37. The Gifted Lady (1891)
The Gifted Lady
(Original title: Heredity)
by Robert Buchanan.
London: The Avenue Theatre. June 2 to June 9, 1891.
Buchanan’s involvement with Henry Lee, of the Avenue Theatre, resulted in a court case in December 1891.
The Morning Post (23 May, 1891 - p.5)
This, Mr. Henry Lee announces, is the last night of “The Henrietta” at the Avenue Theatre. Mr. Bronson Howard’s comedy is to be taken off to make room for a new play by Robert Buchanan, which is in active rehearsal, and is announced for Saturday night, May 30. The company performing in “The Henrietta” will give a morning performance at Brighton on Thursday next.
The Era (23 May, 1891 - p.8)
THE weapons in Mr Robert Buchanan’s armoury are inexhaustible. It was said of Dr. Johnson that when his pistol missed fire he knocked you down with the butt end; and if Mr Buchanan should by any chance fail to demolish an adversary in a ponderous article in the Contemporary, he just scarifies him in a lively letter to the Telegraph, or writes a satirical poem about him, or pops him into his last novel as a comic character. Nay, it should seem that he has yet a further device; for, finding that the hated Ibsen has retaliated for certain Telegraphic denunciations by turning his denunciator out of his own familiar Vaudeville—Ibsen did rather score off the poet that time, really—Mr Buchanan sits down one morning and knocks you off a burlesque of the Ibsen drama, for all the world as if he were Mr Burnand himself. Next morning he appeared in another of his capacities—as the author-manager, much desired by Mr Jones—and took a theatre—the Avenue—whereat to produce his own burlesque; and rumour has it that he is even now hard at work practising a ghostly strathspey, which he will dance as the comic hero of the piece—The MacIbsen, played, of course, by our bard himself.
. . .
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S new play, the title of which is not yet settled, is being rehearsed at the Avenue Theatre, by a company including Mr J. L. Shine, Mr Harry Paulton, Mr Ivan Watson, Mr Fulton, Miss Cicely Richards, and Miss Fanny Brough.
The Derby Daily Telegraph (25 May, 1891 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan is once again to the front in matters theatrical. It turns out that during his recent quiet spell he has been as prolific as ever. He has his knife in Ibsen and will burlesque the Norwegian’s ideas in a comic skit, entitled “Heredity,” to be played next Saturday at the Avenue. On Saturday he and Mr. G. R. Sims read to the brothers Gatti the joint production they have written for the Adelphi, to be provisionally styled “The Roll of the Drum,” and I hear that Mr. Sothern is about to present in New York a three-act comedy, written by the same pair of dramatists.
The Era (30 May, 1891)
TO-NIGHT the curtain falls for the last time on the woes of Hedda Gabler, as presented by Miss Robins at the Vaudeville, and one cannot help wondering whether the Ibsen chapter of British stage history is closed. The present season has been, in actual results, disastrous for the Norwegian playwright. Four of his drama have been acted for the first time in London, for one night, two afternoons, five afternoons, and a few weeks respectively; and the rumours of future productions, once so loud, are heard no more. If discussion be the best advertisement, then has Ibsen been advertised ad nauseam. But, so far, it is in vain; the great play-going public does not take to him. That it is shocked by his work is very doubtful—for the most part it merely stays away. And yet it is more than likely that the effect of Ibsen on our stage—on writers, actors, public, and even managers—will be altogether out of proportion to the apparent result of these productions.
. . .
MR BRONSON HOWARD’S comedy, The Henrietta, was played for the last time at the Avenue on Saturday. The theatre has been closed during the week, but will reopen this evening with Mr Robert Buchanan’s new social drama, entitled Heredity, a satire upon the Ibsen dramas. Mr Buchanan doubtless thinks it is right and proper to chaff Ibsen, but wrong and improper to chaff him. The scene is laid in London, at the present day, and the cast is as follows:—Charles Dangleton, Mr J. L. Shine; Dr. Plainjack, Mr Fulton; Algernon Wormwood, Mr Harry Paulton; Vitus Dance, Mr Lestocq; Vergris, Mr Ivan Watson; Biler, Mr Douglas; Felicia Strangeways, Miss Cicely Richards; Amelia, Miss Lydia Cowell; and Badalia Dangleton, Miss Fanny Brough. We were in error in stating that Mr Buchanan has taken the Avenue Theatre for this production. The theatre will continue under the management of Mr Henry Lee.
The Graphic (30 May, 1891 - p.19)
The AVENUE Theatre, which has been closed since the final representation of The Henrietta on Saturday night, will reopen this evening with Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new social drama entitled Heredity. This piece, which is founded on a Danish farce, is understood to be a satire on Ibsenism. Mr. Harry Paulton will, it is said, represent “the master.”
The Pall Mall Gazette (2 June, 1891)
“The Roll of the Drum” sounds like a very good title for an Adelphi melodrama, and had not some one else been first in the field with it in former years Messrs. George R. Sims and Robert Buchanan would have bestowed it upon the play which they have recently completed by command of the brothers Gatti. No difficulty, however, is likely to stand in the dramatists’ way when they come to select another title, for there is sure to be ample suggestive material in their piece. July will see the novelty produced.
* * * * *
Buchanan, the Bard, seems to be unfortunate all round in his titles. It is announced to-day that the new Avenue piece is not to be called “Heredity” after all, as that title has been claimed. The anxiously awaited “social drama” has accordingly been renamed “The Gifted Lady,” and under that style we shall behold it this evening. “Indisposition” was pleaded as the cause of the play’s postponement on Saturday, but I fancy that a change in the cast at the last moment had more to do with it. A managerial dictum this morning said:— “‘Heredity’ having been described in some newspapers as a ‘skit upon Ibsen,’ the manager desires to explain that the play is a ‘social drama’ of general interest, and not a mere burlesque of other existing dramas. It is particularly requested that the audience will be seated at nine o’clock punctually, as the tragic note is struck on the rising of the curtain.” This sounds promising, but it is not a patch upon the “Author’s Note,” in choicest Buchananese, published the other day. “Colossal Suburbanism” was distinctly good.
The Pall Mall Gazette (3 June, 1891)
“THE GIFTED LADY” AT THE AVENUE.
Mr. Robert Buchanan unwittingly told the truth last night when in his comic “Author’s Note” to “The Gifted Lady” he remarked that the power of the work lay in its “colossal suburbanism.” Now, “colossal suburbanism,” if it means anything at all, must surely signify “supreme dulness,” and this is exactly what we find in Mr Buchanan’s “new social drama.” The writer has certainly aimed high in the present case. His object has been to pen a biting satire upon Ibsen and all his works, a satire calculated to bring confusion to the souls of the Norwegian dramatist’s admirers, and to raise a shriek of laughter at their expense. But, unfortunately, an important ingredient has been left out of the composition of “The Gifted Lady.” Mr. Buchanan has forgotten the fun. Of heavily-laboured ridicule there is an abundance; of genuine wit not a scintilla. Imagine “The Colonel” with all the humour knocked out of it; substitute for the æsthetic craze which forms the pivot of that play Ibsen’s dramatic methods, and the personages of his various plots, and you have “The Gifted Lady.” It is not a farce—it is a burlesque; but a burlesque with no music, no dancing, no brightness, no merriment, no gaiety. An audience came to the Avenue Theatre last night ready to roar their ribs out over the witticisms which, according to report, were to flash meteor-like across the comparative dimness of the playhouse throughout the entire evening. But the sparkling jests were never spoken, and those who had made up their minds to laugh merely remained to titter spasmodically and with an effort, to yawn, and finally to doze.
The Standard (3 June, 1891 - p.9)
The fun of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s “new social drama,” The Gifted Lady, was somewhat discounted by the production of the merry little burlesque of Ibsen at Toole’s Theatre on Saturday afternoon. And, indeed, it had previously been, to no inconsiderable extent, anticipated by Mr. Burnand’s comedy The Colonel, and by Mr. W. S. Gilbert’s Patience; for the creatures of Ibsen are often only the æsthetic eccentrics of a few years since, with a difference. The reductio ad absurdum is very soon reached when the personages of the Norwegian dramatist are introduced; they and their phrases are easily and effectively parodied, and, though the plot of The Gifted Lady is neither strong nor really new, the piece answered its purpose in provoking very hearty laughter. The “gifted lady” is Mrs. Badalia Dangleton, wife of a dramatic author, and an author, moreover, of comic plays. She is emancipated—as likewise are her parlourmaid and page—and emancipated friends surround her, to the great annoyance of her husband. Badalia is attracted by what she regards as the genius of the poet, Algernon Wormwood, a fantastic impostor who had been a draper’s assistant before he adopted the new craze; and Wormwood frequents her house with two kindred spirits in Vitus Dance, the critic of the future, and Vergris, a French poet fin de siècle. The ridiculous airs and graces of Mrs. Dangleton, and the solemn impostures of Wormwood and his friends, are so dwelt upon as to fill out three acts; and there is also another emancipated being, Mrs. Felicia Strangeways, who kept a lodging-house at the seaside before her emancipation, and has deserted her seven children, including two recent twins—particularly avoided because twins are so conventional—to follow the footsteps of the ridiculous poet. “I had to do it—there was no other way!” is her excuse, and this characteristic Ibsenism never misses fire. Wormwood is seen at home in the second act. His dramas are rejected. One manager returns his masterpiece—it is explained that they are consecrated into masterpieces by the world’s rejection—with the cruel remark that the theatre does not want ventilation, but when it does he will be willing to treat for a piece so well calculated to take the roof off; and Wormwood at length determines to abandon emancipation, and try the drapery trade, which he does after an ugly encounter with Dangleton. Dangleton has meantime become—or has affected to become—Ibsenistic and uncomfortable, his wife perceives her folly, and finally recovers her senses.
It is impossible to say how much the piece—which was to have been called Heredity had not a claim been made to the title—owed to the spirited performance of Miss Fanny Brough as Badalia Dangleton. She entered thoroughly into the spirit of the satire, and made her points with unfailing precision. Miss Cicely Richards and Miss Lydia Cowell also played with clever appreciation of their tasks as Felicia, the fugitive landlady, and Amelia, the emancipated maid. Mr. Harry Paulton rather overdoes the burlesque of Algernon Wormwood. So preposterous a creature is almost outside the limits of farce; but he is quaint in an extravagant fashion, and proves diverting. Mr. Vernon, if not particularly well-placed, affords useful assistance as Dangleton. Mr. Lestocq is the critic, and Mr. Ivan Watson gives an entertaining sketch of the drunken French poet, Vergris. The audience laughed and applauded, and at the fall of the curtain players and author were called and congratulated.
The Scotsman (3 June, 1891 - p.7)
This evening yet another burlesque on Ibsen was presented, for though the piece is aimed generally at “emancipated” men and women, incidentally it caricatures features not only of “The Doll’s House,” but of “Hedda Gabler” and of “Rosmersholm.” The title of the piece is “The Gifted Lady.” It is from the pen of Mr Robert Buchanan, and has seen the light for the first time at the Avenue. It is hardly possible to predict for it a long career. It has many smart, rememberable lines, but there is too much sameness in the satire for the purposes of three acts. Mr Buchanan tells a consecutive story, but it is so preposterous in itself that one cannot readily tolerate it for the two hours and a-half or thereabouts to which it ran to-night. Mr W. H. Vernon here plays the husband of an emancipated female (Miss Fanny Brough), who fancies she is in love with a draper turned poet—Mr Algernon Wormwood (Mr Harry Paulton.) Her husband, by way of turning the tables upon her, pretends to be also swayed by the theory she professes. In illustration of this, he makes violent love to his wife’s friend, and to her maid-servant. At length, exasperated beyond endurance by her husband’s irresponsible conduct, the wife repents of her old behaviour, gives up the “unconventional,” and falls back contentedly, and even happily, upon the commonplace. This, of course, is a mere skeleton of the plot, which is filled out with some ingenious characterisation and many bright incisive sayings aimed at the gospel of Ibsen and other foreign masters. The piece was to have been called “Heredity,” and that would have described it better than “The Gifted Lady,” which is too vague. It essays to do for the “individualistic” craze intensified by the Ibsenite propaganda what “The Colonel” did for the æsthetic craze; but the comparison is hardly favourable to Mr Buchanan, whose work lacks variety and vivacity.
St. James’s Gazette (3 June, 1891 - p.4)
“THE GIFTED LADY” AT THE AVENUE.
Mr. Robert Buchanan has delivered himself into the hands of his enemies. He has attempted to burlesque Ibsen, and in so doing has effectually shown that he can be even duller than the writer he sets forth to ridicule. True, he has got at his finger-ends all the jargon of the “new” school. He can prate of heredity, of individualism, of the evolution of the soul. He can introduce to us the emancipated woman, the critic of the future, the poet fin de siècle. But when he proceeds to deal with his material, to set his puppets in motion, the poverty of his stock-in-trade becomes at once apparent. It is all such vieux jeu; the thing has been done over and over again, and, if the truth must be told, so much better done. Mr. Burnand proved this in “The Colonel” and, not to mention other examples, Mr. Gilbert in “Patience.” In each instance the author gave us wit without vulgarity, fun without coarseness. Mr. Buchanan might have done worse than follow in their footsteps, for he, it is fairly obvious, “jokes wi’ deeficulty,” and certainly with no great sense of discrimination. His humour constantly strikes one as laboured, and if at times he does succeed in tickling “the ears of the groundlings,” it is by means which “cannot but make the judicious grieve.” Should any one doubt the accuracy of the statement, let him repair forthwith to the Avenue Theatre, where last night Mr. Buchanan’s new social drama, “The Gifted Lady,” was produced. In it he will find a mixture of French farce, English pantomime, and Norwegian clumsiness, not too skilfully mingled. Of the true spirit of travesty the piece possesses little or none, while the dialogue is sadly wanting in those essential qualities, brightness and polish. To relate the plot, such as there is, would be merely to recount a twice-told story. In short, Mr. Buchanan has gone forth to the fray armed with a bludgeon in place of a rapier; and his blows fall harmless, for the simple reason that he never gets within arm’s length of his antagonist. Not even the assistance given last night by a loyal band of followers could avail anything in the fight, labour howsoever gallantly they might. Miss Fanny Brough and Miss Cicely Richards did all in their power to arouse interest in Badalia Dangleton and Felicia Strangeways, two “emancipated women,” and it certainly was not their fault if their efforts failed to convince. Nor could Mr. W. H. Vernon, Mr. Harry Paulton, Mr. W. Lestocq, and Miss Lydia Cowell, despite all their cleverness, succeed in permanently vitalizing the “white donkey of Dangleton,” of which so much was heard and so little seen. Ibsen has been made responsible, no doubt deservedly, for much; but his crowning sin is to have inspired Mr. Buchanan to write “The Gifted Lady.”
The Times (4 June, 1891 - p.13)
The best of jokes may be spoilt by over-elaboration, and this is a little the case with Mr. Robert Buchanan’s three-act burlesque of Ibsen which was given at the Avenue Theatre on Tuesday night under the title of The Gifted Lady. A terribly elaborate joke is that which takes two hours and a half in the telling. Obviously such a result can only be due to a considerable wandering away from the point at issue on the part of the narrator, and it is the fact that Mr. Buchanan frequently drifts from Ibsenism into ridicule of the æsthetic craze of a few years ago, reminding the spectator of The Colonel, and even of the French piece upon which The Colonel was founded, Le Mari à la Campagne. Heredity is the subject of some agreeable banter, but the string which Mr. Buchanan chiefly harps upon is the predilection of Ibsen’s female characters for individualism, for living their own lives in their own way, regardless of the interests of home or husband. The gifted lady who illustrates this thesis is in some degree a compound of Hedda Gabler and Nora Helmer, but her affinities are mainly with the wife who was satirized some forty years ago in the French piece above quoted. The society she affects is that of a dramatist, a poet, and a critic “of the future,” who are all précieux ridicules of as grotesque a stamp in their several ways as Mr. Burnand’s devotees of the sunflower. It is Miss Fanny Brough who takes the part of the “emancipated woman,” and she has often been seen to better advantage. Messrs. Paulton, Ivan Watson, and Lestocq are the male guys of the piece. Of them equally it may be said that in the long run they are quite as tiresome as they are satirical. We have also an emancipated housemaid in Miss Lydia Cowell, who wears a “divided skirt,” and another female monstrosity—this time of the Ibsen pattern—in Miss Cicely Richards, who makes up after the manner of Miss Marion Lea as Thea. The husband of the gifted lady—Mr. W. H. Vernon—it may be added, cures her of her folly by the time-honoured method of similia similibus curantur. He affects individualism too, and in the end his wife, who has meanwhile been disappointed in her æsthetic poet, finds it possible to live with a “funny man.” For the purposes of this last-mentioned joke, Mr. Buchanan, we hasten to say, is at pains to describe his hero as a writer of comedies and farces. The piece, it will be seen, is altogether too diffuse and too long-drawn-out. Compressed into one act its humour might be effective. But three acts of Mr. Robert Buchanan are not, on the whole, greatly preferable to three acts of Ibsen himself as an entertainment.
Somewhat late in the day Miss Norreys has essayed the part of Nora in A Doll’s House at the Criterion. She acted, of course, with intelligence, though accentuating, perhaps unduly, the frivolous and irresponsible side of the character, but there was nothing in the performance to correct the pretty general feeling that for the present we have had enough of Ibsen’s heroines.
The Stage (4 June, 1891 - p.9)
On Tuesday evening, June 2, 1891, was produced at this theatre a new “social drama,” in three acts, written by Robert Buchanan, entitled:—
The Gifted Lady.
Charles Dangleton ... ... Mr. W. H. Vernon
Dr. Plainchat ... ... ... Mr. Sidney Howard
Algernon Wormwood ... Mr. Harry Paulton
Vitus Dance ... ... ... Mr. W. Lestocq
Vergris ... ... ... Mr. Ivan Watson
Biler ... ... ... Mr. R. H. Douglass
Cabman ... ... ... Mr. G. Arnold
Badalia Dangleton ... ... Miss Fanny Brough
Felicia Strangeways ... ... Miss Cicely Richards
Amelia ... ... ... Miss Lydia Cowell
At the last moment the title of Mr. Buchanan’s piece had to be changed. It was Heredity, and it became The Gifted Lady. Fortunately, titles never matter much, as was shown, to quote one case among many, by that clever satire upon æstheticism, The Colonel, which ran hundreds of nights at the old Prince of Wales’s. On the face of it the programme does not indicate any intention on the author’s part of burlesquing Ibsen; but the action does not proceed very far before we became aware that in the “gifted lady,” who is played by Miss Fanny Brough, we have a compound of Hedda Gabler and Nora Helmer, while her emancipated sister, as embodied by Miss Cicely Richards, is a reflection of the Thea of Miss Marion Lea, jacket, hat, skirt, and general provincialism, all complete. We have mentioned The Colonel, and it is by no means an accident that Burnand’s amusing satire of the æsthetic should occur to the mind in this connection. Mr. Buchanan has been generally credited with the intention of burlesquing Ibsen, but the scope of his new piece is wider than that, embracing all sorts of crazes, from the longing for spiritual affinities to the exploitation of the divided skirt. While the two women specified are clearly of Ibsenian origin, their male counterparts are just as clearly æsthetes and bores of the sort satirised by Mr. Burnand, and of which a still earlier variety were dealt with in the piece upon which The Colonel was founded, namely The Serious Family, otherwise Le Mari à la Campagne, a comedy written by Bayard close upon fifty years ago. As in The Serious Family, too, the reform of the crazy heroine is gradually brought about by her husband, who, although downtrodden for a time, proves to be less of a fool than he looks. This husband in Mr. Buchanan’s piece is Charles Dangleton, described as a writer of comedies and farces, and so described in order to give the gifted lady an opportunity, which she is a little too prone to take advantage of, of saying that she “cannot live with a funny man.” If one more link of connection between this piece and Le Mari à la Campagne were needed, it would be found in the character of Doctor Plainchat, who advises his friend Dangleton to cure his wife of her folly on the homœopathic principle of similia similibus curantur—like cures like. There is such a character in Bayard’s comedy, through whose instrumentality the Colombet household, it will be remembered, is relieved of its incubus of Quakerism. Among the précieux ridicules of The Gifted Lady we note a playwright and a critic of the future, both long-haired, canting, and egotistical, and a French poet fin de siècle, who, like Lovborg in Hedda Gabler, is addicted to getting drunk.
It will be gathered from all this that Mr. Robert Buchanan spreads his net for a pretty big haul of the cranks and faddists that infest modern society, not forgetting an emancipated housemaid, who thinks it proper to “encourage master” in those amatory enterprises known to Ibsenites as a striving after the attainment of individualism. There is a homely French proverb, however, the truth of which Mr. Buchanan has unfortunately overlooked—qui trop embrasse, mal étreint—he who tries to grasp too much runs the risk of losing all. There is so much chaff about heredity, affinities, individualism, and the like that there is no room in the piece for that prime essential, a dramatic story. The Gifted Lady, despite its three acts, is a mere string of inconsequent scenes—one might even say lines—of a satirical character, and, although bright and promising enough for the first five minutes—when Miss Lydia Cowell, as the emancipated housemaid, is to the fore with her hereditary spasms—it speedily becomes diffuse and tiresome. Towards the close, after Dangleton has been slowly reclaiming his wife by practising individualism on his own account, the joke fizzles out altogether, and the applause which follows the descent of the curtain is meant to compliment the author rather upon what he had intended than upon what he has accomplished. Miss Fanny Brough can never be wholly unentertaining, but she has often been seen to better advantage than as the gifted lady, who is essentially a depressing person. She does not attempt mimicry, which is so often an interesting feature of such performances. In a limited degree Miss Cicely Richards is more successful in this direction, though it is rather in make-up and manner than in speech that she takes off Miss Marion Lea. The author and the critic of Mr. Paulton and Mr. Lestocq are purely grotesque conceptions upon the model of Lambert Streyke and Basil Giogione in The Colonel. Mr. Ivan Watson makes a good comic Frenchman of the excitable type. There is a scintilla of humour also in Mr. Douglass’s representation of the boy in buttons, Biler. A very welcome character also is the emancipated housemaid of Miss Lydia Cowell. Mr. W. H. Vernon as the husband and Mr. Sidney Howard as his common-sense friend have little opportunity of being funny; their function in the piece is the comparatively modest one of being useful. There are undoubtedly many elements of humour and legitimate satire in The Gifted Lady, and they would all gain enormously if compressed into a single act.
The Morning Post (4 June, 1891 - p.5)
What the author, Mr. Robert Buchanan, calls a “social drama,” but what is really a burlesque, was produced on Tuesday night, under the title of “The Gifted Lady.” The fair heroine in question is the wife of a writer of farcical comedies, who has been attacked with the modern craze of “female emancipation.” She therefore becomes the associate of maudlin poets, French gutter writers, sham scientific men, and others of a similar stamp, the result being that she resolves to quit her “conventional home,” and with a great quantity of luggage flies to the garret of the poet, who has already become entangled with another “gifted lady,” and in reality would be glad to get rid of them both. In the hope of curing his wife the husband pretends to adopt her ideas, but when he too “seeks to be emancipated,” the silly woman sighs for her comfortable home, and begins to comprehend how foolish she has been. A reconciliation is brought about, and all the crack-brained fanatics are sent to Coventry. The fun of the subject is in the many incidents which are parodied from Ibsen’s dramas, but it must be confessed that the drollery of these ideas would have greater point if the play had not been extended to three acts. There was hearty laughter at times, and at the conclusion Mr. Buchanan was called for, and when he appeared received a cordial greeting. The acting of Mr. W. H. Vernon and Miss Fanny Brough had much to do with giving vitality to the author’s ideas, and Mr. Harry Paulton as the absurd poet was funny enough. Miss Cicely Richards and Miss Lydia Cowell were also excellent as one of the “gifted ladies” and as a servant who dons a “divided skirt.” The parody of Ibsen is frequently so close as to make some visitors wish that the author had been a less expert imitator, and when the curtain fell they must have felt that three acts of caricature were somewhat trying.
Glasgow Herald (4 June, 1891)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S new social drama, originally intended to be called “Hereditary,” has been rechristened “The Gifted Lady.” It is, as was expected, a skit upon Ibsen, although so slight a piece hardly bears spreading out over three acts. The wife of a dramatic author and her servants are all of the “emancipated” order, and so, too, are an ex- counter-jumper, Algernon Wormwood, who now poses as a poet, and has written Ibsenite plays, which are rejected by managers, and a lodging-house keeper, who has deserted her seven children mainly because two of them are twins, and twins are so conventional. Cut down into one or two acts “The Gifted Lady” would be more effective. It is at anyrate capitally played, and every point in which the Ibsen theories and dialogue are so whimsically parodied tells well.
The Nottingham Evening Post (4 June, 1891 - p.4)
Mr. Robert Buchanan has written many things in his time, in fact he can be described as a prolific writer, especially for the stage, but it may be doubted whether he has ever written anything cleverer in its way than the three act skit on Ibsenism, entitled “The Gifted Lady,” produced last night at the Avenue Theatre. Mr. Buchanan made, however, one grand mistake, namely, to write the piece in three acts. The dialogue was brilliant in the extreme, but a good honest laugh at a new craze cannot be kept up for two hours. The skit should have been in one act, say about 45 minutes, in which case it would probably have become the rage of London. The author literally tears Ibsen to pieces; nothing is too sacred for him to ridicule. His sarcasm is biting, his satire is brilliant, and it is impossible to resist a roar of laughter. The success of last night was in no small measure due to the superb acting of Miss Fanny Brough, Mr. W. H. Vernon, and Mr. Harry Paulton, whom it is impossible to praise too highly. For an afterpiece, “The Gifted Lady,” when condensed, would be perfection.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph (4 June, 1891 - p.2)
NOTES FROM LONDON.
[FROM A CORRESPONDENT.]
Mr Robert Buchanan’s new drama, “Heredity,” rechristened at the last moment “The Gifted Lady,” which made its first appearance at the Avenue Theatre last evening, is a noisy and desultory, but very amusing, burlesque of the men and women and ideas with which Ibsen’s plays have lately made us familiar. Of the characters two are “emancipated” ladies, one is an “emancipated housemaid,” one a “poet of the future,” another a “critic of the future,” and another a “French poet fin de siecle.” There is a boy in buttons who snorts like a steam-engine, a hereditary taint due to the fact that his father was a stoker on a locomotive. There is a maid servant with promiscuous tendernesses towards the male sex, inherited from her mother. The French poet has hereditary delirium tremens. In fact, with the exception of one or two, the whole of the dramatis personæ are fit subjects for the hospital or madhouse. The women desire to live free lives; they hate to be respectable, and throw off one husband and take on another with the most callous alacrity. The piece is in three acts, and though, dramatically, little can be said for it, it is written with extreme cleverness, and is full of smart and witty dialogue. The house—Ibsenites and all—seemed to take Mr Buchanan’s jokes in good part. It roared and roared again at the vagaries of the emancipated women, at the drunken French poet who wrote gutter verses, at the frantic talk of “the master,” and even at the snorting of the page. Miss Fannie Brough and Miss Cicely Richards gave a clever delineation of the emancipated ladies; while Mr Harry Paulton as the writer of great but always rejected plays, Mr Watson as the French poet, and Mr Lestocq as the critic of the future were admirably fitted. The piece was very well received, though from its evanescent character it can hardly be expected to have a long run.
The Era (6 June, 1891)
THE LONDON THEATRES.
On Tuesday, June 2d, for the First Time,
a New Social Drama, in Three Acts, by Robert Buchanan,
“THE GIFTED LADY.”
Charles Dangleton ... ... Mr W. H. VERNON
Dr. Plainchat ... ... ... Mr SIDNEY HOWARD
Algernon Wormwood ... Mr HARRY PAULTON
Vitus Dance ... ... ... Mr W. LESTOCQ
Vergris ... ... ... Mr IVAN WATSON
Biler ... ... ... Mr R. H. DOUGLASS
Cabman ... ... ... Mr G. ARNOLD
Badalia Dangleton ... ... Miss FANNY BROUGH
Felicia Strangeways ... ... Miss CICELY RICHARDS
Amelia ... ... ... Miss LYDIA COWELL
The audience which assembled at the Avenue Theatre on Tuesday evening last was in an excellent disposition, and thoroughly prepared to enjoy any fun which might be found in Mr Robert Buchanan’s skit upon Ibsen, which had been rechristened The Gifted Lady, the title of Heredity having been already claimed. The anti-Ibsenites were, of course, eager to see the follies of the “master” castigated with laughter; and even the admirers of the hirsute Scandinavian and his works were not disinclined to smile at a little—of course, pointless—ribaldry, provided that the said ribaldry was in itself amusing. But Mr Buchanan managed, long before the fall of the curtain, to bore and weary both parties. The satire proved dull, coarse, and elaborately facetious. The aim and object of a skit is to shoot folly as she flies. Mr Buchanan, instead of employing this method, has stalked his bird by a long and elaborate process, tedious to observe and painful to describe. However, as a matter of record, we must undertake the latter task. Charles Dangleton, author of farcical comedies, has married a wife, Badalia, who has become smitten with the Ibsen craze. He is hen-pecked, his buttons are not sown on, and his breakfast is interrupted by the visit, at an unconscionably early hour in the day, of Mrs Dangleton’s idols—Algernon Wormwood, a “poet of the future,” and Vergris, a French poet, evidently meant for Mr George Moore’s pet prodigy, Verlaine. The trio of visitors is completed by Vitus Dance, a critic, one of Wormwood’s worshippers. The great idea of the clique is not to be “conventional.” These characters may be said to belong to the domain of comedy. To that of bold burlesque we must allot the housemaid, Amelia, who, like the housekeeper in Rosmersholm, is secretly in love with her master, and that of the page, Biler, who has inherited from his father, an engine-driver, a habit of snorting noisily. The equivalent in The Gifted Lady of Mrs Elvsted in Hedda Gabler is Felicia Strangeways, a lady with “towy” hair, who has left her husband and family to devote herself to the worship of Wormwood, and who thus arouses the jealousy of Mrs Dangleton. Wormwood makes philosophic love to both women, and asks Badalia to fly with him. Dr. Plainchat, a friend of Dangleton’s, advises the latter to pretend to have adopted the Ibsen cult, and thus to encounter his wife’s friends upon their own ground. Before he can put this plan into practice Badalia informs him of her intention of leaving him, as she finds that she has been “living with a funny man;” and she goes off in imitation of the well-known scene in The Doll’s House.
In the next act we find Wormwood in his squalid lodgings, troubled by the habitual intoxication of his companion, the French poet, Vergris. Here the “master,” as Wormwood is called by the clique, learns that Dangleton is on his track, and is thirsting for his blood. Wormwood is just preparing to start for Boulogne-sur-Mer, when he is visited by Felicia, whose advent at such an inconvenient period embarrasses him greatly. He puts her into his bedroom, just in time to prevent her being seen by Badalia, who has brought all her luggage with her, and proposes to establish an intimate but platonic relationship with the poet. Dangleton’s voice is heard shouting on the stairs; and Badalia conceals herself behind some curtains. The husband enters, greatly changed. He wears the velvet jacket and loose tie supposed to denote literary eccentricity, and his bearing is wild and distraught. After some wandering conversation, he drags out Felicia from her hiding place, and insists on her being his “affinity,” in the place of the wife who has deserted him. The act ends with the astonishment and indignation of Mrs Dangleton, whom we find, in the last section of the piece, in a quiet dress and now apparently in her right mind. Her husband, however, keeps up the deception to the last. He entertains the dissipated French poet and the untidy critic, and has consoled himself for his wife’s indifference not only with Felicia, but with the housemaid Amelia, who has donned the divided skirt, and considers herself “emancipated.” When Mrs Dangleton’s error has been sufficiently impressed upon her, her husband gives her a lecture, “punches” the poet’s head, dismisses his parasites, and consents once more to be funny and write popular dramas.
There were some really clever lines in the piece, but so much of the work was laboured, ponderous, and even vulgar, that laughter soon became confined to a portion of the pit, and several of the stall people left before the fall of the curtain. No better service could have been done to Ibsen than the production of this piece, which not only is a tribute to his notoriety, but by a “revulsion of feeling,” is likely to make people think a little less badly of the defendant in the case. We have all heard of the young lady who would not sit and listen to a dull preacher because he made her “feel so un- Christian,” and Mr Buchanan’s humour had a parallel effect on several earnest anti-Ibsenites who were present at the Avenue Theatre on Tuesday.
There was no fault, however, to be found with the acting. No better exponent of sound common sense and easy good nature could have been found than Mr W. H. Vernon as Dangleton, and Mr Sidney Howard gave a quiet, unpretentious performance as the sensible Dr. Plainchat. Mr Harry Paulton as Wormwood was as funny as the part permitted, and Mr W. Lestocq enacted very neatly the little part of Vitus Dance. With a really clever make-up and characteristic treatment, Mr Ivan Watson’s Vergris was a commendable character sketch, and Mr R. H. Douglass was efficient as the snorting “buttons,” Biler. Miss Fanny Brough worked most loyally and energetically as Badalia Dangleton, but from circumstances beyond her control was hardly as amusing as usual, and Miss Cicely Richards, with commendable lightness of touch and quiet humour, enacted the sentimental Felicia Strangeways. Miss Lydia Cowell’s Amelia could hardly have been improved upon.
The Gifted Lady was preceded by Mr T. H. Campbell’s one-act piece entitled
“THE VIPER ON THE HEARTH.”
John Baxendale ... Mr J. L. SHINE
John Lydyard ... Mr W. LESTOCQ
George Heriot ... Mr IVAN WATSON
Hesketh Price ... Miss CICELY RICHARDS
Ethel Lydyard ... Miss ELEANOR MAY
The earnest sentiment of this lever de rideau was well brought out by Mr J. J. SHine, excellent as the generous, honest farmer, John Baxendale; by Miss Cicely Richards, really clever as the treacherous Hesketh Price; by Miss Eleanor May, who acted with sweetness and tenderness as Ethel Lydyard; and by Mr W. Lestocq as John Lydyard. Mr Ivan Watson is perhaps seen to better advantage in a character part than as a lover; but he did his work as George Heriot carefully and well. Unless Mr Lee can content himself with the patronage of part of the pit, the bill at the Avenue Theatre will soon have to be changed.
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (6 June, 1891 - p.5)
Our Dramatic Correspondent writes:—The Ibsen craze was sputtering down to pale extinction, and would soon have ended like a malodorous tallow candle, without the aid of burlesque. To attempt to smother it with ridicule was a needless waste of effort. Sane people have not been bitten with the morbid silliness, and Ibsenity or Ibsenility has not excited more than a languid interest, for the most part contemptuous. Mr. Robert Buchanan has perpetrated a three-act extravagance which could not have attracted any popularity, even if it had been less ferocious and more amusing. But the “Gifted Lady” is not only a savage and somewhat clumsy attack upon Ibsenism, it also shoots arrows at many personages and things which Mr. Robert Buchanan dislikes, and has not the wit or sparkle to make such a performance piquant. So the venture at the Avenue Theatre runs no risk of being a financial success, or of stopping the way for any length of time. The Ibsen skit, which now merrily winds up the performance at Toole’s Theatre, on the contrary, is brief, bright, and amusing, without being in the least ill-natured. Though produced anonymously, it is the work of that clever young Scot, Mr. J. M. Barrie, whose “Window in Thrums” has delighted readers of The Speaker, and who promises to achieve front rank as a literary artist with a true vein of original humour. Miss Irene Vanbrugh, favourably known as a pretty and graceful exponent of light comedy, delighted and astonished her audience by her vivid burlesque of Miss Marion Lea and Miss Robins in “Hedda Gabler.” Mr. Shelton also distinguished himself as Tesman (“Fancy that!”) and Mr. Toole’s grotesque make-up as Ibsen was atrociously funny. It was worth while following a dose of the Ibsen bane, in order to be able to enjoy the drollery of the antidote.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (7 June, 1891)
While Mr. Toole has parodied Ibsen with song, dance, and grotesque make-up, Mr. Robert Buchanan has gone for him seriously in The Gifted Lady. Taking the idea of a flighty young wife, impressed with Ibsen matinées, he demonstrates in heavily-laboured fashion how she may be converted by the husband adopting the tu quoque. Mr. Buchanan very cleverly caricatures the teaching and language of the new creed, but his mistake is that he deals with farcical materials too seriously. The funniest thing though, is that he has demonstrated that one can be more unnatural than Ibsen. Mrs. Dangleton, represented by Miss Fanny Brough, one of our most vivacious actresses, leaves her comfortable home—more trying to her than deserting her husband—to seek the poor lodgings of Algernon Wormwood, described as a poet of the future. There is little of the Bunthorne in Mr. Harry Paulton’s conception of the poet, and the actor hardly seems at home. Associated with him are two other poets, boasting such artificial names as Vitus Dance and Vergris. The latter, who is always drunk, yet manages to entice Mrs. Strangeways (what originality of nomenclature!) from her home and twins. These materials are wielded inoffensively by Mr. Buchanan, for everybody talks and very little is done. The husband of Mrs. Dangleton (Mr. W. H. Vernon) is the busiest man of the play, and his flirtation with the little servant girl in a “divided skirt” (a part capitally played by Miss Lydia Cowell) is one of the funniest situations among the few in the play. At the production of the satire on Tuesday the author received a special call; but, all the same, The Gifted Lady is a very heavy subject for the Avenue.
The Yorkshire Herald (8 June, 1891 - p.6)
Rumours of burlesques on Ibsen have been rife during the past few weeks, but Mr. J. L. Toole has distanced all competitors by producing, on the 30th ult., a “new Hedda in one act,” entitled “Ibsen’s Ghost; or, Toole Up to Date,” a very amusing travesty, in which the salient points of the “emancipated” drama are cleverly satirised. Heredity is the chief subject of the skit, but it is not an inheritance of vice which distresses the heroine, but a dreadful tendency to kiss everybody, resulting from her grandfather having perpetrated the crime of thus “saluting” a pretty bridesmaid on his wedding day, some 40 years before. There are also a few suggestions of “ghosts” in the parody, which terminates with the “beautiful” suicide by popgun of the whole of the characters. Miss Irene Vanbrugh, as a lady unable to find a husband she can live with for any length of time, mimics the Vaudeville representatives of Thea Tesman and Hedda Gabbler very successfully, and Mr. George Shelton is very happy in his caricature of Mr. Scott Buist’s Tesman, while Mr. Toole, whose “make up” to the familiar portrait of the hirsute Dr. Ibsen is wonderfully good, is extremely diverting as the conscience haunted grandfather, and Miss Eliza Johnstone as his “doll-wife,” who yearns to live her own life, is amusing in a small part. Both in dialogue and details of “business” the piece is exceedingly smart, and it was received with roars of laughter. A call for the author brought Mr. Toole before the curtain at the close, but only to disappoint public curiosity by the announcement that “Mr. Ibsen was not in the house!” The burlesque was preceded by Byron’s well-known comedy, “Chawles; or a Fool and his Money,” in which Mr. Toole, of course, played Chawles.
Though Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play “The Gifted Lady” with which the Avenue re-opened on Tuesday was favourably received by an indulgent audience, its chances of popularity do not seem very great. As foreshadowed in preliminary “pars,” the author has sought to turn to advantage the “social drama” so much belauded among a certain section of enthusiasts, but the effort is strained, and despite clever dialogue and good acting the parody becomes tedious. The plot too lacks originality, and its main idea, which is simply that of a commonplace husband who cures his emancipated wife of her heterodox theories and her partiality for a disreputable poet and his associates by adopting her free notions of the marriage contract and putting his new views into operation, proved too slight to bear extending into three acts. Not a little of the measure of success the production achieved was due to its excellent interpretation at the hands of a capital company. The burden of the play falls upon Miss Fanny Brough and Mr. Harry Paulton, who make good use of their opportunities, and they are ably seconded by Messrs. W. H. Vernon, Lestoeg, Ivan Watson, Misses Ciceley Richards, Lydia Cowell and others in the cast. The author was called at the close.
The Pall Mall Gazette (16 June, 1891)
Painfully brief, but for all that some seven nights too long, was the run of “The Gifted Lady” at the Avenue. I wonder if this last dire fiasco will serve to convince Mr. Robert Buchanan of the utter futility of attempting to foist mere empty trash upon the play-going public under the shelter of a name of some literary repute. I should have thought that this writer was a sufficiently able man to perceive the suicidal tendency of such a course. But it seems not. How long will he continue in his present perverse frame of mind? Let me echo the admonition given so often by pretty Dorothy Bantam to the matrimonially-inclined Phyllis Tuppitt, and say, “Be warned in time.”
The Theatre (1 July, 1891)
“THE GIFTED LADY.”
A new social drama, in three acts, by ROBERT BUCHANAN.
First produced at the Avenue Theatre, Tuesday evening, June 2nd, 1891.
Charles Dangleton ... (Dramatic Author) ... Mr. W. H. Vernon.
Dr. Plainchat ... ... (His Friend) ... Mr. Sidney Howard.
Algernon Wormwood (Poet of the Future) ... Mr. Harry Paulton.
Vitus Dance ... ... (Critic of the Future ... Mr. W. Lestocq.
Vergris (A French Poet, fin de siècle) Mr. Ivan Watson.
Biler ... ... (A Page) ... Mr. R. H. Douglass.
Cabman ... ... ... Mr. G. Arnold.
Badalia Dangleton (“Emancipated” Ladies) Miss Fanny Brough.
Felicia Strangeways } Miss Cicely Richards.
Amelia (An “Emancipated” Housemaid) Miss Lydia Cowell.
Time—The present day. Scene—London.
Acts I. and III.—Morning Room in the House of Dangleton.
Act II.—The Poet’s Lair, Cursitor Street, E.C.
AUTHOR’S NOTE.—In venturing to present to English audiences the last great Social Drama of Eric Pluddermund, I have taken two daring liberties, by transferring the scene to London, and by altering the tragic ending. In the original, as every student of the master knows, Badalia and Grönost (the Algernon of my adaptation) hang themselves together in the linen closet, while Felicia and Amelia emigrate to Utah with the hero. For the rest I have followed the spirit of the original as reverently as the Lord Chamberlain would allow me. The power of the work lies in its colossal suburbanism, and in its savage satire of the master’s own theories of feminine emancipation. Pluddermund has the supreme artistic merit of eternally contradicting himself as well as everybody else; hence his soubriquet of “The Chameleon.” If the present serious play meets with approval, I propose to follow it with one of Pluddermund’s humorous pieces; some of his admirers, however see a certain grim humour in Arvegods (Heredity).—ROBERT BUCHANAN.
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s intended or supposed skit upon Ibsen may be dismissed in a few words, for it was not a travesty of the Norwegian dramatist’s work, or of any work in particular. It was very dull, and gave one the impression of having been written in order to show up the supposed weaknesses or peculiarities of all those of whom Mr. Buchanan disapproves, or of whom he has a poor opinion. Badalia Dangleton having developed extraordinary ideas on the subject of the emancipation of women, and having constantly expressed her regret at having married “a funny man,” runs after Algernon Wormwood, and proposes to live platonically with him. Her husband, Charles Dangleton, adopts the homœopathic treatment of philandering with his pretty servant Amelia, and with Felicia Strangeways, a married woman, who has also left her husband “for the sake of Wormwood.” It need only be said that everyone in the cast worked so hard and effectually that they saved the piece from utter condemnation. The funniest thing in the whole play was the appearance of the emancipated housemaid in the divided skirt.
From Dramatic Notes: A Year Book of The Stage by Cecil Howard (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1892 - pp. 118-119)
[June] 2nd. AVENUE.—The Gifted Lady. There was some little difficulty as to using Heredity as the title for his new play, and so Robert Buchanan called his three-act “social drama” The Gifted Lady. Drama it was not, neither was it farce, nor was it burlesque. It was intended, I suppose, to satirise the cult of Ibsen and to ridicule his works, and, if I am right in my conjecture, it was not cleverly done, for the piece was dull, the writing commonplace, and the entire work not in good taste. Mr. Buchanan took the opportunity of letting out at one and all who have “trod on the tail of his coat”; but he hit with a bludgeon, and did not pink with the sharp, incisive touch of a rapier. Under the guise of a story of a good fellow whose home is destroyed through the “emancipated” ideas of his wife, he makes the husband turn the tables on his spouse by pretending to follow her course; and thus he cures her. In one act of thirty minutes the idea could have been made amusing; but, as it was, the subsequent hour and a half only brought weariness of the flesh and vexation of spirit. W. H. Vernon and Fanny Brough, as Charles and Badalia Dangleton, by their inimitable “go,” saved the play from becoming utterly boring; and they had good aid from Harry Paulton as Algernon Wormwood, Cicely Richards (Felicia Strangeways) (excellent in her travesty of Thea and her flaxen locks), Ivan Watson (Vergris), and Lydia Cowell as Amelia (an emancipated housemaid). With reference to The Gifted Lady, the following was printed on the programme:—
“AUTHOR’S NOTE.—In venturing to present to English audiences the last great social drama of Eric Pluddermund, I have taken two daring liberties by transferring the scene to London and by altering the tragic ending. In the original, as every student of the master knows, Badalia and Grönost (the Algernon of my adaptation) hang themselves together in the linen closet, while Felicia and Amelia emigrate to Utah with the hero. For the rest, I have followed the spirit of the original as reverently as the Lord Chamberlain would allow me. The power of the work lies in its colossal suburbanism, and in its savage satire of the master’s own theories of feminine emancipation. Pluddermund has the supreme artistic merit of eternally contradicting himself as well as everybody else; hence his sobriquet of ‘The Chameleon.’ If the present serious play meets with approval, I propose to follow it with one of Pluddermund’s humorous pieces; some of his admirers, however, see a certain grim humour in Arvegods (Heredity).—ROBERT BUCHANAN.”
In the first piece. The Viper on the Hearth, which was seen once more, J. L. Shine as John Baxendale was good, in a different sort of character from that which he usually assumes; and Eleanor May, a handsome young actress, pleased me much in a sympathetic part as Ethel Lydyard.