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[Flowers of the Forest]

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THEATRE REVIEWS

The Flowers of the Forest (1883)

 

The Flowers of the Forest
by J. B. Buckstone.
London: Globe Theatre. 30 June, 1883.
The only example of Buchanan producing a play not written by himself, this was a replacement for Lady Clare and seems to have run for a week, commencing with a benefit performance for Harriett Jay. The final Times advert appeared on Friday, 6 July.
A scene from the play was included in a matinée benefit for Mr. Charles Kelly at the Prince’s Theatre, London on 16 July, 1884.

(Harriett Jay played the role of Lemuel.)

 

Reynolds’s Newspaper (1 July, 1883)

LAST NIGHT’S THEATRICALS.

GLOBE THEATRE.

     After a long and a successful career, Mr. Robert Buchanan’s modern drama of “Lady Clare” has been withdrawn, and is now replaced by Mr. J. B. Buckstone’s old-fashioned melodrama of “The Flowers of the Forest,” in which, in what are called the good old-fashioned days, when half-guinea stalls were unknown, our fathers were content to applaud such well-known favourites as Madame Celeste, Miss Woolgar, Paul Bedford, and Wright, from the popular pit. Judging by the advertisements put forth by the management, the rural locale of the play is in no small measure relied upon for attracting audiences during the hot summer weather, and certainly the mere mention of “English hedgerows,” of “English woods,” and of “green lanes” has an attraction for toiling Londoners in the sweltering month of July, even though the sylvan beauty be but a description of the scene-painter’s art. That the play is well staged there can be no doubt—that it will prove a thing of joy to the management for any length of time is not likely. The “Flowers of the Forest,” as a specimen of an old Adelphi drama, is well worth seeing, but had it been written in the present day its anachronism, its lack of realism, and its inflated dialogue would scarcely have survived the ordeal of a first night; and by comparison with its predecessor on these boards the lack of real interest which it inspires cannot but be apparent to the merest tyro in theatrical matters. On the whole, the melodrama is well cast. Miss Ada Murray is a fairly good Cynthia, and Miss Harriet Jay plays pathetically as Lemuel, the gipsy boy. Mr. Charles Kelly, as Ishmael, “The Wolf,” has but little to do, but he does it well, and is made up in very picturesque fashion; Mr. Alfred Bucklaw, who appears only in the first act, confirms the favourable impression he has already made; and the parts of the Cheap John and the Kinchin are humorously played by Mr. Percy Bell and Mr. H. E. Russell. As Starlight Bess, Miss Clara Jecks scored a distinct success. She was bright and winsome in the earlier scenes, and played with real power in the latter ones. An original prologue, written by Mr. R. Buchanan, was spoken by Mr. H. E. Russell prior to the rise of the curtain. A favourable reception was accorded to the principal performers.

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The Scotsman (2 July, 1883 - p. 6)

     A curious experiment was tried at the Globe Theatre to-night. Pending the production of a new piece from his pen, Mr Robert Buchanan, emulous of the revivals of the “palmy drama” once given us at the Gaiety, has revived the old Adelphi drama “The Flowers of the Forest;” but what Mr Hollingshead did with a purely satirical purpose, Mr Buchanan does in earnest, though the result in both cases is precisely the same—for the first quarter of an hour the audience smiles at the absurdities of the old-fashioned piece, and during the rest of the evening is profoundly bored. “The Flowers of the Forest” was originally produced in 1847 at the Adelphi, with O. Smith, Paul Bedford, Madame Celeste, Miss Woolgar, and Mrs Fitzwilliam in the cast; and though it was popular enough then, it cannot be said to be the happiest of Mr Buckstone’s contributions to the stage. It is, in truth, a most stupid and bombastic production, full of turgid writing, and situations which are intended to be tragic and impressive, but which are only absurd. It is not easy, indeed, to see why it should have been thought necessary to revive such rubbish, unless it is intended as a foil to the piece Mr Buchanan is going to present next. Nor can the play be said to have gained much from the manner in which it was presented. Mr Charles Kelly looked very picturesque as Ishmael, and did what little he had to do exceedingly well, while Miss Ada Murray was a fairly satisfactory Cynthia. But Miss Clara Jecks was overweighted as Starlight Bess, and Miss Harriet Jay as Lemuel looked like a young lady masquerading in a pretty new velvet shooting coat. Other characters were but poorly supported; but it is, indeed, not easy to make anything out of the dialogue allotted to the queer crowd the dramatist gathers together in this play. “The Flowers of the Forest” was received with patience and some applause by a very scanty audience, and the sooner Mr Buchanan produces his new piece, the better for the fortunes of the Globe Theatre.

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The Times (2 July, 1883- p.8)

GLOBE.

     The Flowers of the Forest, a once-famous Adelphi play, is no more than a name to the younger race of playgoers, and it would have been well had the management of the Globe Theatre allowed it to remain on the shelf where it has reposed so many years. Melodrama ages sadly in half a lifetime; histrionic methods and stage effects which commended themselves to an older generation appear weak, strained, and puerile to the present one. Mr. Robert Buchanan, who seems to control the fortunes of this theatre in some occult fashion, has been so far alive to this change of taste that he thought it advisable to preface the performance of the Flowers of the Forest on Saturday night with a rhymed address, spoken by one of the characters, in which he craved indulgence for the revival on sentimental grounds. The feeble response made to this appeal by a scanty audience proved that antiquated melodrama is not to be galvanized into life by a prologue. A dreary evening must have made many sigh for the return of—
         “Murderers in dress suits and swell white chokers,
     “Burglarious mashers and bigamous stockbrokers,”
in preference to Buckstone’s picturesque, but impossible, scenes of gipsy life. The whole spirit of the play divorced it from the sympathy of the house, and the acting certainly did not help to mend matters. It was hard upon so accomplished and refined an actor as Mr. Charles Kelly to ask him to rant and rave in the old-fashioned style of “Smith the terrible;” and it was small matter for surprise that his Ishmael the Wolf, though sufficiently tattered and picturesque in appearance, should appear tame in comparison with the wildness of his sentiments. The representative of Cynthia, too, who kills herself rather than shed the blood of her “gentile” lover at the “Wolf’s” bidding, can scarcely have recalled to old playgoers the romantic and passionate gipsy queen of Madame Celeste. Nor can Miss Harriett Jay’s Lemuel, the gipsy boy, although effective after a fashion, be said to have awakened in the smallest degree the interest or sympathy of the house; while the modern representatives of Wright and Bedford in the comic parts were barely to be tolerated. The only agreeable features of the performance, indeed, were the incidental gipsy dances and the picturesque groupings of the tribe in romantic spots.

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The Pall Mall Gazette (3 July, 1883)

     Buckstone’s once famous drama “The Flowers of the Forest,” revived at the Globe Theatre, has the merit of supplying Miss Harriett Jay with a rôle well suited to the latest development of her talents as Lemuel, the gipsy boy, a character “created” by Miss Woolgar. Miss Jay acts with surprising earnestness, and displays a force which is genuinely dramatic. She is singularly picturesque in appearance, and leaves no aspect of the passionate, vindictive youth unindicated. Miss Clara Jecks supplies some powerful acting as a girl betrothed to Lemuel; and Mr. Charles Kelly, as an Italian gipsy of a sufficiently conventional kind, is adequately gloomy and morose and fatal. Miss Ada Murray, meanwhile, is not strong enough for the rôle of Cynthia, her predecessor in which was Mdme. Celeste. In the comic characters, also, a more powerful interpretation is needed. Recollections of Wright commence to be rare, and those of Paul Bedford even are now far from common. In characters, however, owing to those actors for whom they were specially designed whatever popularity they obtained, young men with no distinctly comic gifts can scarcely hope to win ready acceptance. Before the play, which was received with much favour, an occasional prologue referring to the conditions attending the revival was delivered by one of the characters.

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The Stage (6 July, 1883 - p.9)

GLOBE.

     The Flowers of the Forest was revived at this theatre on Saturday last, June 30. The reproduction cannot, unfortunately, be regarded as a success. Times and the public taste have much changed since the night of March 11, 1847, when, at the Adelphi Theatre, Mr. J. B. Buckstone’s drama first saw the light. But in these days Madame Aleste was present to play with power the picturesque part of Cynthia, and Mr. O. Smith was at hand to act with force as Ishmael, the wolf; there was Mrs. Fitzwilliam to mingle laughter and pathos in the character of Starlight Bess, Wright and Paul Bedford with their inimitable drollery, and last, but not least, there was Miss Woolgar (now better known as Mrs. Alfred Mellon) to win all hearts by her charming pourtrayal of the Gipsy-boy, Lemuel. The lapse of thirty-six years has not destroyed the dramatic value of Mr. Buckstone’s drama, for, though the play be now old-fashioned, it still retains the elements of success. Granted that it were placed upon the stage with all that wealth and richness of scenery which it requires, and, granted also, that the play were acted by a company sufficiently adequate, The Flowers of the Forest might still claim the public’s favour. But when we have a Cynthia who fails to be interesting, a Lemuel who is a namby- pamby youth in velvet breeches, and comic parts represented without humour, it is no wonder that the play which delighted our elders does not succeed. Under such conditions, anything approaching to success is not possible. The revival has probably been thought of so that Miss Harriett Jay might repeat the success that she made as the boy in Lady Clare. But her Lemuel possesses no realisation whatever of the character, and the attempt can only be regretted. Miss Clara Jecks is not equal to the demands made upon her by the part of Starlight Bess, and Mr. Charles Kelly is far too inanimate as Ishmael. On Saturday night the following prologue, presumably written by Mr. Robert Buchanan, was spoken by Mr. H. E. Russell in the character of the Kinchin:—

I beg your pardon, gents and ladies, gay—
I’m the poor Kinchin of this evening’s play;
Sent here, altho’ the younger chaps may smile,
To speak a Prologue in the rum old style!

’Cos why? The manager who keeps this show
[A lady’s in the case, you ought to know]
Intends this werry night, producing here
A famous Play, as once drew many a tear,
’Voke many a laugh, and brought to town-folks’ eyes
The picture of green fields and summer skies.
Now, she’s half fearful this here home-brewed tale
Mayn’t suit a time as turns from honest ale
To that queer foreign claret—now the fury,
Or strong port wine, brew’d yonder at Old Drury.
Vell, I’m a kind o’ link—’twixt me and you—
As joins the good old drama with the new;
For since I first performed the kinchin lay,
I’ve been in every drama of the day.
I likes the old ones best! I’m rayther tired
Of shows the people has so much admired,
With murderers in dress suits and swell white chokers,
Burglarious mashers, and bigamous stock-brokers—
Ain’t you? I likes the smell of country clover,
Old fun, old customs, now for ever over:
The may-pole, and the larking in the meadow,
The gipsies dancing in the greenwood shadow;
The flowers a-blowing and a-growing brightly,
As when brave Buckstone was both young and sprightly.
(wavering) He’s gone!—the last and merriest of his race,
Who brighten’d human nature with his face,
And conjured up, for Londoners’ delight,
The Forest Flowers, that bloom’d for many a night.
He’s gone!—and gone with him are all the rest,
O, Smith the terrible, and bright Celeste;
Bold Wright, whose jokes, tho’ broad, could never grieve you,
And Bedford, with his famous “I believe you.”

Stop! one remains—the world remembers well
The prince of gipsy boys, wild Lemuel;
The masher of the days so long departed,
Woolgar the famous, blithe and merry-hearted;
With pathos, too, right from her heart upspringing,
Clear as a brooklet murm’ring, a lark singing;
I think of her this night with fond regret,
But there, she lives amongst us, honour’d yet.
Long life to Woolgar! may she long be jolly,
And tho’ she’s Mellon, ne’er be melancholy.

Vell, if, to-night, we try with all our skill
To bring the old times back, don’t take it ill;
Don’t think we hopes to rival now-a-days
Those giants of the old Adelphi plays.
Applaud us, if you can, and tolerate us,
And critics, please, reflect before you “slate” us.

(A Whistle off) The prompter’s whistling! so it’s time I ran:
(going, then returning) I say, though, you’ll be friendly, if you can?
We’ll do our best, as often as we may,
To honour dear old Buckstone, and his play.

     It may be added that the scenery used in this revival of The Flowers of the Forest is very poor.

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The Graphic (7 July, 1883)

     The experiment of the management of the GLOBE Theatre in reviving the late Mr. Buckstone’s old Adelphi drama, The Flowers of the Forest, seems likely to achieve little beyond reminding playgoers of the change in the public taste since nearly forty years ago. It is true that without Wright and Paul Bedford, Madame Celeste and O. Smith, nobody, even in those times, ever dreamed of a performance of this once immensely popular play; so that, after all, the fault may not be entirely in the play—simple and obvious as its contrivances for exciting wonderment and alarm or provoking laughter now appear. It is just, however, to observe that it is not in the quality, but in the style that the acting of these times differs from that which was thought—and no doubt justly thought—appropriate to these broadly effective and highly-coloured productions. Mr. Charles Kelly, for example, an actor whose effects are produced by quiet force and concentration, is certainly equal to much better things than the part of Ishmael, which nevertheless he can hardly be said to play well. Miss Clara Jecks’s Starlight Bess is one of the best impersonations of the revival. Miss Harriet Jay’s Lemuel, the gipsy, certainly pleased, though not in so high a degree as her performance of the Eton boy in Lady Clare.

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The Era (7 July, 1883)

THE GLOBE.
On Saturday, June 30th, the “Grand Old Adelphi Drama,”
by the late J. B. Buckstone, entitled
“THE FLOWERS OF THE FOREST.”

Captain Hugh Lavrock     ..........    Mr ALFRED BUCKLAW
Alfred                             ..........     Mr LAWRENCE CAUTLEY
Leybourne                      ..........     Mr SEYTON
Linton                             ..........     Mr CHARLES
Mayfield                         ..........     Mr VIVIAN
Cheap John                     ..........    Mr PERCY BELL
Gilbert                            ..........     Mr A. CHUDLEIGH
Lady Agnes                     ..........    Miss LESLIE BELL
Abigail                            ..........     Miss BELLA LEWIS
Ishmael, or the Wolf         ..........    Mr CHARLES KELLY
Pharos                             ..........    Mr P. C. BEVERLEY
Cynthia                            ..........    Miss ADA MURRAY
Lemuel                           ..........     Miss HARRIETT JAY
The Kinchin                    ..........     Mr H. E. RUSSELL
The Nimmer                   ..........     Miss HANLON
Hagar                              ..........    Miss JOHNSTONE
Starlight Bess                   ..........    Miss CLARA JECKS

     Lady Clare having been withdrawn by the desire of Miss Ada Cavendish, who felt the need of a rest prior to commencing her provincial tour, there was revived at the Globe on the evening of Saturday last, for the benefit of Miss Harriett Jay, Buckstone’s old romantic drama The Flowers of the Forest, rearranged in four acts to avoid those frequent changes of scene which playgoers of the present day are apt to resent. Whatever may be thought or said of the selection of this piece for a benefit, we cannot commend the judgment of those who imagined that it possessed all the elements to secure a prosperous run at this season of the year. Even on the benefit night the audience was very scanty, and but poor business has been done during the past week. The Flowers of the Forest was first produced at the old Adelphi in March, 1847, following the long and successful run of The Green Bushes, by the same author. It was represented by a company which included such artists as Madame Celeste, who was the impulsive Cynthia; Mrs Mellon, then known as Miss Woolgar, as the gipsy boy Lemuel; Mr O. Smith as Ishmael, “the Wolf;” Mr Edward Wright as Cheap John; and Mr Paul Bedford as the gipsy thief called “the Kinchin.” The piece was last played at the house under notice in 1859, when Mrs Mellon and Mr Paul Bedford resumed their original characters, and Mr Toole succeeded Wright as Cheap John, the Cynthia being Mrs Billington, the Starlight Bess—first impersonated by Mrs Fitzwilliam—being Miss Kate Kelly, and Mr T. Stuart undertaking the responsibilities of the part of Ishmael. It must be said at once that The Flowers of the Forest is out of date, and that those now responsible for the management of the Globe would have done wisely to have allowed it to remain on the shelf where it has rested for nearly a quarter of a century. The patrons of the stage in the present day have been educated up to better things, and want something even more persuasive than Mr Robert Buchanan’s prologue, spoken on Saturday night by the Kinchin, to make them willing to accept the high-flown sentiment, the weak plot, the outrageous improbabilities, and the poor stuff that passed for wit in the “good old days.” Captain Lavrock forcing his friend Alfred to a duel with pistols and falling by the gunshot discharged by Lemuel; Alfred being arrested and brought to trial; Lemuel being dragged to the Court of Justice by Cynthia, who has overheard his confession made to Starlight Bess; Cheap John and the larcenous Kinchin posing as barrister and clerk; gipsy revels and readings of the stars nowadays excite but a languid interest, for they are “played out,” and there is not present the old genius that gave them a hold of popularity. The very best feature of the whole revival is the Starlight Bess of Miss Clara Jecks, who, light, bright, and vivacious at first, displays towards the end an amount of emotional power for which we have not previously given her credit. The mental agony of Starlight Bess as she sees Lemuel dragged away by Cynthia to answer for the crime he has confessed was splendidly indicated, and still later in her fear for the result the actress fairly won the sympathies of her audience, who were not slow to reward her with enthusiastic applause. It was all magnificently done, and to Miss Clara Jecks we give hearty and unstinted commendation. Miss Ada Murray made a handsome and imposing Cynthia, and in certain passages of the play acted with effect; but, regarded as a whole, the interpretation of the part was too subdued. There was too much of that “reserved force” which Mr Toole turns to purposes of fun in his most recent success. A similar complaint must be brought against the Ishmael of Mr Charles Kelly. The Wolf by him was transformed into a lamb, and Cynthia libelled him when she spoke of him as her “terrible” father. There was nothing terrible about him. Mr Alfred Bucklaw as Captain Hugh Lavrock, and Mr Lawrence Cautley as Alfred, did all that was possible with the characters, but failed to give them anything like interest in the eyes of those assembled. Nor was Miss Leslie Bell more successful in this direction with the poor part of the Lady Agnes, whose marriage with Alfred is so rudely and so curiously broken off by a too impetuous and meddlesome brother. Miss Harriet Jay having made a decided hit as the boy in Lady Clare, has, perhaps, resolved to play boys’ parts for evermore. her Lemuel was a thoroughly earnest and intelligent assumption, but it never well took hold either upon the sympathies or the interest of the house. Old playgoers who can remember Miss Woolgar in this part will be able to recall how she gave to Lemuel a bold, free, and joyous bearing until the moment of the commission of his crime—a crime that comes of the whipping he has had at the hands of his victim; how well his subsequent fears and remorse were depicted, and how she excited a pity which no knowledge of Lemuel’s guilt could overcome. Miss Jay has much to learn ere she will bear in this character comparison with her famous predecessor. The extravagant business connected with the parts of Cheap John and the Kinchin was very zealously carried out by respectively Mr Percy Bell, who was ready to sell everything, from fiddles to fire-irons and from dustpans to diamonds, and who had for disposal pocket-knives warranted to cut everything on earth, from a pound of butter to an old acquaintance; and Mr H. E. Russell, who tried very hard to be funny as the gipsy thief, counting his spoils and treating himself to “two slices o’ tommy and treacle sneaked from an overfed schoolboy.” It was though all very poor and very heavy fooling. The names of Wright, Bedford, and Toole, doubtless, will ever be associated with these characters, but “the times are changed and we are changed with them.” The piece as revived at the Globe has received all necessary attention in the way of scenery and accessories, but we think it must be said that the “Flowers of the Forest” are faded if not quite dead, and that the attempt to renew their vitality will meet with anything but success.

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Bell’s Life In London (7 July, 1883)

     Although it were vain to hope for a revival of “Flowers of the Forest” equal in strength and character to the original performance by “the immortals” of the Adelphi, one may be surely pardoned for desiring something bearing a closer resemblance to the famous representation by Madame Celeste, Paul Bedford, Wright, and the rest than that which Mr Robert Buchanan has put forward at the Globe Theatre. “Flowers of the Forest” belongs to a class of dramas that might have lived and died centuries ago, so much do they differ from dramas which are the vogue now. There is nothing realistic about them. Except in their display of what a modern writer calls the sovereign passions, they are as unlike natural everyday life as grand opera itself. But, as I am not anxious to write an essay on the subject, let me remark that, except for the boy’s part, which is charmingly played by Miss Harriett Jay, and Miss Clara Jecks’s really admirable Starlight Bess, there is little that is laudatory to be said about Mr Robert Buchanan’s production of “Flowers of the Forest” at the Globe. Need I remark that Mr Charles Kelly has been seen to greater advantage than as Ishmael the Wolf?

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Liverpool Mercury (19 July, 1884)

     The mention of the play scene in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” reminds us to say that it was given with rare humour at a matinée on Wednesday, at the Prince’s Theatre, London. The actors were Mr. Anson, Mr. Lionel Brough, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Righton, and Mr. Macklin. Mr. Brough as the lion and Mr. Anson as Bully Bottom were very amusing. No such hearty laughter has perhaps been heard in any theatre for many a day as the combined exertions of these excellent comedians called forth. If ever Mr. Irving determines to revive the fairy comedy, this combination of talent ought at all hazards to be secured. The performance was given for the benefit of Mr. Charles Kelly, who played with success in Tom Taylor’s “Arkwright’s Wife.” Besides the usual series of songs and recitations, a scene from “The Flowers of the Forest” was given, with Miss Harriet Jay as Lemuel the gipsy-boy. Those among the audience who waited for this last portion of the programme were amply rewarded by a remarkable revelation of tragic power on Miss Jay’s part. But the scene was painful in the last degree; and, besides that it required to be led up to, it was out of harmony with some of the more frivolous items that had preceded it.

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Next: A Sailor and His Lass (1883)

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