[Thomas Thorne as Doctor Cupid and Winifred Emery as Kate Constant in That Doctor Cupid.]
The Era (1 December, 1888)
MR BUCHANAN has read his new comedy to the Vaudeville company, and it will be put in rehearsal at once to follow Joseph’s Sweetheart. The subject is mainly original; the period chosen is about 1810, and the scene lies in Cambridge University and in Bath. The costumes will reproduce very accurately and amusingly the dresses worn by our grandfathers and grandmothers. Mr Thomas Thorne and the full Vaudeville company will appear, and Miss Winifred Emery will join to play the heroine.
The Globe (6 December, 1888 - p.6)
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new comedy, which is to follow “Joseph’s Sweetheart” at the Vaudeville, is to some extent a new departure. The scene is laid at Bath, abut the first decade of the present century, and the costumes will accurately and amusingly realise the follies and fashions of our grandfathers and grandmothers. The plot is original, but a suggestion for it has been found in the famous “Devil on Two Sticks” of Le Sage. It will be gathered from this statement that the interest is to a certain extent supernatural—indeed, it is rumoured that one of the leading characters is the Prince of Darkness himself. The whole Vaudeville company will appear, and in addition Miss Winifred Emery and Miss Fanny Robertson have been specially engaged.
The Morning Post (7 January, 1889 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new comedy—for which the title “Doctor Cupid” is proposed—will shortly be produced at the Vaudeville at a matinée to test its qualities, as the superseder of “Joseph’s Sweetheart,” whenever that popular piece shows signs of waning favour. Miss Winifred Emery, Miss Dolores Drummond, Mr. Thomas Thorne, Mr. William Rignold, and Mr. Frank Gillmore are in the cast.
The Echo (12 January, 1889 - p.1)
It is many years since Mr. Robert Buchanan—whose new three-act comedy is to be performed at the Vaudeville next Monday—brought out his first play in London. After his Witchfinder, his three-act comedy A Madcap Prince was acted at the Haymarket in 1874. Other pieces of his are A Nine Days’ Queen, The Queen of Connaught, Paul Clifford, Lady Clare, Alone in London, Sophia—the last-named being acted at the Vaudeville nearly three years ago.
Mr. Robert Buchanan is, in many ways, the most gifted of the younger generation of English men of letters. He is certainly among the two or three most versatile. He is now forty-eight, and began to write when he was eighteen—his first volume of poems, entitled “Undertones,” having appeared in 1860. The late Mr. George Henry Lewes, the first editor of the Fortnightly Review, very quickly discovered him— declaring his poems to be the work of a man of genius.
The Times (15 January, 1889 - p.7)
The Faust legend has employed many pens and has been adapted to the stage in many forms, of which the most successful have been the purely burlesque. Mr. Irving’s Faust was not so much an adaptation as a reproduction of the dramatic elements of Goethe’s poem, with all its diablerie and other supernatural effects; but even that play was more dependent upon stage carpentry than any of its fellows at the Lyceum. Of the difficulties attending a dramatic adaptation, properly so-called, of the Faust legend, a more cogent example was furnished a few years ago by Mr. Herman Merivale’s play, The Cynic, in which a modern Faust and Mephistopheles figured in London society, the Satanic personage being a certain foreign gentleman of Iago-like propensities, named Count Lestrange. Despite its clever writing, The Cynic failed to win popularity, and pointed clearly to the inadvisability of mixing up any suggestion of the supernatural with the ordinary affairs of human life, so far as the stage is concerned. With the results of this and kindred experiments before his eyes, Mr. Robert Buchanan, writing for the Vaudeville Theatre, has not hesitated to revert once more to “Faust” for inspiration, “Faust” being unquestionably the basis of the “new and fantastic comedy in three acts,” entitled That Doctor Cupid, which was tentatively produced by Mr. Thomas Thorne and his company yesterday afternoon. We say the “basis” only, for between “Faust” and That Doctor Cupid there is but little superficial resemblance. The supernatural personage called forth in Mr. Buchanan’s comedy is not Mephistopheles, but Cupid—Cupid no longer the winged little cherub of the ancients, but the god of love grown old and rheumatic, although still provided with his bow and arrow as an ornamental pendant to his watch chain. At the same time this novel character may very fairly be described as a benevolent Mephistopheles; in the functions assigned to him in the play there is certainly a great deal that recalls his Satanic prototype.
Mr. Buchanan fixes the period of his story in the beginning of the present century, and his hero, Harry Racket, when we first make his acquaintance, is a student at Cambridge. Harry Racket is in difficulties, his irascible uncle, Sir Timothy, hearing of his idleness and frivolity, has cut him off with a shilling, and he is consequently unable to marry his pretty cousin, Kate Constant, with whom he is in love and who is an heiress. In these distressing circumstances he anathematizes some old curios that have come into his possession, and one of them, a bottle containing what seems to him to be an indiarubber doll, he flings into the fireplace. The stage suddenly darkens, there is a peal of thunder, and a moment after Dr. Cupid, in the person of Mr. Thomas Thorne, is discovered squatting in the fireplace, from which, with a smiling good-natured face, he presently emerges to stretch his aching limbs, and to inquire of the astonished student what he can do for him. A few words of explanation put Harry Racket at his ease. Cupid explains that he has been shut up in the bottle by magic arts from the time of Queen Elizabeth, and that he is now at the service of his liberator in affairs of the heart. The youth speedily puts his strange visitor au courant of the situation. Cupid, who assumes the position of tutor to the young man, with the style and title of doctor, immediately suggests an aerial journey to Bath, where Sir Timothy and Miss Constant then are, and the new Faust and Mephistopheles begin their flight by a leap into space from the window sill. This is the end of the first act; the remainder of the story is concerned with the adventures of Dr. Cupid and his protégé at the fashionable resort of the day, where we may say at once the various personages, after a game of cross purposes, are reconciled to each other and made happy in their several ways. Dr. Cupid commits the blunder of making all the beauties of Bath become enamoured of his hero, and this estranges Kate Constant from her lover, besides setting other couples by the ears; but the evil is easily remedied, inasmuch as the benignant god has only to pretend to launch an arrow from an imaginary bow at any given couple in order to make them fall into each other’s arms. Mr. Frank Gillmore plays Harry Racket with the fire and spirit of a genuine hero of old comedy; as the testy Sir Timothy with a gouty leg, Mr. Frederick Thorne acts up to the same classical standard; and Miss Winifred Emery as the lovable Kate, Mr. Cyril Maude and Miss Marion Lea as a couple of lovers, Mr. Scott Buist as an aristocratic beau, and other members of the company make a brave show in the high-collared, cut-away coats, and ruffles, and the high-waisted frocks of the period. The piece is admirably acted indeed upon the lines of old comedy, so far as the general members of the company are concerned, none of them, except the hero, being supposed to be aware of the supernatural character of the strangely frivolous doctor. In particular, Mr. Cyril Maude and Miss Marion Lea may be commended for the spirit and piquancy of their performance, the one as a bashful and stuttering dandy, the other as a coquettish young widow.
Profiting by the errors of some of his predecessors, the author has taken care not to give too serious an aspect to his story, and in this he is cleverly seconded by Mr. Thomas Thorne, who, whenever the action seems about to rise into the region of comedy, brings it back to the level of farce with his amusing but impossible antics as an elderly Cupid; it is as a farce, consequently, that the piece must be judged. On this lower range the extravagance of the action becomes theoretically acceptable, although it may not be entirely satisfactory to those who look for that genuine humour of which Mr. Thomas Thorne is often so happy an exponent. The difficulties of the theme, regarded from any point of view, are considerable, not the least of them being the danger that the public may feel their intelligence to be trifled with by the introduction of a live and active Cupid among a set of characters who are not even as far removed from modern life as those of The School for Scandal. It was not announced that the piece would forthwith be put into the evening bill.
The Pall Mall Gazette (15 January, 1889)
“THAT DR. CUPID” AT THE VAUDEVILLE.
DETERMINED once more to outwit the first night “wreckers,” whom he holds in perhaps exaggerated horror, Mr. Thorne produced Mr. Buchanan’s new comedy, “The Dr. Cupid,” at the Vaudeville yesterday afternoon, before an audience consisting mainly, in the reserved parts, of critics and actors, among whom were Mr. Toole, Miss Harriet Jay, Mr. Arthur Dacre, Mr. Arthur Stirling, Mr. John Coleman, Miss Norreys, Mr. Yorke Stephens, Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Jones, and others. Mr. Buchanan acknowledges a slight indebtedness to Foote’s farce “The Devil upon Two Sticks,” from which he has borrowed an incident in the first act; otherwise his play is entirely original. This incident, however, is the starting-point of the play, which is fantastic in style and supernatural in machinery. Heine as well as Foote seems to have been laid under contribution. The magic bottle belongs to the English Aristophanes, but for its contents Mr. Buchanan has surely gone to the “Gods in Exile” of the German Lucian. There is also a strong suggestion of Mr. Gilbert in the love-at- cross-purposes which forms the matter of the second act; but Mr. Buchanan’s humour is quite innocent of the peculiar Gilbertian twist. Harry Racket, a Cambridge undergraduate of eighty years ago, whose name conveniently indicates his habits, has had foisted upon him by an old usurer a collection of worthless “curios.” Among them is a glass jar, labelled “Amor vincit omnia sed scientia captat amorem,” and containing, apparently, an india-rubber doll, and in a fit of despair at the contrariety of the world in general Master Harry seizes the jar and flings it into the fire. Instantly the stage is darkened, and a quaint figure is dimly seen crouching in the fireplace. This is none other than Cupid, now an aged and somewhat rheumatic deity, who has been “bottled” since the reign of Elizabeth, and now, in gratitude to his deliverer, devotes himself to his service. At the end of the first act, the pair take flight to Bath, after the manner of Faust and Mephistopheles in the recent Lyceum spectacle. In the second act, Dr. Cupid, passing as Harry Racket’s tutor, sets the world of Bath by the ears and no whit advances his pupil’s cause. He speeds the shafts of desire so much at random (his cocked hat symbolizing his bow) that every one falls in love with the wrong person, the hero and heroine quarrel desperately, and society is reduced to an amatory chaos. The only sentiment in which all are agreed is a longing for vengeance on the sportive old blunderer who has wrought all the mischief. In the third act, fortunately, a little diplomacy and a few well-directed darts put matters straight again, and the “sweet bells” of matrimony are no longer “jangled out of tune and harsh.” It cannot be said that Mr. Buchanan has altogether avoided the pitfalls of vulgarity which obviously beset such a theme, but he has produced an adroit, lively, and sufficiently novel play, exactly suited to his actors and his audience. It was received with acclamation by the afternoon public, and there is no reason why it should not prove equally attractive “at night.” Mr. Thorne’s Dr. Cupid is a quaint and genial performance; Mr. Frank Gillmore plays Harry Racket with plenty of youthful spirit; Miss Winifred Emery as the heroine gives us no cause to regret too poignantly the absence of Miss Kate Rorke from the cast; Mr. Cyril Maude scores a great success as a stammering lover; Miss F. Robertson and Miss Dolores Drummond are sufficiently amusing as two amorous ladies of a certain age; and Mr. F. Thorne is excellent as a testy and hypochondriac country squire. The dresses, designed by Mr. Karl, are extremely quaint and effective, and it must be added that the performers wear the high-collared Tom and Jerry coats and Directoire skirts of our grandfathers and grandmothers with remarkable ease.
The Daily News (15 January, 1889)
MR. BUCHANAN’S NEW COMEDY
AT THE VAUDEVILLE.
The audience at the Vaudeville Theatre yesterday afternoon found Mr. Robert Buchanan in a new mood. “Sophia” and “Joseph’s Sweetheart” presented us with genuine comedy scenes and delightful pictures of English domestic life in byegone days. “That Doctor Cupid” deals also with the past; but it is conceived in a widely different vein. Its author describes the play as “fantastic,” and the epithet is certainly not misapplied. We gather from the acknowledgment that he has borrowed a hint from Foote’s old farce “The Devil on Two Sticks,” which in its turn was indebted to the “Diable Boiteux”; but the treatment, no less than the conception, is rather in the spirit of Mr. Gilbert’s “Creatures of Impulse,” and here and there it is impossible not to be reminded of the immortal John Wellington Wells. Still there is a boldness and decision amounting in themselves to originality in the way in which Mr. Buchanan—without the aid of music, so potent in taking the reason prisoner—goes about the business of uniting the real with the ideal, the matter of fact with the supernatural and blending with these incongruous elements the boisterous mirth which is apt to render wild imaginings rather absurd than impressive.
It would not be easy to recall a piece more likely in manuscript to inspire doubts and fears in the breast of a cautious manager than Mr. Buchanan’s latest production. “How will the audiences take it?” we can well imagine Mr. Thorne asking himself, when he found that they were to suppose him to be coming forth after a captivity of three centuries, not from the huge sealed glass jar from which the once famous Mr. Wieland in the character of Asmodeus was wont to emerge, but from a squat quart bottle such as we see upon apothecaries’ shelves. There had been little in the first act or prologue to which this furnishes the climax to warn the spectator of so large an impending demand upon his faith. On the contrary, the scene had been pervaded by a graceful sort of realism, rendered all the more striking by the elegance of the costumes, which belong to the early years of the present century. We are at Cambridge in the lodgings of Harry Racket, a gay, handsome, and idle undergraduate. When the canting money lender makes his appearance and declines to assist his victim further unless he accepts as part of the usurious loan wine of doubtful and old “curios” of still more doubtful character; when the impulsive young lady who has won his heart makes her appearance in company with her charming friend, Mrs. Bliss the youthful widow, and under the escort of a matter-of-fact aunt, we are in the realm of comedy, polished in dialogue, clever in situations, and admirably acted by Mr. Frank Gillmore, Miss Winifred Emery, Miss Marion Lea, and Miss F. Robertson. When the bolt falls at last, and Sir Timothy Racket’s letter announces the final discarding of his scapegrace nephew, something even approaching to serious interest is attained for the young lovers—left alone, it must be confessed, in rather improbable fashion by the watchful aunt—part with vows of constancy. It is at this point that Racket in his despair dashes the bottle which forms part of the money-lender’s consignment of curiosities into the grate. Then the stage is darkened, strange lights glimmer and flash, and forthwith the temporarily cramped and bowed Dr. Cupid emerges from the chimney-place. He is explicit as to his pedigree; and announces himself as no other than that mischievous boy who plays so prominent a part in the love stories of classic fable, though now somewhat aged and rheumatic through long confinement. No evil compact in the manner of Mephisto is that which he proposes. It is only to go to Bath and see life, and do what in him lies to aid in turning the true love of Harry and Kate into smoother channels. It is on this understanding that Dr. Cupid and his youthful deliverer disappear through the open window into the dusk that broods over the town of Cambridge. Words would fail to tell what scenes ensue in the ante- room of the new assembly at Bath under the reign of Beau King, who figures among the dramatis personæ, and who in 1806—the period of the story—had just succeeded to his stately office. Still more should we be at a loss to tell of the ingeniously complex game of cross-purposes which goes on in the third act at the site of “The Lovers’ Well.” It is all because of “that Doctor Cupid” that couple after couple catch the amatory infection; that Miss Lea, turned cruel to her stammering lover Charles Farlow, is smitten with the attractions of the undergraduate, with whom she insists with a delightful recklessness upon executing wild snatches from Sir Roger de Coverley, while her friend Kate, torn with jealous fury takes refuge in the arms of the hitherto hated Fungus. To the doctor’s ever ready “whiz” and dart from his invisible bow, we owe it again that Sir Timothy Racket’s designing old housekeeper makes love, as indeed does even the gentle Kate for awhile, to this irresistible personage, till all Bath seems to be involved in most admired disorder. Out of this chaos in the end, however, peace and contentment are finally evolved; in brief, the evil-minded are defeated and exposed, the true lovers are reunited, the irascible and self-willed Sir Timothy is brought to his senses, and Dr. Cupid speaks the last word—
Rejoice and echo in your exultation
The song of love that first awoke creation,
the curtain falls. Without unflagging spirit and thorough sincerity in the acting it might fare ill with a piece so wildly extravagant; but Mr. Buchanan has been in this respect singularly fortunate. There is no limit to Mr. Thomas Thorne’s vivacity and agility in the part of the Doctor. The “gay restlessness of limb” which Leigh Hunt discovered in the actor Lewis is certainly not wanting to Mr. Thorne; nor is the abandonment which never suffers the spectator to consider the why and the wherefore of his strange behaviour. Miss Emery’s sweet, good-natured impulsiveness and Miss Lea’s overflowing fun and banter serve equally in good stead; and Mr. Frederick Thorne contributes in the violently self-willed hypochondriac Sir Timothy a study of character which is one of the most effective factors in some of the best comedy scenes in the play. As to Mr. Cyril Maude’s stutter, which compels him in despair to write the declaration of love which he cannot otherwise make thoroughly intelligible, it is quite indescribable in its mirth-provoking qualities. The minor parts assigned to Miss Dolores Drummond, Mr. Wheatman, Mr. Buist, and Mr. Pagden were also without an exception well played. We have already referred to the costumes. Mr. Walter Crane and Miss Greenaway have helped us to perceive that our great-grandmothers’ attire was not so dowdy and hopelessly old-fashioned as it once was thought; but to know what elegance can lurk in the round gowns and furbelows, the high waists and large “ridicules,” the scarves and the sashes of the days when King ruled over the New Assembly Rooms, the curious should see the ladies in Mr. Buchanan’s play. A similar remark, with due abatement for the less graceful sex, applies to the high collared, gilt buttoned, swallow- tailled, green, red, and claret-coloured coats, and the dove and canary breeches and pantaloons of the gentlemen. Mr. Gillmore not only plays but looks the young college exquisite of the period to the life. Whether the fantastic extravagances of Mr. Buchanan’s piece are “for all markets” can only be proved when it is transferred to the evening bill, and submitted to the approval of a more normal tribunal than that which gathers at a first matinée performance; but that they greatly diverted the audience yesterday was abundantly evident in the enthusiastic reception accorded to all parties concerned.
The Morning Post (15 January, 1889 - p.5)
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new three-act comedy, entitled “That Doctor Cupid,” was produced at the above theatre yesterday afternoon. The author calls it “fantastic,” a term which implies a departure from the ordinary lines of comedy, and, in fact, the author does entirely get out of the beaten track in the blending of natural and supernatural incidents he has employed. Mr. Buchanan claims to be “new and original” in his plot and characters, with the exception of one scene, suggested by the old farce of “The Devil on Two Sticks,” by Foote, played at the Haymarket as far back as 1768. The comedy opens at Cambridge, and the action is continued and concluded at Bath. At Cambridge University a rattle- brained student, Harry Racket has spent all his money, offended his uncle upon whom he is dependent, and is in the clutches of the money-lenders, while he has engaged himself to Kate Constant, a pretty young heiress who will lose her fortune if she encourages the scapegrace. Harry has borrowed money of a Mr. Plastic, who makes it a condition of the loan that he shall accept a parcel of stuffed birds and curiosities, and these being sent to his rooms just as Harry’s uncle, Sir Timothy, has written to discard him, the young man in a fit of passion begins to smash the article the money-lender has sent. Among them is a singular old-fashioned bottle, in which some object has been preserved, but when the young man flings it in the fire-place the room grows dark, and there emerges a fantastic figure, who yawns and stretches himself, and inquires if Queen Elizabeth is dead. Being assured that Good Queen Bess is no longer on the Throne the strange personage explains that he has been shut up in the bottle by Dr. Dee, but that his mother was Venus Aphrodite, and that he was once the naughty little boy who turned the heads of all the maidens. Delighted with his freedom, he proposes a compact of the Faust and Mephistopheles kind, only that gratitude induces him to ask no recompense for his services. He promises to aid Harry in obtaining the forgiveness of his uncle and also the lady’s hand. With alacrity the hero accepts the offer, and only desires to be taken to Bath, where Kate is staying. The next act takes place at the Bath Assembly Rooms, where Dr. Cupid, arrayed as a dandy of the period, makes havoc with the fair visitors. They are in a flutter of excitement, and never was seen such an epidemic of flirtation amongst that staid assemblage. Beau King, the master of the ceremonies, is horrified, and requests Dr. Cupid to preserve a little decorum, but the gay old boy, who appears as Harry’s tutor, cannot restrain himself, and the consequences are perplexing in the extreme. Every gentleman is paying devoted attention to the wrong lady, and every lady is suddenly smitten with violent fancies for the suitors of their lady friends. To crown all the mischief “That Doctor Cupid” is doing, he has caused another lady to fall desperately in love with Harry, and Kate, in passionate jealousy, has promised her hand to Lord Fungus, whose suit had been already urged by her aunt. The scene of confusion at the fall of the curtain on the second act was wildly farcical but unquestionably funny, and the audience awaited in a merry mood the scheme by which true lovers would be reconciled and false ones put to shame. This is accomplished by Dr. Cupid, who, repenting his volatile conduct, undertakes to work upon the amatory feelings of the personages concerned, with the result that Harry and Kate make up their quarrel, and the gouty and fierce old uncle, who has been the prey of his housekeeper, is made to understand her mercenary motives and forgives his nephew, the comedy ending with a few lines in which Love is eulogised as the chief cause of human happiness. The piece is undeniably “fantastic;” in fact, it would seem that Mr. Buchanan has taken a leaf out of Mr. Gilbert’s book, as it only needs some lyrics added and the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan to make a comic opera of the kind so long popular at the Savoy. This will be a recommendation to many, and for those who can enjoy a little “Topsy- turveydom” of the Gilbertian school “That Doctor Cupid” will find much favour. It was greeted with hearty laughter and applause during its progress, and at the close the author was called for and welcomed cordially. There is a prominent character in the new comedy for Mr. Thomas Thorne, who plays Dr. Cupid with genuine humour. The gaiety and whimsicality of the character recalled the days when Mr. Thorne used to play so gaily in burlesque. But there is a neatness and polish in his acting of Dr. Cupid which raises it far above mere burlesque, and he delivers the fanciful lines with so much point that the author has reason to be grateful to him, while the audience applauded heartily. Mr. Fred. Thorne appears as Sir Timothy Racket, the gouty old uncle, who is cajoled by his housekeeper and is violently offended with his nephew. Mr. Fred. Thorne made the blustering, foolish old fellow amusing and eccentric enough. Much commendation may be given for the easy and natural manner in which Mr. Frank Gillmore represented Harry Racket, the wild young Cambridge student, over head and ears in love and in debt, and full of mischievous pranks as well. As Charles Farlow Mr. Cyril Maude was amusing in making fun of the peculiarities of a stuttering lover, who, though absurd, is still a gentleman; Mr. Wheatman, in the character of Barney O’Shea, a college servant, efficiently sustained his little part; and some refinement of manner was appropriately employed by Mr. Scott Buist as Lord Fungus. The few lines allotted to Mr. Pagden as Plastic, a money-lender, were carefully delivered; and Mr. F. Grove, as Beau King, of Bath, may be credited with doing his best. Excellent aid was given in the performance of the heroine, Kate Constant, by Miss Winifred Emery. The gushing affection, the caprices of temper, the wayward moods and sudden jealousy of the heroine when under the spells of Dr. Cupid were productive of much amusement. Miss Emery was very successful throughout. Miss Marion Lea as Mrs. Bliss, a young widow with a tendency to flirtation, which makes her an easy victim to Dr. Cupid, was excellent; and Miss Dolores Drummond gave a clever rendering of Mrs. Veale, the artful and intriguing housekeeper; and the amusing quaintness of Miss F. Robertson as Miss Bridget Constant, the heroine’s aunt, greatly increased the fun of the comedy. It would be “breaking a butterfly on the wheel” to subject a merry bit of extravagance like “That Doctor Cupid to severe criticism, or to pull to pieces the foundations upon which it is built. Few will be disposed to pick critical holes in a fabric specially constructed to amuse light-hearted playgoers, who will, we have little doubt, appreciate the harmless fun and the capital acting when “That Doctor Cupid” has the chief place in the evening programme. The fantastic comedy was completely successful, and great praise must be awarded for the admirable manner in which it is placed upon the stage.
The Standard (15 January, 1889 - p.3)
Mr. Thorne yesterday afternoon produced a new play, That Doctor Cupid, by Mr. Robert Buchanan. The play begins in the room of Harry Racket, a young spendthrift, who is amusing himself much, and reading little, at Cambridge in the time of George III. He is over head and ears in debt, which troubles him the more because his uncle, Sir Timothy Racket, is displeased at his behaviour, and that displeasure means the loss of the hope of marrying Kate Constant, a charming girl, to whom he is attached. Racket is living on borrowed money; the last loan has been advanced partly in the shape of curiosities—butterflies, skulls, stuffed birds, and a mysterious bottle, which latter he breaks in a fit of despair, brought on by the news that he is cut off by his uncle, and forced to renounce Kate. But a marvel happens. As the bottle breaks in the fireplace, where he has thrown it, darkness overshadows the room, and a strange figure, in Elizabethian dress, steps from the chimney. It is Dr. Cupid, the veritable God of Love, grown old and very stiff by reason of centuries of confinement in his glass prison. Dr. Cupid is bound to help the man who releases him, and informs Racket that he may command obedience. Kate has gone to Bath, so thither Racket would go also; and, clinging to the Doctor’s coat tails, he jumps from the window. Bath is the scene of the two following acts, and it is soon made evident why Sir Timothy is prejudiced against his nephew. The old man has a designing housekeeper, Mrs. Veale, who has made up her mind to marry her master, and to do this she must keep Racket out of favour. But Dr. Cupid is a potent ally, for with a shaft from his invisible, but not inaudible, bow he can make people fall in love just as he chooses, and he sets to work: the trouble being, however, that, grown old and out of practice, he sadly blunders, and Racket’s position becomes worse than ever, Kate is incensed with him and vows she will marry his rival, Lord Fungus, and other couples are set by the ears. This second act drags somewhat towards the end, when the plot becomes rather involved; however, the complications are effectually cleared up by Dr. Cupid.
The comedy is cleverly acted. Mr. Thorne takes for himself the part of the irresistible old Doctor, and gets much fun out of it, particularly in the last act, where, in order to divert the currents of love which are flowing in the wrong directions, he has to direct them to himself, and flirt with all the ladies in the story, one after another. Mr. F. Thorne gives a spirited and diverting picture of the testy and irritable uncle. Perhaps the prettiest episode in the play is in the second act, where Sir Timothy is almost induced by Kate’s caresses to promise his nephew forgiveness, in spite of the best endeavours of Mrs. Veale to keep up the quarrel. Sir Timothy’s yielding to the girl’s persuasion is naturally done—there is a skilful indication of a soft spot in the old man’s heart. Miss Winifred Emery makes a charming Kate, a young lady who knows her own mind and likes to have her own way, but is devoted to her lover before all else. Mr. Frank Gilmore carries out the author’s idea as Racket, and Mr. Cyril Maude as Racket’s friend, Farlow, ventures, with no small success, to gain laughter by the risky device of a bad stutter. There is decided humour in this performance. Miss F. Robertson, as Kate’s severe aunt Bridget (who, in spite of her severity, falls in love with the Doctor), Miss Drummond as Mrs. Veale, and Miss Marion Lea as Mrs. Bliss (a young widow with whom Farlow is in love, but whose affections the Doctor estranges), all helped to gain a favourable reception for the piece, in which Messrs. Wheatman, Scott Buist, Pagden, and F. Grove also fill small parts. The dialogue is well written, though not remarkable for special wit or humour, and some of the lines are rather coarse. The name of the Divinity is more than once introduced by Mr. F. Thorne, and this irreverence cannot fail to offend many hearers. At the fall of the curtain the actors and the author were called and applauded.
St. James’s Gazette (15 January, 1889 - p.6)
“THAT DOCTOR CUPID.”
THE new play by Mr. Robert Buchanan produced at the Vaudeville yesterday afternoon is less after that dramatist’s customary manner than after Mr. W. S. Gilbert’s as displayed in his “Foggerty’s Fairy” or his “creatures of Impulse.” This latter piece, indeed, “That Doctor Cupid” resembles in motive as well as in method, for it deals with the impulsive love affairs of a number of people peculiarly affected by a supernatural influence suddenly introduced in their midst. The proceedings, accordingly, of the dramatis personæ belong half to comedy and half to fantastic extravaganza; and as the scene is laid in that eminently prosaic period the beginning of the present century, the general effect is bizarre and a trifle bewildering in its incongruities. The rooms of a dashing undergraduate at Cambridge somewhere about the year 1810 are about the last place in the world where one would expect to see a sprite uncorked from a bottle and let loose upon society; while formal ladies in the short-waisted dresses of our grandmothers and stiff gentlemen with knee-breeches and high coat-collars seem the unlikeliest of folk to cut eccentric capers at the bidding of the little god of love. These emphasized improbabilities, or we should rather say impossibilities, all belong to the deliberately adopted scheme of Mr. Buchanan’s work, which has at least the merit of striving to get out of the beaten track and to achieve some fresh kind of interest. Upon the ordinary three-act comedy introducing old-English characters—the testy uncle, the spendthrift nephew, and the fashionable dames taking the waters at Bath—“That Doctor Cupid” is certainly a daring innovation. For this reason, and because its dialogue is written with some sense of literary taste, it deserves consideration more favourable than could be commanded by its somewhat obvious humours, its perfunctory development of plot, and its extremely mild sympathetic interest. With its oddity, in fact, ends it chief claim upon public attention; and it is, perhaps, doubtful whether this claim would be allowed by a general audience at night as freely as it was by the special class of playgoers present at its trial trip yesterday afternoon.
The story is of the simplest, and makes but one bold demand upon the spectator’s imagination. It is necessary to fancy Mr. Thomas Thorne, when dressed in the garb of an eighteenth century pedagogue and called Dr. Cupid, gifted with the magic power of controlling the affections of all at whom he shoots his imaginary arrows. This once granted, the whole joke becomes reasonable enough in its unreason. Immediately upon being let out of his bottle by Harry Racket, an impecunious undergraduate, the elderly and rheumatic love-god becomes his liberator’s slave. It is Dr. Cupid’s self-imposed task to effect a reconciliation between Harry and that young gentleman’s hot-tempered uncle Sir Timothy, who, under the influence of his scheming housekeeper and intending bride, Mrs. Veale, has vowed to cut his scapegrace nephew off with a shilling. It is also Cupid’s mission to win for Harry the hand, as he has already won the heart, of his wealthy cousin Kate Constant, whose aunt Miss Bridget has promised her to Lord Fungus. To begin with the worthy tutor—for it is in this capacity that Cupid is introduced by Harry to the Bath Assembly Rooms—bungles like any ordinary mortal over his undertaking. With the best intentions in the world he sets every one at cross purposes, making Kate grow madly jealous, involving Harry in a quarrel with his best friend, and contriving to render Sir Timothy more angry than ever with his nephew by associating him with the exposure of Mrs. Veale’s duplicity. It is in this act—the second—that occur the best scenes in the play and the most entertaining sketches of character. Prominent amongst these latter are a gushing young widow—played with excellent discretion by Miss Marion Lea, a young comedienne of welcome promise—and an ardent lover with a desperate stutter, very cleverly and naturally rendered by Mr. Cyril Maude. The Sir Timothy of Mr. F. Thorne was a little noisier than he need be, but was full of appropriate spirit, while Miss Dolores Drummond is not to be held accountable for the strong similarity between the old invalid’s housekeeper and Mrs. Subtle of “Paul Pry.” Of course in the third act Dr. Cupid has to get his protégé out of the trouble into which he has brought him; and this he does by resorting to the very simple tactics which might just as well, and much more plausibly, have been employed at first. By shooting his darts, not haphazard but with a definite aim, by a whispered explanation here and a word of good counsel there, he very soon makes smooth the road of love for all who ought to tread it. Miss Winifred Emery’s Kate is a damsel so winning that every one is glad to see her frankly expressed passion rewarded at last; and the Harry Racket of Mr. Frank Gillmore is a sufficiently manly fellow to deserve his good fortune in spite of his reckless folly.
The Daily Telegraph (15 January, 1889 - p.3)
Mr. Buchanan’s new play is by no means free from the inconsistencies and anachronism which a dramatic author may be said to impose upon himself by importing the supernatural element into pieces intended for the stage. Nor is the fundamental idea, the plot, or the action of “That Doctor Cupid” characterised by striking originality. On the contrary, the piece suggests pleasant reminiscences of old-fashioned fictions and modern “topsy-turvy” plays, in which immortals, malignant or benevolent, exert their powers, each after his or her kind, to complicate the problems or unravel the tangles of human destiny. The play, however, is an amusing one—brightly written, cleverly constructed, and, more especially throughout its second and third acts, teeming with high spirits, even to overflowing. Its story may be briefly summarised.
Dan Cupid, fallen from his high estate in Olympus, and become an imp of Lucifer, has suffered a further and scarcely less disastrous mischance. Some three centuries before the period at which Mr. Buchanan introduces him to us, he has somehow lapsed into the thraldom of an Elizabethan chymist, who has bottled him in spirits, like a surgical “preparation,” and labelled him with an enigmatical Latin device. Reduced by magical art to the dimensions of a dull, ever-young Eros has been a pickle, not in the figurative but in the literal sense of the word, from the days of “good Queen Bess” down to those of “George our King,” when a curious bill-discounting transaction brings him to light, as part of the “consideration” for a three months acceptance, in the rooms of a dissipated undergraduate, on the eve of expulsion from Cambridge University for having played the dickens with his time, his prospects, and his college-tutor. This too-sprightly youth, Mr. Harry Racket, has started in his academical career with every advantage that a freshman could wish for—a comfortable independence, a wealthy bachelor uncle afflicted with the gout and fondly attached to him, robust health, inexhaustible animal spirits, and the love of a pretty cousin, herself an heiress, and moreover one of those delightfully irrational girls, so plentiful in the Georgian dramatic and literary period, who liked men all the better for being gamblers, drunkards, and libertines, and regarded respectability of conduct in a lover as a matrimonial disqualification. Despite all the favours, however, that Dame Fortune has lavished upon Mr. Racket, that curiously worthless person, when the piece opens, has contrived to wreck his actualities and expectations alike. He has squandered his patrimony, involved himself in heavy pecuniary embarrassments, provoked his rich relative to disinherit him, and piled Pelion upon Ossa in the way of obstacles to his union with the object of his affections. The “Bottle Imp,” in company with a stuffed monkey, a limp heron, and a peculiarly repulsive hippopotamus scull, reach him just as he has attained the nadir of desperation. In an outburst of futile fury he hurls it and its crystal prison into the fireplace. Darkness, thunder, and crimson fire ensue in due course; and presently an elderly rheumatic Cupid is disclosed, cowering on the hearth, but emancipate from the restraint to which he has been subjected for 300 long years. During the interval, as he promptly explains, Love has vanished from the earth, his place in the hierarchy of human passions having been supplied by Plutus, who has superintended ad interim the matrimonial arrangements previously confided to Eros. Cupid, now liberated, proposes to resume his antique rule over human hearts and hands, and places himself at the disposal of his hap-hazard deliverer, in order to rescue the latter from the sea of troubles into which his follies and extravagances have plunged him. The immortal Archer cannot aid Mr. Racket with hard cash, which is what he chiefly needs; but he sees his way to make things comfortable by exerting his influence in another direction, and with his pledge to do this thing endeth the first act.
In Act II. “Doctor” Cupid, who has lost touch with “the thoughts that sway mankind” during his long confinement, makes “confusion worse confounded” by an injudicious and indiscriminate propagation of the tender passion in the breasts of all the dramatis personæ with whom he is brought into contact at Bath, whither he has accompanied his protégé for the express purpose of rehabilitating Mr. Racket in public and private opinion. In fact, he involves that “mauvais sujet” in so disastrous a muddle that Racket, after all but throttling the God of Love, banishes Eros from his presence, and lays a bitter curse upon him into the bargain. Cupid will not be thus ignominiously dismissed, and devotes himself throughout the third act to undoing his infelicitous achievements and settling matters to rights in the good old conventional manner. The “subjects” upon which he practises his subtle arts are two widows, one mature and formidable, the other young and susceptible; a frisky but immaculate maiden lady, well in years; a gushing spinster of “sweet seventeen”; and a sexagenarian hypochondriac, the willing slave of a “fine, furious temper.” All these he subdues to his will; so that, in the end, everybody up to a certain age is made happy, and the older characters, while taking a back seat in the matter of personal bliss, are enabled to take their appointed places in the group of the final tableau with an aspect of sympathetic complacency.
“That Doctor Cupid” is vivaciously acted throughout by all the “principals,” and its subordinate parts, on the whole, are efficiently filled. Mr. Thorne’s impersonation of the Love God “sur le retour” is in many respects unexceptionable; but we venture to suggest that his assumption of rheumatic dolour during the first act is out of keeping with the superhuman nature of the spirit whom he represents. He is, however, a delightful Cupid, brimming over with erotic enthusiasm and sly humour, aptly expressed in action as well as in words, and no one can wonder that maid and widow alike should succumb to his wiles, which are simply irresistible. We have never seen a better choleric old uncle than Mr. Frederick Thorne in the part of Sir Timothy Racket, nor a cleverer character sketch than that of the stammering, amorous, excitable, easily-jealous Charles Farlow, drawn a master-hand by Mr. Cyril Maude. As a humorous study of a distressing physical infirmity, this is really a chef-d’œuvre, worthy of unqualified praise. The comic vigour displayed by Mr. Maude in two or three of his “exits” is absolutely superb. Miss Emery, as Kate Constant, the impulsive girl who dearly loves a rake, reveals a romping sprightliness for which her more sentimental impersonations had by no means prepared us, and proves her to be as efficient, by reason of her unflagging spirits and keen sense of humour, in farcical comedy as she unquestionably is in “society drama.” Miss Marion Lea makes an altogether fascinating young widow, in admirable contrast to the other bereaved lady, Sir Timothy’s designing housekeeper, who finds an excellent representative in Miss Dolores Drummond. Finally, the part of the amative old maid, who sets her cap at Love himself, incorporate in Mr. Thomas Thorne, is at once winsomely and discreetly played by Miss F. Robertson. The piece, tastefully mounted and dressed, was a complete success, and we entertain no manner of doubt that “all London” will flock to the Vaudeville Theatre throughout many a month to come, in order to enjoy a hearty laugh at the quaint freaks and ludicrous eccentricities of “That Doctor Cupid.”
The Glasgow Herald (15 January, 1889 - p.5)
OUR LONDON CORRESPONDENCE.
65 FLEET STREET,
. . .
A trial performance was given at the Vaudeville Theatre this afternoon of a new three-act comedy entitled “That Doctor Cupid,” by Mr Robert Buchanan. It is understood that the piece was written with the intention that it should succeed “Joseph’s Sweetheart,” the run of which is now nearing its termination, and happily for the author and the management the verdict of to-day’s audience was wholly favourable. At first it seemed as if smart dialogue would have to atone for a common-place plot. Harry Racket is a dissipated Cambridge undergraduate, who has alienated his rich uncle Sir Timothy, and is a prey to the money-lending fraternity, though he retains the affections of his cousin, Kate Constant, a very lively young person, quite innocent of maidenly coyness and timidity. Harry has to accept a loan, partly in cash and partly in “curios,” and among the latter is a singular bottle, which in a fit of passion he smashes. It contains the spirit of the god Cupid, who, on resuming his bodily form in the person of Mr Thomas Morney, is found to have become a rheumatic old gentleman. He promises every assistance to his deliverer, but at first he only complicates matters by causing every girl to fall in love with his young protégé. In the end, however, he proves more serviceable by pairing off a number of eligible people. This fantastic idea, of course, recalls “Le Diable Boiteux,” and some were present who remembered Mr Geoffrey Hudson’s impersonation at Drury Lane. But the details are new, and there is much that is bright and amusing in Mr Buchanan’s latest effort. The rhymed tag, in which there is a slight aroma of poetry, brought down the curtain very effectively. The author was fortunate in his exponents—Miss Winifred Emery, Miss Marion Lea, Mr T. and Mr F. Thorne, Mr Frank Gillmore, and Mr Cyril Maude being the most prominent members of an excellent cast.
The Stage (18 January, 1889 - p.9)
On Monday afternoon, January 14, 1889, was produced a new and fantastic comedy, in three acts, written by Robert Buchanan, entitled
That Doctor Cupid.
Sir Timothy Racket ... ... Mr. Frederick Thorne
Harry Racket ... ... ... Mr. Frank Gillmore
Charles Farlow ... ... ... Mr. Cyril Maude
Barney O’Shea ... ... ... Mr. J. Wheatman
Lord Fungus ... ... ... Mr. Scott Buist
Plastic ... ... ... Mr. Pagden
Beau King ... ... ... Mr. F. Grove
Doctor Cupid ... ... ... Mr. Thomas Thorne
Miss Bridget Constant ... ... Miss F. Robertson
Mrs. Veale ... ... ... Miss Dolores Drummond
Mrs. Bliss ... ... ... Miss Marion Lea
Kate Constant ... ... ... Miss W. Emery
It is, it must be confessed, a somewhat difficult matter to justly value this latest work from Mr. Buchanan’s versatile pen. It defies analysis: described as a “fantastic comedy,” it opens with a vein of serious dramatic interest, later it develops into the supernatural, treated after the Gilbertian method, and finally it winds up with rattling farcical comedy. The supernatural introduction of the title character is avowedly taken from The Devil on Two Sticks, an old play of ephemeral popularity, in its turn founded upon the celebrated Le Diable Boiteux. The scene of the first act is laid at Cambridge, in the college rooms of one Harry Racket, the spendthrift hero of the play. This young fellow, having by his madcap tricks worn out the patience of his rich and gouty uncle Sir Timothy, finds himself penniless and deeply in love with his pretty cousin, Kate Constant. Kate returns his love, but her aunt favours the suit of a certain wealthy Lord Fungus, so the lovers have only to mingle their tears, swear constancy, and part. This they do, leaving Harry solus: he, in a despairing mood, soliloquises and picks up an old jar, one, it should be explained, of several “curiosities” that have been foisted on him as part exchange for a bill by a rapacious money lender. Addressing the quaint doll-like figure preserved in the jar, he moralises upon the vanity of human wishes, and becoming persuaded of the futility of his life, pitches the jar into the fire. With strange result, for the scene darkens, thunder is heard, the fire burns uncannily, and out of the glow waddles an elfish creature who, stretching and yawning, gradually discovers himself as a full-grown and rheumatic person of more than middle-age, attired in Elizabethan ruff, doublet, &c. To the bewildered youth’s naturally curious questions the strange figure introduces himself as Cupid, and explaining that through the evil machinations of an alchemist he had for three centuries been confined in the bottle, whence young Harry Racket had just released him. In proof of his gratitude for the service, he offers to assist Harry to regain his uncle’s favour and Kate’s hand. His means, however, to Harry’s regret, do not extend to the supply of unlimited cash, though they are potent enough to enable the pair to set out on an aerial journey for Bath, the scene closing in semi-darkness as the companions step from the window-sill. In the second act, “at the ante-room of the Assembly Rooms, Bath,” Cupid appears as Harry’s tutor, adopting for the purpose the title of Doctor. Sir Timothy enters, attended by his housekeeper, Mrs. Veale, a scheming person, who humours the irascible old hypochondriac, with a view of marrying his money, and the remaining characters are introduced, including Charles Farlow, an excitable, stuttering young fellow, in love with a roguish widow, Mrs. Bliss; Lord Fungus, the suitor to Kate Constant; and Beau King, the master of the Assembly Room ceremonies. In his endeavours to serve his master, Dr. Cupid makes blunders sufficient to set everyone by the ears. All the women but Kate fall in love with Harry, with the result that Kate throws him over for Lord Fungus, and Sir Timothy, furious at Mrs. Veale’s desertion, also renounces him, the act closing with a general denunciation of the author of the mischief. The third and concluding act, which passes on St. Valentine’s morning at the Lover’s Well, Bath, serves the unlucky Cupid with an opportunity of undoing the mischief he had unwittingly brought about. Harry and Kate, Farlow and Mrs. Bliss are united, old Sir Timothy relents, and the curtain falls on general happiness as Cupid, released from his debt of gratitude to his liberator, prepares to return to his classic home, there to renew his youth, and, it may be supposed, his mythical duties. In the two last acts there is ample scope for fun in the farcical intermixing that goes on through the ill-managed zeal of Cupid, and on these must the success of the play chiefly depend. There is considerable ingenuity and much boisterous humour in the intrigues developed, and on Monday the two acts proceeded with a running accompaniment of laughter and applause. The play is now put in the bill as the permanent evening attraction, and will doubtless draw for a considerable run, though there is room for doubt whether it will rival in success the two clever comedies from the same pen which it succeeds. That Dr. Cupid is a daring, almost a brilliant piece of work, and one, in its dealing with a difficult subject, of notable interest to experts in play-writing is certain, but there is a want of human interest in its characters that, with the general public, may tell prejudicially, despite its high spirit and unbounded humour. The dialogue is pointed and close; it contains some lines which on Monday lent themselves to risky misconstruction, and might be revised with advantage. The date assigned to the play, the beginning of the present century, gives scope for some bright and effective dressing of the high-waisted Kate Greenaway costumes for the ladies, and the equally quaint and picturesque coats and pants of our great grandparents’ days. Mr. Thomas Thorne made a most diverting Cupid; had the part been in the hands of any but an experienced and popular comedian, the success of the piece must have been endangered;—a difficult part, indeed, to play, but Mr. Thorne made every line and incident tell with his quaint humour. Mr. Frederick Thorne gave a highly-finished character sketch of Sir Timothy. Every peculiarity of the gouty, testy, self-willed old fellow was marked out with rare artistic skill; throughout he was pictured to the life. Young Racket—the name gives an index of the character—was played briskly and capitally by Mr. Frank Gillmore, whose performance gives promise of better things than the part allows him opportunity for. Mr. Cyril Maude as Charles Farlow gave an extraordinarily funny rendering of a stammering dandy lover, whose tongue fails him in the impetuosity of his love and jealousy. The remaining male characters, of minor importance, are efficiently done, Mr. F. Grove in particular being excellent as Beau King. Miss Winifred Emery played Kate Constant with that lackadaisical gush which appears to have been so generally characteristic of ladies of the period, and with no little charm of her own superadded. Miss Marion Lea exactly caught the spirit of her part, as a coaxing, pouting young widow; while the maiden aunt, Miss Bridget Constant, and the scheming Mrs. Veale, were played by Misses Dolores Drummond and Fanny Robertson respectively, in a proper vein of caricature, funny enough, but not over-acted. The dresses, by the way, were from designs by Karl, and executed by Messrs. Nathan and Sons. At the conclusion of the matinée on Monday there was enthusiastic applause, the company were recalled, and finally the author, who bowed his acknowledgements for the unmistakeable favour with which the play was received.
The Graphic (19 January, 1889)
IN That Doctor Cupid, produced at a matinée at the VAUDEVILLE on Tuesday, Mr. Buchanan confesses to have taken the hint from Foote’s once famous farce founded upon Le Diable Boiteaux of Lesage; and it must be confessed that he has gone about the business of uniting sober reality with supernatural agency in a thoroughly confident and decided fashion. When we say that a little squat figure, preserved in an apothecary’s bottle about two feet in height, is supposed to be Cupid, in the person of Mr. Thomas Thorne, grown old, but, like Anacreon in his decline, still stirred by amatory raptures, we have said perhaps enough to show that the dramatist shrinks from no demand upon the faith of the spectators. This mystic element is introduced as the climax of a purely comedy-scene supposed to pass in the lodgings of young Mr. Racket, an extravagant scapegrace-undergraduate at Cambridge, in or about the prosaic period of 1806. Nothing, it must be confessed, in the colloquy between Harry racket and the extortionate money-lender, who insists on his victim accepting a mass of old curiosities—the wonderful bottle included —as part of the advance on a note of hand at usurious interest, tends to prepare the mind for the startling incident which follows, when Racket dashes the bottle, in his rage, into the empty fire-grate. Still less does the tender scene between him and his faithful sweetheart, Miss Kate Constant, broken-hearted at being commanded by her imperious aunt to renounce the scapegrace who has been discarded by his gouty and furious old uncle, Sir Timothy, give warning of the sudden darkening of the stage as the bottle flies into fragments, or the mystic flashes of light for the sudden appearance of Mr. Thorne as the wayward son of Aphrodite, sadly cramped and bowed by his three centuries of confinement, but ready as ever to play havoc with the hearts of men and women. But Dr. Cupid merely offers to take his deliverer to Bath, show him the fashionable world of that idle resort of health and pleasure-seekers, and there wait for something to turn up.
The succeeding two acts are a giddy whirl of adventures in the new Assembly Rooms, then under the sway of Beau King, and at the Lovers’ Well on St. Valentine’s Day. Dr. Cupid, with his boundless vivacity, his extravagances and courtly graces, his delight in mischief, his inexhaustible confidence of power, turns Bath, so to speak, topsy-turvey. Lovers quarrel and make it up again; ladies make love to gentlemen, and as often as not to the wrong gentlemen; despairing and discarded adorers revile, and challenge the author of their miseries, and so the gay racket continues, till finally love prevails; and out of this chaos comes order, reconciliation, and reunion—not forgetting, of course, Harry Racket (excellently played by Mr. Gillmore), and his constant Kate, or even the fierce, irascible Sir Timothy. The performers, enter, without a single exception, into the wild spirits of the situation. Miss Winifred Emery as Kate Constant is never for a moment below the high level of good sports which sustains the situation. Not less delightful in another way is Miss Marion Lea’s shy, yet pert, timid, yet coquettish, widow, Mrs. Bliss, whose little encounters with her stammering lover, played with a thoroughly original vein of humour by Mr. Cyril Maude, afford boundless entertainment. A capital bit of humorous portraiture, too, is Mr. Fred Thorne’s gouty, amorous, gullible Sir Timothy, though the picture errs a little on the side of excess of force; and some minor sketches of character by Miss Dolores Drummond, Miss F. Robertson, Mr. Wheatman, Mr. Pagden, and Mr. Scott Buist, were all good in their several ways.
The Era (19 January, 1889)
“THAT DOCTOR CUPID.”
A New and Fantastic Comedy, in Three Acts,
by Robert Buchanan, produced at a Matinée at the
Vaudeville Theatre, on Monday, Jan. 14th, 1889.
Sir Timothy Racket ... ... Mr FREDERICK THORNE
Harry Racket ... ... ... Mr FRANK GILLMORE
Charles Farlow ... ... ... Mr CYRIL MAUDE
Barney O’Shea ... ... ... Mr J. WHEATMAN
Lord Fungus ... ... ... Mr SCOTT BUIST
Plastic ... ... ... Mr HENRY PAGDEN
Beau King ... ... ... Mr F. GROVE
Doctor Cupid ... ... ... Mr THOMAS THORNE
Miss Bridget Constant ... ... Miss F. ROBERTSON
Mrs Veale ... ... ... Miss DOLORES DRUMMOND
Mrs Bliss ... ... ... Miss MARION LEA
Kate Constan ... ... ... Miss WINIFRED EMERY
The author of That Doctor Cupid, which is very correctly called a fantastic comedy, acknowledges that he is indebted for a suggestion for his work to Foote’s famous farce The Devil Upon Two Sticks, produced with extraordinary success at the Haymarket Theatre on May 30th, 1768. He reminds us, though, that Foote’s piece was merely a satire on the medical profession, and boldly asserts that, beyond supplying a leading incident of the first act, it had nothing in common with his latest comedy, “which is otherwise entirely original.” Most English comedies, says an eminent critic, are too long. Now, if it cannot be said that Mr. Buchanan’s fantastic comedy is too long in point of time occupied in the representation, it must be asserted that its fun, of which there is ample for two acts, suffers by being spread over three, and that there is some danger that the laughter which is legitimately produced in the full development of the author’s idea may, before the end is reached, give way to weariness born of vain repetition. Mr. Buchanan has set himself the task of illustrating in humorous fashion the fact that Cupid’s the doctor who enters all portals, sly old concoctor of physic for mortals, and particularly to emphasise the undeniable truth that “sometimes he blunders,” making war where peace should be, and creating hatred where love was looked for. There is, as might have been expected, a distinct literary flavour in the dialogue, with a good deal of wit, spoiled only by the introduction of puns, which have been declared on excellent authority to be the lowest kind of wit. The intrigue, doubtless, is ingenious enough, but at the same time is terribly bewildering. Up to the end of the second act the confusion is diverting, because it is easily followed, but when Doctor Cupid in the third goes to work to correct his own blundering, confusion becomes “worse confounded.” Confusion, however, may be found as welcome in “fantastic” as in farcical comedy, and without a doubt if it make them merry the Vaudeville patrons will not be disposed to complain.
The action opens in the rooms of Harry racket, a student at Cambridge, whose books are the devil’s—that is, they are cards. He has been holding high revel overnight, and has not got rid of the effects of his debauch, when there come to visit him Kate Constant, with whom he is desperately in love, and who is desperately in love with him, and is at no pains to conceal her devotion, notwithstanding that her relatives, including her aunt, Miss Bridget Constant, who accompanies her, desire her alliance with a certain Lord Fungus. Miss Bridget sees the hypocrisy of his studious pretensions, and rates him severely, and his hopes receive a rude shock with the receipt of a letter from his testy old uncle, Sir Timothy Racket, who has heard of his wild “goings on,” and who now declares his intention to disinherit him. It is on the security of his prospects in this direction that Mr Plastic, tailor and money-lender, has made him fresh advances, partly in cash and partly in goods, the said goods being represented by a collection of curiosities, among which is found an antique bottle, containing a strange-looking little figure, which seems to stare at its new owner when he takes in hand its fragile prison- house. Harry Racket, left alone, in his impatience with his ill-fortune, smashes the bottle, and lo! the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls, and through the darkness that suddenly fills the room there is discovered squatting on the hearth a grotesque being, who presently comes forth and to the astonished student introduces himself as Doctor Cupid. He is the veritable son of Venus Aphrodite grown old. He has been shut up in that bottle for centuries, and he is bound now to serve his liberator. He cannot do anything in the financial way, but he pins his faith to the proverbial philosophy that it is better to be lucky than rich, and he is ready to bring luck, and plenty of it, in the favour of the fair sex to his new master. Harry Racket’s only desire at the moment is to be transported to Bath, to which fair city Kate Constant has departed. “Take hold of my coat-tails,” says the doctor, “and the thing is done.”
In the second act we find he has been as good as his word, for the scene is an ante-room in the Bath Assembly Rooms, and here are Harry Racket and Doctor Cupid posing as his tutor. Here, too, we find the hot-tempered Sir Timothy hobbling with the gout, and in danger of falling a victim to the matrimonial designs of his housekeeper and cook and nurse all rolled into one. Here also are Lord Fungus and Charley Farlow, Harry’s stammering friend, and Mrs Bliss, the pretty young widow to whom he has given his heart. Now Doctor Cupid begins to enjoy himself and to make use of his power. Unfortunately, being, as he puts it, out of practice, he blunders terribly, and succeeds only in setting the whole company at loggerheads. He reckons without Love’s constant attendant, which is Jealousy, and ere long poor Kate Constant, persuaded that Harry is false to her, spurns his advances, and accepts the attentions of his mushroom lordly rival. Pretty Mrs Bliss is made to fall in love with Harry Racket, the result being that that young gentleman is challenged to a duel by his quondam bosom friend Charley Farlow. Only in one instance does Doctor Cupid do good service, and this is by causing old Mrs Veale to make up to young Racket, and thus to open the eyes of Sir Timothy.
In the third act, the scene of which is the Lover’s Well at Bath, Doctor Cupid, soundly rated by his master, and threatened with dismissal, goes to work to undo the mischief he has caused, and begins by making all the ladies in turn fall in love with himself, and in the end he not only sets the course of true love running smoothly, but rids Sir Timothy of his gout and his artful housekeeper by one clever move, and brings about reconciliation between uncle and nephew, declaring with a sentiment that tells somewhat against his own special faculty that there is one thing that is better than young love, and that that one thing is kindly old age.
Mr Thomas Thorne entered thoroughly into the spirit of the author’s idea in the part of Doctor Cupid, and at the pranks of this elderly love-god shooting his imperceptible arrows from an imperceptible bow the audience laughed heartily, especially when, making love on his own account, he was the object of the caresses of ladies young and ladies old, who put their heads upon his shoulder and their arms around his neck, and called him “dear” and “darling.” The chief acting honours, though, were fairly and properly divided between Miss Winifred Emery and Mr Cyril Maude. The former represented Kate Constant, and put feeling as well as fun into her work. Quite delightful was her share of the first scene between Kate and Harry, where, making the best use of their opportunities, they indulge in a good deal of osculatory exercise; and quite charming in its almost tearful naturalness was her declaration that, in spite of opposition, she would wait, and wait, and wait for him even until she grew as old—as old as Auntie, a declaration at which “Auntie,” whose airs and graces were amusingly put on by Miss Fanny Robertson, was terribly shocked. In the later scenes, too, in the exhibition of Kate’s jealousy, and in her “spooning” under the influence of the mischievous Doctor, Miss Emery played with delightful appreciation of the spirit of the work, and was admired of all. To the credit of Mr Cyril Maude may be placed the fact that in Charles Farlow he gave us the very best stammering swell we have had on the stage since Sothern’s Dundreary. The audience roared over his expression of love, and roared again over his expression of jealousy. Mr Frank Gillmore gave amusing emphasis to the trials of Harry Racket, and the bluster of old Sir Timothy was comically brought out by Mr. Fed. Thorne. Miss Dolores Drummond gave undeniably clever treatment to the part of Mrs Veale, and a fascinating Mrs Bliss was found in Miss Marion Lea. The minor parts of Lord Fungus, Barney O’Shea, servant to Harry Racket, Beau King of the Bath Assembly Rooms, and Plastic were well handled by, respectively, Mr Scott Buist, Mr J. Wheatman, Mr F. Grove, and Mr Henry Pagden. In this comedy it was promised that the costumes would give us a reproduction of the dresses worn by our grandfathers and grandmothers, and in the work of “Karl,” who was intrusted with the designs, and of Messrs. L. and H. Nathan, who put the designs into execution, the promise was faithfully fulfilled, providing an interesting study, particularly for the lady visitors. The piece was admirably “put on” by Messrs Maple and W. T. Hemsley, and seemed to give abundant satisfaction, which at the end was expressed in a hearty call for the principals, and fro the author, who made his bow at the footlights. On Thursday evening That Doctor Cupid took its place in the evening programme, and with it we may wish Mr Thorne a continuance of the success he has enjoyed with its immediate predecessor.
The Academy (19 January, 1889 - No. 872, p.47-48)
A FANTASTIC COMEDY.
MUCH reminiscence of eighteenth-century comedy and a little reminiscence of “Faust”—these, with the contributions of his own prolific fancy, are the materials out of which Mr. Buchanan has wrought his new piece for the Vaudeville. Simultaneously with what is meant to be the presentment of the manners of everyday humanity in the last years of George III., there proceeds such action as may be supposed to be the natural consequence of the sudden liberation of one who is none other than Dan Cupid from a bottle in which he has long been confined. Cupid places himself good-naturedly at the service of the youthful gentleman who has accidentally and unconsciously set him free; and through the remaining acts of the piece he is engaged in compassing that youth’s desires, now with much ingenuity, and now with a clumsiness that comes of a want of recent practice. Surprising are the pranks he plays, and the effects of them upon old and young. The scene is laid first at Cambridge, where Cupid is emancipated, and afterwards at Bath, where he practises. His is, undoubtedly, the leading part. The best scenes are the scenes in which he scores, and the movement of the comedy is chiefly in his hands. His character we will not attempt to describe, for he is one of the oldest, one of the most familiar, and, probably, the most popular of personages upon the world’s stage.
But—though we do not propose to follow in any detail the action of the drama—the other dramatis personae must have a word about them, and the literary treatment deserves some notice. In Sir Timothy Racket, whose will or whose ire is an obstacle to his nephew’s marriage, we have, of course, no new creation, but a figure is, nevertheless, presented which the forcible methods of Mr. Frederick Thorne can make spirited and entertaining. Harry Racket is the nephew—a person whose impecuniosity and ardour, whose loves and jealousies, Mr. Frank Gillmore has to illustrate. In every comedy a youthful hero is permitted a friend—not only a “pal,” but an intimate. And in eighteenth-century comedy, and that which takes after it, the friend is kept carefully less interesting than is the youthful leader. Mr. Cyril Maude, partly by aid of his own personality and partly by aid of an assumed stutter, represents that drier and less seductive secondary hero. These are the chief men, though Mr. Scott Buist, Mr. Pagden, and Mr. Grove do more or less effective service in the minor characters required by a comedy of old-world fashion, in which, of course, there must needs be a young man’s man-servant, in which there must needs be a money-lender, and in which there may very reasonably be a “beau,” whose function is to exist beautifully. Two elderly women—a Miss Bridget Constant, aunt to the first heroine; and a Mrs. Veale, old Sir Timothy’s housekeeper—are personated by Miss F. Robertson and Miss Dolores Drummond. The impersonation of neither lady passes beyond the limits of the conventional in prudery and the conventional in fascination; but Miss Drummond is the better of the two. For Miss Robertson’s part the presence and the mannered piquancy of Miss Larkin—so long connected with the Vaudeville—would have been a distinct advantage. As Kate Constant, the popular Miss Winifred Emery is agreeable and sufficient. In a part more charged with feeling the delicacy of her touch is wont to be more perceptible. Mrs. Bliss, an exceedingly youthful widow, of whom the second hero is enamoured, is played, with humour and largeness of gesture, most thoroughly in the spirit of the time, by Miss Marion Lea, who, in the quaintest of costumes, looks, for the life of her, like a desirable Hoppner. She does all that can be done. But the part which overshadows the rest is that of Dr. Cupid, in which every possible opportunity is given for the display of Mr. Thomas Thorne’s humours. Yet, notwithstanding the excellence of his chances and the skill with which he uses them, there is nothing in Dr. Cupid that need cause Mr. Thorne to withdraw his preference, lately made public, for the part of Parson Adams.
To the ingenious construction of the piece witness has already been borne. Yet it is a little doubtful whether it was not in pure extravaganza—extravaganza untouched with realism—that there lay the best occasion for the development of such a theme as that of the new play. As for the writing, Mr. Buchanan has his poetic moments, and then he returns to the recollection that he long ago decided to be a popular dramatist. His gift of fancy is his own. By dint of labour he seems witty; and, out of reverence perhaps for the plain utterance of the eighteenth century, he essays to be forcible. His genuine natural gifts, the School he more or less imitates was wholly without. It had them no more than it had Charles Lamb’s tranquil yet wandering humour. But, on the other hand, that School’s completed art—the completed art of Sheridan—would acknowledge only a very distant connexion with the roughish dexterity of the modern playwright.
The Illustrated London News (19 January, 1889 - p.6)
“THAT DOCTOR CUPID.”
Mr. Robert Buchanan, singularly successful in adapting a brace of old English novels to the Vaudeville stage under the titles of “Sophia” and “Joseph’s Sweetheart,” has had the good fortune to furnish Mr. Thomas Thorne with a fresh triumph in the form of a new “fantastic comedy” of an Asmodean character. “That Doctor Cupid,” essayed at a Vaudeville matinée on the Fourteenth of January, occasioned so much merriment by its droll situations and diverting acting, surprisingly finished for a first morning performance, that it was resolved to place the novel play in the evening bill the same week. “That Doctor Cupid” escapes from his bottle, after the fashion of “Le Diâble Boiteux,” in the nick of time to come to the rescue of Harry Rackett, a young Cambridge student, who, over head and ears in debt as well as over head and ears in love, finds himself in danger of losing the lass he loves. How vivacious and irrepressibly rakish Dr. Cupid spirits him away to fashionable Bath, causes every lady to fall in love with Harry, and thereby provokes his own dear Kate, out of pique, to accept the hand of a rich suitor, but eventually reconciles hero and heroine, must be seen to be appreciated. From first to last, “That Doctor Cupid” won the favour of the audience; and at the end of the piece Mr. Buchanan was warmly applauded. As “That Doctor Cupid” Mr. Thomas Thorne was remarkably lively, and won many a laugh by the effectiveness of his archery. Miss W. Emery and Mr. Frank Gillmore were altogether admirable as Kate and Harry Rackett; and Mr. Cyril Maude, in a capital stuttering part, and Miss Marion Lea were similarly good; while Mr. Frederick Thorne, Miss Dolores Drummond, and Miss F. Robertson infused the requisite amount of humour into the character-sketches of Sir Timothy Rackett, Mrs. Veale, and Miss Constant.
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (19 January, 1889 - p.12)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN’S new comedy That Doctor Cupid, successfully tried at the Vaudeville on Monday afternoon, is a piece which seems eminently likely to provoke considerable differences of opinion. One can imagine different playgoers pronouncing it clever and silly, fresh and familiar, smart and aimless—and all with some reasonable justification. About one thing there can be no doubt: the play is an odd one, and marks what is for this particular theatre a completely new and very bold departure. Though its characters in their short-waisted frocks and straight skirts, their coloured swallow-tails and high collars, belong to much the same period as the dramatis personæ of recent productions here, they are of a wholly different order of creation. Motive and colouring alike are fantastic, and the action is so wholly irresponsible that the staid society of Bath ninety years ago is made to put up with the wild antics appropriate to Gilbertian fairy play or Palais Royal farce. Then again the supernatural element introduced is treated with anything but reverence, and yet is all-important to the plot, whilst the romantic interest of the story has genuine sentimental significance. The dialogue is telling without being witty, and if occasionally deficient in refinement is yet not wanting in literary taste, whilst the characters are drawn with a certain fresh force, though they most of them have their obvious prototypes. In fact, That Doctor Cupid is a strange medley of fairy extravaganza and genuine comedy, more curious than interesting perhaps, but at any rate quite capable of affording a pleasant entertainment for an empty afternoon. It remains, however, to be seen whether now that it is promoted to the post of honour and responsibility in the regular evening programme it will satisfy equally well the demands of the general public; for, as has been often proved, the successful matinée is one affair, and the popular evening run is something quite different.
In its essentials the plot of the new piece is simple enough. The first act shows how Harry Rackett, a prodigal undergraduate, is brought to despair by financial ruin; how his crusty uncle, Sir Timothy, vows to disinherit him; and how he will be thus compelled to give up his pretensions to the hand and fortune of his charming cousin, Kate Constant. It is at this crisis that a strange thing occurs in the young man’s rooms at college. Breaking an old bottle, part of the proceeds of his dealings with a money-lender, Harry Rackett sets free the God of Love, who, in the guise of an old world pedagogue, has it seems been imprisoned for centuries. Out of gratitude the cramped and rheumatic Cupid can do no less than offer to exert his supernatural powers on his liberator’s behalf: so as Harry wants to follow his lady-love to Bath, he is bidden to grasp the worthy Doctor’s coat-tails, leap from the window, and literally fly to Kate’s feet. Arrived at the Assembly Rooms, Dr. Cupid soon outrages Beau King with his eccentric proceedings, for, shooting his arrows indiscriminately, he produces in the ball-room a sudden outburst of promiscuous flirtation, of outspoken love-making, and—in the case of one or two elderly dames—of shameless coquetry. The fact is that the love-god is old, and has grown clumsy for want of practice during his long confinement in the bottle, the result being that instead of helping his protégé he only complicates his position still further. It would serve no useful purpose to tell in detail how, just when pretty Kate with her winning ways has just persuaded the irritable hypochrondriac Sir Timothy to forgive his scapegrace nephew, Dr. Cupid interferes, and makes the old man more incensed than ever by demonstrating the faithlessness of Mrs. Veale, the scheming housekeeper, whom he is about to make Lady Rackett. Then there are the fascinating young widow Mrs. Bliss, and her stammering admirer Mr. Farlow, whom the Doctor sets at cross purposes by causing the lady to believe herself beloved by Rackett and making the stutterer furiously jealous. Kate’s aunt and guardian, Miss Bridget, Dr. Cupid fascinates on his own account, being naturally much troubled by the result of his personal triumph; whilst, to complete the confusion, Kate is driven by pique into the arms of Harry’s rival, Lord Fungus. It must be confessed that these rapid intrigues, if exhilarating, are more than a little bewildering, and that the fun which follows in the éclaireissement of the third act is of a rather artificial kind. But the laughter provoked before the well-meaning Cupid corrects his blunders and brings down the curtain with a moral sentiment is frequent and hearty, whilst the rapid succession of more or less ridiculous love scenes is kept up with brisk ingenuity.
Doctor Cupid was a risky piece to act, for a moment’s flagging or loss of confidence would have been fatal. No such moment, however, came, and the performance was not less brisk than skilful throughout. To begin with, Mr. Thomas Thorne capers and ogles ad bustles through the part of the released sprite with much animation and genuinely grotesque effect. He is, perhaps, a little over-noisy at the end of the second act, but this may be readily forgiven for the sake of the quaint spirit infused into the impersonation. His brother, Mr. F. Thorne, throws the vigour of old comedy into his sketch of the testy but soft-hearted Sir Timothy, but some of his language would be all the better for a little moderation. Mr. Cyril Maude makes one of the hits of the performance by the singularly natural and laughable stammer with which he endows the unfortunate Farlow, and Miss F. Robertson as Miss Bridget, and Miss Dolores Drummond as Mrs. Veale, bring out happily the humours of the tender passion as experienced by dames of uncertain age. Miss Winifred Emery makes a delightfully self-willed damsel of Kate; Mr. Frank Gillmore bears himself well as the gallant spendthrift; and Miss Marion Lea as a susceptible young widow shows a sound sense of comedy. These impersonations, together with those contributed by Messrs. F. Grove, Scott Buist, and others, help to make an ensemble which gives the eccentric comedy its best chance of hitting the public taste with fun which has to be fantastic and yet not wholly unreasonable, and spirited without being boisterous.
Lloyds Weekly London Newspaper (20 January, 1889 - p.5)
Discarding Fielding, Mr. Robert Buchanan has turned to the supernatural for the subject of his latest three-act comedy, That Doctor Cupid. The piece is designed to occur at the beginning of the century at Cambridge and Bath, but would be far more appropriately fixed at a German university where superstition and Faust legends are ever popular. Harry Racket, the hero of Mr. Buchanan’s fantastic effort, is a handsome young man, with all the vices of drinking, gambling, and borrowing. A moneylender palms on to him. as portion of value for an I O U a number of unconsidered trifles and curios, among which is a curious imp in a bottle. The strange thing seems to glare and mock at the young man, and he dashes the frail glass violently to the ground. Instantly—as sudden as the apparition in Faust—there rises up a supernatural creature, who announces himself as the real original Cupid, son of Venus Aphrodite. He has been confined in the bottle for a period of three centuries, and proposes to aid his deliverer in all matters without the objectionable bond that is such a feature in Goethe’s version of demoniac aid. Doctor Cupid admits at the outset that he cannot command money but he can command love, and the first act closes as the first scene of the Lyceum Faust, with the departure of Racket—by the aid of his new friend’s cloak—for Bath. The supernatural is subordinated to the comic element, so that the demoniac effects are not very strong. Let it be said at once that Mr. Thomas Thorne plays this middle-aged Cupid, and that he romps through the two following acts, shooting imaginary darts and making violent love to every female in the play. He is supposed to reconcile Harry’s uncle, and the young gentleman is left with every prospect of happiness in espousing the lady of his choice, Miss Kate Constant. On Monday afternoon, when the fantastic piece was tried at a matinée, it was received with much favour, but Mr. Buchanan might do well to reconsider some of the lines by which he raises a laugh. Mr. Thomas Thorne played Cupid in a whimsical, exuberant fashion that quite won over the audience; and a very odd character sketch of a stuttering lover who can never manage to propose properly was given by Mr. Cyril Maude. The Harry Racket was Mr. Frank Gilmore, a young man of fine presence, who should become a fashionable stage lover; Miss Winifred Emery was the Kate Constant, looking well in the dress of our granddames; and Frederick Thorne was one of those blustering and quaintly irritable uncles always found in old comedy.
The Echo (23 January, 1889 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan should dramatise his novel, “The Shadow of the Sword”; it is one of the finest works of English fiction of the age. His “Martyrdom of Madeleine” should also make a good modern drama. But perhaps Mr. Yates might object. So far, the Scottish bard’s original efforts—Fascination, The Blue Bells of Scotland, and his closer play, The Drama of Kings, have done as little for his reputation as his essay on the “Fleshly School of Poetry.” Per contra, adapting Smollett, Fielding, and Daudet has spelt success for him. Will That Doctor Cupid’s run establish him as an original dramatist?
The Penny Illustrated Paper (26 January, 1889 - p.49)