth-century play, Babil and Bijou. The work, commissioned by a thirty-eight year old Baron named Earl of Londesborough, and financed handsomely at the whims of Boucicault, was intended to be a “mammoth spectacular.” Boucicault did not disappoint and, when the eighteen tableaux extravaganza debuted at Covent Garden in 1872, it was filled with dancers, Amazonian warriors, and abundant, costumed sea life.

The plot meanders through a forest, an ocean, a garden, and eventually the moon, as a half-fairy attempts to claim her rightful sprightly throne. At every turn, she encounters rebellion and masses rising against the ruling class. This causes great consternation to the displaced ruling class, but they steady their fears with the idea that this upheaval will eventually run its course. During a particularly inverted visit to the moon, she discovers that females rule and that males have reverted to an ape-like state and serve the women. The play was extremely successful and ran for six months. However, it cost Lord Londesborough an out of pocket fortune of £11,000.

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