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Chapter 28

GILRAY'S DREAM.


Conceive me (said Gilray, with glowing face) invited to write a criticism of the Critics' Dramatic Society for the Standard. I select the Standard, because that paper has treated me most cruelly. However, I loathe them all. My dream is the following criticism:

What is the Critics' Dramatic Society? We found out on Wednesday afternoon, and, as we went to Drury Lane in the interests of the public, it is only fair that the public should know too. Besides, in that case we can all bear it together. Be it known, then, that this Dramatic Society is composed of "critics" who gave "The School for Scandal" at a matinée on Wednesday just to show how the piece should be played. Mr. Augustus Harris had "kindly put the theatre at their disposal," for which he will have to answer when he joins Sheridan in the Elysian Fields. As the performance was by far the worst ever perpetrated, it would be a shame to deprive the twentieth century of the programme. Some of the players, as will be seen, are too well known to escape obloquy. The others may yet be able to sink into oblivion.

Sir Peter Teazle MR. JOHN RUSKIN. Joseph Surface MR. W. E. HENLEY. Charles Surface MR. HARRY LABOUCHERE. Crabtree MR. W. ARCHER. Sir Benjamin Backbite MR. CLEMENT SCOTT. Moses MR. WALTER SICHEL. Old Rowley MR. JOSEPH KNIGHT. Sir Oliver MR. W.H. POLLOCK. Trip MR. G. A. SALA. Snake MR. MOY THOMAS. Sir Harry Bumper (with song) MR. GEORGE MOORE. Servants, Guests, etc. MESSRS. SAVILLE CLARKE, JOSEPH HATTON, PERCY FITZGERALD, etc.

Assisted by

Lady Teazle MISS ROSIE LE DENE. Mrs. Candour MISS JENNY MONTALBAN. Lady Sneerwell MISS ROSALIND LABELLE (The Hon. Mrs. Major TURNLEY). Maria MISS JONES.


It was a sin of omission on the part of the Critics' Dramatic Society not to state that the piece played was "a new and original comedy" in many acts. Had they had the courage to do this, and to change the title, no one would even have known. On the other hand, it was a sin of commission to allow that Professor Henry Morley was responsible for the stage management; Mr. Morley being a man of letters whom some worthy people respect. But perhaps sins of omission and commission counterbalance. The audience was put in a bad humor before the performance began, owing to the curtain's rising fifteen minutes late. However, once the curtain did rise, it was an unconscionable time in falling. What is known as the "business" of the first act, including the caterwauling of Sir Benjamin Backbite and Crabtree in their revolutions round Joseph, was gone through with a deliberation that was cruelty to the audience, and just when the act seemed over at last these indefatigable amateurs began to dance a minuet. A sigh ran round the theatre at this--a sigh as full of suffering as when a minister, having finished his thirdly and lastly, starts off again, with, "I cannot allow this opportunity to pass." Possibly the Critics' Dramatic Society are congratulating themselves on the undeniable fact that the sighs and hisses grew beautifully less as the performance proceeded. But that was because the audience diminished too. One man cannot be expected to sigh like twenty; though, indeed, some of the audience of Wednesday sighed like at least half a dozen.


If it be true that all men--even critics--have their redeeming points and failings, then was there no Charles and no Joseph Surface at this unique matinée. For the ungainly gentleman who essayed the part of Charles made, or rather meant to make, him spotless; and Mr. Henley's Joseph was twin-brother to Mr. Irving's Mephistopheles. Perhaps the idea of Mr. Labouchere and his friend, Mr. Henley, was that they would make one young man between them. They found it hard work. Mr. Labouchere has yet to learn that buffoonery is not exactly wit, and that Charles Surfaces who dig their uncle Olivers in the ribs, and then turn to the audience for applause, are among the things that the nineteenth century can do without. According to the programme, Mr. George Moore--the Sir Harry Bumper--was to sing the song, "Here's to the Maiden of Bashful Fifteen." Mr. Moore did not sing it, but Mr. Labouchere did. The explanation of this, we understand, was not that Sir Harry's heart failed him at the eleventh hour, but that Mr. Labouchere threatened to fling up his part unless the song was given to him. However, Mr. Moore heard Mr. Labouchere singing the song, and that was revenge enough for any man. To Mr. Henley the part of Joseph evidently presented no serious difficulties. In his opinion, Joseph is a whining hypocrite who rolls his eyes when he wishes to look natural. Obviously he is a slavish admirer of Mr. Irving. If Joseph had taken his snuff as this one does, Lady Sneerwell would have sent him to the kitchen. If he had made love to Lady Teazle as this one does, she would have suspected him of weak intellect. Sheridan's Joseph was a man of culture: Mr. Henley's is a buffoon. It is not, perhaps, so much this gentleman's fault as his misfortune that his acting is without either art or craft; but then he was not compelled to play Joseph Surface. Indeed, we may go further, and say that if he is a man with friends he must have been dissuaded from it. The Sir Peter Teazle of Mr. Ruskin reminded us of other Sir Peter Teazles--probably because Sir Peter is played nowadays with his courtliness omitted.


Mr. William Archer was the Crabtree, or rather Mr. Archer and the prompter between them. Until we caught sight of the prompter we had credited Mr. Archer with being a ventriloquist given to casting his voice to the wings. Mr. Clement Scott--their Benjamin Backbite--was a ventriloquist too, but not in such a large way as Mr. Archer. His voice, so far as we could make out from an occasional rumble, was in his boots, where his courage kept it company. There was no more ambitious actor in the cast than Mr. Pollock. Mr. Pollock was Sir Oliver, and he gave a highly original reading of that old gentleman. What Mr. Pollock's private opinion of the character of Sir Oliver may be we cannot say; it would be worth an interviewer's while to find out. But if he thinks Sir Oliver was a windmill, we can inform him at once that he is mistaken. Of Mr. Sichel's Moses all that occurs to us to say is that when he let his left arm hang down and raised the other aloft, he looked very like a tea-pot. Mr. Joseph Knight was Old Rowley. In that character all we saw of him was his back; and we are bound to admit that it was unexceptional. Sheridan calls one of his servants Snake, and the other Trip. Mr. Moy Thomas tried to look as like a snake as he could, and with some success. The Trip of Mr. Sala, however, was a little heavy, and when he came between the audience and the other actors there was a temporary eclipse. As for the minor parts, the gentlemen who personated them gave a capital rendering of supers suffering from stage-fever. Wednesday is memorable in the history of the stage, but we would forget it if we could.


James M. Barrie