William Archer.

The theatrical 'world' of 1894 online

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OF 1894.



OF 1894.










Uniform with this Vol., Price 3s. 6d.

OF 1893.

By William Archer.







Preface, by ISIr George Bernard Shaw - - xi
Author's Note xxxi


The Pantomimes i

"An Old Jew" 9


"Twelfth Night" - . - * - - - 22

" The Charlatan " — " A Gauntlet " — " Uncle's

Ghost" 32


"The Transgressor" 41

"Dick Sheridan" 47

"Caste" 53



"The Little Widow" — "A Gaiety Girl" - - 58


"The New Boy" — "The Heirs of Rabourdin" - 62


"As You Like It" — "Mrs Dexter" - - - 69


"The Best Man" — "The Cotton King" —

"Fashionable Intelligence" - - - - 73

"Go-Bang" 80


"Once Upon a Time" — "The Land ok Heart's
Desire" — "A Comedy of Sighs" — "An
Aristocratic Alliance" - - - . - 85


"Mrs Lessingham" — "The Little Squire" —

"Jaunty Jane Shore" 96


"Faust" — " Frou-Frou " — "Don Juan" - - 103

" Arms and the Man " 109

"A Bunch of Violets" — "The Masqueraders" - 118

"The Masqueraders" 127



"The Wild Duck" 136


Eleanora Duse — "A Society Butterfly" — " King

Kodak" i43


" DivoRcoNS ! " — " Jean Mayeux " — " The Two
Orphans" — "The Man in the Street" —
"Marriage" — "Money" 151


" Cavalleria Rusticana" — "La Locandiera" - 161

"The Candidate" 166


"Journeys End in Lovers Meeting" - - - 170


"The Middleman" - - - ' - - - - 175

"Izi:;yl" — "Shall We Forgive IIer?" — "The
Texan " — " The Jerry Builder " — " Madame
Sans-Gene " 176

"The Professor's Love Story" — "A Night in

Town" — "Villon" — Sarah Bernhardt - - 186

" Les Rois" — "A Modern Eve" .... 196



"Mirette" 203

" Becket" - - 208

"La Femme de Claude" 209


" Little JACK Shepvard"—" Loyal" - - - 21S

"Hot Water" 222


"The New Woman" — "The Foundling" - - 223

"The P'atai, Card" 233

"The Chinaman" — "Little Miss 'Cute" — "The

Gaiety (Iirl" 237

"The Derby Winner" — The German Company - 245

"Graf Waldemar" 253


" Der Pfarrer von Kirchfeld" .... 256

"Odette" — "Claude Duval" — "Der Meineid-

hauer" 259



"The Case of Rebellious Susan" — "A Trip to

Chinatown" — " Truthful James" - - - 266

"A Gay Widow" 276

"Robbery Under Arms" — "The Lady Slavey" - 281

"His Excellency" 289


"All My Eye-Vanhoe"— " Die Rauber" - - 298

" John-a-Dreams" — "A Doll's House" — "The

Masqueradeks" 302

" The Wrong Girl"— " The Shoi'-Girl" - - 312

"The Wife of Dives" 320

" Ii'Higenia in Tauris" ...... 324

"The Birthday" 332


"The Red Lamp" — "Hal the Highwayman" - 333



"The Chieftain" - 339


"A Story of Waterloo" — "The Vicarage" - 343

Epilogue 347

Synopsis of Playbills, by Mr Henry G. Hibbert 371
Index 407


My qualification for introducing this annual
record is, as I have vainly urged upon my friend
the author, the worst qualification possible. For
years past those readers of The World whose
interest in art gave them an appetite for criticism,
turned every Tuesday from a page on the drama
by W, A. to a page on music by G. B. S. Last
year the death of Edmund Yates closed a chap-
ter in the history of the paper ; and G. B. S.,
having exhausted his message on the subject of
contemporary music, took the occasion to write
" Finis" at the end of his musical articles. But the
old association was so characteristic, and is still
so recent, that we have resolved to try whether
the reader will not, just this once more, turn
over the page and pass from G. B. S. to W. A.,
by mere force of habit, without noticing the
glaring fact that the musical duties of G. B. S.,


by cutting him off almost entirely from the
theatre, have left him, as aforesaid, quite the
most unsuitable person to meddle in a book
about the theatre and nothing else.

However, one can learn something about the
theatre even at the opera : for instance, that
there are certain permanent conditions which
have nothing to do with pure art, but which
deeply affect every artistic performance in Lon-
don. No journalist, without intolerable injustice
to artists and managers whose livelihood is at
stake, can pass judgment without taking these
conditions into account ; and yet he may not
mention them, because their restatement in every
notice would be unbearable. The journalist is
therefore forced to give his reader credit for
knowing the difficulties under which plays are
produced in this country, just as the writer of the
leading article is forced to assume that his reader
is acquainted with the Briti.sh constitution and
the practical exigencies of our system of party
government. And it is because the reader
hardly ever does know these things that news-
papers so often do more harm than good.

Obviously, Mr Archer, in reprinting his weekly
articles exactly as they appeared, and thereby
preserving all their vividness and actuality, pre-


serves also this dependence of the journalist on
the public for a considerate and well-informed
reading of his verdicts. I need hardly add that
he will not get it, because his readers, though
interested in the art of the theatre, neither know
nor care anything about the business of the
theatre ; and yet the art of the theatre is as
dependent on its business as a poet's genius is
on his bread and butter. Theatrical manage-
ment in this country is one of the most desperate
commercial forms of gambling. No one can
foresee the fate of a play : the most experienced
managers carefully select failure after failure for
production ; and the most featherheaded be-
ginners blunder on successes. At the London
West End theatres, where all modern English
dramas are born, the minimum expense of run-
ning a play is about ^400 a week, the maximum
anything you please to spend on it. And all
but the merest fraction of it may be, and very
frequently is, entirely lost. On the other hand,
success may mean a fortune of fifty thousand
pounds accumulated within a single year. Very
few forms of gambling are as hazardous as this.
At roulette you can back red or black instead
of yellow. On the turf you can take the low
odds against the favourite instead of the high


odds against the outsider. At both games you
can stake as much or as little as you choose.
But in the theatre you must play a desperate
game for high stakes, or not play at all. And
the risk falls altogether on the management.
Everybody, from the author to the charwoman,
must be paid before the management appro-
priates a farthing.

The scientific student of gambling will see at
once that these are not the conditions which
permanently attract the gambler. They are too
extreme, too inelastic ; besides, the game re-
quires far too much knowledge. Consequently,
the gambler pure and simple never meddles
with the theatre : he has ready to his hand
dozens of games that suit him better. And
what is too risky for the gambler is out of the
question for the man of business. Thus, from
the purely economic point of view, the theatre
is impossible. Neither as investment nor specu-
lation, enterprise nor game, earnest nor jest, can
it attract a single sovereign of capital. You
must disturb a man's reason before he will even
listen to a proposal to run a playhouse.

It will now be asked why, under these circum-
stances, have we a couple of dozen West End
theatres open in London. Are they being run


by people whose reason is disturbed ? The
answer is, emphatically, Yes. They are the
result of the sweeping away of all reasonable
economic prudence by the immense force of an
artistic instinct which drives the actor to make
opportunities at all hazards for the exercise of
his art, and which makes the theatre irresistibly
fascinating to many rich people who can afford
to keep theatres just as they can afford to keep
racehorses, yachts, or newspapers. The actor
who is successful enough to obtain tolerably
continuous employment as " leading man" in
London at a salary of from twenty to forty
pounds a week, can in a few years save enough
to try the experiment of taking a theatre for a
few months and producing a play on his own
account. The same qualities which have enabled
him to interest the public as an actor will help
him, as actor-manager, to interest the rich
theatre fanciers, and to persuade them to act
as his " backers." If the enterprise thus started
be watered now and then by the huge profits of a
successful play, it will take a great deal to kill
it. With the help of these profits and occasional
subsidies, runs of ill-luck are weathered with
every appearance of brilliant prosperity, and are
suspected only by experienced acting-managers,


and by shrewd observers who have noticed the
extreme scepticism of these gentlemen as to the
reality of any apparently large success.

This system of actor-manager and backer is
practically supreme in London. The drama is
in the hands of Mr Irving, Mr Alexander, Mr
Beerbohm Tree, Mr Lewis Waller, Mrs John
Wood, Mr Hare, Mr Terry, Mr W>ndham, Mr
Penley, and Mr Toole. Nearly all the theatres
other than theirs are either devoted, like the
Adelphi and Drury Lane, to the routine of those
comparatively childish forms of melodrama
which have no more part in the development of
the theatre as one of the higher forms of art than
Madame Tussaud's or the Christy Minstrels, or
else they are opera-houses.

We all know by this time that the effect of
the actor-manager system is to impose on every
dramatic author who wishes to have his work
produced in first-rate style, the condition that
there shall be a good part for the actor-manager
in it. This is not in the least due to the vanity
and jealousy of the actor-manager : it is due to
his popularity. The strongest fascination at a
theatre is the fascination of the actor or actress,
not of the author. More people go to the
Lyceum Theatre to see Mr Irving and Miss


Ellen Terry than to see Shakespere's plays ; at
all events, it is certain that if Mr Irving were to
present himself in as mutilated a condition as
he presented King Lear, a shriek of horror would
go up from all London. If Mr Irving were to
produce a tragedy, or Mr Wyndham a comedy,
in which they were cast for subordinate parts,
the public would stay away ; and the author
would have reason to curse the self-denial of the
actor-manager. Mr Hare's personally modest
managerial policy is anything but encouraging
to authors and critics who wish that all actor-
managers were even as he. The absence of a
strong personal interest on his part in the plays
submitted to him takes all the edge off his
judgment as to their merits ; and except when
he is falling back on old favourites like Caste
and Diplomacy, or holding on to A Pair of
Spectacles, which is as much a one-part actor-
manager's play as Hamlet is, he is too often
selecting all the failures of the modern drama,
and leaving the successes to the actor-managers
whose selective instincts are sharpened by good
parts in them. We thus see that matters are
made worse instead of mended by the elimina-
tion of personal motives from actor-management;
whilst the economic conditions are so extremely


unfavourable to anyone but an actor venturing
upon the management of any but a purely
routine theatre, that in order to bring up the list
of real exceptions to the London rule of actor-
management to three, we have to count Mr Daly
and Mr Grein of the Independent Theatre along
with Mr Comyns Carr. Mr Grein, though his
forlorn hopes have done good to the drama out
of all apparent proportion to the show they have
been able to make, tells us that he has lost more
by his efforts than anybody but a fanatic would
sacrifice ; whilst Mr Daly, as the manager and
proprietor of a London theatre (New York is
his centre of operations), has had little success
except in the Shakesperean revivals which have
enabled him to exploit Miss Ada Rehan's un-
rivalled charm of poetic speech.

Taking actor-management, then, as inevitable
for the moment, and dismissing as untenable the
notion that the actor-manager can afford to be
magnanimous any more than he can afford to be
lazy, why is it that, on the whole, the effect of
the system is to keep the theatre lagging far
behind the drama ? The answer is, that the
theatre depends on a very large public, and the
drama on a very small one. A great dramatic
poet will produce plays for a bare livelihood, if


he can get nothing more. Even if a London
theatre would perform them on the same terms,
the sum that will keep the poet for a year — or
five years at a pinch — will not keep the theatre
open for more than a week. Ibsen, the greatest
living dramatic poet, produces a play in two
years. If he could sell twenty thousand copies
of it at five shillings apiece within the following
two years, he would no doubt consider himself,
for a poet, a most fortunate man in his com-
mercial relations. But unless a London manager
sees some probability of from 50,000 to 75,000
people paying him an average five shillings
apiece within three months, he will hardly be
persuaded to venture. In this book the reader
will find an account of the production for the
first time in England of Ibsen's Wi/d Duck, a
masterpiece of modern tragi-comedy, famous
throughout Europe. It was by no means lack-
ing in personal appeal to the actor-manager ; for
it contains two parts, one of which, old Ekdal,
might have been written for Mr Hare, whilst the
other, Hjalmar Ekdal, would have suited Mr
Beerbohm Tree to perfection. What actually
happened, however, was that no London
manager could afford to touch it ; and it was
not until a few private persons scraped together


a handful of subscriptions that two modest little
representations were given by Mr Grein under
great difficulties. Mr Tree had already, by the
experiment of a few matinees of An Enemy of
the People, ascertained that such first-rate work
as Ibsen's is still far above the very low levef
represented by the average taste of the huge
crowd of playgoers requisite to make a re-
munerative run for a play. The Wild Duck,
therefore, had to give place to commoner work.
This is how the theatre lags behind its own
published literature. And the evil tends to
perpetuate itself in two ways : first, by helping
to prevent the formation of a habit of playgoing
among the cultivated section of the London
community ; and second, by diverting the best
of our literary talent from the theatre to ordinary
fiction and journalism, in which it becomes
technically useless for stage purposes.

The matter is further complicated by the
conditions on which the public are invited to
visit the theatre. These conditions, in my
opinion, are sufficient by themselves to make
most reasonable people regard a visit to the
theatre rather as a troublesome and costly
luxury to be indulged in three or four times a
year under family pressure, than as the ordinary


way of passing an unoccupied evening. The
theatrical nnanagers will not recognise, that they
have to compete with the British fireside, the
slippers, the easy chair, the circulating library,
and the illustrated press. They persist in ex-
'pecting a man and his wife to leave their homes
after dinner, and, after worrying their way to
the theatre by relays of train and cab or
omnibus, pay seven -and -sixpence or half-a-
guinea apiece for comfortable seats. In the
United States, where prices are higher in other
things, the same accommodation can be had for
five and six shillings. The cheaper parts of the
London theatre are below the standard of com-
fort now expected by third-class travellers on
our northern railway lines. The result is, not
that people refuse to go to the theatre at all, but
that they go very seldom, and then only to some
house of great repute, like Mr Irving's, or to see
some play which has created the sort of mania
indicated by the term " catching on." No doubt,
when this mania sets in, the profits are, as we
have seen, enormous. But when it does not —
and this is the more frequent case — the acting-
manager is at his wit's end to find people who
will sit in his half-guinea stalls and sevcn-and-
sixpenny balcony seats for nothing, in order to


persuade the provincial playgoer, when his turn
comes to see the piece " on tour " from an
excellent seat costing only a few shillings, that
he is witnessing a " great London success." In
the long run this system will succumb to the
action of competition, and to the growing
discrepancy between the distribution of income
in the country and the distribution of prices in
the theatre ; but the reader who wishes to in-
telligently understand the failures and successes
recorded in this book, must take account of the
fact that, with the exception of the shilling
gallery, every seat in a West End London theatre
is at present charged for at a rate which makes
it impossible for theatrical enterprise to settle
down from a feverish speculation into a steady

Among other effects of this state of things is
an extreme precariousness of employment for
actors, who are compelled to demand unreason-
ably high salaries in order that they may earn
in the course of the year discouragingly small
incomes. As we have seen, the few who have
sufficient adaptable ability and popularity to be
constantly employed, save rapidly enough to be-
come actor-managers and even to build theatres
for themselves. The result is that it becomes


more and more difificult to obtain a fine cast for
a play. The "star system," which is supposed to
have disappeared in London, is really rampant
there as far as acting is concerned. Compare,
for example, the Opera, where the actor-manager
is unknown, with the Lyceum Theatre. Sir
Augustus Harris can present an opera with a
whole constellation of stars in it. One of the
greatest operas in the world, sung by half-a-
dozen of the greatest dramatic singers in the
world, is a phenomenon which, as a musical
critic, I have seen, and found fault with, at
Covent Garden. Now try to imagine Mr Irving
attempting to do for a masterpiece of Shake-
spere's what Sir Augustus Harris does for
Lohengrin. All the other stars are like Mr
Irving : they have theatres of their own, and are
competing with him as men of business, instead
of co-operating with him as artists. The old
receipt for an opera company, " Catalani and a
few dolls," is, leaving scenery and mounting out
of the question, as applicable to a Shakesperean
performance at the Lyceum to-day as it was to
the provincial starring exploits of the late Barry
Sullivan. One expects every month to hear
that Mr Waring, Mr Fred Terry, Mr Yorkc
Stephens, Mr Forbes Robertson, Mr Brandon


Thomas, and Mr Hawtrey are about to follow
Mr Alexander and Mr Waller into actor-
management. We should then have sixteen
actor-managers competing with one another in
sixteen different theatres, in a metropolis hardly
containing good actors enough to cast three
good plays simultaneously, even with the sixteen
actor- managers counted in. No doubt such an
increased demand for actors and plays as six
additional managers would set up might produce
an increased and improved supply if the demand
of the public for theatrical amusements kept
pace with the ambition of actors to become
actor-managers ; but is there, under existing
conditions as to growth of population and dis-
tribution of income, the slightest likelihood of
such an upward bound of public demand without
a marked reduction of prices ?

There is yet another momentous prospect to
be taken into consideration. We have at pre-
sent nine actor-managers and only one actress-
manageress — Mrs John Wood. So far, our chief
actresses have been content to depend on the
position of " leading lady " to some actor-
manager. This was sufficient for all ordinary
ambitions ten years ago ; but since then the
progress of a revolution in public opinion on


what is called the Woman Question has begun
to agitate the stage. In the highest class of
drama the century has produced, the works of
Richard Wagner, we find the Elsa of Lohengrin,
the most highly developed of the operatic
" prima donnas " whose main function it was
to be honoured with the love of the hero, sup-
planted by a race of true heroines like Brynhild
and Isolde, women in no sense secondary to
the men whose fate is bound up with their
own, and indeed immeasurably superior in
wisdom, courage, and every great quality of
heart and mind, to the stage heroes of the middle
Victorian period of Romance. The impulse
felt in heroic music drama has now reached
domestic prose comedy ; and Esther Ecclcs and
Diplomacy Dora are succeeded by Nora Helmcr,
Rebecca West, Hcdda Gabler and Hilda Wangel.
The change is so patent, that one of the plaj^s
criticised by Mr Archer in the pages which
follow is called The Ne%v Woman. Now it is
not possible to put the new woman seriousl)-
on the stage in her relation to modern society,
without stirring up, both on the stage and in
the auditorium, the struggle to keep her in her
old place. The play with which Ibsen con-
quered the world, A DolFs House, allots to the


" leading man " the part of a most respectable
bank manager, exactly the sort of person on
whose quiet but irresistible moral superiority
to women Tom Taylor insisted with the fullest
public applause in his Still Waters Run Deep.
Yet the play ends with the most humiliating
exposure of the vanity, folly, and amorous
beglamourment of this complacent person in
his attitude towards his wife, the exposure being
made by the wife herself His is not the sort
of part that an actor-manager likes to play.
Mr Wyndham has revived Sttll Waters Rnti
Deep : he will not touch A Doll's Hotise. The
one part that no actor as yet plays willingly
is the part of a hero whose heroism is neither
admirable nor laughable. A villain if you like,
a hunchback, a murderer, a kicked, cuffed, duped
pantaloon by all means ; but a hero manque,
never. Man clings to the old pose, the old
cheap heroism ; and the actor in particular,
whose life aspiration it has been to embody
that pose, feels, with inexpressible misgiving, the
earth crumbling beneath his feet as the en-
thusiasm his heroism once excited turns to pity
and ridicule. But this misgiving is the very
material on which the modern dramatist of the
Ibsen school seizes for his tragi-comedy. It is


the material upon which I myself have seized
in a play of my own criticised in this book, to
which I only allude here to gratify my friend
the author, who has begged me to say some-
thing about Anns and the Man. I comply by
confessing that the result was a misunderstanding
so complete, that but for the pleasure given by
the acting, and for the happy circumstance that
there was sufficient fun in the purely comic
aspect of the piece to enable it to filch a certain
vogue as a novel sort of extravaganza, its failure
would have been as evident to the public as it
was to me when I bowed my acknowledgments
before the curtain to a salvo of entirely mistaken
congratulations on my imaginary success as a
conventionally cynical and paradoxical casti-
gator of " the seamy side of human nature."
The whole difficulty was created by the fact
that my Bulgarian hero, quite as much as
Helmer in A Doll's House, was a hero shown
from the modern woman's point of view. I
complicated the psychology by making him
catch glimpse after glimpse of his own aspect
and conduct from this point of view himself, as
all men are beginning to do more or less now,
the result, of course, being the most horrible
dubiety on his part as to wliether he was really

Online LibraryWilliam ArcherThe theatrical 'world' of 1894 → online text (page 1 of 27)