Bitter SweetBitter Sweet

An Operetta in 3 acts by by Noel Coward

Produced at His Majesty's Theatre, London, 18 July, 1929 (673 perfs)
Revival - 23 February, 1988 - Sadler's Wells


Everything that wealthy London society had to offer a properly brought-up girl lay at the feet of little Sarah Millick in 1875; but she fell so desperately in love with her handsome young singing master that she threw it all away in order to be with him. In Vienna, five poverty-stricken years later, her adored Carl is killed in a duel. But his music lives on as the self-reliant Sarah earns fame throughout Europe with her singing. Finally returning to England, she marries the elderly Marquis of Shayne who has waited so patiently for her. Years later, at a madly bright party in the late 1920s, she tells her story, winning the grudging admiration of the smart young set. The Marchioness, they decide, must have been a gay old bird.



Dolly Chamberlain and her fiancé, Lord Henry Jekyll, are having a tiff whilst at a ball thrown by the Lady Shayne. Dolly is full of admiration for their hostess whose life is said to have been one of fascinating romance and adventure, but Jekyll sees Lady Shayne's past as a disreputable thing redeemed only by her safe, social marriage to Shayne.

Dolly sends her fiancé away and promptly falls passionately into the arms of the pianist engaged for the dance. She decides to abandon the stuffy Henry and elope with her pianist to lead a life of love singing his songs in cabarets and hotels. Their embrace is overseen by Lady Shayne who asks them what they intend to do and, in response to their indecision, she suggests quite firmly that the young must answer 'The Call of Life'.

Time is rolled back and we now see a younger Lady Shayne. It is 1875 and young Sarah Millick is being given a singing lesson by the dashing music master, Carl Linden. He tells her of his Austrian homeland and of how he would like to share it with her and, gradually, their secret love for each other becomes plain. Carl tells Sarah that he must leave London. Even now her mother is making preparations for the day of her forthcoming wedding to the rich and titled Hugh Devon. They turn purposefully back to the singing lesson, but their feelings are too strong to allow them to concentrate on the lesson. Mrs Millick enters with Hugh and, as Carl abruptly takes his leave, Sarah falls weeping into her mother's arms.

At the ball that night Sarah behaves somewhat erratically which causes not a little comment by the guests. Dismissing her fiancé sharply, she orders the orchestra to play something gay and gives forth with a song demanding 'What Is Love?', waltzing wildly around the room, alone. As the evening draws to a close, she tries to apologise for her outburst but Hugh just doesn't understand. The last dance is played and the gentlemen depart, leaving Sarah and her bridesmaids-to-be alone to talk of marriage and men and finally to indulge in a game of blindman's-buff.

The finale begins with the girls singing themselves into the game. Sarah is blinfolded but, as the other girls hide and she begins to seek to catch whom she can, Carl Linden returns to the room to collect his music. It is around his neck that the blindfolded girl's arms end. Taken off his guard, he kisses her and in a moment the two young people are pouring out their mutual love.


Five years later: the scene is Schlick's café in Vienna, a lively but low gathering place for the ladies of the town and their customers. A chorus of waiters and cleaners opens the act as four professional ladies discuss business and bandy insults. Carl is the conductor of the café's orchestra which provides the backing for the singing star, Manon la Crevette. Manon had an affair with Carl in the days before he met and married Sarah and, although a woman of the world, she is still clearly in love with him.

Fortune has not treated Carl and Sarah well. Times are very hard and Sarah, now known as Sari, has had to go to work as a hostess in the café to supplement their income. Her job swiftly cause her trouble for when an officer, Captain August Lutte's invitation to dinner is turned down by Sari he complains to the café owner. Sari and Carl have had enough and sustained by their love for each other, they escape from the unpleasantness of the present into dreams of the future when they hope to own their own café.

That night the café is filled with officers partaking of the women and the wine as Manon entertains the company. For a while, Sari succeeds in eluding the attentions of Captain Lutte. Schlick angrily demands that she stop offending the Captain or take the consequences. She cannot afford to lose the little money her employment brings and, as Carl watches anxiously, she takes the dance floor in Lutte's arms.

The soldier is not slow to become amorously aggressive and finally he stops in the middle of the dance floor to kiss her long and hard. Carl leaps from the bandstand and strikes the loutish Captain who responds by drawing his sword. Blades clash and within minutes the professional soldier inevitably fells the musician. As he lies dying, cradled in Sari's arms, Carl whispers his eternal love to her.


1895 - the London drawing room of the home of the Marquis of Shayne.

A large gathering of the à-la-mode society people is in evidence, among them, the six girls who would have been Sarah's bridesmaids. They are now middle-aged matrons who regret their youth. They are waiting to meet the much talked-about Hungarian singer whom Lord Shayne, it is said, has pursued for years, from capital to capital. When the lady arrives it is Sarah, whom they had ail thought was dead.

Lord Shayne once more asks Sari to become his wife. He knows that her heart can never be healed, but he is willing to accept however little or much she can give in return for his own devotion. Sari asks again for time to consider his offer. Her life she felt had ended fifteen years earlier when Carl died, but she acknowledges, with a wordless gift of a bunch of violets, that she will wed the kindly Shayne.

The scene changes, it is once again 1929 and Sarah, Lady Shayne, is an old woman singing of her past and, perhaps, of Dolly's future. As the youngsters charleston off into the night, the old lady begins to laugh, then rising to her feet sings her undying love to her always remembered Carl.

For the Chorus

There are a number of opportunities for lively chorus work and part singing, but the great attraction of this work is the opportunity it provides for chorus members to develop characters. Not only are there many small roles, complete with a share in their own musical number, but each member of the general company must make clear distinction between sedate London high society (1875), the gaiety of Vienna (1880), and the frenzied bright young things of the twenties.

Cast and original players

Marchioness of Shayne (Sarah Millick) - Peggy Wood.
Carl Linden - George Metaxa.
Manon - Ivy St. Helier.
Dolly Chamberlain - Dorothy Boyd.
Lord Henry Jekyll - William Ham.
The Hon. Hugh Devon - Robert Newton.
Mrs. Millick - Elaine Inescott.
Sir Arthur Fenchurch - Clifford Heatherley.
Herr Schlick - Clifford Heatherley.
Lady Devon - Winifred Davis.
The Marquis of Steere - Robert Algar.
Vincent Howard - Billy Milton.
Lord Edgar James (Rifle Brigade Officer) - Victor Robson.
Lord Sorrel (Artillery Officer) - Gerald Nodin.
Mr. Vale (Naval Officer) - Peter Gibson.
Mr. Bethel - John Gatrell.
Mr. Proutie (Scottish Officer) - Richard Cornish.
Victoria - José Fearon,
Harriet - Maie Drage.
Gloria - Rose Hignell.
Honor - Eva Sternroyd.
Jane - Eileen Carey.
Effie - Mary Pounds.
Gussi - Norah Howard.
Lotte - Millie Sim.
Freda - Betty Huntley Wright.
Hansi - Marjorie Rogers.

Lieutenant Tranisch - Arthur Alexander.
Captain August Lutte - Austin Trevor.
Marquis of Shayne - Alan Napier.
Nita - Joan Panter.
Helen - Nancy Bevill.
Tackie - Maureen Moore.
Mrs. Devon - Keira Tuson.
Vernon Craft - Eric Lauriston.
Lord Henry Jade - Penryn Bannerman.
Cedric Ballantyne - William Ham.
Bertram Sellick - Hugh Cuenod.
Parker (Butler, Act I, Scene I) - Claude Farrow.
Burley (Butler, Act III, Scene I) - Anthony Brian.
Accompanist (Act III, Scene I) - Leonard Pearce.

Singer (Act I, Scene I)
Fritz, a waiter

Six Prater Girls, Four Footmen, Three Musicians, Six Waiters, Four Cleaners, Two Charwomen, Guests and Customers.

Singing Principals

Sarah Millick.
Victoria, Harriet, Gloria, Honor, Effie and Jane, her closefriends.
Manon, a French cabaret entertainer in Vienna.
Gussi, Lotte, Freda and Hansi, Viennese ladies of the town.
Carl Linden.
Lieutenant Tranisch (named in the vocal score as Capt. Schensi).

Index of voices required for the singing roles

The Footmen should consist of 2 Basses and 2 Baritones: The Cleaners, 2 Sopranos and 2 Contraltos: The Charwomen, 1 Soprano, 1 Contralto.: The Waiters, 3 Tenors, 3 Basses.

Scenes and settings

Act 1

Scene 1: Lady Shayne's London house, Grosvenor Square, 1929.
Scene 2: The music room at the Millicks' house, 1875 (inset).
Scene 3: The Millicks' ballroom

Act 2

Herr Schlick's café in Vienna, 1880

Act 3

Scene 1: Lord Shayne's house (as for Act 1, Scene 1 except for furniture and decoration), 1895.
Scene 2: The same, 1929

Musical Numbers:

  1. The Call of Life - Lady Shane & Chorus
  2. I'll See You Again - Carl, Sarah
  3. What Is Love? - Sarah and Chorus
  4. The Last Dance - Men and Girls
  5. Finale Act I - Company
  6. Opening Act II - "Life in the morning isn't too bright …" - Waiters, Cleaners
  7. Ladies of the Town - Hansi, Freda, Gussi and Lotte
  8. If Love Were All - Manon
  9. Evermore and a Day - Sari and Carl
  10. Dear Little Café - Sari and Carl
  11. Officers' Chorus
  12. Tokay - Lieutenant Tranisch and Chorus
  13. Bonne Nuit, Merci - Manon
  14. Waltz Song " 'Tis time that we were parted …" - Manon and Chorus
  15. Tarara Boom-de-ay - Double Chorus
  16. Alas, the Time is Past - Victoria, Harriet, Effie
  17. Quartette: We All Wore a Green Carnation - Vernon, Cedric, Henry, Bertram
  18. Zigeuner - Sari
  19. Finale - company


1st and 2nd Violins, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Oboe, 2 Clarinets, Bassoon, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Drums, Harp. Stage Band (basic): Piano, Violin, Accordion, Banjo/Guitar; plus Cello, Clarinet, Alto Sax (one number each). Drums should also be included, although no set score is provided

Musical Directors are advised to borrow the Conductor's score before commencing rehearsals with the company