Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling 1890
Source: Time, February 1890, pp. 212-216, March 1890, pp.323-328, April 1890, pp.435-439, May 1890, pp.546-551, June 1890, pp.662-666, July 1890, pp.771-777, August 1890, pp.878-883, September 1890, pp.995-1,000, October 1890, pp.1108-1,000, November 1890, pp.1221-1,226, December 1890, pp.1,333-1,337, January 1891, pp.83-88, February 1891, pp.181-186;
Public Domain: this work is not subject to copyright restriction;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Belfort Bax bought the cultural monthly magazine Time at the end of 1889 and started it with a clean sheet in January 1890. He did not want to turn it into a Socialist journal, but rather into a broader and progressive cultural paper. He apparently closed it down in December 1891 (See Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx, Vol. 2, pp.442.) The only issues which appear to survive are those for 1890 and the first two months of 1891 in Cambridge University Library. It had regular comments on the Theatre, Literature and Music, and Eleanor Marx and her partner Edward Aveling, (his pseudonym was Alec Nelson) both helped to write the Literature and Dramatic notes, the latter regularly the former occasionally.
At the Globe. Name of memories, of inspiration, of touchstones. Mr. F. R. Benson’s Company in “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.” Let it be granted, as Euclid hath it, that the night was mid-winter and mid-most between the old year and the new. December 31st is an evening of poor houses, half-hearted playing, shame-fast applause. And that to pass 97 portraits of Mr. F.R. Benson, his aggressive nose and chin (we counted them), ere you reach your seat, handicaps your enjoyment even of Shakspere.
Neither does the spectacle of the old gentleman in the front row of the Dress circle or of the young and furtive maiden hard by, with their Clarendon Press copies, give you quite a fair start. He – or she – that comes to study Shakspere in the flesh ought to have him in the head, if not in the heart.
None of them seem to understand that it is a dream. Except the children, who are unconscious and therefore come the nearer to the unreal reality. And he that is responsible for the exquisite setting and the fairy dances. If that he is Mr. Benson, or Mr. Hugh Moss, or both, or anybody else, a thousand congratulations, a thousand thanks! Mr. Benson, from his acting and reading of the part of Lysander, seems to understand the nature of the vision and its wonderful and baseless fabric. But he cannot carry out his conception of Shakspere’s conception. Kate Rorke, who could carry out, has not understood either part or play. As to the rest, the individual players, for the most part, have neither Mr. Benson’s power of understanding nor Miss Rorke’s power of realisation. So that the immortal texture of “threads of silken splendour, with yarn of hempen homespun, lines of dewy gossamer and filaments drawn from the moonbeams,” is roughly handled and becomes a tangle.
The most pathetic of plays is rendered by Mr. Benson’s Company unpathetic. Lines that make you cry, without knowing why, now make you weep tears of vexation. If Mr. Otho Stuart, the fine-limbed Oberon, could only say, “Sound, music,” after Titania’s “Music, ho! music! such as charmeth sleep,” with one note of music in his voice; if Miss Grace Geraldine had a thousandth part of Puck’s many memories and fancies when he says, “I remember;” if Mr. Benson could only put into look and action the remembrance, the wonderment, the thankfulness, the certainty of “And now I do bethink me, so it is;” if – and if – and if all through, we might have some adumbration of the dreamy delicacy that moves as music moves.
Miss Geraldine is the chiefest of sinners. Her Puck is non-delicate, has no revelling in his mischief-making, never jostled elves from acorn cups for very fun – is, in truth, perilously near vulgarity. Or, to take one multiple illustration. When Lysander and Hermia (Miss Ada Ferran), Demetrius (Mr. Ross), and Helena, after the passing out of Theseus and his court, catch for a breathing space some stir of the air in the wood near Athens, realise, in some measure, the beauty of that “between sleeping and waking” time, they undo all the delicate work by all four of them shouting the line that belongs to Demetrius and to Demetrius alone – “Why, then we are awake!” and hugging.
The fairies are delicious and there are no premières danseuses. Miss Mary Townsend, by the way, is a singing one, comely to see, good to hear. The orchestra is admirable. The three chief women are all fair to look upon, although the Hermia and Helena heights are wrong. Miss Kate Rorke is mannered and affectedly emphatic, and Mrs. Benson has, apparently, only one note (a very charming one) in her voice.
The clowns, with the exception of Mr. Sidney Phillips (Flute), were unpleasant. Starveling ought to uncover his nakedness in Barnum’s Show. ‘Twould “not be noticed there.” Mr. G.F. Black tried hard to miss all the pathos of Bottom’s awakening in the wood and nearly succeeded. And surely, all old stage traditions notwithstanding, “Methought I had – “ is no tail (only the ass’s head is ever fixed upon him), but Titania in these arms.
Between us we have seen part or the whole of all the chiefs. Drury Lane, Covent Garden, Her Majesty’s, The Grand, Islington, The Surrey, Mrs. Nye Chart’s at Brighton have all been visited, and are all worth visiting. Drury Lane, as the home to which the prodigal son, Pantomime, hits most frequently returned, may be taken as text, but the discourse is general.
For whom are pantomimes written? If they are written as all the world and his wife, and especially his family, believe for children, why are they not more child-like and less childish? If they are written for adults, why are they not more sensible? Why cannot they be both child-like and sensible, and so serve for the children of all ages, after the fashion of Grimm’s Märchen, the Arabian Nights, and, indeed, of all true, and therefore enduring, fairy stories?
With these questions we are ceaselessly brought face to face in Jack and the Beanstalk by Messrs. Harry Nicholls and Augustus Harris. And this, although they have an excellent cast, not less excellent because of its smallness. There are only sixteen principals – the procession of course would need a census officer to work out. And at the head of affairs are three past-masters in the act of fun-making – Harry Nicholls, Herbert Campbell, and Dan Leno.
One or two obvious reasons for the questions asked above thrusting themselves upon us, may be noted. There is still too much of the Music Hall element of the baser sort in the Drury Lane pantomime. There is too much slap and crash in it after the fashion of the variety shows that Americans call plays.
Children, especially boys, need no instruction in banging one another about, when another is the weaker of the two. Messrs. Nicholls and Harris at Christmas time are instructors of youth on the gigantesque scale. The holiday lessons learned in Drury Lane are a considerable factor in education, and too much giving and taking of the “slap” may produce unholy desires in minds that don’t know exactly how it’s done. Above all, there is too much alcohol in Jack and the Beanstalk and our pantomimes generally. The Surrey is the chiefest of sinners in this respect. Another outlying theatre, the “Grand,” is best upon this point, and indeed, taken altogether, is the best and healthiest of the Christmas shows. Oh yes, of course, Falstaff was a drinker – But he wore his rue with a difference. In the Henry IV. and V. you don’t laugh at drinking, but with Falstaff. In the Merry Wives, where, if the legend be true, Shakspere wrote to order, and to the order of Queen Elizabeth! – we have only a fat knight, not Jack Falstaff. The applause of the adults and the babbling laughter of the children in Drury Lane is not with the pantomime King Henry, but at the effects of drunkenness, and of the two the children’s laughter is far the more painful. Happily for them they do not laugh yet at Mr. Nicholls’ explanatory song as to the nature of the business that has detained him from the irate wife of his bosom. The children don’t understand yet the infinite potentialities involved in a gay king stopping out all night, nor in a bibulous monarch’s kissing and cuddling pretty market girls coram populo. Should not the holiday teachers consider with themselves carefully the wisdom, the justice, of casting this sort of food before those that love pearls?
For spectacle, Drury Lane is as ever magnificent. Messrs. Dayes, Caney, Perkins and Kautsky (a Viennese scene painter rapidly making way in this country) have done wonders. By all means let us have, and what is more important, let the children have, glitter, colour, harmony of colour, dancing, the unfolding of innermost heaven after innermost heaven of lights and curves and draperies and unfathomable distances. Especially let us have the new-old order of dancing dresses that Madame Kattie Lanner seems persistently striving after, i.e., the long clinging and infinitely more graceful skirts of the Taglioni days. Only one proviso. Let none of this swamp the story.
Nothing can be better than the Shaksperian procession – unless it be that of the gods. Here is teaching of the best, in the best form for children. For is not the best the embodiment of the ideals of nations and the creations of the ideal poet of all nations? Only don’t let us have the story overlaid, as children are by careless mothers. And that is just what the fathers of the pantomime have done to some extent. Among the expressions of beatific wonderment of the children streaming out from the theatre this question went up many times, “How did it end?” The poetry of the relations between Jack and the Princess – where is it? Vanished in the clouds of incense, the flutter of infinite draperies of spectacle.
Children are the most imaginative little folk, and the most idealistic. Those who see them at Drury Lane of an afternoon, with their clear faces and their bright eyes, those who hear the pure ring of their laughter will almost forgive Mr. Ilarris everything for his bringing together such an audience, a sight more wonderful than any on the stage. But his responsibility is very great, and one of these days he or some one else, neglecting none of the effects and resources of modern stage craft, will tell the children a simple fairy story right away through from “Once upon a time” to “happy ever afterwards.”
“The age of the quadruped is to go out; the age of the brain is to come in.” A hack quotation from Emerson’s Essay on Culture that may be once more made to do hack-work. This time à propos, of curtain raisers. Being translated into theatrical language, this means that the age of the rough-and-tenable farce, the anthropoid age of dramatic literature, is passing, and that even in first pieces, the god-like manager is beginning to evolve something that has the similitude of the human.
We look down the list of theatre advertisements. Drury Lane, The Lyceum, need no opening piece. It is only fair to remember that in the matter of good first pieces Henry Irving set the example, as in so many theatrical reforms. He gave Mr. Pinervo, then a member of his company, his first chance, by producing “Daisy’s Escape.” It was a crib from “Petite Pluie.” Crib as it was, the cribbing was done with exceptional cleverness, and showed the stuff’ of which Mr. Pinero, “Dandy Dick,” and “Sweet Lavender,” were made. The Haymarket gives us an old, much worn, Buckstonian farce, “Good for Nothing,” but is forgiven as it also gives one of the best of living actresses, Miss Rose Norreys, a chance, and a grateful public another chance of seeing good work done by her. Toole’s starts with a blank verse play that shows at once the advantage of being a manager-author and of having two of your own pieces in one bill, and that Mr. Fred Horner is ambitious of plucking the laurel crown from the head of Mr. Alfred C. Calmour, and writing English blank verse. The Royalty and Adelphi, true to old traditions, weary their pit and gallery audience with “The Opera Cloak,” and the “Married Bachelor.” The two lyrical theatres, Prince of Wales’s, and Lyric (the Savoy stands alone), have two new one-act plays of the musical order. The Comedy and the Criterion, terribly faithful to Mr. Broughton, play new little things of his own. Mr. Edouin at the Strand has Joe Mackay’s “Boys will be boys.” Poor Joe! We could have better spared a better man.
Our two most recent managers of opposite sexes have wisely followed in this excellent way. At the Avenue, Mr. Alexander gives us “Fool’s Mate.” At Terry’s Miss Cissy Grahame plays in front of “New Lamps for Old,” a piece that needs a double-barrelled author, videlicet, the “Parting of the Ways.”
“Fool’s Mate” is admirably dressed, staged, and three-quarters of it admirably acted. And yet, somehow, it is unsatisfactory. The sense of dissatisfaction is not altogether due to the entirely unchildlike acting and manners of Miss Gracie Murielle (who had better begin to play “hoydenish” parts now). She is une enfant terrible. But the piece in itself seems to us unnatural, and very nearly unhealthy. A child that will lie, pick pockets, and carry on something perilously near an embryonic flirtation, especially when she histrionically has no very clear idea of the momentous issues dependent on her lying, pocket-picking, and flirting is – well, is not nice.
Against the morality of the Terry’s theatre piece, the “Parting of the Ways,” nothing can be said. But, like certain other moral things, it is deadly dull. It is wood, wood, wood, from the rising of the curtain, to the most welcome coming down of that same. Its motive is love to the nth power or to the – nth power. And it is difficult to gather whether the two gentlemen whose united efforts gave birth to the abortive play mean or do not mean seriously the sympathetic speeches that they put into the mouth of the most boresome of a quintet of bores. “Advanced ideas,” as they are called, are not likely to be taught collectively on the stage, by didactic pronunciamentos from a fossilised clergyman. The stage method of instruction is more by way of action, of character, of situation, and if speeches are to be the medium, they must be in consonance with the people speaking them, and grow out of the events preceding them. In the “Parting of the Ways,” the “advanced ideas” utterances are, what the vulgar call “chucked in.”
From this consideration of the two pieces – a condemnation that by no means implies a losing sight of the admirable intentions of the managements concerned – let us hasten to except the majority of players. Messrs Frederick Terry and Nutcombe Gould in the one, and Miss Giffard in the other, are as good as they, as good as any one, could be. And Miss Mary Kingsley in the first; Mr. Oscar Adye, Miss Helen Leyton, and Miss Rose Dearing, in the second, are nearly as good as the infinitesimal materials at their command allow them to be.
Here is an example of the unwisdom of writing a notice of a piece at an appreciable distance of time, after seeing the piece. Especially if the humour, or the pathos, or the strength of it, are not like the distance of time, very appreciable. Let us close our eyes, and try to recall the impressions that Dr. Bill has left somewhere on the storing-up convolutions of our brains. Hunting for keys down people’s backs, a kangaroo dance, mistaken identity – is that all? Of piece as a whole, yes. With this superadded; eleven good people (in the acting sense) thrown away.
A doctor who was wont to attend ballet dancers for the fun of the thing, who is now respectably married, who is called to a patient with a jealous superintendent-of-police husband that turns out to be one of the ballet dancers (the patient, not the husband, of course), a young friend of the doctor’s who borrows his name and makes love to the ex-ballet dancer, alarums excursions, reconciliations. We had almost forgotten the funniest idea of the play; an idea so funny that the frittering of it away early in the piece, and its spasmodic and ineffective revival at the end, are alike to be regretted. That is the capital notion of a father-in-law who will at all costs have his daughter’s husband the besieged of patients, although that exceptionally lazy young man appears only anxious to lead a life of unlettered case.
Heaven, or any other place, forefend that we should always have serious work on the stage. That would be a case of all work and no play, and a very dull boy of a theatre as result. But cannot we have fun without vulgarity, after the model of say “Dandy Dick,” or “Tom Cobb,” or the whole series of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas?
And “Doctor Bill” is, to our thinking, in its conception, vulgar. And that this is the case is shown by the fact that the name role is not quite well played by Fred Terry. Make-up, intention, energy, are all there. But the presentation just misses fire. And that is because the actor is one that aims at higher game, because, in the stock phrase, he has the capacity for such infinitely better work; because it is impossible for a Terry to be vulgar, and the effective playing of these imbroglio-intrigue-parts, with their essence of real or implied marital unfaithfulness, requires a vein of vulgarity rarely to be found in conjunction with the true artistic blood.
The whole eleven actors and actresses play as well together as an Australian team. Miss Laura Graves, Miss Edith Kenward, as the Kangaroo Danseuse, Marie Linden and Henry Grattan in the servant parts, all struggle with nothing, like the clown lifting a straw, only they show no trace of effort in their work. Miss Carlotta Leclercq makes an entity of a nonentity part. Mr. George Capel shows that he is an artist outside the cramping range of burlesque. Mr. Benjamin Webster, whose Malcolm we remember with delight, almost invented a new type of masher. Miss Robins ought to be playing strong emotional parts. Mr. Albert Chevalier, in trying to make up for the smallness of the abortive father-in-law part, just over-did it, and Miss Fanny Brough is magnificent. A little suspicion of Mrs. John Wood in her reading of the ex-ballet dancer-superintendent-of -police’s wife. But a rich, finished, polished, racy, humorous and human performance, hitting exactly the fine line between the modesty of nature and the extravagance of art.
The Honeydews for the Frank Cooper and Alma Murray parts in “Daisy’s Escape;” Postlethwaite for Lambert Streyke in “The Colonel.” These be indeed new lamps for old. Not to mention the lesser lights of severe slaps and consequent “Don’t do that’s,” and other fun of the Noah’s ark, if not of the antediluvian period.
The enormous success of “Our Flat” at the Strand, a success that depends in the main on the business of the furniture removing, and above all of the furniture making, will have much to be answerable for. In Mr. Jerome’s piece at Terry’s, we have the first of a probably very plentiful crop of plays, depending on furniture business. Mr. Penley in the lift is the central figure of the play. Only is there not a tinge, too much of Mr. Penley and the lift? Falstaff is only once put into the buck-basket, and is not treated as a weekly instalment of washing ad infinitum.
Mr. Jerome is fond of the Da Capo principle. The first time that the young husband and wife repeat practically the same words and go through identically the same business with Jorkins the butler (very cleverly played by Mr. Lestocq) there is humour. But the repetition of this duplicate dialogue and action becomes after a time an expected and recurrent dread.
And are we to take the play as a burlesque or a farcical comedy? If it is the former the first essential to the burlesquing of anything seems wanting. That is the clear understanding of the burlesquee. If “New Lamps for Old” is a skit on Ibsen, Mr. Jerome ought to have read his Ibsen something more carefully. And if it is to be a farcical comedy, why does he miss the immense opportunity of the meeting of the two pairs of eloped husbands and wives, over the same dinner table, at the end of Act II?
Morally, Mr. Jerome’s play seems to us to come to this, that the fact of two people being married is the essential reason for their remaining together, not the question of moral, intellectual, physical fitness. This it is, more than anything else, that seems to show that our genial and most amiable burlesquer has not understood his burlesquee. We are not concerned here with the analysis of the difficult question of the meaning, the sacredness, if you will, of the marriage tie. But the position of lbsen is surely this: that a man and a woman have no right to live together unless they are fitted for, understand, can bear with, and get the best for the world out of, each other; unless, in Nora’s words, their union is a true marriage. And with Mr. Jerome’s two couples this oneness is not the main reason of the re-union, but rather the fact that the pairs of human beings have gone through the ceremony of marriage.
Here again the acting is on the whole of a really high order. Mr. Penley has nothing to do but eat a breakfast, lose an umbrella, and make voyages in a lift. Miss Houston has mastered wondrously the intricacies of a suburban domestic’s h’s. Messrs. Kerr and Bernard Gould are admirable intrinsically, and by virtue of their contrasted styles. So are Miss Cissy Grahame and Miss Gertrude Kingston. Miss Grahame especially struck us as more than anyone else catching the true spirit of exaggeration and leavening it with the leaven of necessary seriousness.
The critics who have to do with Mr. E. R. Henson, his theatre, his company, and his work perceive a divided duty. There is so much to praise. There seems to be so much to blame. The young actor-manager plays thus far nothing but stage classics and two-thirds of them literary classics its well. He has the plays mounted and stage-managed in the most perfect, and therefore in the most artistic, fashion. If for the really wonderful mounting and managing Mr. Hugh Moss is, as we understand, largely answerable, let him divide with Mr. Benson the heartfelt thanks of all lovers of the beautiful. A minor point, but one in keeping with the whole admirable intention of the Globe Management, is the abolition of fees.
But there praise must end and the sorrow- of fault-finding begin. Let us start with the very title of the play. “The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare” (sic, as the newspapers say). Mr. Benson needs no ghost from the dead dramatists of the 16th century to tell him that the play was not by William Shakspere. It is from, at least, four different hands; the writer of the older play, the adapter of this, Marlowe, from whom the adapter incontinently borrowed, and Shakspere. And the greatest hand did the least work in quantity. It is nothing short of misrepresentation to bill the play known as “The Taming of the Shrew” as by William Shakspere. And if only for the sake of those weaker vessels in the study of literature who get most of their dramatic facts at second hand from theatrical programmes, such a mis-statement ought not to be made. The more by token as the delightful and delicious Induction, indubitably Shakspere’s, is wholly omitted in the Globe representation. And this is an omission almost as unfair to Shakspere as crediting him progrannuatically with the whole of the play. Was not the Induction written as a raison d'être for the presentation of such a will and boisterous farce?
For the acting. Here, as in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the intentions are as honourable as those of any of the suitors of Bianca. But the means of realising them are wanting. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Mr. Benson is better as Petruchio than he was as Lysander. But may that not be because Lysander is wholly Shakspere, and is therefore a dramatic touchstone, and Petruchio is only fragmentarily his? Mrs. Benson forgets that even though Katherine is not a Shaksperian woman, is not of the same kin as Portia, and Imogen, and Miranda, she is nevertheless not a virago. She is a spoilt child. Of the crowd of other actors only two single themselves out. The one by his poor performance of Grumio – Mr. Weir; the other by his excellent performance of Tranio – Mr. Herbert Ross. By far the best piece of acting this, of the twenty-six. Miss Marion Grey is a very beautiful and a very good Bianca, and Miss Townshend’s exquisite singing of “Should he upbraid,” was worth a whole wilderness of acting. We had forgotten the delicious ass who struck us, however, as rather dissatisfied with his part.
An adaptation, a poem, and a note. Not content with giving us a four-act play cleverly built out of perhaps the most undramatic novel ever written, Mr. Buchanan gives us a little poem of his own among the dentifrice advertisements, and a note explaining that for the one dramatic fourth of the play he is indebted to the Gymnase drama of Dumanoir, Guillard, and Clairville. Undramatic as the subject is, and undramatic as much of the treatment almost of necessity must be, yet it is undeniable that “Clarissa” holds the attention of the same shop-keeping class that sees no pathos in Nora. Winifred Emery’s acting is really wonderful. It is questionable if anything short of actual genius could keep together that hour upon hour of dying in the fourth act. And yet the act and the piece are kept together by the work, almost unaided, of this young actress. Mr. Thalberg helps in the earlier acts, and if he had not quite such a fine figure and quite such good teeth he would be much more useful. Mr. Thomas Thorne is too old and clever a stager to make any mistake, and his Belford is a sterling, thorough piece of work whenever no pathos is required. Only two points of general criticism. Would not the end of the third act be better with “Clarissa” fainting on the sofa as she is a moment before that end, instead of the present finish? The latter is on this wise. Lovelace performs the excellent gymnastic feat of carrying “Clarissa” across the stage and half-way up the stairs to his bedroom, and then “imprints on her lips” an anything but chaste salute. We prefer the simpler ending. Not from any notions of prudery, but from the point of view of dramatic significance. And the ending of the play would be better, as we think, without so much rather ostentatious blessing on the part of “Clarissa,” because she has had a little trouble with Lovelace, and surely better if she did not embrace him lover-fashion at the finish. Either she is a weak girl, loves him still, and will yield to his offer of marriage, or she is a strong woman, loathes him for the wrong done to her, and to all womanhood, and then she would not kiss and embrace him, but go on blessing him as she has blessed all the rest.
The first-piece improvement mania – a very amiable form – has even infected the Vaudeville, that most conservative of theatres. “Meadow sweet” is necessarily as slight as a maiden of fifteen must be. But it is graceful and full of character as well, and it is very cleverly played by “all concerned,” with one exception. Miss Ella Banister is not the fresh and rose-milk country maiden of the author and the piece. She is not quite able to throw off the town airs she catches nightly outside the Bell Tavern in Covent Garden in the second act of “Clarissa.” All the others are admirable, and Cyril Maude’s living, not acting, of a country cad, turned town snob, is a piece of condensed genius. We have used that word twice already in this notice in respect to a husband and wife. For Winifred Emery is, as all the world knows, Mrs. Maude. In their art they are also one.
Mr. Hare’s theatre promises to run even the Lyceum close for pride of place in the emulous artistic struggle between theatrical managers. For “finish,” the Garrick in almost every department ranks ahead of every other theatre except that of Wellington Street. And this holds, whether we consider the pieces produced, the actors that play them, the setting of the scenes, the music, or even the furniture of the auditorium.
There is only one drawback to the complete enjoyment of an evening at the Garrick. And that is a drawback only affecting a very small fraction of the audience. Unfortunately, on each of our last two visits we have been factors of that fraction. Part of the stage is invisible to the one or two extreme end-dwellers in nearly every row of pit, stalls, and dress-circle, and probably of every other part of the house, and with a fatal persistency the actors and actresses drift again and again into corners Then the fraction cuijus pars fuimus, is like Saul before he was called Paul, hearing a voice but seeing no man, except occasionally the butt end of a knee.
The finish of all Mr. Hare’s artistic work comes out at the very beginning of the programme. In the admirable first piece, “Dream Faces,” is another evidence of the excellent tendency commented upon in our March notes. It is a very charming little play, and with a cast that would make one of the old-time managers turn in his grave. Forbes Robertson comes from the playing of Scarpia in “La Tosca,” to act in a curtain raiser. There is, of course, no descent in this. Mr. Robertson simply takes this new and shorter part in his steady, onward, and upward march in the way of art. Sydney Brough, who plays one of the most important parts in the main piece, has a small one in this. Carlotta Addison makes her only appearance for the evening in the one-act play, and Miss Blanche Horlock and Mr. Stanley Pringle fill out a remarkable cast. The acting especially that of the two elders, is as remarkable as the cast and as the piece.
“A Pair of Spectacles” is said to be adapted from “Les petits Oiseaux” of MM. Labiche and Delacour. It appears to us, judging from one hearing only, rather a translation than an adaptation. The programme of the Garrick corresponds almost literally with the list of personnages in the French play, allowing for the Anglicising of the names. The incidents are apparently, with trifling differences, identical. One curious literal rendering of the French presents an instructive example of a slip on the part of even so careful and admirable a worker as Mr. Grundy. He renders Blandinet’s “Je n'ai pas de chance aujourd’ hui,” in the second act, “I've no chance to-day.” Of course the meaning of the French phrase is, “I'm not in luck to-day.”
The piece, adaptation, translation, what you will, is immensely amusing, and not without its moral. This last is summed up in the Rosalind phrase: “Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows.” The first states of both the brothers are equally unreasonable, and at the end neither of them has learnt anything whatever from his moral antithesis. The French authors and Mr. Grundy to boot are, we take it, laughing in their sleeve at all and sundry who look on the sudden efflorescence of all the virtues on the part of all the characters in the third act as anything more than a half-mirthful, half-cynical burlesque.
The acting is beyond all praise. Only three of the eleven actors have parts, but the other eight actually made substance of the shadows the authors have given them. The three are Messrs. Hare, Groves, and Brough. Mr. Hare’s part is a crescendo one, Mr. Grove’s a diminuendo one. Each is as perfect a living picture as we have seen within the frame of a proscenium this long while. Sydney (Bob) Brough is delightful. It is not too high praise to say that he, with his two elders, divides the honour of a very remarkable performance into three almost equal shares.
“Comparisons are odorous,” but inevitable and valuable. Especially when, within twenty-four hours, one of the other, two plays are produced at two of our most popular theatres, under the management of two of our most popular actors. And yet more especially when the two actor-managers are both, as yet, on trial. Neither Mr. E.S. Willard nor Mr. Beerbohm Tree has reached the position in which the unreasoning following of the unthinking multitude makes almost anything possible of condonation. It is true that an artist, in any sort, is only “by merit raised to that bad eminence,” but the eminence is bad alike for artist and for art.
Mr. Willard and Mr. Tree are not yet out of their periods of probation as art-purveyors for the public. It is interesting to compare the fashion of the two latest articles they have simultaneously cast upon the market.
And first, “Dick Venables.” Let us work from below upwards. “Dick Venables” is melodrama, impure but simple. There is nothing complex about either plot or character. There is no suspicion of psychological analysis. The piece is of the old familiar type that calls for no imagination, no effort, on the part of either audience, actor or author. The word “impure” was used by us, apart from its obvious dragging in on the suggestion of the time-honoured phrase “pure and simple,” as really connoting the moral position of such plays as “Dick Venables,” in the artistic sense. They contribute nothing to the purification of the dramatic art. The evolution of the drama gets, as the countryman said of the claret, “no forrarder,” for “Dick Venables.” It is sad to see an artist like Mr. Willard with such opportunities, such a following, such a record of excellent work done in the past, nay, in the immediate past, returning to the kind of piece and the kind of part he was wont to play before he had a free hand.
What is the dramatic significance of the play? That a convict may face danger over and over again in the same wearisomely repeated form, thanks to the unconquerable stupidity of a plague of warders and of afternoon callers. The relations of the convict to his wife are as inexplicable as that lady’s conduct in, first, remarrying him, and second, choosing her residence, of all places in the world, in a village the air of which is thick with convicts, escaped or otherwise.
The piece is not without its dramatic moments; as when the new governor of the prison is introduced to the man that ought to be the captive of his lock and key. But the dramatic moments are all of the same order, and the piece becomes monotonous from the outset; a monotony, unrelieved by the accommodating habit that all the circle of Mrs. Lisle’s acquaintances have of making their calls at precisely the same time.
Neither characters nor dialogue help. Dick Venables is only the Spider playing another man’s part. And Miss Olga Brandon’s senseless wife has nothing to do but lie again and again and look miserable when her husband is confronting relays of people coming from the prison. The kleptomaniac archdeacon and the jewellomaniac German are not amusing. The German living near a convict prison keeps in his drawing-room and in a cellarette whose lock could be picked with a hairpin, thousands of pounds’ worth of jewellery. The governor is amusing, “though not so meant,” as somebody says somewhere in Dickens. The position of this officer and gentleman who loves Mrs. Lisle and finds out her husband, was, we take it, meant to be tragic. And yet somehow it would strike us as comic, especially when the governor seriously suggested, as the only way out of the difficulty, the resignation of his berth at the prison. It is characteristic of the moral of the piece, that only when the governor-lover accuses his beloved of being the mistress of Venables, does she betray her husband. She does not mind lying day in, day out, living with (apparently in the fullest sense) a murderer whom she loathes. She is even willing to escape with the murderer. But upon an accusation of being his mistress, with a melodramatic “He is my husband,” she gives that worthy away.
The dialogue was poor and contained no line that forced itself into the memory; and the acting, with the two exceptions of Mr. Willard and Miss Olga Brandon, did not rise above the level of the piece. Mr. Alfred Bishop was lost as the archdeacon; Mr. Carden has not a command of the German accent; Mr. Elwood seemed overburdened with the responsibility of his new appointment; Miss Annie Rose didn’t reconcile us to the loss of her name-sake Annie Hughes, that was. Mrs. Canninge alone appeared able to get something out of her part. Mr. Willard with a wonderful first entrance was very powerful in a part and a play alike unworthy of his power.
The transition from “Dick Venables” to “A Village Priest” is great but pleasurable. In the Haymarket piece we have a drama rather than a melodrama, anyhow a play. It is by the confession of Mr. Grundy suggested by a French play, and presumably we shall have the British dramatists of the Adelphi type crying out in their wilderness for “genuine” British art. As long as we have such work as that now in presentation at the Haymarket, let them cry. One hour of a play of this kind is worth a cycle of popular melodrama. We are not able to go in detail into the indebtedness of Mr. Grundy to his French suggesting source. The literal translation of “Le secret de la l'erreuse” promised, was not forthcoming, and time to look up the French play has also not been forthcoming. But, as far as we can understand, the Haymarket play is really new and original, and Mr. Grundy has, after the fashion of other dramatists, greater as well as less than himself, taken an idea and made a play of it.
“A Village Priest” is full of dramatic significance, of dramatic intensity and power. It has to do with the eternal tragedies of life and death and love. These and their victims, the living men and women of the play, meet in that elemental simplicity born of complex relations that we call, paraphrasing and modifying the line on Haidée and Juan, “naked, natural and Greek.” A man trusted, honoured, beloved in his life-time, not only of his own kith and kin but of the public, turns out after death to be a seducer, a murderer, an unjust judge; and his Confessor, his son, his mistress, the man he sent to the galleys for life, every one but the dead man’s wife, mercifully blind, is led by ways lying at first wide apart and starting from points that seem worlds asunder, to this one central position at last.
There has been much talk of the central motive of this remarkable play, and most of the talkers have agreed that this is in the conflict within the bosom of the priest, Abbé Dubois. Whilst undoubtedly this dramatic struggle between the morally right and the legally or religiously right, equally finely worked out by author and actor, may be regarded as the most tremendous agony in the village near Rouen, there are other conflicts of hardly less intensity and of certainly not less pain. For, just as Mr. Grundy makes one of his human beings say, “Youth may be earnest just as much as age,” so youth may suffer just as much as age. So, therefore, we may place with the torment and turmoil in the Abbé’s sanctified bosom, not only the immense suffering and final self-abnegation of Jean Torquenie, not only the woman’s burning shame of the Comtesse, as the veil of years is turned back from her past sins, but also the agony of the son bound by iron fact linked on to iron fact, to the conviction of a seducer-murderer father, as the Roman criminals were to a corpse. And the anguish of the girl losing not only faith in a shadowy ideal of a dead man, and far more than that, faith in her mother’s chastity; but putting also away from her love and all its sweet possibilities, may not that in the great assay of the universe be measured against the spiritual suffering of the priest? Indeed to us the most intense pain is in those two young lives that had come so closely together, and must henceforth pace divergent ways; the woman, at least, “defrauded of her unreturning May-time of passion.”
From all of which it will be gathered that there are no lay figures in the art sense grouped around the Village Priest. Every character is as intrinsically distinct as it is distinct from each of the half score of others. And in this piece there is not that of which some of Mr. Tree’s best friends after the fashion of best friends – accused him ere now. There is no overwhelming preponderance of one part over the others. The Abbé’s is the longest part in, and the central part of, the play. But with the exception of the two harmless necessary servants, none of the rest of the people can by any stretch of discourtesy be called subordinate. There is a diffuseness perhaps in their relations to the five acts of the play. Mr. Fernandez, e.g., is not on in Acts III. and IV.; Mrs Gaston Murray and Miss Norreys not in Acts II. and III., and Mrs. Brooke not in Acts I. and III. But this is after all preferable to the solid platoons in which the visitors in “Dick Venables” come marching on act after act.
The dialogue is in Mr. Grundy’s best serious vein, and hans also its lighter touches that seem less a relief than an integral part of what has to be and must be said, as necessarily as the acts of the men and women of the tragedy must of necessity be done. In the refusal to work up an artificial comic interest of the usual uninteresting kind, Mr. Grundy has once again done good artistic work. His humour belongs to the priest himself, for the charming old housekeeper Madeleine is as much part and parcel of the Abbé as his own quaint tenderness, and the self-forgetfulness that moves us to a quiet and most happy smile.
For the acting, that is as near perfection as may be. Mr. Tree, if he will not over-elaborate the Abbé, should give for many months to come a picture of infinite delicacy and finish, one of those perfect portraits that only great masters can paint, one of those perfect portraits that we have missed of late from his hand. The hand has been of late hampered, and even perhaps misdirected. But it has not lost its cunning, and the Abbé Dubois may be placed in the same gallery, almost on the same line, as the picture of one Dr. Primrose of Wakefield.
Mr. Fernandez is the least bit in the world too mouthy. Ore rotundo is the motto of that sterling actor. But he is a picturesque villain that is not a villain, but a most wronged man, who can take the supreme moment and rise to the height of it. His quiet exit (’tis a play, by the way, of quiet, unforced exits) is a triumph of resistance to a temptation worse than any of Saint Anthony’s.
Fred Terry’s performance is very beautiful. A crescendi movement of the passing from absolute trust in a dead father to the bitter consciousness of distrust not only of him but of oneself is marked as great musicians mark their musical transitions.
It is impossible to speak of Fred Terry’s Armand without speaking of Rose Leclercq’s Comtesse. The scene between these two is, to our thinking, the most tremendous in the play. And it is done like all huge tragic things, by such simple means on the part of the three great artists concerned. The third is, of course, Mr. Grundy.
Mrs. Gaston Murray is a very perfect old lady, whose blindness holds her aloof from the whirlwind of passion and pain of which, could she see, she would be the centre figure. Mrs. Brooke is a garrulous, domineering, whole-hearted housekeeper, also happily outside the tragedy, and yet casting upon it a side light quite different from that thrown by Madame D'Arcay.
Mrs. Tree’s Marguerite is the most beautiful thing we have yet seen this actress do, and nearly the most beautiful thing in the play. Whilst of those who say that Miss Norreys exaggerates her terror at the return of her convict father, we would ask – Is not that terror the terror of a child at the unknown? She has never seen Jean Torquenie, but has heard, talked, and above all, dreamed of him. He is to her a nightmare, and in a nightmare we scream and writhe and are beside ourselves with fear.
Like Macbeth, we have of late been supping full of horrors. The theatrical menu has consisted of three courses. Two ladies and one gentleman – Theodora, Esther Sandraz, and Paul Kauvar. The three are all members of one family, and they have a strong family likeness.
The word “horrors” is used in connexion with these three plays, not merely on account of their subject matter, but on account of their dramatic and literary manner. They swarm with more or less physical unpleasantnesses; poisons, executioners, swinging blades, hints of torture and the bowstring, pistol shots, cannon balls, and the guillotine. But the nightmare induced by our late dramatic supper is due rather to the cooking and the serving than to the raw material.
The Byzantine, the French, the English, the American. The first is “as God made her,” and with that, as these are not historical notes, we have nothing to do. For the French Theodora – she is a creature, artistically speaking, after Sarah Bernhardt’s own heart. The play, as it is Sardon’s, is, by compulsion, clever. But it has not escaped the risks necessarily attending all works of art fashioned to order. “Written round” Madame Bernhardt, the character, the language, the incidents, the situations, do not seem to grow inevitably, inexorably, as necessary parts of one organic whole of art. They seem to be fitted on to the personal peculiarities and individual wishes of one great artist.
Mr. Robert Buchanan is the stepfather of’ the English Theodora. The main difference between him and the actual parent lies in the fact that he prefers the offspring committing suicide by poison to her being strangled by string.
And the American? Well, it is a brave, a rash experiment, wonderfully well carried out in every detail, but with the great heart of the play not beating. Scenery, dresses, jewels, music, lights, colours – all there in the ordinary and in the vulgar sense. But the Theodora? Non est inventa. No one can say that, as the Murder Club in De Quimcey’s Essay said it of Toad-in-the-hole, cum cacchinibus. No. More in sorrow than in mirth let us repeat, Ube est ill Theodora? And answer, Cum suspiriis, non est inventa.
Or, in plain English, Miss Hawthorne is not physically fitted to play the lecherous, beautiful, venomous, murderous woman. Whether she is mentally fitted for realising a character at once complex and powerful, we need not stop to ask. The initial qualification of body, without which no one has the artistic right to touch Theodora, is wanting. Extraordinary physical beauty – face, form, voice agreeing – the beauty and the wickedness of the devil – the power of fascinating as much by the wickedness as by the beauty – these are essential. And these are wanting. The American Theodora is physically under-sized and over-weighted. Not that actual physique is a sine qua non for a great actor. As witness Rachel, Kean, Garrick! For the rest, Mr. Vernon is splendid in the little that the great Justinian has to do; Mr. Leonard Boyne is rather unhappy as Andreas; and Mr Cartwright’s Marcellus is so good that one could almost sit out the play as far as he lasts for his sake. Almost. Not quite.
The visit to the St. James’s also was not joy unalloyed. In the first place, the theatre is one of the badly built ones – at all events as far as the right-hand corner of the dress-circle is concerned. Thanks to the ready courtesy of Messrs. Gilbert Tate and Read, that ill was remedied as far as we were concerned. But we saw our less fortunate fellows after we left them standing up, craning necks and straining ears to catch glimpses of the stage and snatches of the dialogue.
“The Tiger” did its worst to throw every one into a state of general dissatisfaction with existence. It is called a musical farce, and Wright as well be called a funeral procession. It is our old friend “The Bengal Tiger” disinterred from the grave of rollicking farce that never rollicked, and the corpse decked out by Messrs. Burnand and Solomon. The music of the latter is not without catchiness. But it is to be hoped that the humour of the former is not catching. Its chief exposition is in the total omission in the programme of any reference to the source of Mr. Burnand’s inspiration. The chief mourners were Messrs J.G. Taylor, Colnaghi and W.F. Stirling.
“Esther Sandraz” compares unfavourably with Mr. Grundy’s adaptation at the Haymarket, or his translation at the Garrick. In the “Village Priest” there is beautiful work all round. In a “Pair of Spectacles” there is the rendering into admirable English of a clever play. But in Esther Sandraz, Mr. Grundy seems, like Gallio, to have cared for none of these things. It looks and sounds as if his heart had not been in his work; as if he had read Belot’s “Femme de glace,” and said, “Here’s a part that'll suit Mrs. Langtry. Let’s translate it as it pot-boiler and realise.”
Mrs. Langtry herself has, to our thinking, made enormous improvement. Not physically, but artistically. Let us confess to having been among those who regarded her advent upon the stage as that of a fine animal, sufficiently photographed and talked about to make the experiment worth a trial. Let us now with equal frankness confess that she is an actress. Not, as it seems, a great one yet, but a very good one and with potentiality, if Time and the Fates allow, of climbing perilously near the perilous height of greatness. There may be still a little too much reliance upon the physical qualifications – heaven forefend that these should not have their due place in the reckoning – a little too much of the photographic, and even a hint at the fleshly, pose. But the voice is now rich and manageable, the stage presence is the real presence; there is something more than the simulation of great emotions, or else that greatest of all simulations – simulatio celare simulationem. In a word, Mrs. Langtry has learnt well, and by thinking for herself, has “bettered the instruction” of her instructors.
It is a pity that Mrs. Langtry is not better supported by her company. The British public supports just as much and just as far as it is capable of supporting. And if it refuses to look upon Esther Sandraz as either a great or an attractive play, for once, we are with it. But although no quantity and no duality, even the highest, of acting, could make this child of Belot by Grundy great, good acting might have made it more attractive. And, with the exception of Mrs. Langtry and one other, there is no good acting. There is a theory among theatrical outsiders that sometimes “stars” in that kaleidoscopic firmament prefer the satellites of Jupiter or Juno not to be of the foremost magnitudes. Mrs. Langtry may be an exponent of this theory only by accident. But assuredly her surroundings support the ill-natured hypothesis more successfully than they support her.
Mr. Sugden is terrible. He has nor face, nor presence, nor voice. He has not the personal magnetism that covers a multitude of other sins. His only use seems to be the giving of a physical reason for Esther’s forgetting all the love that theoretically had been, in the hate that is. Mr. Bourchier is still an amateur. And an amateur lover, no matter how charming may be his novelty to a jaded woman of the world, would not carry away a young married woman, not even on the strength of a previous introduction, and certainly cannot carry away an audience.
Mrs. Charles Calvert is an experienced actress in the heavy school. She has yet to master the rudiments of the grandes dames’ school, even the rudiment of harmonious dressing; but, after all, the wife of a provincial magnate is provincial. And Miss Marion Lea, as untidy as ever, is not strong as Henriette. She may have been managerially told to “play light,” as the boxers say, for fear of lessening the effect of Esther Sandraz’ part. If she has been, let her disobey her orders, at least, to the extent of speaking out in the duel scene between the two women. And if the order has been given, let it in the interests of art, of the play, of Mrs. Langtry herself, be incontinently revoked. The more strongly the part of Henriette is played, by so much the more will that of Esther loom large.
And our exception to this rule of mediocrity? Mr. Everill. The broad, strong manner of the old Haymarket days is there, and is very welcome. We had almost forgotten Mr. De Lange. Ingrates that we are! In a small part, only playing at the fag-end of one act, Mr. De Lange shows that, had he the opportunity, he would run Mr. Everill close in the race for second place in this piece. But the piece is not worthy of Mr. Grandy, nor Mrs. Langtry, nor, in fact, of any one but Mr. Belot.
After the others, this. There is a sense of mass about Drury Lane that not even the irritating littleness of charging 6d. for a programme can quite wipe out. But when to this antediluvian irritant is added that of a bad play, all Mr. Harris’s splendour of auditorium and of staging is painfully frittered away.
For “Paul Kauvar” is no better, as a play, than the French of its programme and of its performers. There are three atrocious blunders in the former, and about as many ways of pronouncing any given French word on the part of the latter. And as to the play, once again we are reminded that the recognition of the French Revolution, as a dramatic event, is not the sole qualification for writing a play upon it. “Paul Kauvar,” like the “Dead Heart,” bubbles over with inaccuracies, and Mr. Steele Mackaye’s play no more than that of Mr. Watt Phillips fulfils the essential condition of recognising the devil-found-mischief to be done by Revolutionist and Royalist alike.
The story is not very possible nor very interesting. It is on a level with the dialogue, one typical line of which may be quoted. “You sought to part two loving hearts whom heaven (which plays a very prominent part in the piece) had joined.”
Mr. Terriss is rather artificially picturesque as the excessively careless Paul Kauvar. Henry Neville, looking younger than ever, played a very fatuous duke in such a way as not altogether to disguise his fatuity. Arthur Stirling, coming straight from playing in the “Dead Heart” to the enactment of General Delaroche in an equally Anglo-French play, showed once again how admirable a voice is his, and how he only wants a little more stage presence to be big. Mr. Charles Hudson is either a freak of nature or one of Nature’s journeymen; he imitates Irving so abominably. Victor Stephens and Edith Bruce are the two dolefully comic characters. The fault is not theirs.
Miss Millward is, as we said of Mrs. Langtry, so very good as nearly to be great. Her acting certainly towers above that of all the rest. But there is one thing site wants. Heart.
There may be more than one theatre just now to which, we can send our French friends with the hope that the comedy-acting limy compare not unfavourably with that which they will see in Paris. But there is only one whither they can he hopefully, if not quite fearlessly, sent to make comparisons between the French and English comedy writers of to-day. For the former purpose we can risk the Garrick and Terry’s, the Vaudeville and Avenue. But for the latter we can only suggest the Court. For the Garrick and Avenue are living on plays that are at least founded on the French, the Vaudeville has a modernisation of old English work, and Mr. Jerome’s work is not of the school that can be fairly compared with the French comedies.
At the Court, however, there is a new play by an old friend, the “Cabinet Minister” by Mr. Pinero. It is not so good as “Dandy Dick.” It is thin and of dubious, intentionally dubious, morality. In this last particular the unthinking may conceive a kinship with French comedy is involved. But the immorality of the people in the “Cabinet Minister” has no relationship with what is called the immorality of the French stage. This last is self-centred in the one idea of sexual shortcomings. But in the “Cabinet Minister” the immorality consists of general lying, stock-exchange gambling, the substitution by a member of the Government of one paper for another “with intent to deceive,” and the using a knowledge of State secrets for the purpose of giving instructions to one’s stockbroker.
And in the matter of breeding, the Cabinet Minister himself and his wife, and all the rest of the fine folk at Sir Julian Twombley’s or at the Earl of Drumdurris’, are very little better bred than the city cad, Mr. Josiah Lebanon. It is only a question of the kind of ill-breeding in which the two kinds of people excel. And of this, as well as of the fact that the scheming of the grandees is no more honourable than that of the parvenus, Mr. Pinero is, we fancy, quite conscious. He is, after the fashion of the comedy writers, laughing in his sleeve at the foibles and follies of all the creatures of his little world.
The piece, with all its thinness, a thinness emphasised to the playgoers who remember the old Court by the absence of John Clayton, Rose Norreys, Laura Linden, Harry Eversfield, W. Denny, and by the weakness of the last act, is vastly amusing. How, indeed, could it be otherwise with Mrs. John Wood fitted with a part after her own heart, and with Arthur Cecil not so well fitted, but still Arthur Cecil? Mrs. Wood is the actress we had in mind, when in the month of March the word “rarely” was inserted in the phrase “a vein of vulgarity rarely to be found in conjunction with the true Artist-blood.” For there is a quite delightful and refreshing dash of vulgarity in Mrs. Wood’s acting, just as there is in Nellie Farren’s. And yet what artists the two women are. Think of the speech about the horse in “Dandy Dick.” Go and see Mrs. Wood in the “Cabinet Minister,” in her perplexity, her difficulties, torn this way and that by her debts, her devotion to her children, her affection for her husband, and see how near to tragedy she comes again and again in the midst of her comedy. In any case everyone must go see the Court play. Not for the reason that we fear weighs strongly with some of the fashionable folk, that in the first act there is a wonderful display of Court dresses – the regular, not the theatrical Court. But because, with the exception of one or two young people who must surely pay, rather than be paid to play, the piece is wonderfully acted all round. Amongst the parts played as well as they deserve to be, and could be, by Allan Aynesworth, Brandon Thomas, Herbert Waring, Eva Moore, Isabel Ellissen, Rosina Filippi, and Mrs. Edmund Phelps, stands out, not less distinctly than the playing of the two principals, that of Weedon Grossmith, as a Jew city cad. He might have been born in Maida Vale and gone straight to Thrognrorton Street, and the performance is worthy of his brother George himself.
M. Mayer did not begin very happily at Her Majesty’s. Daudet’s play is deadly stupid, and deadly dull. It might be called, as far as the audience is concerned, “La lutte contre le sommeil.” And from the article of Paul Lafargue, in the February number of Time, we had been led to believe that the long-winded thing was interesting. There was to be something dramatic in it; there were to be fine scenes. It is difficult to say which is worse, M. Daudet’s idea of Darwin, or of the drama. And for the fine scenes, we watched and waited, and they came not. Only one at last, and that unexpected – the farewell of Lydie, whom Astier has seduced, to her timid lover, Caussade, at the end of the second act. That was very tender and touching, by virtue of the delicate art of Madame Darlaud and Bourguet, and maybe by comparison with the rest of the play. Marais, as the outrage on Darwinism, Paul Astier, was very powerful. There was in figure, face, manner, voice, even in dress, a realisation of the social duellist, the deadliest of men to face. Madame Pasca played as powerfully in a different way as his wife. But not even their high art nor the immense humour of Noblet could galvanise to life a play-corpse.
In its all too fragmentary revival, was as the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land to the traveller across the desert of dramatic performances. In this the “Dead Heart” could not be called an oasis, save by one suffering from mirage. But “Olivia” is good work, and was done upon this occasion of revival better than ever. These revival services at the church of the Lyceum awaken once again within our souls the prayerful hope that some day Henry Irving will see his way to at least a partial imitation of the Theatre Francais system, If he cannot give us a succession of short runs of his standard old pieces, and new ones worthy to keep them company, might we not have, during the run of such pieces as “The Dead Heart,” at least one night a-week for the Hamlets, the Twelfth Nights, the Louis XLs, and the Olivias?
There be actors and managers that over-elaborate as part and piece grow older. Henry Irving is not of their school. He has made truly a change in the last act, or, as we may think, has induced Mr. Wills to make it. But it is a change for the better. Now the first part of the closing act no longer takes place in a sitting-room, cruelly contracted for the purpose of leading up by way of a Conn-the-Shaughraun scene to the outside of the Vicar’s house on the Christmas morning. Now all the end of the play is in the big parlour of Dr. Primrose’s home.
All the old business and effects are made as perfectly and as unforcedly as ever. The Vicar’s curse of Thornhill is as strong and the break-down over the lost wanderer, when he is for sermonising, having found her once again, as pathetic. And how many men or women of this, or of all time, could put quite so many meanings into the words, “I'll be punished for it yet.” After the wife’s chiding of him for his over-love of their child, they come as a prayer, a self reproof, a foreboding – heaven only knows how many other meanings.
Ellen Terry was the delicious Olivia with whom we have all been in love these many years. And F.H. Macklin and William Terriss showed how true is the converse of the proverb that evil communications corrupt good manners. In the good company that they were each of them played as we have rarely seen them play. Macklin, always good, was the best Burchell of them all. And Terriss, by his particularly fine performance of Thornhill, notably in the “Dragon” scene, stirred within us curses loud and deep at Adelphi melodramas, and the crimes they do in the name of art.
Mr. Willard, after a temporary pause in his steadfast advance in favour with the gods and men, has resumed his march. “Judah” is a very fine play, and is very finely acted.
Mr. H.A. Jones, in the necessary puffs preliminary of which he is almost as clever a master as Mr. Spurgeon himself, misled us to some extent,, just as he did with the “Middleman.” “The Middleman,” we were told by paragraphs and letters, was to deal with the relations between capital and labour. With the essence of those relations it did not deal. “Judah,” we were informed through the same channels of information, was to deal with a great modern problem into which the relations between religion and science were to enter. And in this we were misled. For the moral problem propounded with such skill and strength in “Judah” is as old as the garden of Eden. It is the ever-recurring one of the truth or a lie. And that the question of telling the one or the other of these turns on an experiment in fasting does not modernise the play. Vashti might just as well be a mediaeval woman claiming magical powers of healing. The fact is that the only essentially modern lines along which a dramatist can work are the economic, the religious, the sexual, i.e., from our point of view, as the greater includes the lesser, the economic only. The really great modern play, when it comes, will deal not with the struggle in two human lives only, but, with that class-struggle which is the epic of the nineteenth century also. And thus far, even Ibsen has failed us.
It will be noticed that this criticism is directed not against the play, but against the unintentionally misleading accounts of it that appeared before “Judah” did. The play itself is a noble contribution to our jejune English drama. Only one point of adverse criticism suggests itself, and on it maybe Mr. Jones would be able to show cause against us. Our point is this. The immense struggle that is raging in the breasts of Judah and Vashti, and that ends in their resolve to take on them publicly the shame of the truth, is not, we think, shown sufficiently on the stage. There the man and woman are miserable. But the working out of the problem between these two, the talking it over, and thrashing it out, face to face, that is done “off.” Judah and Vashti go out for a walk, giving us practically no intimation of the one way of salvation that is to be taken, and they return to blazon themselves liars and therefore true human beings.
Mr. Jones may, however, contend that he is not yet an Ibsen, or that the English public is not yet educated up to the level of the long analytical conversation that would take place between them before they arrived at and agreed on their final decision. On the other hand, the conversation need not have been either long or analytical. The whirlwind of Judah’s eloquence (much spoken of but not greatly in evidence, by the way), the passionate laying bare of their heart, each to each, the agony of deception, the aching after relief of confession – all this might have culminated in a scene of powerful emotion rather than of reasoned-out discussion of right and wrong.
That we thus dwell on a point that seems to be of some moment, is a proof that the play is one of great interest. Its interest is in the human nature of it, and in its dramatic force. It is certainly the best piece of writing we have had from Mr. Jones. And as if warming with the good work he is doing, Mr. Jones, whose humour is not generally his strength, has in “Judah” drawn more than one really humorous character and given us more than one really humorous scene.
The acting of the play is as good as its writing. There is not a weak place anywhere. Without the space to analyse Mr. Willard’s and Miss Olga Brandon’s rendering of the two complex and difficult parts they play, all that can be said here and now is that their acting is of the very highest order. Royce Carlton, in a part the temptations of which to over-act are as strong as those of St. Anthony, is perfect. Messrs. Sant Matthews and F. Kerr have two parts wide as the poles asunder, except that they are both excellent and excellently played. Miss Gertrude Warden plays the trying Sophie Jopp with remarkable decision and a sense of a grim sort of humour, and she cleverly managed to prevent the character from being repulsive. One of our very young actresses, Miss Bessie Hatton, shows considerable promise as Lady Eve. Lady Eve is always hovering on the verge of death, and therefore, histrionically considered, on the verge of a laugh from the audience. To these, to the other actors and actresses of small parts, and to Messrs. Willard and Jones as the founders of so good a dramatic feast, the thanks of all lovers of art are due.
At the Prince of Wales’s is neither better nor worse than time average “comic” opera. Comic it can hardly by any stretch of imagination be called. Mr. Henry Ashley, in his quaint, dry style gets some fun out of a knight in armour of the Lord Mayor’s show type. But Mr. Harry Monkhouse, low comedian No. 2, has, in despair at his ungenerous treatment by the authors, to trot out all the ancient jokes (“wheezes” as the profession call them) that probably did duty in the long evenings in the Ark. Mr. Joseph Tapley can always be relied upon for accurate and finished singing, only marred by an occasional touch of the vibrato. His acting, however, would depress even that well-known-member of his family, Mark. Hayden Coffin has a fine presence, if he does seem to be saying habitually “know, all men (and women), by this presence that I am rather a fine fellow.” He acts, a rare thing in baritones, and has an intonation and a clearness of enunciation good to hear. Madame Amadi is a substantial Lady Alicia, Miss Camille Darville almost as substantial a Marjorie, and Miss Phyllis Broughton dances exquisitely. The story? There is none, but there are dresses and colours and charming music by Walter Slaughter.
The July and London theatres are proverbially uninviting. But it is in this same month, and its successor, that the outlying theatre-lover often has his chance of seeing the west-end gods of his idolatry near his own hearth and home. And if he lies out northwards, and his suburb is Islington, the chance is of the best. For there Mr. Charles Wilmot, and his right-hand man, Mr. Freeman, are the dramatic caterers, and their restaurant is the Grand Theatre.
Those that haunt the Strand and Piccadilly, have, in many cases, little conception of the really admirable work done all the year round at this theatre. Outside the pantomime season, the Grand is occupied by a succession of, for the most part, weekly tenants, all of the highest degree of respectability, histrionically speaking. They come from all the best houses, both of London and the provinces. They bring with them valuable property in the shape of plays that have been already tried, and not found wanting. So that the suburban of the north may, an he will, by a regular attendance once a, week at the Grand Theatre, Islington, keep abreast of the general march of things dramatic in this country.
As an example, for two weeks recently, Henry Irving and his Lyceum Company, less, however, its bright, particular star, Ellen Terry, were playing in Islington. The first week it was “The Bells,” and the second week it was “Louis XI.,” in neither of which is there a woman’s part big enough for Ellen Terry. In the second week we journeyed north and saw
Once out of the muddy street, unlovely with reeking shops, the glare of blown gas-flames, an inextricable whirl of trams and omnibuses, and one might almost have been in the Lyceum itself. There was Bram Stoker, the prince of acting managers, his brogue, as it were, permeating the ambient air. And there, when the curtain rose, were scenery, setting, dresses, acting, all just as if we were in Wellington Street.
The audience was like and unlike to the congregation that gathers in the season at the Lyceum. It was not fashionable; it would have been the last to lay claim to being cultured, its ideas of dress were as those of Jacob when he disturbed the equanimity of his family by presenting Joseph with a coat. They had evidently come from shops or the high stools of city offices. They used grease to their hair, and scent, to their pocket handkerchiefs, And yet, there was about them something more impressive than a west-end audience. It was not only the mass of them and the earnestness with which they settled down to see and hear. Perhaps it was the consciousness that this packed crowd of uncultured, commonplace human beings was moved by artistic work, and by an extraordinary personality, after much the same fashion as the more comfortably off men and women of another quarter of the town. The unifying principle of art dual made of these twain one flesh and blood. Now that we have seen the effect of Irving on the Islington shopkeepers and clerks, the next thing is to see him once again down east with the workers.
For the piece. It is, of course, a one-part play. And, perhaps, there may be a suspicion and doubt as to whether it is in the full sense of the word a play. Effective it certainly is, given a big actor to play Louis. And there are melodramatic moments and even minutes in it, although they turn upon the more ordinary passions of revenge, the lust for power and the lust for living. The most familiar form of lust, the one so familiar that it is the one always identified with the word unqualified, plays no part in the drama, except for the artistic hint of what has been and of the wish for what can never be again, in the scene between the king and the peasant woman.
Louis XI. is a one-part play in the sense that Eclipse is first, a street ahead of all the rest, as the racing men say. But for the rest, they run pretty nearly a dead heat for second place. There are eight of them, and at the Grand they were all but one played as well, or nearly its well, as they could be. The one is Mr. Haviland’s Francois de Paule. It may have been the memory of Tom Mead with his incomparable figure, face, and, above all, his voice. In any case there was a want of strength and of dignity, and of the tenderness that Mead put into the part And, although it may be urged that it was the physical rather than the mental qualifications that were lacking, yet, as has been noted before, the physical qualification is an essential, and comes reasonably within the purview of criticism. The other actor that gave rise to the Gilbertian “nearly as well” in a preceding sentence, was our robustious friend William Terriss. His Nemours was vigorous enough something too vigorous, perhaps, especially in the revenge speech. He was claiming the suffrages of the Islingtonions for his own bold venture the week ensuing, with Paul Kauvar. But for one sin on the part of a member of one of the artistic, if not of the learned professions, he must not be forgiven. There is no pronounceable “s” in Commines. And if one does not, know how to pronounce a foreign name, one might, at least ask some one who does.
Of the other six, Tyars (Tristan), Howe (Commines), Macklin (Coitier), Harvey (the Dauphin), Miss Coleridge (Marie), and above all Archer (Olivier), nothing higher can be said that that their work is worthy of their chief. And that can be said not only of them, but also of Kate Phillips and Sam Johnson in their one act and one scene.
Of the chief, it is the old story. Assuredly he stands quite alone. To see him as Dr. Trimose, and then as Louis XI.! It is to make us long for a greater old man than either – the father of Cordelia. A longing intensified as we look upon the marvellous make-up in the dying scene and catch, through all the sardonic bitterness and suspicion of the French King, a note here and there of pathos.
At last Beerbohm Tree has decided to do that which some of us have been begging Henry Irving to do as long as we have had pens to write drama notes, and paper to put them to. When the Abbé returns from his country wanderings, and is again at home in the Haymarket (an Abbé in the Haymarket!), he is to vary the long runs that all of us, with a half-sigh, must wish him, by Monday representations of special plays, not in the general weekly bill. It is an excellent and artistic idea, worthy of the traditions of the theatre, of Mr. Tree’s good work, of the thanks and of the support of all of us.
The second, like the first, was handicapped by the ferociously close afternoon, and by the school girl nature of the audience. To read a tragedy in a Turkish bath with the majority of the attendants in long hair and short dresses is a modern instance of the ordeal by torture. Yet, through that ordeal they came triumphantly. The division of labour was not quite equal. Ellen Terry looks charming, and acts, without make-up and accessories, Lady Macbeth. Her partner in crime, at Inverary, looks after all the rest of the play and the characters. And that is the most interesting thing about the reading. We learn what all the other people around Macbeth really are to Macbeth. And thus we understand, even better than before, what manner of man he is.
As things are to-day, we can hardly expert ever to see the witches played by the very greatest artists. But those that hear Irving read them can, at least, learn the conception of them formed by one of the greatest. And certainly, the devilish delight in ill-doing, or rather mischief-making, was never so thoroughly brought out. Hall, schoolgirls, fashionables, all vanished. The cauldron bubbled and the temperature rose perceptibly.
The vexed question that to us it seems ought never to vex any student, of Shakspere, as to the meaning of the Macduff line, “He has no children,” should be settled for ever by Irving’s, delivery of it. “He” is, of course, Macbeth, and not for a moment as the fatuous have it, Malcolm. And the meaning, one of the meanings (for he reads many into it), is that nothing can ever equalise the extremity of agony of the two men, seeing that one of than is childless.
The Lyceum and its various belongings are this month our Charles I’s head. We cannot – nor indeed would we – get away from them. Le roi est mort – for a time in Wellington Street. Vive La Reine. Ada Rehan. She is undoubtedly an artist – a great artist. And yet the impression left after careful reading and watching, is that the ecstasies over her are a little overdone. We will not go so far as to say, “It is the very ecstasy of madness.” But it does look as if Mr. Daly was not altogether unskilled in the management of something other than a theatre – to wit, the press.
Comparison is inevitable between the Benson Globe performance and this of the Dalys. The Americans are more tender with their Shakspere in one way than the English Company. They play the Induction, whose reason, and hence the less unreasonableness of the play, we have dealt with before. It is hard work criticising the critics. But when some of our most painstaking fall foul of the Dalys, for retaining and reproducing almost the only genuinely Shaksperian part of the play of any length, it is time to protest. The wild and boisterous extravagance of everything after the Induction only become possible if we bear in mind that the play is seen by Christopher Sly and through Christopher Sly’s eyes dazed with alcohol. For our part, the drunken tinker is the most real personage in the piece, and not without some hints of the pathos that is worked out name fully, though by different ways, in Bottom and Malvolio.
The best thing in the Globe Shaksperian performance was, as we have before noted, the, admirable stage-management. In the Dalys’ “re-arrangement” the stage management, is good, but is certainly not better than that of Mr. Hugh Moss. Two points of difference amongst many. The scene in Lucentio’s Banquet Hall is more gorgeous at the Lyceum, but less artistic. And the thrusting of Vincentio into Petruchio’s house is not nearly as effective as the meeting on the highway: to say nothing of its giving no opportunity to the donkey that played so well in the Globe version. And yet another. What’s the use of Grumio’s description of the muddy home-coming of the bride when bride and bridegroom walk in spick and span, as if they had stepped out of Peter Robinson’s? Messrs. Moss and Benson took care that they should be well bedraggled, and there was the good business of Curtis brushing the road-stained clothes of her mistress that was to be.
The playing of all the parts was, with the exception of the two chiefs, not very striking, save for the heroic struggles with the American accent, made by everybody except the low comedians, who gave in from the outset. Mr. John Drew is, of the men, the best master of English, and he is well to look at, and a bold and vigorous actor. He might have been less well dressed when he comes in the fantastical garb to bring Catherine to the wedding. Miss Ada Rehan makes what seems to us the common mistake of most of the actresses that play Catherine. The elder daughter of Baptista is not a virago, but a spoilt child. And even if artistic opinion is divided upon this point, it must surely be unanimous upon the gigantic blunder, the artistic crime that Miss Rehan commits in taking a call in the middle of an act. If an amateur did this we should all shriek at him or her for presumption, impudence, what not. When a professional actress sins in this way there no terms too strong for condemnation. After all, the hedge-podge “Taming of the Shrew” and the somewhat artificial character of Catherine are not fair tests. This will come in the playing of Rosalind in “As you like it.” Of this more anon – videlicit next month.
Mrs. Irving Winslow, at the Haymarket and Steinway Hall, read “The Enemy of the People,” “Nora” and “The Lady from the Sea.” Only the Haymarket reading came under our notice.. The play was not a wise selection. It is not Ibsen at his best. It, is of local and narrowed interest as compared with, say “Ghosts” or “The Doll’s House.” And the central figure in it being a man, handicaps, to some extent, a woman reader. The reader has not much power of voice characterisation, and therefore, made Mrs. Stockmann and her daughter Petra pretty much one and the same. And she read them both as whining women, and, different as they are from one another, neither of them is that. And then there was the blunder of interpolating words and phrases. There may be a question as to whether a work of art, such as a play of Ibsen, is under any circumstances to be cut. But even those who would answer the question in the affirmative would agree that the cutting must be ,judicious and that it should not be supplemented by words and phrases not in the text,
To paraphrase and modify a Gilbertian phrase, “and a bad judge too.” Reluctantly, but inevitably, the conviction (an apt word in connexion with a judge) is forced upon us, quite inexorably that Mr Law’s Terry’s Theatre play is a bad one. By the way, Law is a good name also in connexion with a judge.
The sorry truth is that the play is vulgar. A sad word to have to write in criticising a piece produced under the management of one of our young actresses, and produced after Mr. Jerome’s “New Lamps for Old.” Yet vulgar “The Judge” is. Not, as many may think, so much in respect to the central character. Far be it from us to say that the judge and the baby, and the escaped bigamist and the bed episodes, are quite nice. But the infinite art of Mr. Penley, and the literally ample experience of Miss Emily Thorne, and the dexterous use of the phonograph in the case of the baby, just skate us over the very thin ice, as far as this trio are concerned.
No, the most prominent vulgarity, to our thinking, is in the relations between the quartette of the twin “young ladies” and the “two young gentlemen.” We may assume, on the authority of Mr. Law, that when “young ladies and gentlemen” return in a closed carriage from a ball they maul one another about, and that they ransack cupboards for champagne and kisses afterwards. But, somehow, the stage representation of the latter, and the telling by the “young ladies” of the former, is not impressive or exhilarating.
Nor is the play. Mr. Penley is – Mr. Penley; shorn, Samson-fashion, of the locks of comic opportunities. Miss Helen Leyton and Miss Cissy Grahame make up and play with a charming unity as the two twins. Mr. Herbert, palpably named after a character in the “Tale of Two Cities,” works hard, like a wooden automaton, and Mr. Frank Fenton plays with youth, as the two young gentleman. And, alone all, Mr. Mark Kinghorne, happily for art rescued from the Music Hall, plays far and away the best in the piece, taking into account the advantages of part and of prestige, with which most of his companions start.
But after and despite all, the play is vulgar and uninteresting. Following upon Dick Venables, it makes one think whether Mr. Law had not better stick, not to his latest but to his last, and write only for Gernan Reed’s.
and both really funny. “Nerves” at the Comedy, and “The Solicitor” at Toole’s. “Nerves” is pure fun from beginning to end. For once the centre of interest is not a husband concealing his marital infidelities, more or less unsuccessfully, from his wife Mr. Comyns Carr frankly admits his indebtedness to “Les Fennnes Nerveuses.” Its degree does not concern us. The facts that we have a very amusing play, and that the unintermittent and inextinguishable laughter that is its effect is of the perfectly harmless order, these concern all lovers of the drama.
Mr. Hawtrey has gathered together an almost ideal company, and “Nerves” is played in almost ideal fashion. The manager himself plays the imperturbable Captain Armitage with a singularly effective quietness. Mr. Gilbert Farquhar, when we saw the piece, had replaced Mr. Kemble in the part of the pompous father-in-law. Mr. Farquhar himself would probably not put in a claim to being a great actor. But he is what professional people call “sound,” and in such good company he caught the infection of their excellent acting and did not make us long for Mr. Kemble. All the women are very good. The names of the Misses Maude Millett, Sophie Larkin, Lottie Venne and Lydia Cowell, speak for, and area host in, themselves. They are all so unlike one another in everything but the excellence of their acting.
Concerning Mr. Righton, as the bewildered confectioner, it is difficult to speak of him without using the language of hyperbole. Makeup, gesture, face-play, intonation, are all perfectly French, with just that indefinite touch of exaggeration essential to artistic work. A really delicious performance in a delightful play.
Mr. J.H. Darnley says that “The Solicitor” is pure English. He can be congratulated upon a funny piece of native growth. It is not quite as mirth-provoking as “Nerves,” and the company playing it is not to be compared with the Comedy people, although it does include Miss Susie Vaughan. That excellent artist secured, on the occasion of our visit, the least bit in the world out of heart with her work. And Dlr. Kaye is not a Righton. An impression made by his acting in “The Bungalow” is deepened by seeing him in “The Solicitor.” Much of his effectiveness is due to a walk and style of speaking that are curiously at one, and that come very near to being physical deformities. He reminds one painfully of Mr. Owen Dove of unhappy memory.
Mr. John Tresahar works very hand, a little too hard, as “The Solicitor.” It, is, as probably every one has said, a Charles Wyndham part, and Mr. Tresahar is not a Charles Wyndham. But we are bound to say that to see a young gentleman whom, thus far, we have chiefly noticed as doing excellent work in old Comedy, play so brightly, and without exaggeration, in modern farce, is an agreeable surprise.
Here also one is tempted to use the language of hyperbole – only in the opposite direction. Only one thing could be worse than Mr. Pierre Leclercq’s play, tried and found wanting at a Globe matinee. And the one thing was forthcoming. It was Miss Adelaide Moore’s acting. Absence of plot and characterisation; dialogue, incidents, and words in the London, Journal vein. Miss Moore, with her impossible walk, her spasmodic method of speaking, her strenuous tight-lacing, her fatal want of comprehension of the rudiments of art, was in keeping with the piece; and with the vulgarity that insists upon printing two names in the bill in larger type than all the others – those of Mr. Otis Skinner and Miss Adelaide Moore.
Not, as yet, with Ellen Terry as Rosalind and Henry Irving as Touchstone. That is to come. In the meanwhile, a performance of Rosalind that would be worthy of Ellen Terry herself.
The general impression, however, left by Mr. Daly’s excellent company of comedians in “As You Like It,” is that they are not quite equal to playing unadulterated Shakspere, and that, with a genial if rather in artistic kindliness, the English critics have treated them just a shade in the world too kindly. such at scratch performance as the recent one at the Lyceum would have been soundly rated, instead of being over-rated, had it been given by English actors.
The Duke Frederick might be a figure from a tea-canister; the Oliver was singularly unimpressive; the Corin almost as wicked an old man as the Adam; the Sylvius with so little sense of his Shakspere that he reads the “Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe” as if it, were a call to Phoebe, and thereupon incontinently sallies forth after the “bugle-eyed” maid; the Jaques, funereal. But the Adam was once again the first sinner. His voice was as the striving of many railway whistles, and his fall (in the forest) as if he had trodden on a piece of orange-peel.
Add to these a Touchstone with an American accent and an Orlando not more than passable, and you would wonder at the fine writing lavished on the show, did you not remember the Celia and the Rosalind. They are far and away the best, taking them together, we have seen. Miss Adelaide Prince makes of Celia not the common-place, uninteresting. gooseberry-player we are too used to, but a distinct and real individuality. And Ada Behrens Rosalind is incomparable. Never have we loved our Rosalind so much as this latest time. The analysis, the description of this exquisite performance wants pages and the pen of a Hazlitt. Let us only note the very beautiful playing of the fainting scene, and then be content with saying with Celia “wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful, and after that out of all whooping.” The quotation is made from memory, hundreds of miles from England and a Shakspere, and is bound to be not quite accurate.
Somewhat late in the months, we notice this the latest – let us sincerely hope not the last – of the Gilbert and Sullivan combination products. If these twain have really seriously parted over the matter of a simple carpet, even if it did cost £200, the gaiety, and what is still more important, artistically speaking, the Savoy, of nations will be eclipsed. The lateness is not altogether our own fault. The stars in their courses, or, at all events, the acting management in their wisdom, have fought against us. Only this last few days has the opportunity, not unsought, been given us to notice the delicate web of fancy and humour and satire and most-befitting music that men and women call by its most recent name, “The Gondoliers.”
This, like all its predecessors, is delicious and delightful. Never surely did the Fates more charmingly combine than in the two men who are now cast asunder by a £200 carpet, the highest literary, dramatic, and musical genius of its kind – working to one most excellent end, the pure amusement of thousands of people. The pit was crammed, although the night was perhaps the very hottest of this very hot Indian summer, that only wants the infinite colouring of the trees in Pennsylvania and Connecticut to make us believe that we are in New England instead of this old. The stalls were a little dubious, but had been very dexterously managed. And there was all the fun of the fair before us save and except for the absence of those two past masters in pure fooling, George Grossmith and Rutland Barrington. Alas! the former is apparently past; but Mr. Barrington is only away for a holiday – not, fortunately, taken up in the management of a theatre.
Miss Jessie Bond was there, as fresh and humorous as ever, although, perhaps, she might be just a trifle more helpful to the striving young man that has to understudy Barrington. The striving young man is one Mr. Medcalf, who works his hardest, and sings ever so much better than Mr. Barrington ever did or ever will. And Frank Wyatt was there, as long and lithe of limb as ever, so that the only regrets were that he had not more opportunity of dancing – and – and – Mr. Wyatt, that in striving to make a little more out of part you make just a little too much. And W.H. Denny was there, upon whom the mantle of Grossmith has fallen, not unworthily. And so was Wallace Brownlow, with drum, as the old play-bills might say; and Courtice Pounds, a rare case of a tenor who can act a little and dance very well; and Rosina Brandram, who must forgive us for calling her the perennial; and pretty Miss Decima Moore, whose singing is as that of a lark and whose dancing is as that of a fay; and half a score of other young folks, who only want the opportunity, that comes to so few, to make a mark not less deep and enduring than that made by the more fortunate ones. Indeed, next to the exquisite balance and tone and finish of everything that is done at the Savoy, the thing that strikes one most is the potentialities that lie in the, comparatively speaking, unemployed members of the company. There seems to be half-a-dozen other actors and actresses who could at a moment’s notice step into the shoes of the principals and fill them. And that reminds us that we have not as yet spoken of one of these last, who is by no means the least – Miss Esther Pallisser. Handicapped in some measure by the enemy of us all – or is it our kindest, tenderest friend – she is still very sweet to see and most sweet to hear. Nor does she rely, like so many singing actresses that we have to suffer from, upon one big effect in a song specially written for the prima donna; she sings and dances and acts all through.
Probably most of our readers have already seen and heard “The Gondoliers.” To them one word. Go and see and hear it again. And to the others – are they more or less blessed – who have not had this double joy – this word in their ear. Go and taste that most indubitable joy incontinently.
What is to be said of “Captain Thérèse” that has not been said any time this last ever so many years, since the impotent imp of comic operas, as the Lady of Quality in Smollett might have called it, got hold upon us? It is no more comic and no more an opera than any of its thousand and one predecessors. Hayden Coffin sings and looks lovely, and is very cross in the trial scene, where the low comedians have all the fat. Mr. Tapley warbles after his wont, or may we say after his usual tenor, acts worse than ever, if that is possible, and is just as cross as Mr. Cofffin in the trial scene and for precisely the same reason. The two old Harries, Ashley and Monkhouse, make humorous bricks without straw, and play their conjoint namesake with the text and every one else’s business, except, perhaps, that of the management. Miss Phyllis Broughton dances even more like a fairy than Miss Decima Moore, though the latter young lady could give her points at singing; Madame Loveday Amadi fills a part fully, and Miss Claire is overweighted even in light opera. Of story there is none – of fun, less.
We believe there is a street Haymarket in Liverpool as in most towns. But these notes have to do with the London Haymarket bodily transferred thither. And fortunately for what the newspapers call the Liverpudlians, transferred thither also spiritually.
We were in the unpleasant town for work quite other than dramatic – save that everything in that abode of desolation is of necessity dramatic. Suddenly to us threading a devious way along the horrible Lime Street, enter Mr. Beerbohm Tree. So there was nothing for it, and there could have been nothing more charming, but that same night to drop round to the Court Theatre and see the “Merry Wives” and “The Ballad Monger.” Except for our good host of that night to be a guest the succeeding day and assist, French fashion, at the deliberations of the Trade Union Congress.
Let us hope his day was as interesting as our evening was. Interesting especially in this way. The playing of the somewhat rough and tumble farce we had seen in London. The interesting variant in Liverpool was to watch its effect on a provincial audience. And still more to watch the effect of that most exquisite work of art, “The Ballad Monger.” A success as unequivocal as artistic is to be recorded. In the main piece – if we measure by quantity – every effect went, and went for what it was really worth. Where the rendering of the boisterous farce was possibly too boisterous, the audience were far less demonstrative than at the points where genuine and unstrained points were made.
Passing over the performances such as that of Mr. Tree, and that of Miss Rose Leclercq, dealt with in town, let us note that Fred Terry made the most and not too much of Slender; that James Fernandez was not as happy a Mr. Ford as we have seen – though one may smile at the ,juxtaposition of lord and the word “happy;” that Mrs. Tree showed once again the great strides she is making in her work by her playing of Mrs. Ford; that Miss Julia Neilson was the most comely of sweet Anne Pages; and that young Master Robb Harwood, unless we are very much mistaken, doubled two parts that night, and doubled them very well.
It may seem heresy to say it, but the “Ballad Monger” is a finer touchstone than the “Merry Wives.” It is a beautiful piece of work in its French original, and scarcely less beautiful in its perfect English rendering. As for the setting of the artistic precious stone, that is, in the country as in town, worthy of the stone. And the acting in the central part is as beautiful a thing as Mr. Tree, nay, as almost any one, has done this long time. It is very humorous, very pathetic, very human. James Fernandez was somewhat too commonplace a king, and Mr. Charles Allan was but a shadowy Olivier. Miss Neilson’s really wonderful singing took the curtain up on the very keynote of the beautiful and pathetic play. And to her singing no higher tribute can be paid. One of these days, we do not doubt, it will be possible to write in the same strain about her acting. In that there is splendid promise. And the promise will come the more near to performance when she is a trifle less conscious of her remarkable physical beauty, and of the fact that she has been to some extent rushed into her present position.
At the Adelphi, by Geo. R. Sims. After that, is there anything to be said? Any one with a little knowledge of stagecraft and of past Adelphi dramas could write such a burlesque as this, always provided that he brings to the task absolutely no literary qualifications whatever. And any one who held the same fortunate position as Geo. R. Sims could get the travesty of art and human nature accepted by the Brothers Gatti. The sorry thing is to see Mr. Robert Buchanan’s name mixed up with the business. He has certainly done dramatic work in the past too good for him to be punished by having his name printed cheek by jowl with Geo. R. Sims as one of the authors of “The English Rose.”
The keynote of the play is, its usual, money, money, money Even the virtuous hero is only able to hold up his head for his family generally when there is a millionaire in it. Mechanical use is made of the position of things in Ireland, but all the dummies that move through the play are our old friends and enemies for the thousandth time. Indeed, one cannot but think that the economical Messrs. Gatti, if they have heard about the phonograph, might, for the future utilise that instrument. Let the characters at any Adelphi drama by Geo. R. Sims speak their lines once for all into a phonograph, and thereafter have Italian Marionettes to do the acting, whilst the phonographs stuck inside them do the talking.
It is a sorry sight to see really big artists thrown away upon a play in every sense so degrading as this. The last time we saw Miss Olga Brandon was in “Judah;” the last time we saw Mr. Leonard Boyne was in “Theodora;” and Messrs. Bassett Roe and Thalberg in “The Bride of Love.” And with these two last plays Mr. Robert Buchanan had something to do.
Messrs. Beveridge, Abingdon, Rignold, and Shine appear to be fixtures at the Adelphi – more’s the pity. And so does Mary Rorke – most is the pity. The Adelphi would not be the Adelphi without Miss Clara Jecks, an actress entirely wasted in the hopelessly stupid comic parts – not yet phonographed. And there is one actor comparatively new to us, who, let us hope, will soon be free from the artistic miasma of the “English Rose,” and Geo. R. Sims – that is Mr. Charles Dalton. If he doesn’t become spoilt by breathing the mephitic air of the Adelphi, Mr. Dalton ought to take very high rank indeed amongst our romantic actors. Not even the commonplace play, and the commonplace writing were able to keep this actor down to their dead level. The part is not a big one in the ordinary sense, but by Mr. Dalton’s acting it was lifted a head and shoulders above all the others. It was a fine piece of work upon scanty and well-worn materials.
With unlimited resources at your disposal, it is not very difficult to be good and even great. The truism holds not only of the moral world but also of the artistic. And Henry Irving, the Master of Ravenswood and of our dramatic world, has certainly unlimited resources at his call. Under our present inartistic system no man can blame him very heartily for making friends to himself of Mammon, especially as he makes of Mammon such artistic use. Although, let it be confessed and noted, that with all the deep and full joy that comes with such an evening as that of September 20th of this year, mingled, not blending, the regret that we were in for the chronic disease of a long run, and that only at some fag-end of the season should we see Hamlet or our long-lost Malvolio and their manifold fellows.
But the resources of the Master are not merely within his banking account. Of the artistic wealth at command in his own person and that of his companion in art there is no need to speak. But note, thereafter, what tried and trusty men and women he has gathered round him. From Miss Marriott to Gordon Craig it is one long list of artists with their souls in their work. And work and souls are both so big. Add to all this a painter of such extraordinary powers of conception and execution as Hawes Craven, a musician of such indubitable popularity as Dr. Mackenzie, such wealth of all appointment and brilliancy of stage-management as are always forthcoming at the Lyceum – the admirable front of the house arrangements, the friendly following to make of a Lyceum first night one huge “At home,” and everybody understands the splendour of the conditions under which any new play at the Lyceum sets out to sea.
Hermann Merivale’s play from “the Bride of Lammermoor” was worthy of the wonderful setting and rendering that fell to its most happy lot. It is a literary and dramatic triumph. To condense one of the beautiful novels of the delicious, garrulous, diffuse Scott into an evening’s entertainment and leave it after all not only an entertainment but an enduring delight – this is a literary labour of Hercules. It is a labour that Mr. Merivale has accomplished. And most admirably and completely in the first of the four acts. The act is singularly short when we take into consideration that in the half-hour or so during which it lasts the dramatist has managed with remarkable dexterity to bring out intelligibly, even to one that has not read Scott, the political, the religious, the social strife between the families of Ashton and of Ravenswood.
And it must not be imagined, because stress is laid upon the excellence of the opening act, that its successors are unworthy compeers. They follow, with great dramatic intensity and variety, their leader. Indeed, for the construction of the drama there are no words but those of praise, and serious difficulty in not making the words appear those of hyperbole. On one point, and one point alone, are we upon debatable ground with Mr. Merivale. And that is the ending of Lucy Ashton. With such an actress as Ellen Terry, the tremendous possibilities of the scene wherein Lucy stabs Bucklaw in the bridal chamber might have been realised. That fierce thrust of Thornhill from her in Olivia calls to mind what this woman could do in a like situation magnified, intensified a thousand fold. Upon the other hand, it may be urged that even Scott in the novel has the murder done “off,” and we may be quite sure that upon this crucial question the talks of manager, author, and actress were long and deep. And yet, after much reflection, it does seem to us as if an available opportunity had been lost, and the play in a measure weakened.
For the writing of the dialogue, let it be sadly confessed that we have only thus far heard it once. And thus, although the memory of it is a very pleasant one and the general sense left by it is that of delight, none of the many passages and lines of note do here and now come to mind. But it was all in keeping with the colossal story and with the wonderful acting, and not less wonderful scenery. Nothing short of genius, and genius of a high order, would have had the vast daring to paint that closing scene of the Kelpie’s Flow. Nothing but sea and sky and sand, and upon this last a touch, a hint, that here upon this very spot Edgar of Ravenswood has been literally swallowed up of death.
That which has been said in respect to the dialogue holds not less in respect to the acting. How can the conception and the working out of the characters of some sixteen human beings by as many thoughtful and keen men and women be dealt with at one view and one breath? Nothing but broad, general impressions can be noted. For the two chiefs these can only take the form familiar in all critical mouths now as household words. The art is so perfect that there is nothing to be said about it. Before all great works of art one can only stand silent and wonder and ache. The dignity of the lost Ravenswood and the beautiful indications that, apart from the Fates that environ him, his nature would be not only strong but happy, might be dwelt upon. So might the delicacy and the power of Lucy Ashtorn’s living presentation, and the exquisite grace and tenderness of the love scene by the Mermaiden’s Well. And so, had we time to study and to write, might a host of other details going to the making up of the two complete pictures. Let us only end by saying that they are complete.
Mr. Terriss, still in good company, is by consequence again at his best. His Hayston of Bucklaw is a very picturesque performance. And re-mention of Bucklaw reminds us of another moral argument in favour of the stabbing of him at the hands of Lucy as in the novel, and another moral objection to the slaying of him in duel by Ravenswood as in the play. This last killing is, it seems to us, non-moral. Ravenswood has not any very precise right to kill his rival, who has played for the lady’s hand and won it. Upon the other hand, Lucy Ashton has every right to kill the man, legally, and only legally, her husband, if he attempts to touch her.
Messrs. Wenman, Alfred Bishop, Macklin, Howe, Tyars, were all so thorough and so excellent in the not too large parts of Craigengelt, Sir William Ashton, the Marquis of A-- (as Scott, for some occult reason, always called the Marquis of Athole), Bide the Bent, and Moncrieff; that author and manager, alike with ourselves, must be regretful that the dramatic exigencies necessitated the non-expansion of their parts. Gordon Craig is of a coming-on disposition, and from mother, uncle and aunt, to say nothing of grandfather and little cousin, has caught the delightful infection of the Terry artistic manner. Of the men, after Irving, Mr. Mackintosh undoubtedly had the best chance and made the most of it. His Caleb Balderstone had not the diffuse humour of Mysie’s husband. Once again dramatic exigency forbade. The devices of the old seneschal at the Wolf’s Crag to keep up the credit of the family on an imaginative basis would not bear stage representation. Where Mr. Mackintosh scored most heavily was in the very difficult and trying last but one scene, with its powerful descriptive passage, and in the not less difficult final scene, in the which he alone, the servitor of the doomed house of Ravenswood, figures.
Of the four women, oddly enough, only one is young. Lady Ashton (Miss Le Thiere) can hardly come out as well in the drama as in the book. But Miss Le Thiere played with all her usual decision, breadth and force. The two sybils, as Scott would call them, Ailsie Gourlay and Annie Winnie, were splendid. Miss Marriott and Mrs. Pauncefort work admirably together, and those of us with long memories seeing the former in this latest version of a Scott novel, remind one the other that once upon a time Miss Marriott played Jeannie Deans.
The thirteenth season of Henry Irving’s management of the Lyceum has not begun with the ill-luck usually associated with the number thirteen. Indeed, the only trouble is to those who weary of long runs unmixed with the finer matter of, say, once a week revivals of old friends.
Was there really any need for Mr. Robert Buchanan to assure us that he had not adapted Dostoievsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” Doskoievsky, as the programme hath it. His “Sixth Commandment” is melodrama of the Dick Venables type; and we fear, in spite of the brave appeal of Miss Wallis to the public, it will prove of the Dick Venables order of success.
And the pity of it is that Mr. Buchanan had in the personages and the central incident of “Crime and Punishment” such good material to work upon, and in the company that Miss Wallis had gathered round her, such good material to work with. In the twenty-three names that appear upon the programme there is, literally, not one unknown. And most of them are names of men and women who have made great mark in the world dramatic. Herbert Waring was excellent with the impossible, and Lewis Walter excellent with the hopeless. Marius, best of stage managers, succumbed after a brave struggle with a comic policeman. Maude Brennan came back to us all very welcomely. Miss Wallis and Miss Robins did wonders with nothing. William Herbert and Marion Lea were supposed to provide the fun, as the Israelites were supposed to provide bricks. For once, Ivan Watson did not please. He should have let General Skobeloff (sic) die a natural death instead of galvanising him into unnatural life.
It is, of course, not possible for the new one-act piece at the Comedy in front of “Nerves” to be noticed in these pages. But it would be equally impossible for the makers of these dramatic notes not to pay tribute to the thoroughness with which “all concerned,” as the stage-manager’s calls have it, have worked on behalf of the new little play. The management, videlicet Mr. Charles Hawtrey, have spared no pains or expense upon the production. New scenery has been specially painted and new properties specially made. To the work of stage-management Mr. Charles Milton has given untiring energy and his great experience. And all the young actors and actresses in “Madcap” have worked as if it were a much more important piece. Fortunately, if the press criticisms may be believed, all of them have scored. Naturally Miss Rhoda Larkin scores most as she has the most opportunities and makes the most of them. An actress of riper years and greater experience might possibly get more laughs and tears out of the part, but would find it difficult to put more freshness and youth into it. Miss Helen Lambert, in playing the part of the Madcap’s aunt, makes every one forget that she is a young woman. Miss Eleanor May, content with a small character, makes none the less a reality of it. Mr. Gerald Kennedy is an admirable tutor and Mr. P. Stewart Champion is the Madcap’s cousin-lover to the manner born and bred. “Nerves” goes as brightly and merrily as ever, and the substitution of Mr. Kemble and Miss Vane Featherstone for the forerunners in the cast has, if possible, strengthened the playing of the piece.
There is a rumour of another Ibsen play – “Fruen fra Havet” – “The Lady from the Sea.” Miss Marion Lea is the new student and is to be the first Ellida in England. M. Marius is spoken of as the stage-manager and Herbert Waring as the Dr. Wangel. It remains to be seen if the “Lady from the Sea” will exercise the minds of the British critics and cause as much aesthetic stir as the “Doll’s House” did last year.
Mr. Beerbohm Tree has made his wise experiment, to the huge satisfaction of all concerned. The 10th November, 1890, ought to be a red-letter day in the calendar of dramatic art. For upon its evening one of our theatrical managers (new style) broke through in a measure the neoteric tradition of long runs. To some of us the occasion was of much more importance than the actual production of “Beau Austin,” the charming piece of work of Messrs. Henley and Stevenson. We are not quite prepared to go into the lettered ecstasies in which certain of our elders and betters have indulged. And assuredly we are not with those who see in “Beau Austin” nothing but clever literary work by two clever literary men. We are in that position, so dear to the self-complacent, of the happy mean. It is an open question, in spite of one or two friendly attacks of critical hysteria, whether we have in the first fruits of the Haymarket new departure a stage classic. On the other hand it is unquestionable that we have in it a very distinct contribution to stage literature.
The piece is, in the main, but not wholly, a picture of manners rather than of men and women. The four acts are four scenes and the scenes are sketches. Very delightful sketches, full of colour, not only local and temporal, but of the emotional and passionate order. The dresses and affectations of manner seem as strange to us as ours will to the dwellers in the end of the twentieth century. But the deeds and the sufferings are those of our own and every day. And with all the over-elaboration of diction, the converse of the earlier years of the century was less unpolished and ungraceful than ours. As Mr. Henley puts it in his pleasant little prologue
“But then as now it may be something more –
Woman and man were human to the core.”
By the way, in passing, let us note that the prologue is somewhat marred by one rather awkward line, just near the middle of it:
“Burned with a plentitude of essential fire.”
The strong humanity of the fops and cornets and belles and their attendant maids at the Wells and on the pantiles was made the more impressive by the really wonderful acting of nearly every one in the cast. The remarkable finish of Mr. Tree’s style is in complete harmony with the time, the society, the character, here represented. And the real strength necessary to the carrying out of the three strong situations of the play was there. Yet in the very whirlwind of passionate emotions the actor never once lost his hold of the artificiality of method essential to the true rendering of the man in his habit as he lived.
Fred Terry’s style is not at all of the same order as that of Beerbohm Tree. Indeed, the very contrast between the two men and their methods contributes largely to the effectiveness of the excellent work that they are doing together. Some of us were not without our fears when we heard that an actor of such singular force and directness as Mr. Terry was cast for a part in comedy of manners. We ought to have remembered his Charles Surface. He came through triumphantly, and the scene between him and the Beau, who has betrayed the woman Fenwick loves, was the most effective in the play. Mrs. Tree’s playing in the exceptionally trying part of Dorothy was not found wanting, though she appeared to be terribly handicapped by a very righteous nervousness. Mr. Brookfield, Miss Rose Leclercq, Miss Aylward, all played as to the manner – of 1820-born.
Of “Called Back,” the revived of Monday, November the 10th, we are not able to speak at present from personal observation. But, my lady Rumour speaks highly of it, and, calling to mind Mr. Tree’s acting as Macari some years back, for once my lady is probably not at her old tricks again.
Mr. Alexander has secured for the Avenue a very pretty play and one that is really original, although it does not contain a single character or situation that has not been seen before, and does not contain many lines that are not familiar friends. With this play as with all except the very highest the treatment is everything. Play-writing is like chess-playing. The pieces are always the same; the moves are always the same; there are a certain definite number of recognised openings and endings; and yet the possibilities of fresh combinations are infinite.
It is perhaps open to question if the introduction of the melodramatic element in the middle act is wise, and we feel very strongly that the whole of the money-stealing is unnecessary. But with that all possible fault-finding is at an end. A very pretty play with a first act that, mainly owing to the beautiful playing of Marion Terry and Mr. Alexander, took everybody’s heart by storm; and a play that is unconventional in one chief point. The husband of the woman he has thought dead for many years, as soon as she turns up, says simply, “This is my wife,” and accepts the position. All the actors in “Sunlight and Shadow” are either by Nature admirably fitted to their parts, or have the artist skill to adapt themselves to them. So that we need only name names – Messrs. Alexander, Nutcombe Gould, Ben Webster, Yorke Stephens, and Holles; Miss Marion Terry, Miss Ada Neilson, and Miss Maude Millett.
It is only necessary to mention this extraordinary piece played, once for all, we should think, at a Shaftesbury matinee, on account of the acting in it of Miss Alicia Murray. In an impossible part in an impossible piece she, nevertheless, played with such strength and delicacy that one almost forgave Mr. Hannan, F.R.G.S., F.R.Hist.S., for his literary and dramatic crimes. The commission of them at least gave us an opportunity, all too rare, of seeing an actress second to only one English actress in poetic drama, and of hearing again her incomparable voice. But when are we to see and hear Miss Murray in a real play
at the Shaftesbury. Ibsen reaches far. Only the very daring would have predicted that the second play, under the re-management of Miss Wallis, at the Shaftesbury – a play written by the actress herself and Mr. Malcolm Watson – a play that followed hard upon Mr. Buchanan’s “Sixth Commandment” – would have been palpably inspired by the “Doll’s House,” And yet the prediction would have been verified. In “The Pharisee” right at the very outset there is a brave and outspoken and dramatic treatment of the theme – a woman wronged and no mercy. The dramatists, and, what is better, the action of the play, protest almost as vigorously as the Norwegian himself against the conventional wickedness that is labelled morality. More than that, when, at the end of the second Act, the wife that has “sinned” before marriage is absolutely spotless in her husband’s eyes, although her old lover is face to face with both of them, and although the atonement that convention requires has been made over and over again, yet our brave dramatists set to work at once and give us a third Act. And in this the dominant note is the principle that Ibsen is so often forcing upon us: that the truth is the thing no matter what happens. Kate Landon in that last Act speaks right out to her husband.
As a rule in these notes we do not, and for obvious reasons, give the plot of a play. “The Pharisee” is only just out, and the story is so short, that this month the rule may be broken. “The Pharisee” is Geoffrey Landon. For eight years he and Kate have lived an uninterruptedly happy life. Note the eight years. That according to the “Doll’s House” and the new play is the psychological moment of married life. Kate’s father, Captain James Darell, is one of the disreputable type. Kate has had a past, and, believing in speaking out before marriage, has asked her father to tell it to her husband. She has received through the same unholy medium the assurance that Landon, whilst knowing what has happened, wishes that on both sides there shall be absolutely no reference to the past. Not until well on into Act I. does the wife discover that her father has played her false. Lord Helmore, an old friend of Landon’s, returns after ten years’ absence. He is dying, and as a last request – or, as matters turn out, a last but two requests – he asks Landon to seek out a woman with whom he had lived unmarried on principle, and of whom he had lost sight for years. He gives Landon a sealed packet with the woman’s portrait, and the usual directions. Of course, the woman is Kate. The rest the reader can think out for himself. Except two points. The big situation at the end of the second Act resolves itself into this. Landon is opening the packet; his wife has been pleading by inference for herself unavailingly; Helmore comes on at the finish of the scene, and as Landon is taking out the portrait, takes the packet from him. The other point is the finish of the piece. When the truth is told Landon is at first like his early British Tennysonian prototype, King Arthur, on fire against her. But a letter from Helmore who has died – off – brings the last request, and the child of Geoffrey and Kate runs on. To speak frankly, this filled some of us with dreadful anticipation. We expected to see her take the left hand of her father, and the right hand of her mother, and pull them across the stage to each other, join their hands, and say, “Bless you, my parents.” But the device was new and charming. The father gives the child a kiss, she runs across the stage to her mother, kisses her and says, “from papa.”
The acting is up to the high level of the piece. Mr. Lewis Waller managed to triumph over the difficulty of dying through two acts, and was an exceptionally interesting invalid. Mr. Herbert Waring, in a very Helmer-like part, gave a characterisation perfectly distinct from any one we have ever seen him give before. Certainly here is an actor that thinks for himself, and thinks clearly and strongly. Mrs. Lancaster Wallis played with singular power. The part of Kate is as trying a one as might well be imagined. With the exception of the first ten minutes of the play, it is at high tension throughout. That there was scarcely any evidence of strain is almost the highest praise that can be given the actress. Humour is not the strong point of the conjoint author, and neither Miss Sophie Larkin nor Miss Marion Lea had many opportunities. Those they had, they took. M. Marius, although as stage-manager he must have been terribly upset by the far from innocent gambols of the curtain, played with all his usual finish and distinction. Messrs. Esmond and Beauchamp played admirably a boy lover and family solicitor parts, and little Minnie Terry was – Minnie Terry.
There is only one suggestion that we feel tempted to make, though after the success of Monday 17th it is not likely to be taken. The piece ought not to have been called “The Pharisee” – it should have been “The Philistine.”
A new theatre, a new-old management, a new play. Everybody in the theatrical world honestly and earnestly anxious that Wilson Barrett and his friends should have a splendid send off. And the only thing wanting to the realisation of the wish was the somewhat serious item of a play. “The People’s Idol” is not, we fear, a play with the elements of success in it. But on quite other grounds than those that seem likely to hamper “The Pharisee.” The latter is too good a play – “The People’s Idol” is – not too good. The central idea, obviously suggested by the Silver King, does not, as it appears to us, bear analysis. Certain natures – a Hamlet for example – would worry themselves upon the entirely unreasonable grounds that Lawrence St. Aubrey worries himself. But such a character as Mr. St. Aubrey is supposed to be, would, we fancy, not have troubled himself in the slightest degree about such a very plain business transaction as the killing of Jim Stevens in pure self-defence. He is a sharp, ordinary, clear-headed, business man, and a magistrate to boot. He would have gone straight to the Court, made his depositions before his brothers on the bench, and asked them home to dinner.
More serious, in one way, is the inaccuracy in the “pictures” of the Strike. Speaking as those who have had possibly more experience of the inner, actual, personal working of strikes than Messrs. Barrett and Widnell, we must ask them to forgive us when we say that their class colour is all wrong. To take only two points. The women are made as a body to plead to the men for giving in. This is altogether untrue to fact and nature. During the two recent great strikes in London it was the women invariably who forced on the men, when they showed signs of giving way. Again, the making the leader of the strike a drunkard is false all round. As a matter of fact, the men who have led strikes, are, almost without exception, teetotalers, and the only exceptions we can call to mind are men of the most moderate and even abstemious habits. Further, Messrs. Burne or Thorne would tell Mr. Barrett that any leader who might appear in public work even partially intoxicated, would once and for all, ipso facto, depose himself from any position of leadership as far as workers are concerned. Yet Jim Stevens is an habitual drunkard. And, as always where the actual is deviated from, artistic possibilities are lost. If the true use had been made of the women, if the leader of the strike had been in every way as honest in his convictions, as straightforward in his conduct, as the master, what a much better play might have been!
George Barrett, as usual, was very fine. And why, oh! why, will so many of us try to force back a great artist into the one particular line in which we have seen him first? When Miss Norreys tries to play anything except skittish hoydens, and when George Barrett tries to play anything but low comedy, most of us cry aloud, “Out upon you! Back! Back into your old groove again.” Miss Winifred Emery has nothing whatever to do, and if, as report hath it, she had her choice of the two women parts, there is some wonder in our mind at the choice she made. Mr. Wilson Barrett himself worked as hard and energetically as of old, and despite the ineffectiveness of the play, received a welcome that shows the theatrical folk do not forget their old friends. But we fear “The People’s Idol” is not likely to hold high rank in this last category.
Mr. Charles Hawtrey has got ‘em again. The phrase is not used in its habitual alcoholic sense. The ‘em in this case is the laughter-loving British public. Most assuredly they have food for laughter in Messrs. Lestocq and Nicholls’ three-act farce. Perhaps some of us may think the food is not of the most nutritious nature, and that it is something highly spiced withal; but the audiences enjoy it unquestionably and unquestioningly. Even without the witness of the programme one might guess that “Jane” was the work of an actor or of actors. It is full of business and situations. And it is played by a company that could hardly be surpassed in this particular kind of work. Mr. Hawtrey and Miss Lottie Venne are absolutely without rivals in their own line. The actor has reduced the stage representation of the unblushing and incorrigible liar to a fine art. The actress would get a laugh out of the word Mesopotamia. Mr. Kemble, Miss Ewell, Miss Ethel Matthews are all admirably fitted, and Master R. Saker plays a page part very skilfully and without forcing it overmuch. Mr. Brookfield is a sort of W. G. Grace of the stage, in the sense that he is one of the best all-round actors we have. Nothing, no kind of part comes amiss to him. It is extraordinary that a man who can play Louis XI. in “The Ballad Monger,” and Sir Archibald Ffolliot in “May and December,” can also score so heavily in the part of William in “Jane.”
“Madcap” is still the opening piece at the Comedy, and as an instance of the thoroughness with which things are done at that theatre, it may be noted that Mr. Hawtrey has engaged Mr. Leonard Outram specially to play the tutor in it, although there is no part for that sterling actor in the main piece. As a consequence the little play has now, with Messrs. Outram and Champion, and the Misses Rhoda Larkin, Helen Lambert and Eleanor May, a representation such as would rejoice the heart of any author.
Whatever may be said as to the intrinsic value of the dramatic work of this country during the past year, one thing can be asserted without risk of contradiction. That is, that our English playwrights are really trying to do some work, and are not to so large an extent, as aforetime, relying upon French or German sources of inspiration. Indeed, thanks chiefly to the indefatigable Mr. Jack Grein, English plays are actually coming to be done into other languages.
More important than this is the fact that some of our playwrights are now and again seriously facing serious problems. This move in the right direction is certainly due to the far-reaching influence of Ibsen, although our “esteemed contemporary the Stage, darkly hints at those of us who thus contend as confounding something or other with the message of “obscure foreign schools.” The two English plays that seem to us the most interesting productions or the year in this connexion are “Judah” and “The Pharisee.” And our good friend the Stage must be given pause by the consideration that the central idea in both of these is that necessity for speaking out the truth at all costs, that Ibsen has certainly made the theme of “A Doll’s House,” of “Ghosts,” and of “The Lady from the Sea,” if of no other play. Whether the perfect outspeaking of the truth is always really right, is still a debatable question. But it is beyond dispute that the keynote of more than one of his dramas is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And as equally clearly the two plays we have just mentioned turn upon the same problem, we may fairly claim for Ibsen that his method has affected both Mr. H.A. Jones and Mrs. Lancaster. Mr. Malcolm Watson is, if we understand him rightly, by his own admission out of the running in this particular discussion.
And here let the faithful chronicler recall to mind how things have changed in respect to the Ibsen influence since the year 1884. In that year at the Prince’s Theatre, now the Prince of Wales’s, Messrs. Hermann and Jones brought out “Breaking a Butterfly,” a play said to have been founded on Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” One of the present writers in noticing this piece in the month of June, 1884 had to write as follows: “Rarely has an opportunity at once literary and dramatic been so unhappily thrown away. A great play, dealing with a stupendous question, was to be introduced to the English public by two men whose previous good fortune ensured it a hearing. And they presented the play to the public after excising its heart .... The adaptors of the play were afraid either of the greatness of the play they had to take in hand, or of the English public, or of themselves, or of all these .... They have feared to face the tragic question and to deal with it in Ibsen’s tragic way. They have shirked the difficulty. They have emasculated, they have, if I may coin a meaning for a familiar word, effeminated the drama. The Nora of Ibsen does not exist in ‘Breaking a Butterfly,’ and the author’s of this conventional little play have succeeded in the Herculean labour of making Ibsen appear Commonplace .... They introduce Helmer’s mother and sister, who are not so much as mentioned in Ibsen’s drama. Ibsen’s Dr. Rank is replaced by a comic lover of the interpolated Helmer’s Sister .... The whole moral of the Norwegian play is lost in the English version by Helmer taking upon himself the crime supposed to have been committed .... On the arrival of the elderly well-intentioned thief [another interpolated character who steals the forged document from the Krogstad of the English piece] with the purloined paper, Helmer nobly destroys the incriminating document, and gracefully takes Nora in a general state of repentance to his bank manager bosom.”
And now see how times have changed. The force of public opinion has brought it about that one of the two gentlemen responsible six years ago for “Breaking a Butterfly,” is now writing for us plays like “Judah,” and no English audience would tolerate such a burlesque of any drama of Ibsen as in the year 1881 two well-skilled writers thought it safe to offer them.
Looking back over the year 1890 generally, among the theatrical events that leap most readily to the eyes is the excellent Shaksperian work done by Mr. Benson’s company at the Globe, and by the Daly company at the Lyceum. The crowds of fairy children in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Miss Ada Rehan’s delightful Rosalind are among the most charming memories of the year. At our three chief theatres really good work has been done, even if in the case of the third of them the work has been somewhat uneven. To tell the truth, this last saving clause must be used also in respect to the first of them all. For, although we have had “Ravenswood” at the Lyceum, we have also suffered from the “Dead Heart.” At the Haymarket the finest piece of work has been, to our thinking, “The Village Priest,” a play founded upon, rather than adapted from, the French. Of “Beau Austin” we had occasion to speak last month, and upon a revisitation we are prompted to declare that in the December number there was, if anything, an under-estimation of the value of this very charming comedy.
And now, which is to be the third theatre? We are exercised in our conjoint minds by the question. The Savoy – the Garrick – the Shaftesbury? “The Gondoliers” is to us an example of a very high and a very beautiful form of art. In “A Pair of Spectacles” – an adaptation, indeed, a translation – we had, in the persons of Messrs. Hare, Groves, and Sidney Brough, some of the most perfect comedy acting seen this long while, and in “Dream Faces,” acting not less excellent by Forbes Robertson and Miss Carlotta Addison. On the whole, considering the amount of work done in the year, the Shaftesbury has, perhaps, the strongest claim to be accounted as ranking next to the Lyceum and the Haymarket. Truly it has suffered from “Dick Venables” and “The Sixth Commandment.” But it has also produced “Judah” and “The Pharisee.”
Mr. Buchanan has been the most prolific author of the year, and what some take to have been the best piece of his work in 1890 – the “Bride of Love” – was the least successful of his plays. The most amusing comedies have been “The Cabinet Minister” and “Doctor Bill.” The most charming one “Sunlight and Shadow.” And that we are not yet all Ibsenites is shown by the fact that one of the successes of the year has been “The English Rose.”
Who is to decide which of the four great comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Twelfth Night,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,'’ “As you Like It,” is the most delightful? The decision is almost sure to be in favour of the particular one that has last been read or seen. Unfortunately, as far as seeing them at the Lyceum is concerned, we only have now-a-days the opportunity of seeing one of them. Neither “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” nor “As You Like It” has, as yet, been done at our first theatre by our first actor and actress, although we all had the delight of seeing Miss Ada Rehan’s Rosalind. One of these days we shall doubtless be in a position to compare with that beautiful impersonation Ellen Terry’s reading of the part, and to see what should be the best of Touchstones – that of Henry Irving. And we are living in the hope of seeing Irving play Bottom, even if there is not a woman’s part in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” exactly adapted for his co-worker. She would have every possible qualification for Titania, except smallness of physique.
And of the two remaining comedies, “Twelfth Night,” alas! we seem doomed not to see again. Is it because of the strange misunderstanding on the part of almost all the critics of the reading of Malvolio’s character by Irving? We have in another place, long ago, recorded the extraordinary impression that performance made on us. Never until that night had we understood exactly what manner of man Malvolio was. We had not seen the strange pathos of his situation, and of his nature. Even to the most earnest students of Shakspere the playing of that part upon that night was a revelation. But it was made to a world unfit, or, at all events, unripe for it, and who would have none of it. And so “Twelfth Night” has not yet been “revived” at the Lyceum. And thus we lose now-a-days not only the wonderful Malvolio, but the exquisite Viola.
Of the four comedies then – we resolutely refuse to call “The Merchant of Venice” by its conventional name – we only see one given with all the perfectness of detail, and the richness of illustration in all ways that are to be had at the Lyceum alone. And how perfect, how rich it all is! One can see that these artists – manager, actors, painters, every one – all love their Shakspere. Nothing but a real love for and understanding of him could (even given all the technical skill possible) produce such pictures, such groupings, such presentations. It is not reasonable to suppose that every one of the stage hands, or every one of the actors and actresses feels the nobility and excellence of the work they are doing quite as the Benedick feels it. But the informing genius of the chief has infected everyone, and the consequence is, a representation of “Much Ado About Nothing” that is as nearly perfect as things sublunary can hope to be.
The only parts in the charming whole where there are any signs of relative weakness are the Hero, the Dogberry, and the Friar. And these, let its hasten to say, appear not so strong as they might be, mainly by comparison with other readings of the characters. Miss Annie Irish was not on the first night quite as good a Hero as we had expected. But the playing such a part, in such a piece, and in such company, is no light task for a young actress accustomed thus far to face her audience in plays quite other than those of Shakspere. Mr. Mackintosh was also something of a disappointment, and that, as it would seem, from an over-anxiety to present us with a new Dogberry. Somehow Mr. Mackintosh’s voice does not exactly lend itself to the playing of the part of the Constable. And Mr. Bishop, with the best of intentions, could not drive away from us the memory of the late Tom Mead. Behind, as it were, all his excellent and earnest acting, towering above, and overshadowing it, was that performance of Mead’s that will always come back to our mind along with the remembrance of the Beatrice and Benedick of the Lyceum.
Those two are our delightful old-young friends. They have grown something more matured and ripened – in the rendering only, of course. They are just as young and gay and true of heart as ever, and every man of us is in love with her, and every woman is in love with him. In some parts that Ellen Terry plays there may be inequalities, and even now and again points of comparative weakness. But her Beatrice is absolute perfection, from end to end, from the crown of her sunny head to the sole of her expressive foot. And Benedick, as he now is, is not even marred, as in his very earliest days he was in some measure, by the curious habit of stamping that he had temporarily developed. He is a very perfect gentleman. And as we have been talking of Malvolio, let us note the remarkable way in which, in the one case, Irving tells us, without any forcing the fact upon us, that Benedick is a man of the highest breeding, even in his most bantering moments, and in the other tells us, equally without effort, that Malvolio, while gentleman at heart, has, by the force of external circumstances, not been able to wholly get rid of the outward forms of the servants’ hall. Probably the actor himself could not tell us how he produces those two different effects. It may be that he would tell us they were unconsciously produced. Just as they say that Shakspere would disclaim many of the meanings that we stoutly contend are in his lines. Nevertheless the effects are produced.
Don Pedro (Mr. Macklin) and Claudio (Mr. Terriss) play admirably together, and so do the two old brothers, Leonato (Mr. Wenman) and Antonio (Mr. Howe). And so do that pair of not unamusing sinners, Borachio (Mr. Tars) and Conrade (Mr. Harvey). And so do that other pair of plotters against the single blessedness of Beatrice, Margaret (Miss Kate Phillips) and Ursula (Miss Coleridge). Verges, the head borough, who always hunts in couples with Master Constable, is played by Mr. Davis, one of Irving’s many old friends. Seacole and Oatcake, another dunderheaded pair, are Messrs. Archer and Lorris. Probably, in keeping with the idea broached above, Shakspere would have denied that in “Much Ado” he had any particular intention of pointing the moral that great events are often brought about by most insignificant instruments. And yet it is the Seacole and Oatcake, and not the Benedick and Beatrice, that unravel the coil. Doubtless in the same fashion there would be a disclaimer of any intention in the scene – omitted at the Lyceum – of illustrating another of these situations so frequently recurring in our every-day life. The scene is of course the Leonato, Dogberry, and Verges one. There, but for the superiority of Leonato, the discovery of the whole plot is ready to his hand. But he puts it away from him, and Hero is saved through the medium of the Dogberrys and Oatcakes instead of through that of her own father. The only solitary in this play of couples – one never names Beatrice or Benedick alone, and Claudio and Hero, after much tribulation, pair off together – is Balthazar. And even he is accompanied in a song, admirably sung, and with a rare and enviable perfection both of verbal and musical intonation.
With an Antony not at his best in the person of Mr. Coghlan, and a Cleopatra whom we at least expected to realise the part physically. Unfortunately neither in physique nor in intelligence is Mrs. Langtry the Cleopatra Shakspere drew. The play is over-mounted, and it is a mounting that does not lead to artistic heights. In point of fact, the student of the stage, who is in search of object lessons on the subject, how much or how little. Shakspere should be scenically illustrated, cannot do better than go first to the Princess’s and then to the Lyceum. At the former theatre the traditions of the Kean management have been revived, as far as accessories are concerned. There is plenty of splendour in the staging of the play. It is, in fact, all very splendid, except the acting. From this negative criticism of the acting let us, in turn, except the playing of Messrs. Frank Cooper (Octavius Caesar) and Oscar Adye (The Messenger). Mr. Arthur Stirling’s barrel-organ style of elocution as Enobarbus was very trying.
Apparently the Haymarket has in this new piece of Mr. Jones’ hit on a very big success. And deservedly. The piece is original. It deals with strong and dramatic ,matter. It has real live characters in it. The last act is something of an anti-climax, and the author, with all his good intentions and dramatic ability, never seems quite able to disabuse us of the notion that he is preaching a sermon, and that the sermon is a dissenting one. The whole play is too big and too interesting to be dealt with this month, after only one visit to it, by only one of the present writers. Next month we shall hope to give it the full and detailed attention the piece certainly merits. Only one may say, even now, that Mr. Tree’s Duke of Guisebury is an unusually finished and self-sinking performance. There is something indescribably fascinating, as Hilde in “The Lady from the Sea” says, in his acting on the eve of the day that he means to be that of his death. But of this and of the admirable playing of the admirable company of the Haymarket more anon.
After three years Mr. Jerome’s play, oddly called a comedy, has at last in this country moved upwards from the matinee, or chrysalis stage, to the imago condition of a play in an evening bill. The play has the merit or demerit, according to individual taste, of being “quite English you know.” Its action takes place on Exmoor and in a London flat. Its people are, for the most part, named and largely drawn upon the George Eliot model – exaggerated. And the types and the actions of the types are as conventional as they should be with a view to success and “money in it.” They might have all stepped straight out of Mr. Jerome’s “Stageland,” and there is a beautiful irony in the fact that the artist – Bernard Gould – who illustrated the book, plays the chief type in the piece.
This last appears to have been written in two, or more than two, minds. Now we have real comedy, but with here and there a hint of something very near vulgarity, with Miss Emily Thorne at her very best, and quite free from any suspicion of the “something very near;” anon the broadest, oldest-fashioned form of farce when Mr. Tom Thorne is teaching his master how to behave, and his master is undergoing reversion to shirt-sleeves and pots of beer; anon, a scene of “hig-lif,” with Miss Vane, Messrs. Fred. Thorne and Cecil York, all playing admirably; yet anon, melodrama, bald and simple, with Mr. Hamilton Knight very cleverly doubling Mike Stratton and Richard Hanningford. It is rather bewildering, but we are bound to say that the audience certainly seemed to find it very amusing.
Is there a fatality about the initials P.I.? “The People’s Idol” has been withdrawn from the Olympic, and replaced by that excellent drama, “The Silver King.” And unless Mr. Edouin is right, and the critics all wrong, “Private Inquiry” at the Strand will have to go the way of so much theatrical lumber. Mr. Burnand does not seem to have done his work very well. In the Strand – the thoroughfare, not the theatre – they say he took little or no trouble about the rehearsals of his version of “La Securité des Familles.” And it is an open secret, that since the production of the piece, he has given Mr. Edouin carte blanche to chop and change it at will. It remains to be seen if the ingenuity of that versatile actor-manager is equal to the Herculean task of getting “A Private Inquiry” into drawing form. If his own hard work and really funny broad low comedy could save the piece, assuredly it were saved. But it seems at the present time of writing past praying for. And to say truth, the piece in itself is hardly worth a prayer.
The “Joan of Arc” people have, by their prompt withdrawal of the offending burlesque of strikers, admitted at once their error and injustice. During the rehearsals some that knew the intense feelings of the working-class gave warning of the want of wisdom – to say the least of it – in the objectionable scene. Events have justified the warning. Only actors, managers, and authors should understand clearly the exact meaning of the pit and gallery objection. Working men have no objection to good-humoured fun. They know the moment a thing is caricatured, that is evidence it is of serious importance. But they do not forget that the theatre, as at present constituted, is like the rest of our institutions, on the side of the classes, not of the masses. They looked upon the burlesque of the striker as a misrepresentation, and as a distinct weapon in the warfare of the classes against them. In a winter like this, with the Scottish Railway Strike very much in evidence, and with the columns of the daily papers teaming with accounts of the “starving poor,” the poor and the friends of the poor are apt to take the allusions for which Messrs. Shine and Roberts were primarily responsible rather more seriously than the stalls, fresh from a good dinner and wine therewith, and the dress-circle inflated with high tea.