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
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.
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
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.