[Programme for The Charlatan at the Haymarket Theatre.]
The Glasgow Herald (24 November, 1893 - p.7)
THEATRE-GOERS were rather astonished to hear that the “notices were up” for “The Tempter,” and it seems Mr Jones’s play will be withdrawn form the Haymarket to-morrow week. Its successor, a new play by Mr Robert Buchanan, which at present is entitled “The Charlatan,” is not yet ready, although it has been placed in rehearsal, and will probably be produced in about a month’s time. Meanwhile, as “Captain Swift” drew a large house at a recent charitable performance, it will be revived for a short run.
The Derby Daily Telegraph (28 November, 1893 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan speaks his mind so plainly (and does not stint words to make his meaning explicit), that we may expect a wholesale condemnation of what the world calls “fads” in his new play “The Charlatan,” to be produced at the Haymarket in a week or two. The very latest things that society, ever craving after novelty, has turned to will be satirised. The Psychological Society, and the host of sensational “oddments” that have sprung from theosophy, will help to supply some of the incidents. I trust that Mr. W. T. Stead will be back in good time from Chicago to witness it, and to tell us what the “spooks” think of Buchanan’s unsparing lash.
The Stage (7 December, 1893 - p.11)
A claimant to the title, The Charlatan, has arisen in Mrs. John Aylmer, whose piece with that name has been played in the provinces. In consequence, Robert Buchanan’s new piece, which Mr. Beerbohm Tree will produce at the Haymarket, must be rechristened
Relative to this unfortunate clashing of titles Mr. Clement Scott, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says:—
What a pity it is that the compilation of an authorised list of play titles sanctioned by the Examiner of Stage Plays from the invaluable records contained in the library at the Lord Chamberlain’s office was stopped a few years back! Here is another case in point.
The “authorised list” mentioned by Mr. Scott was, you may remember, secured by THE STAGE; but, in consequence of ill-natured envy in certain quarters, the Lord Chamberlain was induced to countermand his permission for its weekly appearance. Thus a most valuable aid to managers and dramatists was nipped in the bud, and ever since confusion has been constantly arising over titles.
The Era (9 December, 1893 - p.10)
WHAT a pity it is that every adaptor, playwright, and dramatist does not supply himself with a complete set of The Era Almanacks! Had Mr Robert Buchanan, for instance, done so, he would hardly have named his new piece at the Haymarket Theatre The Charlatan, for he would have found in The Era Almanack for 1890 the following information:—“The Charlatan, comedy, in three acts, adapted from the German by Mrs John Aylmer; Torre Parish Rooms, Torquay, Feb. 5th (1889).” The Era Almanack, which has been published since 1868, contains in each issue a list of every play which has been produced during the previous year, and any playwright who fears that he has been anticipated in his choice of a title has only to search our “Lists of Plays” to reassure himself completely. With very few exceptions, every play licensed by the Lord Chamberlain is produced, and consequently noted in our Almanacks; and, of course, the mere act of licensing, without production, confers no right to a title at all, so that the exceptions are of no importance.
The Derby Daily Telegraph (30 December, 1893 - p.2)
The two plays that promise to be among the most interesting features of the coming dramatic year will be produced about the same time—about the middle of January. Mr. Hare, I believe, returns from Brighton to-day to resume rehearsals of “The Old Jew” at the Garrick. His illness has given him a severe shake, and it has taken a good deal of conjuring to effectually banish from his system the influenza-gout complication. Meantime Mr. Robert Buchanan’s “The Charlatan” is being rehearsed by Mr. Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket, though I am told by a mutual friend that the last act has not yet left the dramatist’s hand. “The Charlatan” ought to supply a strong contrast to “The Tempter,” for it is a story of everyday life, with a powerful love motive. What novelist or dramatist has not been afflicted with irresolution as to his denoument? Mr. Buchanan is rather inclined to a tragic ending.
The Derby Daily Telegraph (6 January, 1894 - p.2)
The laws of supply and demand do not always apply to literary genius. Not everybody can toll out two or three thousand words a day, like Anthony Trollope or Walter Besant, and I was amused the other night to hear Morley Roberts, the Colonial writer, inveighing against clock-work production. The last act of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, “The Charlatan,” has not been put in rehearsal at the Haymarket yet, and I am told it has cost him more work than the others combined. It will be all the truer metal when it comes out of the furnace, but meantime the proposed date of production—January 17th—can only be regarded as provisional.
The Times (19 January, 1894 - p.3)
In a few words which he was called upon to speak at the fall of the curtain last night, Mr. Tree adopted the unusual course of announcing with what play he proposed to follow up The Charlatan. Whether he had some foreboding that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s latest work, though applauded by the first-night house, might be a little too strange and unfamiliar to win the sympathies of the general public did not appear: but, if some such idea haunted his mind, it is not unlikely to prove well founded. The Charlatan is a strange play, and it is concerned chiefly with subjects for which the ordinary playgoer cares little—theosophy and hypnotism. Science and common sense have, indeed, their representatives, but these do not cut a particularly agreeable figure and besides occupy quite a subordinate place in the action. Of love there is none at all—none, that is to say, which is likely to satisfy the romantic spectator who believes in happy endings and the like. It would be difficult to conceive a story less calculated to appeal to women, who are, after all, the mainstay of the drama. The Charlatan is nevertheless a clever piece of satire; it is finely acted and sumptuously placed upon the stage, all of which qualities may be counted upon to exercise their effect. The action passes at the castle of the Earl of Wanborough, who entertains surely the most mixed company ever devised by dramatist. There are a couple of theosophist impostors, Mme. Obnoskin and Philip Woodville, the latter fresh from India; a senile professor and bore who professes himself too old to have conclusions upon any subject; a young and wealthy Conservative, Lord Dewsbury; the local Dean, who excuses his presence at a theosophist séance because he meets with such strange people at his Bishop’s table; a decadent young man who believes in “individualism” and the “right to evolve,” who prefers art to nature, and who revels in the “aroma of social decay”; and, finally, a neuropathic young lady, Miss Arlington, who is addicted to somnambulism, and who is hoping to be placed in material or spiritual communication with her father, an adventurous traveller among the Mahatmas, but lost to the world for a couple of years and believed to be dead.
How little such a set of dramatis personæ can have in common may readily be guessed, and in endeavouring to fashion a dramatic story out of their relationship Mr. Buchanan applies himself to the thankless task of weaving a rope out of sand. The two theosophists have each objects of their own in view. That of Mme. Obnoskin, who is depicted by Miss Gertrude Kingston as a langorous and seductive lady of a somewhat exotic stamp, is to captivate the aged earl, who has theosophistic leanings; Woodville’s aim is to secure the hand of Miss Arlington, whom he had once met in Calcutta, and over whom he hopes to exercise a hypnotic influence. Upon this latter scheme the story turns; for Mr. Tree in Woodville, a sinister gentleman of mixed English and Parsee parentage, an “adept” in theosophy in more senses than one, but of otherwise unknown antecedents—the sort of character to which an actor skilled in make-up is naturally attracted; while in the Miss Arlington of Mrs. Tree and her “subjection” to Woodville’s influence is centred all the female interest of which the play can boast. The imposture is practised at a theosophist séance which occupies the second act. From India Woodville has derived secret information that Miss Arlington’s father is alive and about to return to England, and at the séance the spirit of the absent man is made to appear and announce the glad tidings. Just in the nick of time is the trick accomplished, for there is already an unopened telegram in the Earl’s hands from Arlington himself. Amazed at the manifestation, though unable to explain it, the company break up for the night, and the next act passes in “the turret- room,” which has been assigned to Woodville because it has the reputation of being haunted by “the white lady.” Between Woodville and Lord Dewhurst distrust has grown to open war, each laying claim to Miss Arlington’s affections; and the result of a stormy scene between the two men is that Woodville resolves to exercise hypnotic arts upon the lady and attract her to his room at midnight, so that if she will not be his wife she shall at least be nobody else’s.
Here it would seem that while exposing theosophy as an imposture Mr. Robert Buchanan is bent upon demonstrating the truth of hypnotism. It is unfortunate in these circumstances that he should not have been at pains to ascertain the principles of the science. At his casement Woodville stands and solemnly summons the patient to come to him from some distant part of the building. There has been no previous “suggestion” made to her of such a course; indeed the midnight summons is a sudden resolution on Woodville’s part and is addressed to a patient who is out of sight or hearing. Needless to say, no hypnotic influence at all could be exercised under such conditions. Mr. Buchanan is apparently under the primitive belief that there is on the hypnotist’s part some actual transmission or projection of will-power. This idea is still popularly entertained, no doubt, but scientifically it was exploded a hundred years ago, and finds no support more respectable than that of the telepathists to whose beliefs the theory of modern hypnotism as a purely material operation of the brain due to direct and tangible influences is, of course, wholly opposed. If old-fashioned sentiment is to be displaced on the stage by modern science, it is imperative at least that the science should be accurate. To Woodville’s unscientific appeal Miss Arlington responds; and from her appearance in the turret-room dates the revirement which in the fourth act brings the play to an end. The patient is so beautiful and so helpless in his hands, obedient to his will, that the man’s better nature is touched. He wakes her out of her somnambulistic condition and directs her to go back to her room, but not before he has made a clean breast of his villany. More than this, he next morning acquaints the Earl himself with the imposture, and prepares to leave the house in disgrace. Wounded by his avowals, Mme. Obnoskin divulges the fact that she has seen Miss Arlington visit Woodville’s room. The issue provided to this remarkable situation is that in parting as they do Miss Arlington professes herself touched by Woodville’s tardy qualms of conscience, and holds out hopes to him that they may meet again some day under happier conditions.
What manner of man Woodville is, and why he should thus suddenly be converted from a rogue into an honest man, just as his schemes have ripened, not all Mr. Tree’s art can make clear. The character remains at the end what it is at the beginning—an enigma. Mr. Tree makes it picturesque, but he cannot make it human. On a smaller scale the same volte- face takes place in Mr. Fred Kerr’s part of the Hon. Mervyn Darrell who, from being a pronounced decadent, suddenly throws aside his pessimistic nonsense and proposes to a pretty girl, who has all along been chaffing him upon his predilection for the “modern spirit.” The attitude of Miss Arlington herself is only to be explained upon some occult principle of “nerves,” while Mme. Obnoskin remains to the last an impostor. One or two incidental types alone are unexceptionable, notably the Dean of Mr. Allan and the Earl of Mr. Nutcombe Gould. The great champion of common sense, Lord Dewsbury, is curiously aggressive and unsympathetic, although invested with a certain amount of virility by Mr. Frederick Terry. In a word, Ibsen himself, for whom Mr. Robert Buchanan is understood to cherish little regard, could hardly be charged with greater perversity of plot and characterization than distinguishes The Charlatan. If cleverness were all sufficient in the dramatist, the prospects of The Charlatan would be excellent. Clever it unquestionably is, if occasionally ill-informed, but it contains nothing to stir the generous emotions of the public, the self- sacrifice of the chief character appearing only in the light of an unaccountable bêtise The next Haymarket production, according to Mr. Tree’s announcement, is to be an adaptation of a German play entitled Der Talisman.
The Daily News (19 January, 1894)
“THE CHARLATAN” AT THE HAYMARKET.
Since there is nothing more prone to be conservative than the stage and no class of persons more ready, as a rule, to take their stand upon the old ways than our modern playwrights, the dramatist who introduces us to new sources of serious interest deserves, in Johnsonian phrase, that his merits should be handsomely acknowledged. Mr. Robert Buchanan, in his new play, “The Charlatan,” at the Haymarket Theatre has, however, done more than this. He has not only ventured on the perilous ground of theosophy and hypnotism, but has contrived to make these themes the mainspring of a story which last night throughout four long acts excited curiosity and interest in no small degree, and finally won from a brilliant first-night audience an unanimous verdict of approval. That there are grave defects in the new piece may be admitted; foremost among these is its somewhat lame and hesitating dènouement, together with the dramatist’s occasional failure to make quite clear the precise limits which divide his hero’s charlatanry from his genuine power of hypnotic suggestion; but these faults will probably be amended. Meanwhile “The Charlatan” appears more than likely to postpone for a considerable time the production of that sombre play from the German which Mr. Beerbohm Tree, in his little speech after the fall of the curtain, announced, in spite of the cry of “No German goods!” from an anti- freetrader in the gallery, as among his future projects.
Mr. Buchanan’s hero is a mysterious Eurasian, calling himself Philip Woodville, who has studied Theosophy in the Far East, practises hypnotism, and is prepared to use his gifts and acquirements in a way to gain ascendancy over the mind of Isabel Arlington, niece and ward of the Earl of Wanborough, a somewhat weak-minded old nobleman, who is more than half-smitten with the Theosophic craze. Already a secret accomplice of Woodville is installed at Wanborough Castle, in the person of Madame Obnoskin, a shining light of the Theosophic world, who is young and beautiful, and not without hopes of becoming Countess of Wanborough. When Philip arrives as a guest at the same hospitable seat the twain are somewhat in the position of Donna Clorinde and Don Annibal in “L’Aventurière,” save that Philip, who has met and sentimentalised with her in India, is moved by an uncontrollable passion for the lady, in spite of her betrothal to her cousin, Lord Dewsbury. Isabel is dreamy and impressionable, and Philip’s plot is artfully woven. Her father, in travelling in Central Asia, has disappeared, and is generally believed to be dead; but Isabel still hopes for good tidings. It is upon this that Philip builds his schemes; for he has received intelligence that her father has merely been detained in Thibet by a long and dangerous illness, from which he is recovering. Assembling the company, including the fiercely sceptical Dewsbury, in the drawing-room at the Castle, he causes the lights to be lowered, and is then supposed to have power so to influence the mind of Isabel that she sees a vision of her father, while she receives from the lips of Philip the assurance that he lives. The lights are then raised, and this assurance is instantly confirmed by a telegram, which, being opened by the Earl, announces the fact that his brother has, in fact, arrived safe and sound in Calcutta. How far Mr. Buchanan’s scene is in accordance with received doctrines of hypnotism we will not pretend to say, but the audience last night, to whom the vision was visibly presented, were certainly a little puzzled to know whether it was to be regarded as simply a manifestation to the lady in her hypnotic condition. This exciting scene ends the second act. The third act, which passes in the Turret-room of the Castle, which, with the ramparts without, is supposed to be haunted by a traditional ghost of a white lady, introduces still more stirring matter. Philip, by the force of his will, is supposed to constrain his victim to arise from her bed and repair to the Turret-room where entranced she confesses her love for him. She is now in his power; but the position is supposed to awaken in him a great revulsion of feeling. Arousing her from her trance he voluntarily confesses his fraud and imposture and aids her to escape by a secret door just as a knocking at the entrance threatened discovery. The final act is devoted to the completion of Philip’s self-abasement. Like the reverend gentleman in Mr. Henry Arthur Jones’s “Judah,” he makes full and ample confession before the Earl and his guests; but his malicious accomplice, who had been the cause of the knocking at the Turret door, has discovered the secret and betrays to Lord Dewsbury the fact of his betrothed’s visit to the Tower. The only result, however, is to draw from Isabel an avowal of her love for Philip, who as the curtain falls is seen taking his leave, Isabel’s exclamation, “He will come back,” being the only gleam of comfort vouchsafed to the romantic class of spectators who are supposed to have an irresistible craving for what are called happy endings.
Mr. Tree’s task, which is that of making an interesting hero out of one who is guilty of persistently plotting the ruin of a helpless woman by frauds and tricks of a peculiarly mean and despicable kind, is obviously not an easy one. Captain Swift’s antecedents were decidedly discreditable, but he was permitted no denouement but that of suicide. The penitent Philip Woodville, on the other hand, is apparently to be rewarded with the hand of the Earl’s beautiful niece. Thanks, however, to the power of the actor, and the combined force, moderation, and high finish of Mr. Tree’s performance, these are considerations rather apt to occur after the fall of the curtain than during the progress of the play. Mrs. Tree’s touching impersonation of the heroine contributed in no less degree to absorb the attention of the spectator, and Miss Gertrude Kingston’s forcible performance as Madame Obnoskin rendered substantial service. Mr. Buchanan is to be complimented on the care which he has bestowed upon his minor sketches of character. Lord Dewsbury, played by Mr. Fred Terry, cuts, it is true, rather a poor figure, by reason of the fact that his function is chiefly that of assailing his insidious rival with impotent threats; but the Hon. Mervyn Darrel, who talks about “individuality” and the “new spirit,” and considers Dickens a vulgar optimist, becomes in the hands of Mr. Fred Kerr a highly-amusing creation, and his colloquies with Miss Lily Hanbury in the character of Lord Wanborough’s bright and sensible daughter, furnish abundant entertainment. Very good in its way too, is the sketch of Professor Marrables, the man of science, artistically played by Mr. Holman Clark, and the little sketch of Dean Darnley and his wife, played respectively by Mr. Allan and Mrs. E. H. Brooke. Even in the trifling part of Olive, their daughter, assigned to Miss Irene Vanbrugh, Mr. Buchanan has contrived to show observation of life.
The Pall Mall Gazette (19 January, 1894)
“THE CHARLATAN” AT THE HAYMARKET.
IT is scarcely surprising that a dramatist should have been found eager to avail himself of the opportunities afforded him by the possibilities, the probabilities, and the improbabilities of what is called hypnotism. The wonder rather is that it has not been made use of before in any conspicuous way upon the stage. It has already played its part in fiction; most notably, perhaps, in one of the grimmest and ablest of the short stories of Jules Claretie. But on the stage—at least in this country—hypnotism had been neglected until last night by any of the half-dozen writers whom Mr. Gilbert has isolated as leading dramatists. Mr. Buchanan—who is many things—is a satirist, and he has seen in the phenomena of hypnotism and in the characters of certain of its exponents and certain of its victims a timely and attractive quarry for his satirical powers. Björnstjerne Björnson, whose “Sigurd Slembe” Mr. Buchanan applauds, whose later plays he deplores, takes hystero-epilepsy seriously, and writes “Over Aevne.” Mr. Buchanan takes it satirically, and the result is “The Charlatan.”
But Mr. Buchanan’s Charlatan is not all a rogue. He wears his rue with a difference. If he is of the kindred of Herr Paulus in his impostures he shares with him a kind of saving grace. He will hunt you the white gazelle through a scene of somewhat too copious dialogue, but when at last he has got the white gazelle within range of his rifle, when he has lured the white girl to his lonely chamber in the haunted turret, then in the one case he will lower his piece and let the dear gazelle go free, and in the other he will forbear to take advantage of a somnambulistic young lady in voluminous nightgear. Philip Woodville is not wrought in the stuff of which great scoundrels are made. Whether we attribute his conduct to some leaven of the virtue still lingering in his heart, or to the fatal weakness which turns a triumph into a catastrophe, we see at least that he is not exactly what Claverhouse would call a cool and a daring villain. He is compact of inconsistencies. In one scene he declares that he claims no supernatural powers. In another he denounces himself for having falsely claimed them. He pronounces himself an impostor, a liar, and a cheat; and yet at the same time he is undoubtedly possessed of a very extraordinary influence, magnetic or hypnotic, or what you please, which draws a virtuous young woman from her bedchamber to his room and makes her obey him like a puppet.
But if he is inconsistent, if he is sometimes unintelligible, he has a merit that atones, the merit of interesting the spectator in his fortunes and misfortunes. At the first when he appears to be an audacious lustful rogue, and at the last when he is as repentant and as self-denunciating as Mr. Jones’s “Judah,” he still contrives to hold the situation, to charm the attention—to be, in a word, interesting in rascality and interesting in repentance. If the rest of the play, if the rest of the people, were as quick to command interest, it would be a more satisfactory piece of business. Mr. Buchanan has told the world, in one of his moments of candid confession, that as he was not brought up to carpentering or to any honest trade, he learned, so far as his powers would allow him, the art of playwriting, and learnt it so well that “even my enemies admit that I have some coarse skill in that way.” In “The Charlatan” Mr. Buchanan has evidently devoted his skill to the elaboration of his central figure to the detriment of the others. They are not very interesting, not very real, not very new. The best of them is a young man devoted to the culture of self, and the inane paradox a caricature, indeed, but sufficiently restrained to be effective and admirably played by Mr. Fred Kerr. The worst of them is the female villain, who is endowed with no share of the originality that Mr. Buchanan has put into his Charlatan, and with whom Miss Kingston could do little.
Much praise might be uttered of the acting of Mrs. Tree, and indeed, of all the company. But as the interest of the piece centred in the Charlatan, the interest of the acting centred in Mr. Tree. It is clearly a part which the student of the stage would recognize at once as one calculated to appeal very nearly to Mr. Tree. And on the whole his interpretation of a part which may or may not have been written for him, but which might very well have been written for him, must be applauded as exceedingly satisfactory, and as marking in certain important particulars an advance upon his most recent work. At one time it seemed to be necessary to address some words of warning to Mr. Tree. He has done so much good work that it was a pity to see him yielding to a temptation which must injure it, as yielding to a like temptation has injured another and an older actor. Every actor, being human, must have mannerisms. Mr. Tree has his mannerisms, as Mr. Irving has his mannerisms. But those who most judiciously admire Mr. Irving’s art regret the most the readiness with which Mr. Irving not merely accepted but fostered his mannerisms, and allowed himself to rely upon them as virtues when he ought to have battled with them as vices. There has been a tendency of late on Mr. Tree’s part to fall into the same error. It is Mr. Tree’s great merit that he possesses in a high degree the art of characterization; that he has succeeded, time and again, in identifying himself with his creations rather than his creations with himself, and has avoided in his finest achievements any concession to the vocal and physical mannerisms which he in common with every other actor must possess, and which he in common with every good actor must desire to dominate. Once or twice of late a certain willingness to accept instead of combating peculiarities of voice and gesture, and especially tricks of face-play, has been noticeable, as if the actor were content to admit an undue proportion of himself into the part he was creating.
The performance last night was markedly free from these defects. The actor seemed to resume again his power of characterization and to subdue his personality to the composition of the creature he represented. As far as the mechanical part of the task went, there could be no doubt about Mr. Tree’s success. He has never transformed his appearance with greater discretion, with more artistic effect. But the transformation did not cease with the make-up. In voice, in gesture, in carriage, Mr. Tree strove to present the child of blended bloods, the hybrid creature half English, half Parsee, the wary, watchful, unscrupulous adventurer whose Eastern exuberance is controlled by a Western calm. The creation will be welcomed not merely for its high intrinsic merit, but as a proof that the actor is still advancing in his art, is still willing to learn and eager to progress.
The Standard (19 January, 1894 - p.3)
Lack of variety, whether of object or of method, is the last fault of which Mr. Beerbohm Tree’s intelligent and enterprising management of the Haymarket Theatre is likely to be accused by his critical supporters. From the archæological melodrama of Hypatia to the epigrammatic drawing-room romance of A Woman of No Importance was hardly a greater change than that from the dainty society manner of Mr. Oscar Wilde to the sledge-hammer blank verse of Mr. Henry Arthur Jones in The Tempter. From Mr. Jones’s Early English fable we now pass, after a peep by the way at the double life of a fashionable bushranger, into the atmosphere of modern mystery suggested by action which is laid in the White Gallery and the Turret Chamber of the Castle of the Earl of Wanborough. The new play by Mr. Robert Buchanan, presented here last night, is officially described as one “of modern life,” and, though it has in it a hint of the weird, supernatural element found so thrilling in the days of The Castle of Otranto, the pleasantly creepy suggestion is discounted by the eminently prosaic significance of the title chosen for the piece, The Charlatan. This seems to us a mistake at the very outset. Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Tree ought to have given their apparitions and visions, their Mahatmas and their hypnotists, a little more of fair play than they receive when they are formally announced as impostures. Many people probably hoped to enjoy a good shudder over the problem of psychology which Mr. Buchanan was known to be about to treat in his new drama; and when one expects to be thrilled it is disappointing to find oneself laughing incredulously over manifestations of the order associated with the conjuring of Messrs. Maskelyne and Cooke. This, however, is what occurs, and is evidently intended to occur, as the result of one of the two chief scenes of last night’s production. The dramatis personæ are all assembled in the White Gallery of Wanborongh Castle, a room which, by a clever arrangement of perspective, is made to seem of vast length. A curtain is drawn across one end of the apartment, the lights are duly lowered, and then, at the request of the Earl of Wanborough, a devout student of Theosophy, his guest, Philip Woodville, a Mahatma of Eurasian extraction, conducts the séance in what is, we believe, the orthodox fashion. He demands silence from hard-hearted unbelievers such as Lord Dewsbury, and strict concentration of mind from impressionable subjects like his Lordship’s fiancée, Miss Arlington, whom, like the rest, he asks to think of some dearly-loved person now far away. Now the audience knows that Woodville, who has already met Miss Arlington in India, is aware that she is pining to know the fate of her father, who has not been heard of for two years, and is generally supposed to have perished during his travels in Thibet. The audience also knows that by some secret agency Woodville has ascertained that the traveller is alive, and is hourly expected to announce his return to Calcutta. It does not, therefore, cause very much surprise that Miss Arlington’s father, in his uniform as he lived, should be chosen as the subject of the spirit-portrait projected by the Mahatma upon the curtains of the White Gallery. But what is really astonishing is the effect of this clever piece of conjuring—which, by the way, is never explained, and .appears wholly inexplicable—upon the young lady for whose benefit it has been got up by Woodville and his accomplice, Madame Obnoskin. From holding her mysterious Eastern admirer in dread, if not in active dislike, Miss Arlington is suddenly impelled, by her sense of gratitude for his revelation, to reciprocate his love and to resent the conventional ties which bind her to her betrothed husband. The confession of this love—which we must confess to finding incomprehensible—is brought about in the other great scene of the play, a scene in which the Mahatma throws aside the aid of the magic-lantern, and avails himself of the power which used to be ascribed to electro-biology, but is now called hypnotism. Left alone in the turret-room at midnight, and inspired to deeds of vengeance by the insulting words of Lord Dewsbury, Mr. Woodville vows that he will make it impossible for Miss Arlington to become the bride of the man who has denounced him as an impostor. So he throws open the casement, pronounces an incantation as he looks out upon the distant window of Miss Arlington’s bed- room, and wills that she shall get up and walk along the battlements to his tower chamber. We have already been informed that the young lady has the unfortunate habit of walking in her sleep; so once more it is without much astonishment that we see her white-robed figure glide along in the moonlight until it enters the turret-room by the door on the battlements. It is after this that the real surprise comes, for Woodville, instead of gloating over his successful mischief, beats his brow, and cries, “My God, what have I done?” as though he had never expected his own spell to work. He does stranger things than this, however, for when by cross-examining the hypnotised girl he discovers the state of her feelings towards him he wakes her from her trance, and in the same breath pours out his confession of love with his confession of barefaced trickery. This sensational act, the third of the play, ends with a knock at the door, and with Miss Arlington’s hurried departure on her lonely and, it is to be feared, chilly walk back across the battlements to her own room. It might be hoped that the reflections which come in the morning after adventurous evenings like these would cause a young lady to hesitate before throwing over a lover like Lord Dewsbury for a mesmeric trickster like Woodville. But any such hope is soon dispelled by the course of the feeble last act, in which, through a quarrel between the confederates, the full extent of the Mahatma’s influence over Lord Wanborough’s ward becomes publicly known. Lord Dewsbnry is rebuked for his lack of consideration for the penitent impostor, who, as the curtain finally falls, is seen bidding his victim a tender farewell, with the promise that he will return to her later on.
This is the strange story of The Charlatan; and it must be left to time to determine how far the odd proceedings of the conscience-stricken conjuror will secure a ratification of the kindly verdict which was pronounced upon them last night. One thing is certain; the play could not easily be acted better than it was last night. Mr. Tree quite managed to give plausibility to the love-stricken Mahatma, even in his most eccentric moments of inconsistent behaviour; and Mrs. Tree gave really pathetic charm to her study of the hypnotist’s tenderly forgiving victim. The similarity of the drama, in its general scheme, to Mr. Jones’s Judah is rendered the more pronounced by the circumstance that here, as well as there, the light-comedy relief is placed in the amusing hands of Mr. F. Kerr as a languid philosopher of the fin-de-siècle type. The passages of arms between him and Miss Lily Hanbury are much the brightest in the piece, which receives well- considered aid also from Mr. Nutcombe Gould as the Theosophist Earl, from Miss Kingston as the follower of Madame Blavatsky, and from Mr. F. Terry as the manly and extremely ill-used Lord Dewsbury. The mounting, as is usual here, leaves nothing to be desired; but it is to be feared that in this, as in other respects, the able stage treatment of Mr. Buchanan’s vacillating satire will prove to have been bestowed upon an unworthy object.
The Birmingham Daily Post (19 January, 1894)
LONDON, Thursday Night.
. . .
“The Charlatan,” Mr. Buchanan’s new four-act play of modern life, was produced at the Haymarket to-night, and at the fall of the curtain was accorded all the accustomed tokens of popular approval, the actors being twice summoned by the audience, and the author being called for and well applauded. The piece, indeed, had deepened in interest as it proceeded, until the middle of the last act, when it to some extent dropped; but it can certainly be said that Mr. Buchanan has not contributed to the stage a more thoughtful work. The Charlatan, who gives his name to the play, is a young Eurasian, son of an Englishman and a Parsee woman, not perhaps a union which appeals to Anglo-Indians as very probable—and this person, possessed of considerable hypnotic powers in which Mr. Buchanan seems to believe, but claiming even higher theosophic powers concerning which the General is obviously a sceptic, has come to England from Calcutta, anxious to meet again a beautiful girl, the niece and ward of an Earl, whom he had met in India just before her father had gone to Thibet upon an exploring expedition, which is thought by all but her to have proved fatal. The earl is a believer in Theosophy, and Philip Woodville, as the adventurer is named, is not only welcomed with eagerness by the credulous old peer, but has an ally already in the house in the person of an acquaintance—Madame Obnoskin—the priestess of the cult, and as conscious a humbug as himself. The heroine who had once thought she loved Woodville, is engaged to a young peer, who is about to enter a Tory Cabinet on the brink of formation, but, using his secret knowledge of her father’s safety, Woodville once more overpowers her affection, and using his hypnotic influence he draws her in her sleep to his room. Then, however, his good angel asserts itself. He wakes the girl, tells her the peril she has encountered, bids her depart in safety, and as the only reparation confesses his imposture not only to her, but to the Earl. His confederate, angry at the admission completes the tale by relating the painful incident of the previous night of which she had obtained knowledge, and while the budding Cabinet Minister, not unnaturally, considers this sufficient to close the engagement, the girl confesses to Woodville that she loves him, and he goes away with the hope of returning to her when he has redeemed his misspent life. The story, as will be seen, is scarcely a strong one to bear the burden of four acts, and some of its devices are clearly of the stage, but when some redundant dialogue has been omitted from the first half of the play, and the performers have shaken off the first night nervousness which this evening strikingly affected more than one of them, it will prove interesting.
The acting throughout was excellent, and the piece could scarcely have been better “cast.” Mr. Tree, admirably made up as the Eurasian adventurer, had both a showy and an effective part, and although in the great scene of the trial act he seemed, perhaps by the tact of the author, to be unduly surprised at the effect worked by his own experiment in hypnotism, he displayed much feeling as well as force, though the opportunities for exhibiting the sardonic humour of which he is a master were fewer than his admirers would have wished. Mrs. Tree was excellent in every respect as the heroine, and in the scene just mentioned, where, in her sleep, she walks and tells her love, and then is suddenly awakened to all the horrors of the situation, she played with a tenderness and a power which were at once touching and effective in a high degree. She has done, in fact, nothing so fine since her “mad scene” as Ophelia in “Hamlet,” and she more than deserved the hearty applause which the audience accorded her. Mr. Fred Terry, as the somewhat insolent young aristocrat, who is awaiting an almost immediate summons to Downing Street, had a part not worthy of his powers, but Mr. Nutcombe Gould was a thoroughly effective representative of the credulous old peer. Mr. Holman Clark was capital as a somewhat enfeebled professor, who is too far advanced in years and knowledge to have settled conclusions upon anything, and Mr. Fred Kerr and Miss Lily Hanbury were more than efficient as a pair of young lovers whose view of life promised to be tinged with comedy. “The Charlatan,” therefore, despite its obviously recalling Mr. Besant’s novel “Herr Paulus” in some passages, and Mr. Henry Arthur Jones’s play “Judah” in others, appealed to tonight’s audience with a result which author and actors alike must have found satisfactory.
The Globe (19 January, 1894 - p.6)
“THE CHARLATAN” AT THE HAYMARKET.
“The Charlatan,” Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new four-act play, proves, as its title indicates, a story of imposture rather than of diablerie. The scales of justice are, however, held with an even and a steady hand, and believers in spiritual manifestations or theosophy will have no reason to feel aggrieved. It is true that the spiritualistic agents, including a self-styled mahatma, are in this case swindlers, and that the visions which are exhibited are delusions and frauds. Those by whom they are carried out have, however, an apparent faith in the very agencies with which they trifle, and one at least is a mesmerist of unrivalled powers. Mesmerism or hypnotism is the basis of the play. Lord Wanborough, a benevolent and rather weak-minded old nobleman, has assembled at Wanborough Castle a rather mixed lot of visitors. There are, apart from incidental guests, his young, pretty, and alluring daughter, Lady Carlotta, and her would-be suitor, the Hon. Mervyn Darrell, his no less pretty niece, Isabel Arlington, her betrothed lover, Lord Dewsbury, and two wolves in sheep’s clothing, in the persons of Philip Woodville and his assistant and ally, Mdme. Obnoskin. Isabel is under the impression that her father, to whom she is strongly attached, has perished in Thibet. But Woodville knows better, having news of his safety. He has met Isabel before, and has exercised upon her a strong mesmeric influence, which he still retains. A dark séance is arranged, and Isabel is shown a spectral figure of her father floating in mid air. She screams and faints, and Lord Dewsbury, with more common sense than logic or courtesy, brands the whole affair an imposture. This amounts to a practical dismissal of Woodville, who acquiesces in his fate, and promises to leave the house in the morning.
before doing this, he determines to test his power over Isabel. By simple force of will he compels the sleeping maiden to come in her night clothes to meet her wooer. She is still, of course, sleeping and unconscious. In answer to his inquiries she makes faithful avowal of her love for him. She has loved him always, and loves him still. Her haughty bearing and simulated coldness have been due to mistrust of herself, and not to arrogance; she cares not even for the scandal that her escapade may bring on her name. He is her world, her all. As he listens to these avowals, he grows ashamed of his meditated treachery. He will resign all claim to her, and will save her from the consequences of her action. After making complete revelation of his baseness and unworthiness, he seeks to secure her flight. But little time is left. Already knocking is heard at the door. He recalls, however, a private exit, beneath the tapestry, which has been shown him by the Earl; with some difficulty unbolts it, and sends her on her way. Before leaving the next day he makes full avowal to the Earl of the frauds he has practised. His associate, Mdme. Obnoskin, has no respect for such cowardly proceedings, and as her own “little game” is spoiled, takes her revenge by mentioning the nocturnal visit of Isabel. Woodville is mute on the subject. Isabel, however, tells the truth; that she has walked in her sleep; and is at once dismissed by Lord Dewsbury, whose political career would be blighted by union with a young lady of such unconventional habits. Isabel, though now wide awake, still loves Woodville, and even urges him to stay. This he will not do, as he is unworthy of her. He goes abroad accordingly in search of reformation, and when he has conquered his own self-esteem will come back to reap the harvest of affection that only waits for the sickle.
This drama is powerful, original, and effective, if not particularly pleasing. It is superbly mounted and acted, and took a strong hold upon the public. A difficult subject is vigorously handled, and the audience was stirred to its depths. Mr. Tree’s Philip Woodville is a very fine piece of acting. One sees a man at once powerful, passionate, deadly, and yet all but abject. Every phase of this character is shown with supreme judgment and power. Not less admirable is the Isabel Arlington of Mrs. Tree, which is marvellously tender and delicate, and in the third act rises into a fine display of power. Mr. Nutcombe Gould is all that is benignest and worthiest as the rather simple old nobleman, and Mr. Fred Terry plays a somewhat unsympathetic character with much manliness and breadth of style. Two young lovers, one a lady of remarkable beauty and charm, and the other a man of up-to-date affectations, are shown by Miss Lily Hanbury and Mr. F. Kerr. Miss Gertrude Kingston displays her well-known gifts as Mdme. Obnoskin, a species of adventuress. Mr. Charles Allan is the sleekest of Deans, and Mr. Holman Clark the drollest of scientists. Other parts are well supported by Mrs. E. H. Brooke and Miss Irene Vanbrugh. The comic scenes constitute a pleasant feature in the play, and the ghost scene is finely contrived. The audience was roused to enthusiasm, and the whole may be counted among the most conspicuous of recent triumphs. A word of praise is due to the pictures of Wanborough Castle, which are excellent.
The Daily Telegraph (19 January, 1894 - p.5)
MR. BUCHANAN’S NEW PLAY
AT THE HAYMARKET.
According to the modern and new-fangled school of dramatists there are only three feasible methods for concluding a play founded on a subject of admitted interest. The first is the happy ending which is pronounced to be old-fashioned, out of date, crude, contemptible, and conventional. The second is the miserable or Morgue finale, the suicide of one, two, or three characters, pistol shots, doses of morphia, or gymnastic feats over high-backed sofas. This method of climax has already become as conventional, as wearisome, and as unnatural as ending number one. The women commit suicide who have not the temperament of suicides; the men blow their brains out who would not in real life have the courage even to handle a revolver. The third ending impressed on our attention by the theoretical playwrights who have never as yet obtained the ear, the sympathy, or the confidence of the people, is the ending called the note of interrogation. The play ends with a query. Sometimes an artist—a true artist—works up to this period of indecision. As a rule it is the device of the clumsy dramatist who has knotted the skein of his play and does not know how to untangle it.
Mr. Robert Buchanan, in his new play of modern life, “The Charlatan,” produced last night, has with his usual dexterity suggested “another way,” as the cookery books have it. He has given us what will for the future be called the “smoke” ending. He has suggested a fire and allowed it to end in smoke. There never was a more puzzling dramatic composition than “The Charlatan.” We should be inclined to call it irritating, but that would be rude. Take the story to begin with. It promises well. The dramatist cleverly enlists our attention. He stimulates us, he tells us ghost stories, he turns the gas down, he makes our flesh creep, and then he cries, “Boo!” There never was such a tantalising dramatist as Mr. Robert Buchanan. He reminds us that he has read “L’Aventurière” of Emile Augier; he gives us the adventurer, the adventuress, the silly old man, the headstrong, impulsive youth, and directly we are beginning to feel an interest in the adventurer and adventuress, he once more cries “Boo!” turns down the gas, and leaves us in a dramatic fog of darkness. There never was such a will-o’-the-wisp as Mr. Robert Buchanan. Weary of Emile Augier, Don Annibal, and all the rest of them, he takes us off to the infantine contemplation of “La Sonnambula.” But even here he will not allow the Sonnambula to be interesting. She has not stolen the spoons. There is no jackdaw. Would, indeed, there were so lively and impudent a companion! But the Sonnambula wakes up from her hypnotic trance in a strange gentleman’s bedroom in a haunted tower at a country house. That sounds interesting; indeed there are the chords and pulses of drama. A beautiful lady, in an ideal peignoir, is hypnotised out of her innocent couch, she is willed over turrets, battlements, and mediæval chimneys, she is compelled by horrible hypnotic influence to come en deshabille over dreadfully cold leads and broken bricks, and just as she is toasting herself at the bachelor’s warm wood fire, and looking eagerly at the whisky and water, a mysterious knock comes at the door! Here is a situation, if one was ever invented. It is almost as good as that of the lady who was dragging her dead lover along her father’s corridor when a door opens, and discovers the face of his inquisitive father. But here we have the sensation without the shudder. Mr. Tree, with evil intent, hypnotises a lady out of her warm and comfortable bed, but repents when the hypnotised one is in his arms. He becomes an unconventional charlatan, a reformed rake, an evangelised hypnotiser, and just at the crucial moment, when the somnambulistic angel is still warming her toes and longing so desperately for the whisky and water after her aerial pilgrimage—well, the knock comes at the door. Here is drama. The blood of the audience leaps at last. Who is knocking at the door? Is it the sweet lady’s fiancé, a most impetuous and fiery old gentleman? Is it her ancestral guardian? Who is that knocking at the door? Alas! it is nobody. The somnambulist is safe, and the seducer is repentant and in tears. Nobody takes the knock. The curtain falls instead. This is but a type of the disappointment of the play. Everything is going to happen, but nothing occurs. Everyone is knocking at every possible door, but nobody enters. In fact “The Charlatan” is what might be called a Laodicean play. It is neither hot nor cold. It is not fish, flesh, or good red herring. It is the very Tantalus of modern dramas.
But possibly it may be interesting to examine in greater detail the scheme of this curious, and often clever, work; a play excellently written, as it could not fail to be, but perversely constructed. An English earl, a little cracked on Spiritualism, has asked down to his ancestral home two very shady characters, a male and female hypnotiser, a Blavatzkyite, a Mahatma or occult faddist of some school or other—it matters little what. London has swarmed with them these thirty years past. First it was Mr. Foster, who wrote upon his arm; then it was the Davenport Brothers; then it was David Douglas Home, who combined the tricks of the spiritualistic conjurers with literary and poetical shoddy; then it was a Fay or a Ferguson. Every London man knows the story of Spiritualism by heart, from the day when Henry Irving exposed the Davenport Brothers at Manchester down to these later days of Thibet mysteries and transmitted teapots. At any rate, down to this credulous old earl come this male and female impostor. The female impostor is not worth the name. Emile Augier would be ashamed of such an adventuress. She breaks down at the very first hazard, when she attempts to hoodwink the Earl and get him into her power—in fact, as a villainess she is of the housemaid, or, possibly, the lady’s-maid, order, and would not be in the same hemisphere as Hortense in “Bleak House.” No: the adventuress even as an artist is beneath contempt. She has no accent, no manner, no persuasion, no style. She wanders in and out, and makes absolutely no impression of any sort. A more feeble adventuress has never been pinned on to an unmysterious play.
There is more to be said for the adventurer, the hypnotist, the Eurasian, the half-Indian, half-European Parsee who comes to England to ruin a lovely English girl. This mysterious Parsee is, of course, played by Mr. Beerbohm Tree, and, naturally, he is an attractive person. The worst of it is he is too genteel for an adventurer. He is the cleanest and most polished adventurer ever seen. There is no mystery about him. He never looks into a woman’s eyes, and how he can hypnotise her without the contact of soul it is difficult to imagine. He scarcely ever touches her nerves or her fingers. He hypnotises them over the left shoulder. But bungler as he is in his art, and braggart in his talk, he is allowed to give a private séance at Wanborough Castle, when he produces on a transparency the face of the father of the girl he loves, supposed to be dead. How he does it no one knows. The thing is a trick, but it is never explained. The mystery last night became so maddening that a perplexed gentleman in the stalls observed that there was no feminine interest. “No,” responded a ready wit, who always says the best things of the evening: “but there is far too much Maskelyne and Cooke interest, isn’t there?” To this there was no answer; it was unanswerable.
But the Hypnotic Tree was not content with bringing on to an unexplained transparency the features of Mrs. Tree’s father. He lured her to his midnight dwelling-place. He opened his oriel window, and, behold, La Somnambula came in her slippered feet over the cold damp leads. He indulged her with somnambulistic fancies sitting at his bachelor fireside. And then, ‘hey presto’ he awoke the poor, distracted maiden, and neither of them knew what to do. Having conceived dishonourable love in the realms of hypnotism, he poured out volumes of honourable passion in the distress of actuality. When a mysterious somebody knocked at the door the ever virtuous Somnambula went pattering back over the ancestral leads and the baffled hypnotist went to bed pondering on the marvels of his own restraint and the mystery of the man or woman who was knocking at that door.
But how about the next morning? Surely such sublime virtue as was practised by the hypnotist and the somnambulist deserved its dramatic reward. If it did, it did not get it. The hypnotist protested his innocence and was told by the ladies’ lover to tell all that to the marines. This is the way when virtue asserts itself. The somnambulist protested her virtue, peignoir, stocking feet, and all, but those wicked waggish women merely “winked the other eye.” But what became of them? Did they not marry and live happily ever afterwards? Not a bit of it. They parted seriously, having been united hypnotically. Nothing came right in the end to anybody. The Philistine youth who objected to the appearance of his fiancé in the hypnotist’s bedroom, washed his hands of the whole affair, and went out. The silly old lord who had encouraged all this nonsense raved impotently and also washed his hands of the whole affair. The luckless and virtuous somnambulist lost her rich husband and her hypnotic lover, and the beautiful Parsee departed into space with the curses of everyone on his head and the waved blessing from a scented pocket-handkerchief. There were no rewards or punishments. Nobody got anything. In fact it was a play that crackled up occasionally into fire but ended in smoke.
Except in two instances the chances for thoughtful and intellectual acting were small. The hits of the evening were made by Mrs. Beerbohm Tree as the dreamy somnambulist, and by Mr. Frederic Kerr in the best written part of the play. Mrs. Tree had her chance from the outset, and availed herself of it. She alone touched the keynote of mystery, and we are bound to add she alone was able to do it. She sang charmingly. She over and over again brought the play into the atmosphere of mystery and charm. She was a woman, well-drawn and comprehensible. Mr. Beerbohm Tree had no such easy task. He was an incomprehensible man. A charlatan is comprehensible, but a trickster of this sort, of this calibre and pattern, a degraded adventurer who through crime encompasses a woman’s ruin, and turns saint when he hears she loves him, is certainly not the Philip Woodville of the early scenes of this play. Mr. Beerbohm Tree can never spoil anything, but no genius can fight with a contradictory character of this pattern. It is intelligence thrown away. It falls to the lot of Mr. Fred Kerr to secure admirable bits of character. The Hon. Mervyn Darrell becomes friends with the audience at once. His was a delightful sketch of the modern unimaginative young man who deliberately talks nonsense and records on his shirt cuff the most brilliant specimens of it. All Mr. Buchanan’s best writing was thrust into the pocket of this character. It was true, it was new, and it was happy. Mr. Fred Terry and Mr. Nutcombe Gould were each in their way, as an old peer and a young aristocrat, admirable; but we have seen Miss Gertrude Kingston to greater advantage than as Madame Obnoskin. In a word, it is a curious play, strange, fantastic, and sometimes dull. The audience seemed puzzled what to make of it. Time will show.
The Edinburgh Evening News (19 January, 1894 - p.3)
MR BUCHANAN’S NEW PLAY.
Mr Robert Buchanan’s new play “The Charlatan” was produced last night by Mr Beerbohm Tree in the Haymarket Theatre, London. Mr Buchanan’s play is a satire upon the craze for theosophy and ghost-lore. Philip Woodville, a sort of Indian halfcaste, sets himself to win the hand of Isabel Arlington, who had refused him in India and is now betrothed to Lord Dewsbury. To his aid he calls Madame Obnoskin, a theosophist. At a seance in the house of the ward of Isabel Arlington the ghost is raised of the latter’s father. Dewsbury declares that Philip is practising upon the fears of Isabel, threatens him with punishment unless he desists, and calls him a liar and a charlatan. By the power of hypnotism, the charlatan finds that Isabel is really in love with him, and that her refusal of his hand is due mainly to her fears. The charlatan’s better nature is aroused; and, after a scene of confession and exposure, he goes away, leaving the audience to understand that he will come back again and claim Isabel Arlington for his wife. The play was received with every mark of success.
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (19 January, 1894)
Mr Tree produced Mr Robert Buchanan’s new play, “The Charlatan,” at the Haymarket Theatre, London, for the first time last night. The play deals with hypnotism, and one of the effects is a spiritualistic seance, and the actor-manager depicts the character of an exponent of theosophy of Hindoo extraction, who, though he at first uses his hypnotic power to influence the heroine, afterwards becomes touched by her love for him, and avows himself an imposter, an act of self- sacrifice, which, however, only increases her affection for him. Mr Tree, as the exponent of theosophy, made a very marked success, which was shared in no small degree by Mrs Tree as Isabel Arlington. Mr Fred Terry, Mr Frederick Kerr, and Miss Lily Hanbury appeared with marked success in their parts. The curtain was raised three times at the conclusion of the second and third acts. The company were called the same number of times at the end of the play, and a special call was made for the author, and Mr Tree, in response to the demands for a speech, briefly thanked the audience for their reception, and announced that in all probability his next production would be an adaptation of “The Talisman,” a play which has excited the greatest interest in Germany.
Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin) (19 January, 1894)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN’S
PERFORMANCE LAST NIGHT
AT THE HAYMARKET.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
(BY SPECIAL WIRE.)
London, Thursday Night.
The Haymarket premieres under Mr Tree’s management take rank among the most brilliant in the theatrical world of London. He has imparted to the Haymarket Theatre a distinctly attractive individuality, and his audiences always feel that any piece produced under his auspices will be interpreted by a carefully chosen and highly capable company and scenic accessories on which a cultured and discriminating taste has been expended. So it was that, despite the absurd superstition that nobody who is anybody deigns to be seen in London at this ungodly time of year, the stalls contained to- night a very representative gathering of those notable personages in literature, art, and society without the cachet of whose patronage no new piece aspiring to importance is considered to be duly ushered into public notice. That Mr Buchanan’s latest play is of importance there is no question. It marks an epoch both in his own career as a dramatic author and in that of Mr Tree in the presentation of a curiously interesting and composite character. “The Charlatan” will probably, or perhaps certainly, be reviled by the apostles of what one of his characters calls “the new spirit.” Mr Buchanan has, indeed, so far bowed the knee to that spirit as to let the curtain fall in the last act with a note of interrogation, but the fact that the answer is quite clear and suggests a happy ending will make his work anathema to the devotees of the dismal.
The scene of the play is Wanborough Castle. The action is compressed into a few days. Wanborough is the ancestral home of the earl of that name, a worthy old gentleman—a widower with one daughter, and a leaning to the “new spirit” in its religious manifestations. He is at present a prey to Theosophy, and has under his roof Madame Obnoskin, one of the elect of the Theosophic hierarchy, who thinks that the old man’s craze can be developed to the point of an offer of marriage. The household also includes Isabel Arlington, a ward of Lord Wanborough’s whose father, Colonel Arlington, a great explorer, had never returned from a journey undertaken a couple of years before into the wilds of Thibet, and who was given up for dead. Isabel (Mrs Tree) was a high-strung, sensitive, imaginative girl, and she still hoped against hope that her missing father would return. She had become engaged since her return to England to Lord Dewsbury (Mr Fred Terry), a blunt, honourable, narrow-minded, and eminently unsympathetic specimen of the English gentleman. Dewsbury regarded Theosophy and all its works not only with contempt but aversion, and he deplored the influence that Madame Obnoskin and other impostors obtained over his aged kinsman. Isabel, on the other hand—a woman of a nervous, spiritual type, whose mind, overwrought by anxiety and hopes deferred, was highly susceptible to mystical impressions—regarded Madame Obnoskin with a feeling approaching dread. The Russian lady, on her side, was in secret communication with Philip Woodville (Mr Tree), an arch impostor of the Theosophic brethren, who had, under a different name, met and loved Isabel in India. Philip, anxious to follow up his suit, placed himself in communication with Lord Wanborough, who, only too ready to extend his hospitality to so distinguished a member of the sect in which he was interested, invited him to Wanborough. On his arrival, Isabel recognises the man whose addresses she had rejected in India, but she meets him to all appearance as a stranger, an attitude which it is superfluous to say is also adopted by his ally, Mdme Obnoskin. When they are alone, however, Isabel resents Woodville’s intrusion, but she is powerless against his strong will, and half by menace, half by persuasion, he convinces her in part that he can be of service to her, and had better remain. Meantime he was aware from his agents in Thibet that Isabel’s father still lived, and he resolved to make use of that knowledge to prove to the sceptics his preternatural powers, and, as Isabel’s mind was absorbed by thoughts of her father, to advance his suit with her. Arrangements are made for a seance, as he is apprehensive that the news of Colonel Arlington’s safety may arrive through other channels, and just at the moment when the party is listening to his preliminary observations, couched in the familiar Theosophic jargon, a telegram is handed to Lord Wanborough. Fearing that it is from Colonel Arlington, Woodville prevents the Earl from reading it by suddenly turning down the lights and plunging at once into a melodramatic exhortation to the spirits in communion with him. He addresses himself pointedly to Isabel, who implores him to ascertain whether her father lives. He replies that he does, and the deception is further assisted by a momentary apparition of the missing man arranged by Mdme Obnoskin and Woodville from a portrait they had seen of him. Isabel, overcome by emotion, swoons; the lights are again turned on, Lord Wanborough opens the telegram he has in his hand, and finds it a confirmation of Woodville’s apparently occult knowledge. The most sceptical are astonished, Isabel is overpowered with joy and delight, and Woodville is triumphant.
In the next act we are introduced to the turret room, next the bedroom occupied by Woodville, whither his host has accompanied him to talk over the amazing events of the evening. Woodville maintains the deceit easily with so gullible a subject, and announces his departure on the following morning. The Earl, chatting about the history of the turret-room, tells him that some hundreds of years before it was the scene of a tragedy in which an ancestress of his lost her life. She was detected meeting her lover at dead of night on the battlements, which he gained by a secret door behind the hangings on the wall. When the Earl leaves, Dewsbury enters and tauntingly invites Woodville to acknowledge the imposture he has performed on the company. Hot words ensue, Dewsbury denounces him as a charlatan, and there is almost a personal encounter. Woodville, who was tearing himself away from Wanborough under the influence of a glimmering of honour that Isabel’s innocence and beauty were awakening within him, is maddened by the contumely heaped upon him by Dewsbury, and in a frenzy of passion he resolves to exercise his hypnotic influence once more upon Isabel. She has been almost in a state of trance since the performance in the White Gallery, and Woodville looking down at her window wills her to come to him. Presently he sees her approaching, all in white, and half terrified at the success of his suggestion, he opens the door of his room, which she enters in her sleep. He extracts from her an unconscious avowal that she had always loved him, and had only seemed indifferent because she was suspicious of his character. Woodville is completely overwhelmed by the guileless purity of Isabel, and in a moment of supreme revulsion of feeling he vows to sacrifice himself for her sake. He first awakens her. She is appalled to find herself in his room. He then confesses himself a charlatan and an impostor, acknowledges the cheat he had practised on her credulity that night, and having humbled himself to the dust in her sight, says he will never see her more. She is still almost in a dream, but gives evidence that she realises the depths of his devotion, and is on the point of leaving the room when there is a knock at the door. Discovery would be ruin to Isabel, and Woodville fortunately remembers the secret door in the wainscot, which he opens, and through which she escapes.
The concluding act opens the following morning, when Woodville has confessed to Lord Wanborough how he had duped him—to that old gentleman’s intense disgust and annoyance—and Dewsbury is giving a disdainful commendation to the “Charlatan” for his eleventh hour penitence. Madame Obnoskin enters, learns that the whole scheme has been exposed, and in her rage she turns upon Woodville and asks him was not Isabel in his room the night before when everyone had gone to bed. It was Madame Obnoskin’s knock that had hastened the conclusion of the midnight interview, and she had seen Isabel escaping along the battlements. Dewsbury is frantic with jealousy at this disclosure, and when Isabel enters he taxes her with her seeming duplicity. Woodville makes a clean breast of the circumstances under which she had visited him, and Isabel, stung by the incredulity of Dewsbury, avows her preference for Woodville, who had sacrificed everything on her account. Dewsbury retires discomfited, the Earl half commends the “Charlatan,” and the curtain falls as Woodville, after a tender parting with Isabel, leaves, while she says, “He will come back—I know he will.”
It will be seen that there is some slight resemblance between the character of Philip Woodville and that of Captain Swift, in which Mr Tree formerly made so great a success. But the resemblance is faint in the extreme, and Philip Woodville is a clearly individualised creation of very striking ability. He certainly is no common charlatan, and Mr Tree invests the character with a power and fascination which make the successful imposition of his Theosophic mysticism on the party at Wanborough seem quite possible. Woodville appears to have a kind of half belief in his own supernatural gifts, and when alone with Madame Obnoskin he does not throw aside the mask with quite the same unreserve as that rather patent adventuress. In the turret-room scene, where Mr Tree has to depict the sudden conversion of Woodville, he is at his very best. The transformation is genuine, convincing, and intensely pathetic—a tour de force in the plausible reconcilement of two apparently opposite extremes of character. In the other scenes Mr Tree displays his usual command, subtle and polished skill, and the appreciation on the part of the audience of the immense ability of the whole performance could not well be more enthusiastic. Mrs Tree plays the exceedingly difficult part of Isabel with singularly striking effect. In the turret act she depicted the half consciousness of the sleep-walker with remarkable cleverness, and a scene which, if handled with less delicacy and restrained realism, might easily have been spoiled, proved perhaps the most successful of a highly successful play. Miss Gertrude Kingston as Mdme Obnoskin was seen to great advantage, while Mr Fred Terry managed to make the priggish Lord Dewsbury a far more dislikable character than the “Charlatan.” Mr Frederick Kerr as the Hon Mervyn Darrell gave one of those character sketches in which he excels. The Hon Mervyn Darrell is an exponent of the new spirit, and he indulged in numerous paradoxes of the usual description which no one seemed to enjoy more than Mr Oscar Wilde, who sat in the second row of the stalls. Miss Lily Hanbury looked very charming as Lord Wanborough’s daughter, and acted with decided spirit in the two scenes in which Darrell proposes to her. Mr Nutcombe Gould was a courtly Lord Wanborough, and the minor parts, which well deserve individual notice but for the lateness of the hour, were excellently filled by Mr C. Allan as a worldly dean, Mrs E. H. Brooke, his righteous spouse, and Miss Irene Vanbrugh as his sprightly daughter. The scenery was, of course, exquisitely tasteful, and was especially noteworthy for sunset and moonlight effects of real beauty. At the conclusion of each act the players were recalled again and again, and at the fall of the curtain, after repeated recalls, Mr Buchanan responded to cries for the author, and Mr Tree made a short speech, in which he announced that his next venture, at the conclusion of the long run anticipated for the present one, would be a religious play from the German entitled “The Talisman.”
The New York Times (19 January, 1894)
Buchanan’s New Play Produced.
LONDON, Jan. 18.—”The Charlatan, a New Play of Modern Life,” by Robert Buchanan, had its first night at the Haymarket Theatre this evening. It is a satire on Theosophy. Beerbohm Tree as Philip Woodville played the title role, assisted by Miss Kingston as Mme. Obnoskin. In a seance at the Earl of Wanborough’s country seat Mme. Obnoskin summons the vision of the missing father of Wanborough’s niece, whom Woodville loves. The seance is followed by a thrilling scene in the turret chamber, where the Charlatan compels the niece to walk in her sleep and confess her love to him.
The play is badly joined, but, despite its timeworn situations, is thoroughly interesting. It was received with cordial approval, and there were repeated curtain calls.
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (20 January, 1894 - p.21)
BEFORE these lines appear in print, playgoers will have got to the heart of the romantic mystery evolved by Mr. Robert Buchanan from the doings of Philip Woodville, Eurasian and Hypnotist in the White Gallery and the Turret Room of the Castle of Otranto—we beg pardon—the Castle of the Earl of Wanborough. The rumours of Mr. Buchanan’s dramatic treatment of various occult theories connected with Theosophy all suggest something delightfully creepy; whilst the followers of the late Madame Blavatsky and the living Mrs. Besant will doubtless find some deeper significance in the proceedings of Mr. Tree, who is of course the hypnotist of the occasion. Mrs. Tree has, it is said, a charming love interest to interpret; and the company is strengthened for the production by the addition of Mr. Kerr and Mr. Nutcombe Gould. Mr. Buchanan claims, we are told, to have handled both the science and the humbug of his subject “in a bold and unconventional fashion,” somewhat we imagine in the spirit which inspired Mr. Henry Arthur Jones’s Judah, and it is safe to predict that his work will provoke plenty of discussion.
The Lincolnshire Echo (20 January, 1894 - p.2)
HYPNOTISM ON THE STAGE.
Mr. Robert Buchanan, the clever playwright and satirist, has created a stir by the production of his new play “The Charlatan.” He is the first dramatist, we believe, to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by all the phenomena of hypnotism, and in dealing with the character of some of its professors and some of its victims his satirical powers have ample scope. Mr. Buchanan never does anything that is insignificant, and “The Charlatan” is a bold recognition of the real interests of modern social life. The author has made excellent use of his materials, but there is not a great deal heard about the occult laws of nature, and the supernatural element is really only an accessory. In the character of Madame Obnoskin one may see a faint likeness to the dead Theosophist leader, Madame Blavatsky, but Mr. Buchanan’s Charlatan is not all bad, and after, with the worst conceivable purpose, compelling the heroine by his will-power to enter his lonely chamber at midnight, he forbears to take advantage of his vile triumph. There seems a touch of Ibsenism in the conception of this central figure, who makes himself beloved by a confession of his own knavery. Of the minor characters, there is the young pessimist, the Hon. Merwyn Darrell, who dwells upon “the aroma of decay,” and enunciates paradoxes, and who represents to perfection the particular “new spirit” for which Mr. Buchanan reserves his eccentric obliquy. The play has been most successfully produced at the Haymarket, and the probabilities are that it will have a lengthy run. Anyway, it will provide “Society” with a fruitful theme of conversation for some time.
The Yorkshire Herald (20 January, 1894 - p.5)
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT).
. . .
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play at the Haymarket Theatre, which was produced last night in the presence of a crowded house, is likely to give rise to considerable controversy, particularly among theosophists. But there is no doubt that the interest of the story, which is maintained throughout, will suffice to attract large audiences to the house until the next production is ready. The author may not be able to justify the conduct of his heroine, who throws over a suitable lover, in order to marry a conjurer who has hypnotised her. But the conjurer is a very remarkable character, and, as impersonated by Mr. Beerbohm Tree commands a great deal of sympathy. He is certainly an enigma, but so long as enigmas are not dull, they are forgiven much; and Philip Woodville is never dull. Whether he is talking society talk in the beautifully furnished rooms at Wanborough Castle, or giving his dark séance in conjunction with his accomplice, Madame Obnoskin (admirably played by Miss Kingston), or hypnotising Isabelle Arlington to walk at midnight along the battlements to the tower chamber, or making passionate love to the same young lady, or confessing his delinquencies to Lord Wanborough, he sustains the close attention of the spectators, and now and again excites unstinted applause. Mr. Tree makes the most of the part, and the success of the play is due to a great extent to his acting, and to that of Mrs. Tree, who is at her best as Isabelle. There are two or three other important characters, notably Lord Dewsbury, impersonated by Mr. Fred. Terry; and valuable help is rendered in low-comedy parts by Miss Lily Hanbury and Mr. Kerr. The dresses are exquisite, and the scenery as good as possible.
The Derby Daily Telegraph (20 January, 1894 - p.2)
I have no doubt Mr. Robert Buchanan has witnessed Mr. H. A. Jones’s “Judah.” At least most people have. But has he read Walter Besant’s “Herr Paulus?” His “Charlatan” has already approved itself a great theatrical success at the Haymarket. It is a deft, interesting bit of writing, worked out with remarkable skill, if the dénouement is weak and unconvincing. But I really can’t see how the play, structurally, can be regarded as original. To me it is largely reminiscent.
The Referee (21 January, 1894 - p.3)
Although I am not particular to a shade, the present visitation of ghosts begins to alarm me. The appearance of Uncle’s Ghost at the Opéra Comique on Wednesday was followed by yet another apparition on Thursday at the Haymarket To say that it was Mr. Robert Buchanan who called up the ghost is to imply that there was not much humour in Thursday’s experiment, for Mr. Buchanan is not a humourist. On the other hand, he cannot be said to have treated the matter seriously. He simply paddles in spiritualism, hypnotism, and theosophy, going no deeper into these matters than most of us who have the jargon of the occult at the tips of our tongue. Indeed, Mr. Buchanan does not seem to know exactly how to deal with such a subject, and he leaves the audience bewildered as to what he means. I should be very sorry to say what it is he wishes the audience to believe his characters believe, for the melodramatic Eurasian whose vagaries are presumably supposed to justify the title of “The Charlatan” is, so far as I can make out, not to be believed when he says he is a Charlatan. Of course, Mr. Buchanan may say that he does not pretend to understand these mysteries. That is Mr. Buchanan’s own private affair; but it is the business of a dramatist to make the motives of his character intelligible, at least, to his audience.
Either Philip Woodville is a Charlatan, a rank impostor, or he is not. But this won’t do for Mr. Buchanan, who will have him both an abject blackguard to be despised and a magnanimous hero to be admired. Having at length persuaded you that he is a villain who is coming in for his deserts, Mr. Buchanan falls back in the last act upon the old trick of a sudden conversion—swifter than our old friend Captain Swift’s—and in the sentimental passage with which the play concludes invites you to look upon him sympathetically as a hero of romance. But, although there is a good deal of talk about theosophy and spiritualism and the rest, all this is but the padding of the trite story of a lover who has come from the ends of the earth to find the object of his devouring passion promised to another man, whom he takes foul means to supplant, and, having done so, seems to think he is behaving very handsomely indeed in revealing himself to her as a consummate rascal.
With such a story to tell, it will be understood that it is not so much the purpose of the play to interest by the development of character as by striking effects. The Charlatan first presents himself in the White Gallery of the Earl Of Wanborough’s castle; he enters at the moment when twilight is deepening into dusk—a fact that is somewhat ludicrously emphasised by the dean’s remark that the days are drawing in very quickly. Isabel Arlington, the earl’s ward is singing a song (and very sweetly Mrs. Beerbohm Tree sings it), and when she turns from the piano she sees the dark stranger, whom she has not met since she was in India. From that moment, as Woodville more than once remarks, it is a case of her will against his. Among the guests at the castle is Madame Obnoskin, a Theosophist, who is practising upon the weakness of her host, and the two Theosophists, who are in collusion, design to play a shameful hoax upon Isabel. In the next act comes a regular bogey scene, in which the stage is obscured, and the ordinary hocus-pocus of a spiritualistic séance is circumstantially presented, ending with a vision of Isabel’s father, which is seen by Isabel (and the audience) at the back of the stage. By the exercise of fuller powers, I believe, than are claimed even by the adepts in hypnotism, he succeeds next in bringing Isabel, in the dead of night and fast asleep, into his room, where he learns from her lips that she loves him. Having taken this mean advantage of her, he begins to feel sorry for what he has done, but instead of packing her off to bed without waking her, he will not let her go before he has told her that he is a downright rascal—as if he could not have informed her of that whilst she was still asleep. Before he takes his departure next day Woodville—who might have spared a good deal of trouble if he had not made a confession which nobody invited—makes a point of denouncing himself as an impostor, an explanation that is readily accepted by everybody except Isabel herself, who now declares openly that she loves him. Left alone with the Charlatan, she takes a lingering farewell of him, and off he goes as the curtain falls, carrying with him a gift from Isabel and her prayer that he may come back to her soon. Whether they married and lived unhappily ever after I don’t know. And I don’t care.
The character of the Charlatan presents Mr. Beerbohm Tree in a wonderful make-up as a sleek and sallow Eurasian, but it does not give him much of a chance for variety of acting. He has plenty to say, of course, and when he is not addressing himself to one or another he talks a good deal to himself, for Mr. Buchanan does not affect to despise soliloquies and asides. Mrs. Tree plays the hyper-sensitive Isabel in a dreamy way that is highly effective. The scheming Madame Obnoskin is represented by Miss Gertrude Kingston, who adopts an unnecessarily lofty intonation, which seems to impose upon the earl, although Mr. Nutcombe Gould makes it clear that this misguided nobleman is not such a fool as he seems. Lord Dewsbury is a mere prig who serves as a strop upon which the Charlatan sharpens himself, and Mr. Fred Terry has no opportunity of placing himself in a more favourable light. Mr. Fred Kerr, as Mervyn Darrell, pokes fun quietly at the pessimistic affectations of our young philosophers, and finds his miserable theory of life traversed by an exuberantly healthy girl, played by Miss Lily Hanbury. Some of the minor parts are defined with insight. There is the touch of truth in the merely superfluous character of the dean’s daughter, a learned young lady, played by Miss Irene Vanbrugh; and the dean himself is a capital sketch, in which Mr, C. Allan makes every line tell.
The practice of making speeches from the stage I have often condemned. The familiarity which has been encouraged by this means between the actor and his audience was exemplified on Thursday night, when Mr. Tree made a short speech announcing that his next piece (for which, however, he must surely hope we may have some time to wait) will be “The Talisman,” a romantic drama “from the German.” This brought a cry of “No German goods!” from the gallery. It was too soon, surely, to raise that objection. But when the audience take to giving back remarks to the actor, it is as well to ponder what may come of the interchange of confidences across the footlights.
The New York Times (21 January, 1894)
Robert Buchanan’s “Charlatan,” at the Haymarket, affords a vehicle for another of Beerbohm Tree’s very striking character studies, and curiosity to see this may keep the play on the boards for some weeks. Without this one part—and even that is the triumph of an actor in deadly despite of the author—the play is most unworthy rubbish.
New-York Daily Tribune (21 January, 1894 - p.2)
Mr. Beerbohm Tree produced at the Haymarket on Thursday evening a new play by Mr. Robert Buchanan entitled “The Charlatan.” This is not an autobiographical sketch, but a dreary exposition of the more superficial aspects of theosophy and hypnotism. The piece is dull, disjointed, undramatic and hardly intelligible. The degree of toleration to which it attained with a friendly first-night audience was due to the excellent acting of Mr. and Mrs. Tree and some of their colleagues, to the care bestowed on its staging, and to a certain fitful melodramatic quality altogether alien from true dramatic art.
G. W. S.
From The Theatrical ‘World’ of 1894 by William Archer (London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 1895 - p. 32-38)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN has written for the Haymarket Theatre an interesting, effective, and quite intelligent play, which will in all probability enjoy a long run. The Charlatan, as its name portends, is concerned with the impostures of modern miracle-mongering, and at the same time dallies pleasantly with some other crazes and affectations of the day. Mr Buchanan is a firm believer in the maxim “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do” (and his are certainly not the idle hands for which Satan provides employment), “do it with all thy might.” For the moment, he is writing popular drama, and he spares no pains to make it popular in every sense of the word. He leaves the how and why of imposture—the temptations of the Charlatan and the cravings of his dupes—to Bostonian novelists and other dabblers in nice distinctions and fine shades. The business of the popular stage, as Mr Buchanan very justly recognises, does not lie in analysis, casuistry, or any sort of moral hairsplitting. The dramatist should not seek to impart or suggest new knowledge or thought, but should simply appeal, as regards character, to the common stock of observations,—as regards morals, to the currently accepted standards. Mr Buchanan’s impostors, then, are impostors pure and simple, innocent of self- deception, and actuated by sheer, undiluted self-interest. One of them, it appears, has genuine hypnotic powers, which he exercises through the medium of eloquent adjurations that smack of the Old rather than the New Demonology. He has also a knack of summoning up “astral bodies,” under conditions which seem very unfavourable for any Pepper’s-Ghost or magic-lantern trickery. A less skilful playwright would probably have taken some trouble to explain the apparition of Colonel Arlington; but Mr Buchanan knows that we are quite prepared to take it on trust, if only the situation, of which it forms the culminating point, interests and thrills us. He knows, too, that audiences are devout adherents of what Professor Marrables would probably call the catastrophic theory in psychology, especially where the purifying power of love comes into play. Therefore he has deftly contrived to introduce the necessary element of sympathy into his theme, by instantaneously converting his Cagliostro into a Bayard as soon as the woman he loves is in his power and at his mercy. There are, no doubt, superfine persons who will call this “rudimentary” and “childish.” Perhaps, in another mood, I should have done so myself. But Mr Buchanan had somehow managed to put me in just the right mood for this pleasant piece of romance; and what is the inmost secret of the playwright’s art, if it be not to beget in his hearers the mood he requires for the purposes of his fable? Mr Buchanan played on the right strings throughout. The entrance of the mysterious Philip Woodville was a piece of truly scenic imagination; the séance of the second act was admirably handled, with real originality and skill; the third act was charmingly picturesque and romantic; and the fourth act, which might easily have been an anticlimax, kept its hold on my interest and my sympathies to the end. The comic or satiric scenes, too, contain a good deal of light and clever badinage, at which one cannot choose but smile; and altogether we have to thank Mr Buchanan for a well-imagined, and skilfully and genially executed, romance, which filled an evening very pleasantly, and will doubtless fill a long series of evenings at the Haymarket.
There! At last! I have had nothing but praise for a play of Mr Robert Buchanan’s, and have said, withal, exactly what I think about it. It is the proudest moment in my life. I have not lived in vain, and can die happy.
And now, having achieved one of my most cherished ambitions, I may whisper a thought which I have hitherto studiously dissembled, lest it might introduce a jarring note into the millennial harmonies of the foregoing paragraph. It seems to me that in the character of Philip Woodville, Mr Buchanan has been on the verge of lapsing into subtlety, and sinking almost to the Bostonian level. What he intended I do not quite know, for he has not lapsed into lucidity; but I seem to see in Philip the glimmerings of a novel and delicately-observed character-type. I permit myself the Bostonian indiscretion of inquiring: What are the motives of his imposture? and I see a possible answer which Mr Buchanan at least says nothing to contradict. He does not seem to be a mere needy adventurer; so far as we can make out, money is no object with him. What, then, has made him a charlatan ? May we answer, that he is one of those people (and they are not so rare as you perhaps think) who love imposture for its own sake, or, more precisely, for the power it confers, and the skill and daring it calls into play? The game of deceit has its fascination like any other sport, and it is the crudest misconception to suppose that even the criminal is always actuated by the gross, material considerations which we describe as “mercenary motives.” Who can doubt that men and women have sometimes yielded to the sheer intellectual fascination of “murder as a fine art,” avid of the glorious excitement of baffling justice? When they fail, we call them homicidal maniacs; but who knows how many may have succeeded, and gone to their graves in the odour of sanctity and sanity? The literary impostors, again—the Chattertons, Irelands, and Colliers—is it for mere filthy lucre, or even for the sake of renown, that they go about their nefarious work? Suppose Ireland could have reaped endless glory and profit from the production of Vortigern under his own name, would it have given him half the pleasure, think you, that he received from palming it off as Shakespeare’s? The sense of power which belongs to adept rascality—the sense of intellectual, ay, and moral, exaltation over your fellows—must be one of the finest intoxications of which human nature is capable. Then refine a little further upon this, and, without going beyond the bounds of the possible and even probable, you can conceive an impostor of such truly “sporting” temperament that he cares only for the excitement of the chase, and not at all for bringing down the game. Once assured that it is at his mercy, he lets it slip through his fingers without a second thought. Thus, for example, one can imagine a Don Juan—and is this Joseph-Juan quite imaginary?—making victims on all hands, enough to tax the arithmetic even of a Leporello, yet always desisting from the chase just at the psychological moment. May we not take Philip Woodville to be an impostor of this sort? Mr Buchanan seems almost to indicate as much in the apologue of the white gazelle, which prepares us for the revolution of the third act. There is, in short, a pleasant field for speculation in the character of this “Eurasian Mystery.” One could fill columns with conjectures as to what the author intended or might have intended. He has had a very narrow escape. A little more clearness and consistency, and he might have drawn a character worthy of Mr Howells—and passed the rest of his days in an agony of contrition.
Mr Beerbohm Tree’s performance of the enigmatic Philip is polished, picturesque, and, in the later acts, full of genuine feeling. His make-up is masterly; and, take it all in all, his chivalrous Charlatan is an immense advance, in point of artistic finish, upon his fascinating Bushranger. The minor key in which the whole character of Isabel Arlington is pitched suits Mrs Tree’s talent to a nicety, and I don’t mind owning that I was really moved at several points in the scenes between Isabel and Woodville in the last act. Mr Frederick Kerr and Miss Lily Hanbury played the comic lovers very brightly, and Mr Nutcombe Gould and Mr Charles Allan contributed clever character-sketches. Mr Fred Terry, as Lord Dewsbury, makes an unnecessarily thunderous entrance, marching on like the Statue in Don Giovanni; but he puts all due earnestness into a somewhat “sacrificed” part. Miss Gertrude Kingston’s part, also, is none of the best, but she does all that can be done with the cigarette-smoking Russian adventuress. How often, I wonder, has this useful actress played Madame Obnoskin under other aliases? Mr Holman Clark’s Professor Marrables is an excellent bit of character. The tone of placid detachment in which he remarks, “The soul?—Ah, yes, the soul!” is the most amusing thing in the whole play. We feel that the soul has not yet come within the ken of his microscope, but that, if it ever should, he will know how to deal with it.
The Sketch (24 January, 1894 - p.6)
THE PLAY AND ITS STORY.
“THE CHARLATAN,” AT THE HAYMARKET THEATRE.
She awoke and shrieked with terror. No wonder was it, for Isabel Arlington found herself at night dressed in a garment not intended by ladies for publication to other men than their doctors and husbands, in the turret-room of Wanborough Castle, and by her side stood the mysterious Philip Woodville, the man whose love she had spurned on the ground that he was a scoundrel!
“How came I here? Let me go! Don’t come near me!” &c., cried the lady, and he answered, “You were walking in your sleep, and you shall not go till I have made a confession to you.” She persisted in her desire to leave; perhaps she was cold—at any rate, she was frightened of the man, and also feared that someone might come and draw uncharitable conclusions about this strange interview. However, he was obdurate, and made her stay; nor did he even lend her his dressing-gown or offer a drink. Then he told her that he was an impostor. I, however, must tell you a good deal more about him.
Philip Woodville, son of an Englishman and a Parsee, and born in India, spent his life in the East, studying theosophy, mesmerism, and hypnotism, apparently as a means of making a dishonest living. At Simla he met Isabel and courted her; but, though he made a deep impression on her, she rejected his suit. She was then with her father, a man who had that restlessness of the feet that causes people to become great travellers; he left her and went on an expedition to Tibet, and she returned to England and became the guest of her uncle, the Earl of Wanborough. Two years passed; no news came of her father, so all save Isabel thought him dead. He was in deep distress; nor did her courtship by a young peer with a big fortune and little manners cheer her.
It was a curious household. The Earl, an elderly widower, was a student of theosophy, and sat at the pretty feet of a mysterious Russian adventuress named Madame Obnoskin, who talked nonsense in long words to him, and hoped to capture his coronet. His daughter Carlotta was a simple country girl, who, as suitor, had a second cousin named Darrell, a young man who spent most of his time in studying his self and trying to evolve himself in manufacturing empty paradoxes on the model of Mr. Oscar Wilde, and making notes of the good things he said in order to put them in the book he was writing by himself and for himself. This creature wished to marry Carlotta, and made her a proposal, prefacing it with the remark that “marriage is a conventional and somewhat immoral institution.” Of course, she refused him.
One day Madame Obnoskin, on the strength of a telegram, announced to the Earl that she had been informed by the spirits that a great adept was going to pay a visit, and soon after Philip Woodville arrived. The two appear to have been confederates, though she did not know that Philip had come after Isabel, a penniless girl. What was the object of their original conspiracy we shall not know until Mr. Robert Buchanan has written long letters to the papers explaining everything—except the stupidity of his critics. Philip at once proceeded to renew his suit to Isabel, who treated it alternately with scorn and consideration, and she had the pleasure of being quarrelled over by the Charlatan and the boorish peer.
Now, Woodville happened to have learnt that Isabel’s father really was alive, and so he resolved to use his knowledge in furtherance of a trick. He induced the Earl to have a séance in the house, and to it were invited all the inmates of the moment, and also some comic persons—an elderly scientist, “too old to have arrived at any conclusions,” a Broad Church dean, who defined a Materialist as a “man who professes to know everything” and an Agnostic as one “who admits that he knows nothing,” the dean’s wife, and priggish Girton daughter. In their presence the Oriental impostor and the Russian mystery produced a Kilyani tableau-like vision of Isabel’s father, and convinced the girl that he still lived. A moment later the Earl opened a telegram seeming to confirm the message of the vision.
That night Philip had an unpleasant row with the other pretender to Isabel’s hand, who roundly called him rogue and cheat, and threatened to proclaim him as impostor in every London club. However, the angry peer was induced to retire by Woodville’s promise to leave the house early on the morrow.
Then Philip had a chat with the Earl, who showed him a secret door leading through the tapestry out of his room, and soon left him alone. After a soliloquy, in which he argued with himself about his state of mind towards Isabel, he finally determined that, since she had spurned him, he would ruin her. Going to the window, and looking towards the distant room in which she lay asleep, he performed a feat unparalleled in the curious history of hypnotism. He had not previously hypnotised the girl, had never “suggested” any orders to her, and yet, though he could neither see nor touch her, though distance intervened, he summoned her to come to his room, and she came. A wonderful man, the Charlatan!
She came, fresh risen from her bed, walking in a trance. He bade her say whether she loved him or not. To his surprise, joy, and terror, she said “Yes.” She had loved him from the first, yet, despising him, had hidden her love. At this discovery the man’s heart almost stopped beating; shame, hope, horror, fear, longing, and still hope, ran through him, and repentance was weightiest of all. He would do her no wrong; he would send her away unharmed, and tell her all the shameless truth. However, for reasons hard to discover, instead of bidding her return at once, and so sparing her the shame and humiliation of such a situation, he called her from her trance and brought her to full consciousness.
No sooner had Woodville made his confession than a tapping was heard at the chamber door. However, he was able to send her away by the secret passage through the tapestry. Next day he told the whole truth to the Earl and Isabel’s other lover; and Madame Obnoskin, disgusted to find herself “blown upon” by his confession, supplemented it by telling them of Isabel’s visit to his room, whereupon the peer promptly gave up the young lady, who could hardly be considered a Cæsar’s wife. Probably she will one day be Woodville’s for, though he went away, it was with the warmest assurance of her love and hope of his prompt return.
The play is very uneven in quality. At its best, as in the séance scene, it is cleverly handled, and very effective. Unfortunately, the main figures are lifeless. The Charlatan, Isabel, and the boorish peer seem merely Captain Swift, his sweetheart, and boy rival, rendered a little more complex in feeling, but not much nearer truth. There is the air of insincerity that runs through all Mr. Buchanan’s plays, of which this is about the best, and the feeling of mechanical effort in characterisation. Darrell si a rather clever caricature, spoilt by a ridiculous conversion of him in the last act to a kind of muscular Christianity. The Charlatan himself is a puzzle; he pretends to be an impostor, yet shows in the hypnotic scene powers hitherto not proved to exist, while his sudden repentance is not handled so as to seem convincing. However, the audience appeared to like the piece very well, and it may fairly be called a clever sample of the class of genteel melodrama.
In the acting, Mrs. Tree, by a charming performance as Isabel, to which she gave a curious eerie flavour, deserves highest praise, though little short of it is due to her husband for his very able performance as Woodville, in which, as usual, he showed remarkable powers of characterisation. Miss Lily Hanbury played prettily, and Mr. F. Kerr’s Darrell was a very clever piece of work; while Mr. S. Gould as the Earl, and Mr. H. Clark as the elderly scientist, did work of real ability. I cannot help saying that the first scene was wonderfully painted and contrived by Mr. W. Hann.
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