February 6, 2014

Soapy Smith in London play, In Skagway.

Soapy Smith effigy
the rear of Martin Itjen's Skagway Tour bus
(Click image to enlarge)

ooks as though 2014 is showing a great start in regards to Soapy Smith. Sales for my book, Alias Soapy Smith are up, as are hits on the main website (soapysmith.net). These are most likely due to the Discovery Channel's miniseries Klondike. Today I report the opening of In Skagway, a play currently showing in London England. Once again Soapy is a side character.

This came to me today.

Hackney Citizen, 02/06/2014 (London, England).
In search of all that glitters – In Skagway at the Arcola
by Ella Jessel

Karen Ardiff’s new play highlights plight of Irish migrant women during the Klondike Gold Rush

Lured by glittering promises of fame and fortune during the turn of nineteenth century America, thousands of hopeful men boarded steamers bound for the Alaskan Panhandle to prospect for gold.

But Karen Ardiff’s play In Skagway, which sees its British premiere at the Arcola Theatre this month, tells the oft-neglected story of the women caught up in the ruddy glamour of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Directed by Russell Bolam, this ‘all-female Irish Western’ follows the story of actress Francis ‘Frankie’, her dresser May and May’s daughter T-belle as they escape starvation in Ireland and set out in search of a better life in America.

Fading prospects: In Skagway
sees actress ‘Frankie’ face hard times in Alaska

Frankie enjoys her fifteen minutes of fame in New York but as they travel from state to state her fading talents and penchant for drink means that the trio pitches up broke in Skagway – a town ‘on the edge of the world’ – where the play begins.

Geraldine Alexander who will play the part of May and is currently enjoying the “soupy stage” of rehearsals at the Arcola explains it was the compelling narrative that drew her to the script.

“It’s all disastrous but its great fun and is told with great humour. Karen [Ardiff] has that Irish quality of storytelling where everything becomes a yarn. It’s very funny, but it’s also horribly sad,” she says.

Frankie, May and T-belle’s hopes of making money out of Skagway’s booming population of workmen are dashed as they fall prey to local swindlers such as prostitute Nelly ‘the pig’ and conman ‘Soapy Smith’, and are then overcome by illness and poverty.

Alexander explains that Ardiff’s characters were inspired by real historical figures.

“It’s really refreshing to look back in history and see that there were strong women, because we don’t hear about them historically. All we hear about are the men who went to the Klondike but a lot of the women were amazing and independent strong business-women who lived among these men in appalling conditions,” she says.

Stories of gutsy, pioneering pre-Victorian women are a rarity. Karen Ardiff’s tale of four Irish immigrants attempting to make ends meet looks set to provide a refreshing take on the old yarns as Dalston is transported to the wild and lonely vistas of Alaska.

In Skagway is at the Arcola, 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL until 1 March.

I will surely let you in on everything I hear.

It should be required classroom reading in history class.
—Donna Clayson
(regarding Alias Soapy Smith)


1778: The U.S. gains official recognition from France with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris.
1788: Massachusetts becomes the sixth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
1815: The state of New Jersey issues the first railroad charter to John Stevens.
1843: The Virginia Minstrels opens at the Bowery Amphitheatre in New York City. It is the first minstrel show in the U.S.
1891: The outlaw Dalton Gang commit their first crime, the robbery of the Southern Pacific #17 train in Alila, California. Engineer George Radcliff is shot dead as he tries to escape from opening the express car safe. The Dalton’s flee after unsuccessfully trying to open the safe. Family genealogy states that Soapy Smith's wife is a cousin of the outlaw gang.
1892: Electric lights are turned on in lower Creede, Colorado. Soapy Smith’s gaming house, the Orleans Club, is one of the buildings supplied.
1897: A Texas posse captures the remaining members of the outlaw Dalton Gang, killing two and capturing one. Family genealogy states that Soapy Smith's wife is a cousin of the outlaw gang.
1899: The Spanish-American War ends with the ratification of a peace treaty between the U.S. and Spain.
1900: President McKinley appoints W. H. Taft as commissioner to report on the Philippines.

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