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senseless heaping up of lumbering masses of gilded and silvered stage machinery, picked out with inartistic patches of red and green foil, and garnished with heavy, ugly, bigkneed, red-nosed, dirty-handed women, sitting or hanging in ridiculously constrained attitudes. The nightly achievement of this trophy is only to be brought about by a long and elaborate process of stagecarpentry, which is veiled from the eyes of the audience by a tedious series of foolish front scenes,'-a dramatic Slough of Despond, with no Mr. Interpreter on the other side to explain the metaphorical phenomena of the gilded mystery. This nuisance is the result of a supposed taste for what are technically known as 'development scenes,' that is to say, scenes whose culminating glory is only arrived at after a series of complicated mechanical efforts, ingenious enough in themselves, but adding little or nothing to the impressiveness of the tableau they are employed to reveal. One would think that a more startling effect would be produced by allowing the full blaze of the transformation scene to follow immediately on the heels of a dark and dismal front scene,' than by revealing it by a series of stages, each more brilliant than its predecessor; but this idea is not entertained in the pantomime theatres of the present day. When this development' was a novelty it was all very well; but now that it has been done year after year, until the playgoing public know all about it, it would surely be well to revert to the old method of exhibiting the scene, all at once, in its full glory. When I see a huge tulip in the centre of a modern transformation scene, I know, and everybody else knows, that the leaves of its calyx will be reflected, and that half a dozen common-looking women, dressed in nothing to speak of, will be found inside it. When I see such a scene complete in all its central appointments, but lacking at the sides, I know, and everybody else knows, that six or eight more common-looking women, reclining on glorified go-carts, will be trundled on at the wings, to
complete the well, the picture. When I see a mass of clumsy clouds at the back of a scene where everything else is glittering with gold and silver foil, I know, and everybody else knows, that those clumsy clouds will work off creakily, and that a bony fairy will be discovered in a bower of chandelier dropsindeed, if I am sitting in the stalls, I shall be further prepared for the change by hearing Pull ninetyseven!' shouted by the master carpenter under the stage. There is no longer any surprise at these successive revelations.
It is a pity that clever scenic artists should so systematically neglect the opportunity that transformation scenes offer for beautiful fairy landscapes. A picture, something in the nature, say, of Martin's
Plains of Heaven '-a possible, yet impossible landscape, suggestive of a preternatural state of existence, and at the same time not wholly irreconcilable with terrestrial beauty, would not only be an agreeable relief to the average playgoer, but it would also afford the artist an exceptional opportunity of displaying his imaginative powers to the best advantage. To such artists as Lloyds, Beverley, Grieve, Telbin, or O'Connor, the production of a picture of this description would surely be a more congenial employment than gilding pieces of carpentry or hooking ugly women to wires from the flies.
The best of the three pantomimes produced at the West End' theatres this year is undoubtedly Robinson Crusoe,' at Covent Garden. It does not equal the glories of some of its preposterously expensive predecessors, but it is excellently costumed, nevertheless, and its scenery is, for the most part, admirable. The ballet department is not very effective, and the dresses of the dancers in the opening scene are particularly ugly, but the procession in the forest, on Crusoe's island, is a phenomenon of tasty absurdity. The view of Wapping in the Olden Time' is capitally painted; so is the interior of Crusoe's hut. The opening scene, 'The Enchanted Isle,' is pretty; but there is a
'gassiness' about all Mr. Craven's woodland scenes which, to my thinking, impairs their artistic beauty. The piece is nicely written by Mr. Byron, without too much straining after far-fetched puns; and the music is generally of a better class than usually found in such productions. The parts of Robinson and his man Friday are played by Mr. W. H. Payne and Mr. Fred. Payne, both admirable artists in their way. Mr. Stoyle, a capital low comedian with a fine voice, plays the King of the Cannibal Islands,' and a Miss Nelly
Power, erst a favourite singer at music halls, is a clever Elf.' The piece, however, has its drawbacks. There is too much of the two Paynes in it; they are extremely clever pantomimists, but their business" is, for the most part, simply a reproduction of what they have done for many years past. This is, however, a charge which, I suppose, should weigh more heavily on the management than on them, for the transformation scene is remarkably elaborate; and the time that its preparation occupies must be filled up by adventitious means with which the
Miss NELLY TOWER AS THE SAILOR-ELF.'
author has little to do. The Messrs. Payne are evidently relied on to afford the necessary time for the preparation of the scene, and under the circumstances they do extremely well. Mr. Stoyle plays the King with amusing extravagance: his performance in the character is a good burlesque on his black pensioner in One Tree Hill.' Miss Nelly Power is likely to develop into a good burlesque actress, but she is at present too emphatic in her delivery. The transformation scene is simply inexpressive glitter. It is good of its kind, but it leaves no impression whatever on the mind of the spectator, except that he has been unpleasantly dazzled. The comic scenes are dreary enough, but a dance of Ladies of the
Period,' in a scene representing 'Lord's Cricket Ground,' is an amusing piece of characteristic extravagance. Mr. H. Payne has all the makings of a good clown, except originality of conception. He seems to me to have more sense of grotesque expression than any of his contemporaries, but his business' is very rococo.'
The Drury Lane pantomime is of course provided by the veteran E. L. Blanchard, who certainly has a peculiarly happy facility, not only in telling a nursery story plainly to an audience of children, but also of extracting a sound and sensible moral from an unpromising subject. It is not every fairy tale that bears a good moral, expressed or implied. I am sorry to think that
cunning, hypocrisy, and lying are the principal means by which the heroes of most of our nursery stories gain their ends. In Jack the Giant Killer,' 'Jack and the Beanstalk,' 'Puss in Boots,' 'Cinderella,' 'Tom Thumb,' and, indeed, in nearly every current nursery story, except perhaps Whittington and his Cat,' the hero or heroine is a simple swindler; and even Whittington, who is by far the most moral of these worthies, arrives at his civic distinctions by a concurrence of accidents with which his own industry or perseverance has nothing at all to do. Mr. Blanchard, however, skilfully contrives to leave in the background the unpromising portions of the stories he deals with, and to bring prominently forward the few good traits which his nursery heroes happen to be endowed with. I don't know, after all, that a moral is really a 'very effective addition to a pantomime. I suppose no wicked little boy was yet brought back to the paths of virtue by seeing a respectable young prince changed into a harlequin as a reward for his good qualities, and an all-sufficing compensation for his sufferings at the hands of a legion of demons. It is to be doubted whether such a little boy would not rather find himself encouraged in his downward path by the fact that a very wicked character (in a pantomime) is always changed into Clown -a handsome premium on social irregularity, from a little boy's point of view. But Mr. Blanchard does not allow himself to be discouraged by the moral bathos that awaits him in the transformation scene. His duties end with that scene, and as long as he has possession of the stage, he fights manfully for his moral.
'Puss in Boots' is capitally written, but it is not well put upon the stage. The scenery appears to me to have been carelessly or hurriedly painted; the masks are, in many cases, those of last year, and the transformation scene is poor. It is a pity that the masks should have been so neglected. Nothing is funnier than plenty of well-made masks, and Mr. Brunton can do better when
he feels disposed and has plenty of scope. A row of courtiers, or hunters, or retainers, in well-made head-pieces, and a marked expression on each, is always a 'safe' effect. Nothing is more readily appreciated by an audience than a cleverly caricatured mask, and in neglecting this important feature of a good pantomime, the lessee has, I think, acted unwisely. However, the pantomime contains one thoroughly comic effect, which goes far to redeem its many drawbacks. I allude to the capital parody on the sensation scene in After Dark,' where a truck of flour, followed by a long string of millers, takes the place of the express train. Mr. Irving is a clever and agile 'cat,' and Mr. George Cummings sings a capital song, in which he recites the miller's will; but the other parts are not remarkably well played. A very coarse travestie of the 'Rachel case' is the principal feature of the first comic scene.
Of the Lyceum pantomime, the least said the better. It is foolishly written and badly placed upon the stage. Miss Caroline Parkes, Miss Goodall, and Miss Minnie Sydney do their best to keep the interest of the story alive, but without much success. Still the transformation scene is really better than that of either Drury Lane or Covent Garden, and the extraordinary dancing of Mr. Frederick Vokes is certainly worth seeing.
So much for the pantomimes. By far the best of the burlesques is Mr. W. Brough's 'Prince Amabel,' played at the New Holborn Theatre under the title of Turko the Terrible.' It is remarkably well written in parts, and the music is of a higher order than we usually find in pieces of this class. Mr. George Honey plays King Turko with very amusing ferocity, and Miss Josephs is a graceful Prince Amabel. With two such artists, the pretty music receives full justice. Turko the Terrible' is an instructive contrast to the two other burlesques from the same pen, which are now being played at the New Queen's Theatre and at the Strand. These two pieces have more of what is popu
subject of Robert the Devil; but the piece, which is rather clumsily constructed, is secondary in importance to the pretty music, fantastic dresses, romantic scenery, and effective ballet with which it is asso
ciated. The company is not a strong one, but Miss Farren, who plays Robert with extraordinary vivacity, gives the piece a sparkle which helps materially to carry it through. The music is pretty, and
MISS E. FARREN AS ROBERT THE DEVIL.'
of a higher order than is common in burlesques, and breakdowns are systematically eschewed.
The Haymarket should not attempt burlesques unless it can do without Mr. Compton. This gentleman, an excellent actor in his own line, does not seem to have the smallest idea how a burlesque couplet should be given. He stands still, and pays out' his talk in a hard, perfunctory manner, which reminds one of a village-school child repeating its catechism. His presence is simply fatal to a burlesque. The piece in which he plays a leading part is a parody by Mr. F. C. Burnand on the Rightful Heir'-an unpromising subject, very amusingly treated. The stilted extravagance of the original piece is broadly and quaintly parodied in every particular, and the music is for the most part well chosen. Mr. Kendal has a capital' make up' in imitation of Mr. Bandmann, and
sings a patter song to the air, 'From Rock to Rock,' in a manner which justified the loud encore with which it was greeted. Miss Ione Burke sings the music allotted to the part of Vyvyan's mother very charmingly, and the piece is illustrated by some capital scenery. Mr. Burnand has departed from the time-honoured practice of his brother burlesquers by writing a considerable portion of the dialogue in stilted and sonorous blank versea decided relief, after a long course of doggrel couplet. Altogether, this is the most meritorious burlesque that has been produced at the Haymarket Theatre since Pluto and Proserpine.'
St. James's Theatre, under Mdlle. La Ferte's management, is not likely to improve in popularity. The Christmas piece (which has been recently withdrawn) was a revival of Mr. Planché's 'Sleeping Beauty,' but it was so poorly