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ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THEATRE REVIEWS

16. Agnes (1885)

 

Agnes
by Robert Buchanan (an adaptation of the play, L’École des Femmes by Molière).
London: Comedy Theatre. 21 March, 1885.

 

The Stage (20 March, 1885 - p.12)

     The production of Agnes, Mr. R. Buchanan’s new two-act comedy, at the Comedy Theatre, has been postponed till Saturday evening, when it will be played in front of Nemesis, with Miss Adelaide Detchon, a lady whose talents have before been noticed in The Stage, as the heroine. It is probable that an adaptation of Clara Soleil will also first see the lights at this house shortly.

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Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (22 March, 1885)

LAST NIGHT’S THEATRICALS.
_____

COMEDY.

     The only thing to be said in favour of Agnes, a short comedy of a rather old-fashioned type, produced last night, is that it is the means of introducing to the English stage a young actress named Miss Adelaide Detchon, who is singularly happy in the illustration of the emotions swaying a guileless nature. She represents a girl kept in seclusion since childhood by a domineering and warped old man, with a view to marrying her himself, in whom the spark of love is kindled by the unobtrusive attentions of a gallant of her own age. Her guardian thinks he has her safe, but love as usual finds a way to elude the strictest vigilance, and May is saved from wedding with October. The piece was last night patiently listened to for the sake of the young débutante, who, early exhibiting a pleasing manner, combined with a nice appearance and sweet voice, confirmed the favourable impression by reciting in the second part some rhymed lines with imitative bird-like effects with a graceful artlessness and ingenious mimicry that secured the heartiest and most spontaneous recognition. The personal success of Miss Detchon was undoubted, and this notwithstanding the support she received from her companions was by no means strong except in vocal effort. On the author being summoned, Mr. R. D’Albertson announced that he was in America. The name of the writer was not supplied on the programme, but when Agnes was first advertised about a fortnight ago, it was announced to be from the pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan.

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Reynolds’s Newspaper (22 March, 1885)

LAST NIGHT’S THEATRICALS.

COMEDY THEATRE.

     “Agnes,” a new poetic play produced here last night, would scarcely have escaped marked condemnation but for the charm of the actress who made her début in the title rôle. Miss Adelaide Detchon, who has already appeared with success in America, is not unlike Miss Mary Anderson in charm of feature, whilst her acting has much of the naiveté which marked that of Miss Ada Rehan. She obtained a very warm reception, and in her imitation of the love-notes of the wood-birds, was rapturously applauded. The story of “Agnes” is the old one of an elderly guardian who educates an innocent girl in order to make her a wife after his own heart, and finds, on the advent of a young lover, his own lessons turned against himself. With the exception of Miss Detchon, none of those engaged in the piece seemed to have the slightest notion of how to deliver the lines entrusted to them. Decidedly, poetic verse is not the forte of the Comedy company. The appearance of Miss Detchon in a better piece, with better surroundings, will be looked forward to with interest. The old comedietta of “A Household Fairy” commenced the evening’s entertainment, and the old burlesque of “Nemesis” finished it.

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Daily News (23 March, 1885)

COMEDY THEATRE.
_____

     The new comedy entitled “Agnes,” produced on Saturday evening for the début of Miss Adelaide Detchon, an American actress, at the Comedy Theatre, turns out to be simply a rather weak and ineffective adaptation of Molière’s “Ecole des Femmes.” In the preliminary announcements it was stated to be by Mr. Robert Buchanan, but nevertheless no hint as to the authorship of the piece is given upon the programme, neither is the source from which it is derived made to appear. Why the adaptor, whoever he may be, should not have made a clean breast of it is certainly not clear, the more particularly as he has been content to follow his original in certain scenes word for word, while he has preserved the very name of the heroine, which has become as typical in its way as that of Tartuffe or Harpagon or Sganarelle. At the same time, however, he has compressed the action within the limits of two acts, with the result that much of the humour and even of the significance of the intrigue is lost. Arnolphe no longer causes laughter by his absurd belief in his own simple- minded cunning, which is at the very basis of the story. He is simply a disagreeable and rather violent person—a change for which Mr. Caffrey, to whom the part is entrusted, is no doubt partly responsible. For the omission of the denoûement, however, and of the irresistably comic scenes in which the two peasants in Arnolphe’s employ appear the adaptor is solely responsible; and the introduction of three roystering gallants, whose rather forced gaiety was resented by the audience on Saturday night as irrelevant, is by no means an adequate compensation. It says much therefore, under the circumstances, for the talent of Miss Detchon that she was able to lend interest to the wholly fanciful character of Agnes. The actress is young, pretty, and has a winning smile and a musical voice, which she uses with wonderful effect in a passage, expressly interpolated it would appear, in which the burden is an imitation of the trills and notes of a bird. Miss Detchon does not convey the impression of any powerful emotion in serious passages, but her performance is full of a sort of ideal grace of gesture and simple sincerity of utterance peculiarly in keeping with Molière’s innocent heroine. The scene is transferred to England in accordance with established custom in dealing with French plays. “L’Ecole des Femmes” was first played by Molière’s “Comédians de Monsieur” at the Palais Royal in 1662. In the present version the action is placed eighteen years later, for what reason does not appear.—The burlesque of “Nemesis” continues to be played at this theatre in conjunction with the new piece. It is a bright and clever production—extravagant of course, but the extravagance of which throughout has always some sort of rational foundation. It would require but some slight modification in fact to make of “Nemesis” one of the farcical comedies of the type of the “Wedding March” which are just now so enormously popular. M. Marius in his original character of the fire-eating French colonel, and Mr. Arthur Roberts in Mr. Terry’s former part, contribute not a little to the undoubted success of the revival.

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Daily News (23 March, 1885)

     A correspondent writes:
     The omission in the public announcements to state that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play at the Comedy Theatre is but one of the numerous English versions of Molière’s “L’Ecole des Femmes” seems worth a note. Perhaps it may be said that in calling his heroine Agnes, and adopting that name for the title of his adaptation, the author has done as much in the way of directing attention to his source of inspiration as can be expected in these days of easy notions on the subject of dramatic originality. Mr. Buchanan’s “Lady Clare” was, if I am not mistaken, produced without the slightest acknowledgment of its being a dramatised version of a novel by M. Ohnet, which the French author had himself converted into a play.

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The Times (23 March, 1885 - p.8)

COMEDY.

     In conjunction with the burlesque of Nemesis, a new two-act idyllic piece called Agnes, by Mr. Robert Buchanan, was produced on Saturday night to enable Miss Adelaide Detchon, a young American actress, to make her début in London in an ingénue part. The piece is at once short and tedious, and requires no further description than that its purpose is to show how a maiden brought up in Arcadian innocence tricks her elderly guardian and marries the handsome young cavalier of her choice. Miss Detchon is pretty and graceful, and, although occasionally over emphatic in her assumption of innocence, is a decidedly pleasing actress, of whom the public will be glad to see more.

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The Dundee Courier and Argus (23 March, 1885 - p.3)

     Mr Robert Buchanan, like the Poet Laureate, is not a fortunate dramatist, though a weaver of acceptable poesy. His new play “Agnes,” described as a comedy, produced at the Panton Street Theatre last night, is what is known in stage idiom as “a frost.” A comedy in blank verse is not common to the modern stage, but the antiquity of the legend from which Buchanan has drawn his materials has justified the use of a form of language at once stilted in its eloquence and quaint in its humour. It is the old story reversed—the old man who kept his son in seclusion that he might never meet a woman younger than those who ministered to his wants. The theme is poetical but trite, and the discovery by the secluded heroine of a man, young and handsome, though capable of affording play for some pretty by-play, was not enough to satisfy an audience too blase, or too prosaic, for such simple pastorals as that. “Agnes” served, however, to “play in” the comic opera of “Nemesis,” a rather ill-named piece de resistance, under the circumstances of Mr Buchanan’s gentle failure.

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Pall Mall Gazette (24 March, 1885 - p.3)

     Rumour can scarcely have been just in assigning to Mr. Robert Buchanan the crude and clumsy adaptation of “L’Ecole des Femmes” in which Miss Adelaide Detchon, a recent importation from America, is now appearing at the Comedy Theatre. It bears unmistakeable traces of American workmanship, and the interpolated recitation (which might be called “The Language of Birds”) is clearly American. The question, however, is of small importance, for if the play is remembered at all it will be merely by reason of its having introduced Miss Detchon to the English public. This lady is rather pretty, very graceful, and extremely artificial. Her voice is pleasant, and she gets some clever effects from it in the aforesaid recitation. Lord Lytton, who professes himself learned in American dialects, could no doubt “place” her particular peculiarities of pronunciation. For out part, we can only note that they are not of the most refined order of Americanisms. On the whole, Miss Detchon seems to have decided abilities, which should prove useful in many characters; but she is scarcely well advised in attempting the ingénue of ingénues.

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The Western Times (26 March, 1885 - p.2)

     Mr Robert Buchanan does not appear destined to gain fame as a dramatist, though the zeal with which he pursues that calling entitles him to sympathy for the many failures he has had to suffer. His latest production, “Agnes,” now being given at the Comedy, is very weak, and seems singularly out of keeping with its surroundings in the shape of “Nemesis.” Having taken the leading ideas of “Lady Clare” from M. Ohnet’s novel, “Le Maitre des Forges,” without mentioning the source of his indebtedness, he has now used his powers of borrowing upon a greater than Ohnet—upon, in fact, the greatest of French comedy writers. But Moliere’s “Ecole des Femmes,” welcome as it might be in the original and played as it might be at the Thêatre Français, does not bear transplanting in England, and Buchanan must try some other French author if he wishes to secure success.

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The Era (28 March, 1885)

THE COMEDY.
On Saturday, March 21st, a Comedy in Two Acts, entitled
“AGNES.”

Lovibond     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Mr F. COOPER
Oldcastle    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    Mr S. CAFFREY
Flecknoe     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Mr FRED. MERVIN
Harlowe      . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Mr PERCY COMPTON
Stanley        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Mr F. COLLINI
Toby           . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Mr ESMOND
Margery      . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Miss MARIA JONES
Agnes          . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     Miss ADELAIDE DETCHON

     That good Americans, when they die, go to Paris, one had heard; it was reserved for the acting-manager of the Comedy to disclose to an unsuspecting world that the spirits of defunct Parisians return the compliment by going to America. “The author of Agnes,” said Mr D’Albertson, on Saturday night, in response to a more than half-ironical call, “is in America,”—an announcement which should afford a valuable clue to the Psychical Research Society as to the whereabouts of the ghost of an illustrious Frenchman, for the author of Agnes, if the word “author” have any meaning at all, is, undoubtedly, a certain Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Molière. The play is, in fact, simply L’Ecole des Femmes, done into blank verse, and with all its humour eviscerated in the process. The programme was studiously silent, not only as to author, but as to adaptor as well; but it is a secret de Polichinelle that the latter is Mr Robert Buchanan. For adding another to the existing English versions of the L’Ecole des Femmes Mr Buchanan may fairly plead the scurvy treatment which the play has suffered at the hands of previous adaptors. Of these the best known is, probably, Wycherley, whose vile perversion The Country Wife deserved all the hard things Macaulay said of it, and Garrick’s Country Girl, though wholesomer than this, is still a libel on the original. Agnes is far and away a better rendering than either of these; better, because closer. Unfortunately, it is not close enough. Not content with cutting out half the comic interest of Molière’s play, as well as altering its conclusion, the adaptor has turned the Arnolphe of the original (a part played, by the way, by Molière himself) from a semi-humorous character into a wholly unsympathetic bore, at the same time introducing a trio of noisy chatterers, fatuous enough to compromise a far better piece. Instead of Molière we get Molière and water. As it now stands, the argument, to use the good old-fashioned phrase, is briefly this. One Oldcastle, a sour old curmudgeon, disliking the manners and distrusting the morals of town-bred damsels, has determined to educate a wife for himself, and has accordingly adopted an orphan girl, whom he causes to be reared at a remote country house in a state of the most unsophisticated innocence. Agnes’s innocence, however, instead of preserving her from the love-making feared by her jealous guardian, proves the very means of leading her into it. For a dashing young gallant, a certain Lovibond, who has spied her knitting at her window, is captivated by her charms, and profits by her simplicity to gain an entrance to the house. When Oldcastle at length arrives to prepare his hidden treasure for the approaching marriage, the guileless Agnes naïvely relates to him the story of her meetings with Lovibond, his pretty speeches and innumerable kisses, and is not a little astonished at the rage and consternation into which the old fellow is thrown. Of course, she is now immured more closely than ever, and is forced to take leave of her gallant, the parting between the pair affording the opportunity for a very pretty little scene, upon which the curtain of the first act descends. In the second, the wedding-day has arrived, and the bride is already arrayed for the ceremony, when Lovibond bribes the servants to admit him to the presence of Agnes, and woos her so fervently that her love, hitherto only budding, now bursts into bloom, and she consents to wed her lover. Oldcastle thus arrives only to find the bird flown, and when, the next moment she returns, she is the wife of Lovibond. Of all this it is an obvious criticism to say that, whatever grace of poetic diction it may have, or whatever charm of idyllic sentiment, it is now, in any ordinary sense of the term, a play. Lest we should be accused of wanton iconoclasm in venturing to disparage a play which is virtually Molière’s, we cannot do better than let the author criticise himself. It is well known that Molière wrote a little dramatic discussion of his own Ecole des Femmes under the title of “Critique de l’Ecole des Femmes,” and here is a bit of the dialogue he puts into the mouths of two of his characters in the latter play:—

LYSIDAS—In this comedy there is no action; the whole consists of narrations told by Agnes or her lover.
CLIMENE—A clever remark, and one which touches the gist of the question.

This criticism is not to be gainsaid. The piece is absolutely undramatic. It is merely a series of duologues in which description usurps the place of action. Like Lamb’s biblia a-biblia, books which are no books, Agnes is a play which is no play.
     But let us not pick too fierce a quarrel with the piece, for it serves to introduce to the English public a young American actress who gives promise of becoming a valuable acquisition to the not too populous ranks of stage ingénues. promise is the word we are at present constrained to use, for the full extent of Miss Adelaide Detchon’s powers cannot be gauged until they are exercised upon some piece of less flimsy texture than Agnes. Miss Detchon has youth, a pretty figure, and a still prettier face; and, if she has not naturalness, she has that highly artificial simulation of nature which is, on the stage, the next best thing. Her chief charm is, however, her voice, which is of dulcet tone and of really marvellous flexibility. To display this last quality a passage is expressly introduced into the play descriptive of the carollings of the bob-o-link and other New England birds, in which the actress proves herself as much a mistress of shakes, trills, and roulades as any prima donna, yet never once crosses the line which divides speaking from singing. This is, of course, a mere Tour de force, and shows Miss Detchon as an adept at recitation rather than as an actress. Whether she can strike the note of human emotion or passionate sincerity as cleverly as she can mimic the song of birds still remains to be proved. Her present part makes no demands of this sort on her, requiring only a certain winsomeness and Miranda-like simplicity, and both of these attributes Miss Detchon displays to perfection. One detects now and then an unfamiliar trick of pronunciation; but a slight American accent, at any rate on the lips of a woman, is, we fancy, becoming by no means unpleasing to English ears. As the young lover, Lovibond, Mr Frank Cooper cut a very pretty figure in velvet and plumes (the time of the piece, we should have stated, is fixed, probably for costumier’s reasons, at 1680), and we don’t know that much more was required of him. Feeble, however, as the lines set down for him were, he would have done better to have been a little more familiar with them. The voice of the prompter heard chiming in at a moment of passionate love- making is apt to spoil the illusion. The Oldcastle of Mr Caffrey struck us as altogether a mistake. The Arnolphe of the original play was certainly conceived by Molière as a comic part, and as a comic part it is played at the Comédie- Française to this day. In Mr Caffrey’s hands (partly, no doubt, through the clumsiness of the adaptor) the character becomes serious, so serious, indeed, as to be simply repulsive. A querulous, jealous, hoodwinked old dotard is a typical figure of classic comedy; but he must be portrayed with a certain lightness of touch, a perceptible undercurrent of  humour, or her travels outside the region of comedy altogether. A serious Sir Peter Teazle would be a dramatic monstrosity. As regards the remaining participants in the representation of Agnes, we can only offer them our sincere condolences on their being cast for parts so thankless. Nemesis is still running gaily on its course at the Comedy, the only change in the cast being the substitution of Miss Farebrother for Miss Zeffie Tilbury as Praline Patoche. Mr Arthur Roberts is as amusing as ever as Calino, and, we note, has added a good deal in the way of “gag” since the first night—“not too much gag, however, but just gag enough.” His great song “S’m’ other ev’ning” is now enriched by an additional verse. As a counter-irritant to the discomforts of this “roaring moon of daffodil and crocus” nothing more effective could be recommended than the drolleries of Mr Arthur Roberts and his play-fellows in this capital revival of Nemesis.

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The Athenæum (28 March, 1885 - No. 2996, p.418)

DRAMA
_____

THE WEEK.

COURT.—‘The Magistrate,’ an Original Farce in Three Acts. By A. W. Pinero.
COMEDY.—‘Agnes,’ a Comedy in Two Acts.

. . .

     The two-act drama at the Comedy, the authorship of which has been assigned by some one to Mr. Buchanan, proves to be no more than a tame and colourless version of ‘L’Ecole des Femmes’ of Molière, known to the English playgoer through ‘The Country Wife’ of Wycherley and ‘The Country Girl’ of Garrick. A species of tacit avowal of obligation appears to be conveyed in the name, ‘Agnes,’ which is bestowed upon it. As a mere abridgment of a familiar comedy, which practically it is, it calls for brief notice. It serves, however, to introduce to the English stage Miss Detchon, a young American actress with some attraction of presence and style. In the lighter passages of the play Miss Detchon’s archness is of service, and her method in a song of giving an imitation of the trill of a bird was received with much favour. Mr. Cooper was acceptable as the lover. The general representation had, however, little merit.

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The Graphic (28 March, 1885)

     The new piece entitled Agnes, at the COMEDY Theatre, originally announced as “a two-act comedy by Mr. Robert Buchanan,” proves to be a new and rather weak version of Molière’s L’École des Femmes. It served to introduce to our stage an American actress, Miss Adelaide Detchon, whose appearance is prepossessing, and whose style is agreeable enough to inspire a wish to see her again under more favourable conditions.

adelaide

Next: Alone in London (1885)

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Miscellanea

 

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