Billed as 'an entirely new and original Xmas pantomime', despite being adapted from Harrison Ainsworth's novel Jack Sheppard (1839) and possibly the John Thurmond pantomime Harlequin Sheppard (1724).
The narrative is also loosely based on the real life story of John (Jack) Sheppard, the notorious burglar, thief, and highwayman, who was arrested five times by London police but escaped four times, becoming a national hero in the process. Born into poverty, Jack and his brother Thomas were apprenticed to a carpenter (Mr Wood in the pantomime), before being induced to become burglars by prostitute Elizabeth Lyon. The knowledge gleaned by Sheppard from his time as a carpenter played a key role in each of his escapes, along with the fact that he was very slight in frame.
Breaking away from the real events, Akhurst has pair portrayed as innocents, framed by the villainous Sir Roland Trenchard. The prominent detective Jonathon Wild, who is not above trying to do a deal with criminals in return for the proceeds of their crimes, eventually arrests Jack after disguising himself as a barmaid. Although they are later released after the murder of Mrs Wood, their ex-employer's wife, Wild again arrests them (staging a parody of The Corsican Brothers). Jack escapes from Newgate, and Wild's house is burnt down in revenge. When Wild reappears on stage from the orchestra pit, the Fairy introduces the transformation scene in order to prevent further arrests.
Several critics expressed their view that the subject matter was problematic for a pantomime and that the result was not of the usual standard expected of an Akhurst production. The Argus noted, for example:
'Mr Akhurst has written so many good burlesques and pantomimes that it seems strange to have to find fault with one of his productions, but it is nevertheless the truth that Jack Sheppard does its talented author no credit. The subject is bad in the first place, and the words written for the pantomime do not help to make it attractive' (28 December 1869, p.6).
The Australasian critic was of a similar mind, expressing the view that Akhurst's concept was perplexing:
'You cannot make up your mind whether you are witnessing melodrama or travesty ... I foresaw this difficulty when I heard of the subject selected by Mr Akhurst. I could not then divine how it was possible so far as to caricature what in itself was caricature, as to impart to it more absurdity than already it possessed... Even the mixing up of the fairy and goblin element with the less spiritual materials did not communicate the quality of unreality, more especially as the principal fairy was eminently material, and would never have passed for one of those ethereal creatures which everybody wishes could have had a real existence off the stage and out of story-books ... I have a shrewd suspicion that both the author and management knew how impossible it was to transform Jack Sheppard into a fairy piece, and so they instructed the scene-painter not to make the scenery other than material and earthy' (1 January 1870, p.18).
The musical aspects of the pantomime, arranged by Charles Eigenschank, included arias from Lucia di Lammermoor, a waltz from Il Bacio, and the song 'Ring the Bell, Prompter'.
1869: Duke of Edinburgh Theatre, Melbourne, 27 December 1869 - 22 January 1870.
Details have also been derived in part from the Annotated Calendar of Plays Premiered in Australia: 1850-1869.