26. A Man’s Shadow (1889)
A Man’s Shadow
by Robert Buchanan (adapted from the play, Roger la Honte by Jules Mary and Georges Grisier, based on the novel by Jules Mary).
The play received a copyright performance on 29 November, 1888 at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, London under the title of Roger la Honte, or Jean the Disgraced.
London: Haymarket Theatre. 12 September, 1889 to 29 March, 1890 (205th performance).
London: Britannia Theatre, Hoxton. 25 September, 1893.
London: Her Majesty’s Theatre. 27 November, 1897. (Revival with Herbert Beerbohm-Tree).
Manchester: Queen’s Theatre. 26 May, 1903.
There is some confusion over the American production of A Man’s Shadow. Augustin Daly copyrighted his version of the play at the Library of Congress on 10th December, 1888 as “Roger La Honte; a drama in 4 acts, from the French.” However, there is a letter from William Terriss to Buchanan, dated 18th February, 1889, informing him that Buchanan’s adaptation of Roger La Honte had been sold to Augustin Daly for £250 (to which he was entitled to half). The American production, entitled Roger la Honte; or, A Man’s Shadow, received its New York premiere at Niblo’s Garden on 8 October, 1889, produced by Augustin Daly and starring William Terriss. An advert in the New-York Daily Tribune credited Buchanan as co-author, and his name was mentioned in some reviews. However, in others, Augustin Daly received the sole credit for the adaptation. Since there is this doubt about how much Daly altered Buchanan’s play, I have added a separate section on the American version.
Film: A Man’s Shadow, directed by Sidney Morgan, 1920.
(There have also been five French versions of the original novel, Roger la Honte, two silent (in 1913 and 1922) and three ‘talkies’ (in 1933, 1946 and 1966). Full details of these are available on imdb.com.
The Morning Post (19 November, 1888 - p.2)
“Roger la Honte,” the new old-fashioned melodrama now so popular at the Ambigue, Paris, has been purchased for England by three actors, Messrs. Terriss, Cartwright, and Overton, who have commissioned Mr. Robert Buchanan to write the adaptation for probable production in London.
The Stage (23 November, 1888 - p.9)
Messrs. W. Terriss, Charles Cartwright, and C. Overton, have secured the English and colonial rights of Roger la Honte, which will be adapted by Robert Buchanan.
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.
Mr. Buchanan is also occupied with the English adaptation of the powerful French melodrama, “Roger la Honte,” now running so successfully at the Ambigu Theatre, Paris. Great changes will be necessary to suit the play to English tastes, but the scene will still remain in France, and the great trial act will be left almost intact. It is very probable that the two leading characters, Laroque and Noirville, will be played by Mr. Terriss and Mr. Cartwright. Perhaps the most effective part in the play, however, is the little child Suzanne, so wonderfully impersonated in Paris.
The Globe (2 February, 1889 - p.6)
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s hands must be very full just now. Besides working at “Marmion” for the Glasgow stage—where I suppose it will be run as a change from the everlasting “Rob Roy,” which is put on whenever there is no other engagement—he is writing words for an opera of which Dr. Mackenzie is composing the music; and he is very busy with the English version of “Roger la Honte,” a literal translation of which was performed for copyright purposes a few weeks ago, but in which he is making great and important changes. Mr. Buchanan has taken a rather pretty house for the season in Arkwright’s-road, Fitzjohn’s-avenue, Hampstead; but his home is Hamlet Court, Southend-on-Sea, the house in which Sir Edwin Arnold once lived.
The Glasgow Herald (18 February, 1889 - p.13)
It has, we believe, now been decided that Mr Robert Buchanan’s new adaptation of “Roger la Honte” shall be produced at the Haymarket before the new German piece which Mr Beerbohm Tree has likewise accepted. “Roger la Honte” is one of the most powerful melodramas that has been produced on the French stage for many years. The piece turns a good deal upon the extraordinary likeness of the hero Roger Lerogue and the villain Luversan, and these two characters, contrary to the practice at the Paris Ambigu, will at the Haymarket both be played by Mr Beerbohm Tree. Roger has had a liaison with Madame de Noirville, but, being called to the Franco-German war, he there meets the injured husband (a barrister), saves his life on the battlefield, and becomes his most intimate friend. Relations with the wife are therefore broken off. On his return from the war Roger owes the banker Gerbier 100,000 francs, and is threatened with bankruptcy. The villain Luversan (whose likeness to Roger will be recollected) thereupon enters the banker’s house, murders him, and steals a hundred 1000-franc notes, and induces the jealous Madame de Noirville to send them to her former lover. The deed is witnessed from their window by Roger’s wife and daughter, who believe Roger himself to be the culprit. Roger is arrested, and the discovery of the bank notes supplies evidence of a very damning character. He is defended by the barrister, and there is a fine scene in the Court of justice, in which Roger from the evidence of his child for the first time learns of the sudden death of his wife. The barrister, too, is in the course of the trial informed of the guilt of his wife, Madame de Noirville, and in the midst of his address on the prisoner’s behalf he, too, falls dead in Court. Roger is convicted, and transported to New Caledonia for life. He escapes, and the rest of the play is occupied by the love episodes between his daughter and Madame Noirville’s son, and the final discovery of the real truth.
Pall Mall Gazette (26 July, 1889 - p.6)
The three important male parts in Mr. Robert Buchanan’s Haymarket version of “Roger la Honte” will be played by Messrs. Beerbohm Tree, Charles Brookfield and James Fernandez. The new prologue, which the adapter has added, will be a very exciting affair; there are to be plenty of “bangs,” and a cottage will be shelled in most warlike fashion.
The New York Times (18 August, 1889)
Robert Buchanan’s English version of “Roger la Honte,” the French melodrama that was founded on a sensational romance printed in Le Petit Journal, will be produced by Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket Theatre Sept. 7. Mr. Buchanan is understood to have furnished his adaptation with a prologue in which some of the previous acts of Roger and his comrade in arms, Lucien de Noirville, are presented to the eye of the spectator instead of being merely described, as in the original. This must require some curtailment of the subsequent scenes, for “Roger la Honte” is in three parts, five acts, and ten tableaus, and, though it begins at the Ambigue, in Paris, punctually at 8, is rarely ended before midnight.
The Lancashire Evening Post (27 August, 1889 - p.2)
They are casting about at the Haymarket Theatre for a title for the new play which has been adapted by Mr. Robert Buchanan from “Roger La Honte.” One suggestion is that it should be called “His Double,” which is not very impressive. “Bosom Friends” is better. What Mr. Buchanan has made of the play I do not know, but it certainly needed a good deal of alteration to be successful on the English stage. The complications in the original are rather primitive, and there is a trial scene in a French court of justice which is not at all effective at the Ambigu. I never saw an effective trial scene yet, except in “The Bells,” and that was a dream. The most lamentable failure was the trial in “Dark Days,” in which we had examination, cross-examination, and the speech for the defence, all as heavy as could be.
The Era (31 August, 1889 - p.8)
“A MAN’S SHADOW,” Mr Robert Buchanan’s adaptation of Roger La Honte, will be produced at the Haymarket Theatre on Thursday evening, Sept. 12th, with Mr Beerbohm-Tree in the dual rôle of Laroque and Luversan. Great changes have been necessary to suit the drama to the English stage, and it has been entirely rewritten and reconstructed. Instead of embracing an action spread over a long period of years, and a series of anti-climaxes necessitating new sets of characters, the plot is now simple and direct, and the unpleasant atmosphere created by the later love-story of Suzanne Laroque and Raymond de Noirville is quite got rid of—Raymond being excised altogether, and little Suzanne remaining a child until the fall of the curtain. Among the scenic effects will be a correct realisation of the trial-chamber in the Palais de Justice, Paris. To Messrs Nathan and Co., who supplied the dresses for The Pompadour, have been entrusted the costumes, both civil and military. Mrs Beerbohm-Tree, Miss Julia Neilson, Miss Norreys, little Minnie Terry, and Messrs James Fernandez, Kemble, Allan, Gurney, Robson, and Charles Collette will all be in the cast.
The Morning Post (9 September, 1889 - p.6)
THEATRICAL AND MUSICAL
On Thursday evening, at the Haymarket Theatre, will be produced, under the strange title of “A Man’s Shadow,” Mr. Robert Buchanan’s version of “Roger la Honte.” The cast will be as follows:—Laroque and Luversan; Mr. Beerbohm Tree; M. De Noirville (an advocate), Mr. Fernandez; President of the Court, Mr. Kemble; Madame Laroque, Mrs. Tree; Madame De Noirville, Miss Julia Neilson; Laroque’s daughter, Miss Minnie Terry; Victoire, Miss Norreys; Picolot, Mr. Collette; Tristot, Mr. Robson. It had been Mr. Tree’s original intention to appear only as Laroque, but, at the suggestion of Mr. Buchanan, he has decided to assume the character of Luversan, the spy, in addition to that of the merchant, thus “doubling,” in theatrical phrase, parts of the highest importance. The French play is in six acts, the English in five only, the last being wholly the work of the adapter.
The Glasgow Herald (9 September, 1889 - p.9)
MUSIC AND THE DRAMA.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
London, Sunday Night.
Theatrical affairs in London have during the past week been dull so far as the production of novelties was concerned. But matters will be busy enough directly. Two important productions are already announced for the present week. Thursday is fixed for the presentation at the Haymarket of Mr Robert Buchanan’s adaptation of “Roger la Honte.” We last week described the French piece, and it seems that after all the character of the hero’s child will be partially retained. That is to say, the child will appear in the earlier portions of the play, but the not particularly tasteful denouement, where, in the French piece, the girl when grown to woman’s estate falls in love with the son of her father’s former mistress, will, of course, be struck out. The part of the child will be played by Miss Minnie Terry, who is being coached in it by her distinguished aunt, Miss Ellen Terry. Miss Julia Neilson will play the wicked Madame de Noirville—perhaps the most important part she has yet undertaken. Mr Fernandez should be admirably suited to the character of the barrister, while Mr Beerbohm Tree himself will undertake the dual rôle of the hero and the villain. Directly this adaptation, which is entitled “A Man’s Shadow,” is well out of the way Mr Tree will prepare for his projected revival of Shakespeare’s “King John” at the Crystal Palace.
. . .
Mr W. Terriss and Miss Milward made their last appearance for the present at the Adelphi last night, and to-day they sailed for the United States to appear in, among other pieces, an American version based by Mr Augustin Daly upon Mr Buchanan’s adaptation of “Roger La Honte.” The two artists were very warmly cheered by the Adelphi audience, and at the end of the performance Mr Terriss, in a few well-chosen words, expressed his thanks, and promised his return from New York in the spring. The Ems, by which the two sailed from Southampton, will reach New York about a week hence, and the artists will enjoy a short holiday previous to the rehearsals and the opening of their season at Daly’s Theatre on October 9. After a run of four weeks in New York they will go on tour through the States, spending Christmas in Chicago. It is stated that on Mr Terriss’s return he will again appear at the Adelphi in the drama which will follow “London Day by Day.”
Pall Mall Gazette (10 September, 1889 - p.6)
Little Miss Minnie Terry will play a part of considerable importance in Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new Haymarket drama. This clever child-actress is usually coached in her work by “Aunt Marion,” who is an excellent dramatic instructress; but “Aunt Marion” is out of town, and so “Aunt Ellen,” in spite of her heavy rehearsals at the Lyceum, has found time to put her tiny niece through her paces, with, I hear, admirable results.
The Times (13 September, 1889 - p.3)
During the past six months the French melodrama Roger La Honte has attained a degree of popularity at the Ambigu which has rendered its transference to London more or less inevitable. The taste of the English public, it is true, has latterly been somewhat indifferent to French adaptations, but there is always room on the English stage for a picturesque, pathetic, absorbing story of wronged innocence and rewarded devotion; and MM. Jules Mary and Georges Grisier’s play could not have fallen into better hands than those of Mr. Beerbohm Tree, by whom it was produced last night, under the title of A Man’s Shadow, amid unquestionable signs of popular approval. Roger La Honte has not undergone adaptation in the common acceptation of the word. Mr. Robert Buchanan, who is responsible for the English version, has retained the French scene and the French characters, contenting himself with such structural changes as tend merely to quicken and intensify the action. Considering that the story is intimately bound up with French methods of justice, and that the great sensational scene of the third act is a criminal trial in a French court, no other course appears to have been feasible. Even had it been otherwise, it is more than probably, indeed, that a thoroughly Anglicized version would have been less acceptable to a Haymarket audience, who in a general way may be said to have little admiration for the somewhat ad captandum devices of melodrama. So far from being an evil, therefore, the retention of the French criminal procedure, together with a certain French flavour which the adapter has communicated to his dialogue, may help to determine the popularity of the play, the story by that means being redeemed from commonplace.
In its general aspect the story of Roger La Honte is far from novel. The conviction of an innocent man of murder or some other crime and the ultimate assertion of his innocence has long been a staple theme of melodrama, both French and English. MM. Jules Mary and Georges Grisier’s claim to originality lies in the ingenuity with which a net of circumstantial evidence is thrown around their hero, although it is evident that in working out their plot they had some recollection of Une Cause Célèbre, well known to English playgoers as Proof, the chief incriminating evidence in both cases being furnished by an infant daughter of the accused. Roger Laroque, a commerçant, and Raymond de Noirville, an avocat, are bosom friends, but on their return from the Franco-German war, where they have served side by side in the ranks, the former discovers to his horror that his friend’s newly-made wife is a former mistress of his own. Of a thoroughly vicious nature, Julie de Noirville seeks to renew her relations with Roger, but the high-principled hero regards the duties of friendship as paramount, and the scorned woman falls in accordingly with a scheme of revenge devised against Laroque by a spy named Luversan, who has suffered punishment at his hands. The vengeance is of a somewhat circuitous, not to say improbable, kind, but it results in this—that Luversan murders a banker, robs him of 100,000f., and, with an abnegation truly phenomenal, sends this money to Laroque, together with a note from Julie, begging him to accept it in order that he may tide over certain financial difficulties. As Laroque is on the verge of bankruptcy he falls into the trap, and is forthwith accused of being the banker’s assassin, while a regard for the feelings of his friend Raymond and for Julie’s reputation prevents him explaining how the stolen bank-notes have come into his possession. This is one link in the evidence against Laroque; another is that his own wife and child believe they saw him commit the crime, the banker’s house being exactly opposite his own. The cause of this misapprehension is a remarkable likeness between Laroque and Luversan, who has been reported to be dead.
Seen through a window in the depths of the stage, the murder is a thrilling episode and provides some exciting material for the second act, inasmuch as the police make an inroad into Laroque’s house and ultimately arrest him as the criminal. But the interest of the play centres in the trial scene of the third act—a vivid and realistic representation of a French assize-court. Here Laroque is defended by his friend De Noirville, whose presence renders it absolutely impossible for him to explain his relations with Julie. Luversan, still thirsting for vengeance, is on the watch, and at a critical juncture passes a note to De Noirville, apprising him of his wife’s faithlessness, and, by implication, of Laroque’s innocence of the charge. For a moment the avocat, who is overcome by the terrible revelation, hesitates what course to pursue. He resolves to do his duty by his client; but, in the act of divulging the name of the “shameless woman” from whom Laroque had received the fatal bank-notes, he is struck down by apoplexy, and dies in open Court, bringing down the curtain. In the fourth and last act, Laroque is discovered as an escaped convict, meeting his wife and child by stealth. The gendarmes are on his track; but Julie, now repentant, appears upon the scene to save him, though not before Luversan, his double, has been shot down by the police in mistake.
As will be gathered, the story is full of exciting incident, sometimes of a pathetic character, as when the child, in examination by the police, and afterwards in Court unconsciously prejudices her father’s case. It is inevitable in melodrama that acting should be subordinate to situation; but the evil is modified by the admirable versatility of Mr. Beerbohm Tree, who, after the manner of Mr. Irving in The Lyons Mail, doubles the parts of the hero and his evil genius. In Paris the characters of Laroque and Luversan are embodied by actors between whom no striking resemblance exists, and the alteration made at the Haymarket not only furnishes Mr. Tree with the opportunity of performing a congenial tour de force, but also adds to the plausibility of the story. Mr. Tree’s changes of individuality are sometimes of what is known at the music-halls as a “lightning” character, and extend not only to dress, but, what is more remarkable still, to voice and general bearing. “Doubling” is often a dangerous experiment for an actor to make, but in Mr. Tree’s hands it proves astonishingly successful. Mrs. Tree has some pathetic moments as Madam Laroque, and Miss Julia Neilson appears to advantage as the adventuress Madame de Noirville. The child is prettily played by Miss Minnie Terry. As Raymond, Mr. Fernandez is enabled to rivet attention in the culminating scene of the drama. At the Haymarket, Roger La Honte is altogether a more impressive play than it is on its native stage, where it is but indifferently mounted and acted.
The Morning Post (13 September, 1889 - p.5)
The play, in five acts and ten scenes, by MM. Jules Mary and Georges Grisier, entitled “Roger la Honte,” was produced originally at the Ambigu, Paris, on the 28th September last year. At first presented it was mainly on the lines of the old-fashioned school of melodrama of the pattern which the elder Dumas made so popular in Paris. “Roger la Honte,” it may be further stated, was a highly-coloured sensational novel by M. Jules Mary, and had, before its adaptation for the stage, enjoyed extraordinary popularity. When seen at the Ambigu many of the defects inseparable from too faithful a reproduction of the scenes of the novel were remarked in the drama, or melodrama, and Mr. Robert Buchanan, in his adaptation under the title of “A Man’s Shadow,” was too good a judge of the requirements of the English stage not to notice these defects. The Parisian playgoer, once excited by the complicated incidents in which the hero was involved, and already acquainted with the scenes through the medium of the novel, was prepared cheerfully to stay until the small hours of the morning for the dénouement. The English playgoer is contented with three hours of melodrama, however exciting it may be, and the adaptor has compressed “Roger la Honte” so much that he is able to present it in four acts, to reduce the scenes, and to cut out superfluous characters. Haymarket audiences need have no fear that the interest of “Roger la Honte” is sacrificed in the great changes Mr. Buchanan has made. On the contrary, the drama gains immensely in directness and force. The dialogue is telling and effective, and the march of the incidents is unbroken, the principal figures being constantly before the spectator. It was the happiest idea of Mr. Beerbohm Tree to take upon his shoulders the additional labour of representing the characters of the hero and the villain. The suggestion in “Roger la Honte” of a striking resemblance between Laroque and Luversan has been turned to brilliant account. As Laroque, Mr. Beerbohm Tree is the sympathetic hero, as Luversan, the unscrupulous rogue, and the manner in which by an extraordinarily skilful make-up, and wonderful changes of tone and gesture, the actor embodies these two characters, must be regarded as one of the triumphs of modern histrionic art. In the Parisian drama the parts were played by different actors, but the present method adds wonderfully to the interest, and increases the sense of reality in all the principal scenes. It will serve to show the difficult task Mr. Buchanan had before him if the leading incidents are recalled. Roger—now called Lucien—Laroque is a manufacturer, with a beautiful wife and pretty daughter, Suzanne; but at the outbreak of the Franco-German war he quits his home as a captain of Mobiles to take part in the defence. An incident truly Parisian is the entanglement of the hero with Madame de Noirville, the wife of a celebrated barrister. It appears that M. Laroque has, somewhat reluctantly, been drawn from his allegiance to his wife by the fascinations of Julia de Noirville, and he is glad of the opportunity to break off the liaison, and one of those coincidences so frequent in French melodrama occurs. Laroque has as his brother-in-arms M. Raymond de Noirville, the husband of the lady who still seeks to keep her hold upon him. But the manufacturer and the barrister become such firm friends that Laroque determines to make what amends he can for his past fault. When de Noirville is dangerously wounded, Laroque protects him at the peril of his own life. Madame de Noirville having no affection for her husband, is furious when she discovers Laroque’s loyalty, and spares no pains to injure him. She plans with the villain Luversan, who had been denounced by the hero as a spy, to ruin Laroque, who owes a large sum to a banker, M. Gerbier, whose house is opposite his own. The resemblance between Luversan and Laroque is great, and the scoundrel visits the banker, murders him, and steals 100,000fr. in notes. His departure from the banker’s house is witnessed by Madame Laroque and her daughter, who mistake Luversan for the hero. This is the chief incident in the setting forth of the story for stage purposes, but the rascality of Luversan does not end with the murder and robbery. He compels Madame de Noirville, under threats of exposure, to send the money to Laroque, who accepts the gift which proves his own destruction. He is suspected and arrested, and then comes the great scene of the trial. Raymond de Noirville determines, although in failing health, to defend his old companion-in-arms. Laroque was seen coming from the bankers. But Laroque is being defended with such wonderful ability that Luversan fears he will not have his revenge after all, and he determines to reveal to the barrister the secret of his wife’s infidelity. The blow is a crushing one to M. de Noirville, who has hardly strength to go on with the defence, but he resolves as a final effort to save his friend, even at the cost of exposing his own dishonour. But nature has been overtaxed, and the barrister falls dead in court ere he can fulfil his determination. Laroque is condemned and sent to New Caledonia, but escapes, and under another name rejoins his wife and daughter. Luversan shoots himself, but not until Madame de Noirville confesses the innocence of the hero. Mr. Buchanan has made short work of the long and complicated scenes in the latter portion of the drama, and has omitted the young lover Raymond altogether, so that Suzanne continues a child until the end of the play. Thus the main incidents are brought closer together, and the dramatic value of “A Man’s Shadow” is greatly enhanced. The coarser melodramatic scenes are toned down, and the finer elements of the piece are brought out effectively. “A Man’s Shadow” is likely to prove one of the most successful efforts of any modern dramatist to preserve the excitement and interest of a powerful Parisian drama, while imparting a far more healthy and natural tone than ever existed in the original. The dialogue, rewritten entirely, is also more in harmony with English taste, and the acting throughout is so admirable that it would give distinction to a far inferior drama. There is so much to attract the playgoer in “A Man’s Shadow” that it will most likely prove to be Mr. Beerbohm Tree’s greatest success at the Haymarket. His own share in the drama deserves unqualified praise. The difficulty of rendering two such opposite and strangely-contrasted characters as Laroque and Luversan must be enormous, but Mr. Tree accomplishes his task with ease. The changes of character, the transformations of style, the differences of tone and manner, are marvellously indicated. The artistic ability of the actor was never more convincingly shown. As Raymond de Noirville, the barrister, Mr. James Fernandez had a very strong and sympathetic character, and played it with a finish of style worthy of the warmest commendation. His scene in the court, when the heroic barrister, feeling his strength to be fast ebbing, makes one last desperate effort to save his friend was in the highest degree creditable to the actor. Mr. Allan played with good taste as the banker, and Mr. Kemble displayed considerable dignity as the President of the Court. Mr. Collette and Mr. Robson as Picolot and Tristot, a couple of soldiers, were excellent in their endeavours to relieve the darker shadows of the piece. Considerable interest was given to one of the most important scenes by the pathetic and graceful manner in which the wife of the hero was played by Mrs. Tree, and Miss Minnie Terry, who has had the great advantage of receiving some suggestions from Miss Ellen Terry, gives promise, by her remarkable talent, that she will do credit to a name already famous in the annals of the stage. There is nothing of the “drilled doll” in the performance of this young lady. She evidently feels and understands the character she plays with such conspicuous talent. Miss Julia Neilson has a difficult part as the unscrupulous but attractive wife of the barrister. Miss Neilson succeeded in making Madame de Noirville interesting, and displayed no little ability, giving distinct proofs also that she is making progress. Sprightly Miss Norreys was most welcome as the waiting maid, Victoire. The new scenery of Messrs. Johnstone and Hann is excellent, and nothing has been left undone to make the representation successful. The enthusiasm at the close of the play was what might have been expected from the interest taken in the piece throughout. Few actors of the present day have ever been greeted with a heartier welcome than that given to Mr. Beerbohm Tree when called to the footlights. He thanked the audience for the kind reception given, and also complimented the company. Mr. Buchanan was also called, and may be congratulated upon the skilful manner in which he has adapted the drama, some of the scenes of which are intensely powerful; the trial scene, for example, may be pronounced the most striking representation of its kind ever seen. “A Man’s Shadow” is certain to enjoy great popularity. It is full of human interest and exciting situations.
The Standard (13 September, 1889 - p.3)
Mr. Beerbohm Tree last night began his Autumn campaign with a production in bold contrast to the Shakespearian comedy and the modern psychological drama of last season. A Man’s Shadow, as the new play is called, is not exactly the piece that would have pleased a Haymarket audience of the old stamp. It would have been pronounced needlessly painful and a trifle crude, even in its most powerful passages; and the undeniable ingenuity of its mechanism would hardly have been held to compensate for its lack of truth to human nature, and for the inadequacy of motive underlying some of its most stirring action. Other times other tastes, however, and it must be admitted that the outspoken enthusiasm with which the more striking points alike of play and of acting were yesterday evening received seemed fully to justify the introduction at the Haymarket of an experiment which one might have expected to witness at the Princess’s or the Adelphi. For reasons which will presently be suggested, the warmth of the reception cooled down somewhat before the closing scene were reached. But nothing could well have exceeded the rapturous applause which, at the end of the third act, caused the curtain to be raised again and again, and twice brought Mr. Tree and his chief colleague, Mr. Fernandez, to the footlights.
It has taken nearly a twelvemonth for the play which marked the revival of melodrama in Paris to makes its way to London, for it was on the 28th September, 1888, that Roger la Honte took its public by storm at the Ambigu Theatre. Based by M. Georges Grisier upon a popular story from the pen of M. Jules Mary, the piece was found by the critical to have many faults, but to possess one great saving merit, that of thrilling interest. Those who delivered formal judgment upon Roger la Honte complained, not without justice, of its too complicated plot, of the anti-climax involved in its later scenes—it had no less than ten altogether—and of a certain lack of dramatic concentration in its structure as a whole. But these mistakes were, in some instances, soon rectified, whilst in any case they were not practically of sufficient importance to interfere greatly with the enjoyment of the audience. The strange development of the intrigue between Laroque and Madame de Noirville in the friendship got up between the two husbands on the field of battle, the malignant use made of this strange relationship by Laroque’s enemy and “double,” Luversan, the murder deliberately committed by the latter, and imputed to the former, and the chain of circumstantial evidence which Madame de Noirville helps to forge round her former lover—these all led up with unmistakeable force, if with too much elaboration, to the great episode of Laroque’s trial at the assizes. It was here that Roger la Honte achieved its great triumph, partly in the harrowing appeal for sympathy made by putting the prisoner’s child in the witness-box against him, and partly by the ingenuity displayed in the introduction of De Noirwille as the advocate charged with the defence of his wife’s lover. These points made the play, and for their sake much tedious padding and many irrelevancies were forgiven.
Mr. Robert Buchanan, who has dealt very freely with his subject, has skilfully preserved in A Man’s Shadow all that was most telling in Roger la Honte, and has yet done much towards simplifying and condensing its rather straggling plot. He has not, however, quite succeeded in making Mme. de Noirville’s cruel and reckless treachery towards Laroque carry conviction. The mere circumstance of her discovery, in her husband’s newly-made friend of the man who was her lover eight years ago, and who now ignores her passionate advances, seems scarcely sufficient to account for her sudden confederacy with a scoundrel like Luversan, for the purpose of a revenge obviously involving her own ruin. To Luversan, however, Mme. de Noirville, in her mad jealousy, confides a compromising letter which she has written to Laroque, the tacit understanding between the precious pair being that this letter shall be used to the disadvantage of Laroque, who is threatened with bankruptcy, unless, by the aid of his friend de Noirville, he can obtain 100,000 francs within twenty-four hours. The act setting forth the relationship of these dramatis personæ is a little long-winded in its explanations, and is not much brightened by the would-be comic relief of the scenes between a couple of soldiers and a waiting-maid—the wife of one of them—who discuss their plans for a friendly divorce and a remarriage with more frankness than good taste. With the second act, however, matters soon grow more lively. Aided by chance—though to what extent is not made quite clear—Luversan succeeds beyond his highest hopes in avenging himself upon the man who denounced him as a spy, whilst Mme. de Noirville for her part has the satisfaction of helping, though less directly, to bring her recalcitrant lover to the galleys. By accident it happens that Laroque’s window overlooks that of M. Gerbier, the banker, who is pressing him for money, and accident brings Luversan to the room from which the old man can be seen over the way counting out his gold. Laroque himself has just left his house to seek the pecuniary aid of which he stands in such desperate need, and at his wife’s entreaty he has left behind him the pistol with which he has secretly thought of ending his unhappy existence. The temptation of Gerbier’s money and Laroque’s pistol is too much for Luversan, who, moreover, knows that even is he be seen committing the murder he will be mistaken—as he has often been mistaken before—for the man whose “shadow” he is. The deed is no sooner thought of than done, and its witnesses in the dim light across the courtyard are Laroque’s own wife and child. The situation is in itself of the strongest, and it seems to us a pity that its strength should be abused by piling up harrowing details of the mother’s frenzied effort to instil into her little girl’s mind the duty of perjury. On Laroque’s return he is confronted with the body of his supposed victim, and his vain protestations of innocence call from his wife the cry, “May God forgive him his blasphemy!” Though the agony here is inartistically protracted, and though the curtain is kept up several minutes too long, the general effect is not to be resisted, and is kept up with rare dramatic resource throughout the scene of the trial, which follows in the next act. This trial is, of course, conducted after the French manner, and the difficulties presented by its stage arrangement are overcome with much dexterity. The red-robed President interrogates the prisoner, and puts leading questions to the witnesses, while the whole case is talked over in what seems to our notions a curiously informal manner, but is perfectly true to the traditions of the Palais de Justice. Poor little Suzanne is brought forward to perjure herself, and aver, in tones of childish anguish, that she “saw nothing and heard nothing” on the fatal night. Laroque is called upon to explain the possession of a certain sum of money which is the strongest chain in the link of evidence against him, and, to the astonishment of all in court, he refuses. The fact is that the money came to him on the night of the murder, enclosed in a frantic love letter from the wife of his advocate, De Noirville. If he speaks he injures his best friend. So he will keep silent and meet his fate. But Luversan’s devilish scheme is not yet complete, and De Noirville just before he rises for his impassioned address on behalf of the prisoner, is told whose name it is that Laroque will not speak in self-defence. It was here that Mr. Fernandez, as the sorely-tried advocate, gained the popular triumph of the evening. The struggle between duty to the client and indignation against the apparently false friend was portrayed with tremendous effect, and when the struggle ended in death, just as the orator was about to proclaim his own dishonour, the sensational success was secure. After this, the act in which the balance of justice between Laroque and his villainous “double” is redressed falls, perhaps inevitably, somewhat flat. It is neat enough, but shows little of the constructive ingenuity of the earlier portion.
The acting attains a high level of efficiency throughout. Mr. Tree, who plays both Laroque and Luversan, suggests, with his accustomed cleverness, both the similarity and the difference between the two men, though, perhaps, the former more markedly than the latter. In the trial-scene, the nervous tension of the prisoner is finely indicated by a series of very delicate touches. To Mr. Fernandez’s vigorous piece of oratory allusion has already been made; a trifle indistinct at first, he did best when most was asked of him, and honestly deserved the special thanks bestowed upon him by Mr. Tree in his managerial address. Miss Neilson, though still somewhat stiff and artificial, shows marked improvement in her earnest rendering of Madame de Noirville, and Mrs. Tree and Miss Minnie Terry are as pathetic as could be wished in their rôles. Mr. Kemble and Mr. Allen help to complete the thoroughly efficient cast.
Pall Mall Gazette (13 September, 1889 - p.2)
“A MAN’S SHADOW.”
THE NEW PLAY AT THE HAYMARKET LAST NIGHT.
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN may sit down to-day with a smile of contentment on his face and a sense of satisfaction in his heart. He has grappled with the most formidable difficulties, and has come victoriously out of the struggle; he has successfully twisted the impossible into the possible; he has concentrated all the force of modern stage-craft into one point, and brought the result to bear upon the toughest of tough subjects; in a word, he has turned the French “Roger la Honte” into a play which is beyond all doubt the most powerful piece of dramatic work that he has ever penned. The energy and excitement of “A Man’s Shadow” are almost too intense. Commencing in a strong but suppressed undertone, it gathers fire and fury with an ever-increasing crescendo, until at the close of the third act comes an overwhelming outburst. It is wonderful, the massive third act, with its accumulation of incident and network of detail. The brief touches of comedy are really welcome breathing spaces in such a bewildering crash of circumstance. The eye and ear can hardly grasp it all at once; but still the bold, broad effect is there in all its clear outline, and when the culminating point is reached, and the curtain descends upon the final catastrophe, the success of the play is assured, and it only remains for the audience to call again and again for Mr. Fernandez, who has astonished everyone by his magnificent grip of a great opportunity. Mr. Tree was unquestionably entitled last night to a full share in the honour of this demonstration, for his playing, though for the most part unobtrusive, was yet perfect in its way; but the scene and situation belonged to Mr. Fernandez, and to that actor he gracefully accorded the full credit of a most legitimate triumph.
Since the early days of “The Corsican Brothers,” dual impersonations have always had a certain fascination for both players and playgoers. Such contrasts as are presented by the two central characters in “The Lyons Mail,” or even in “Jekyll and Hyde,” must necessarily be most attractive to the truly versatile actor. Little wonder then that Mr. Tree has yielded to the temptation of appearing both as hero and scoundrel, bidding at one moment for the cheers of his sympathetic hearers, and calling down at the next the ample execrations of the “gods”—turning himself, in short, into a sort of Voltaic pile of virtue and villainy. Opinions will doubtless vary as to the wisdom of his decision in the present case; but, beyond all question, the effectiveness of the device is apparent at many points in the play. Take, for instance, the first entrance of the spy Luversan. Laroque, the devoted husband and father, has just concluded a stormy scene with the worthless woman whom he loved in his youth. He is a tall, broad-shouldered man, who has served his country in battle; he has black hair, a high forehead, and clear cut features. Scarcely has he closed the door when there slouches into the room, from another entrance, a vile-looking, drink-sodden Alsatian in a cut-away waistcoat and a flashy red tie. There is the plausible likeness between the two, but this latter being is just as degraded and raffish as Laroque is lofty and intellectual. Luversan is indeed a “shadow” on the life of the man whom he so fatally resembles. He commits a cold-blooded murder in the very sight of Laroque’s wife and child, piling up with devilish ingenuity a damning mass of evidence which sends the innocent man to a felon’s exile with the knowledge that his beloved Henriette and his little Suzanne believe implicitly in his guilt. When Laroque escapes and returns to France in rags his evil genius still pursues him, and it is only at the end of all things that daylight comes at last. The spy is shot by the gensdarmes in mistake for his “double,” and the returned convict, with his dear ones clasped to his breast, holds up his head once more in the sight of his fellow-men. It would be impossible to v indicate in a satisfactory manner the detailed workings of this complex and many-sided plot. The vivid representation of the banker’s murder; the character of Suzanne—truly a part of enormous calibre for a child; the great Trial Scene in the third act, with all its accuracy and colour; the unflinching fidelity to his cause of the advocate Raymond de Noirville, who is struck down by the hand of death as he is endeavouring to save the life of his client by the proclamation of his own disgrace;—all these are points for discussion, and discussion will doubtless be lavished on them in plenty. For the present one must be content with merely chronicling the well-deserved success of an admirable and interesting play.
Naturally enough, Mr. Tree found his chief opportunities in the character of Laroque. His conception of the man, upright and honourable even in the hour of his direst despair, was a beautiful and minute study throughout; but in the third act particularly he rose to something very like greatness. The crushed and humbled demeanour of the man who is being tried for his life, the subdued tone of his answers, the shame of his downcast gaze, and the cry of anguish as he hears of his wife’s danger, were all in perfect harmony with the surroundings. It was not character acting; it was life. As the Spy Mr. Tree was good, but he will be better still shortly.
Too little space remains for adequate notice of a cast which was on the whole well chosen. Mr. James Fernandez, whose scholarly and artistic performance has already been referred to; Mrs. Tree, who played the comparatively small part of Henriette with much genuine pathos; and little Minnie Terry, who, though suffering from a bad cold, surmounted the great difficulties of her character in a manner which augured well for the future—all worked excellently, and their efforts met with due recognition. Miss Julia Neilson, as the advocate’s faithless wife, was decidedly mechanical except in her last scene; Miss Norreys gave a striking tragic touch at a significant moment in the play; Messrs. Collette, Charles Allan, and E. M. Robson supplied some capital bits of character; and Mr. Kemble, as the president of the court, was as good as possible. Much care has evidently been devoted to the mounting of the play.
St. James’s Gazette (13 September, 1889 - p.5)
THE THEATRICAL WORLD.
THE NEW PLAY AT THE HAYMARKET.
That “A Man’s Shadow,” Mr. Robert Buchanan’s adaptation of “Roger la Honte,” is in all respects a satisfactory play can hardly be said. Nevertheless its first performance last night at the Haymarket Theatre produced a remarkable display of enthusiasm. The reason for this it is not hard to discover. Many of the situations have, it is true, been used before—notably in “Proof” and “The Lyons Mail;” the motive of the play itself is forced and unnatural; inconsistencies abound in it: and yet the piece provides the actors with opportunities which triumph over everything and almost make one forget that they have been reached by entirely false methods. The success achieved last night was, in point of fact, due in great measure to the performers; and the chief merit of bringing about so desirable a result lay with Mr. James Fernandez, whose vigorous acting (generously acknowledged by Mr. Tree) carried everything before it, and evoked in the third act a storm of applause, which was not appeased until the curtain had been raised and lowered several times.
It is unfortunate that, in order to satisfy English tastes, Mr. Buchanan has been obliged to effect changes which, however unavoidable, greatly weaken the motive of the play. To claim sympathy for a man who does not hesitate to sacrifice, not only his own life and honour, but the happiness of wife and child to a mistaken spirit of camaraderie is to demand a good deal from the indulgence of an audience. Other and equally glaring incongruities are apparent. Still, on the whole, the adapter has done his work with considerable skill; and even such blemishes as those indicated will doubtless be readily condoned by the public in view of the striking scenes which are provided.
To Mr. Fernandez, as has been said, fell the chief honours of the evening. Excellent as he was in the earlier and less emotional scenes, he played in the later with a force and earnestness which stirred every one. The passionate anguish of the man who expends his last energies in defending his wife’s lover was admirably portrayed and received the recognition it deserved. In the dual rôle of Laroque and his “double” Luversan, Mr. Tree had far greater difficulties to contend with. As the latter, he displayed a certain lack of ease; the character was painted in too undecided colours, and lost something thereby. More convincing, however, was his impersonation of the unjustly accused Laroque; and his appeal in the third act to his daughter— a part, by the way, played with great sweetness by Miss Minnie Terry—was distinguished by much pathos. Mrs. Tree as the suffering wife had fewer opportunities, but of these she made the most; while Miss Julia Neilson, although somewhat overweighted by the part, acted earnestly as Mdme. de Noirville. What little comedy there is in the piece was supplied by Miss Norreys, Mr. Collette, and Mr. E. M. Robson; but it is of a rather primitive description, and might easily be dispensed with.
In spite of the high authority to be quoted on the other side, it seems to many good judges to be a mistake to make the plot of a play turn upon the personal likeness of two of the dramatis personæ; for in performing the piece one falls into this dilemma. If by a miracle two actors are to be found capable of being made up so as to be practically indistinguishable—or, even more, if one actor doubles the parts, like Mr. Irving in the “Lyons Mail,” and like Mr. Beerbohm Tree in this play—then the audience is apt itself to confuse the two parts, and to get befogged now and then; or if, to avoid this danger, the actors are made up so as to be readily distinguishable, then the confounding of them by the characters in the play is apt to appear unnatural to the spectator. The latter is perhaps the less of two evils. It should be an axiom of the dramatist never to mystify his audience. The necessity of letting the audience into the secret of action and characters is the justification of much of that conventionality in stage characterization which has been so wittily satirized by Mr. Jerome. On the whole, therefore, probably the wiser policy is to have an actor for each part rather than to double them, however tempting this feat may be to a clever actor, and however skilfully it may sometimes be accomplished.
The Globe (13 September ,1889 - p.6)
“A MAN’S SHADOW.”
Twelve months after the success of “Roger La Honte” at the Ambigu Comique it has found its way, in an English version by Mr. Robert Buchanan, to the Haymarket. In its original shape the story appeared as a roman feuilleton in Le Petit Journal. Very considerable changes have been necessary to fit it to the English stage, the most important alterations consisting necessarily of excisions. As now seen it is a strong melodrama, which furnishes great opportunities for acting, and on the strength of two or three eminently effective situations leaves a strong hold upon the public. In the main incidents, “A Man’s Shadow” is scarcely to be distinguished from a hundred previous works. The leading motive, that of a resemblance between two men so close as to mislead those who know them best, is anticipated in the “Lyons Mail.” Other portions of the idea are foreshadowed in “Proof,” and the manner in which the wife and child of a man wrongly convicted are sheltered by devoted adherents, who are also comic characters, belongs to the infancy of melodrama.
Fortunately, however, the respects in which this latest of adaptations differs from its predecessors are important. Lucien Laroque and Raymond de Noirville are modern equivalents to Damon and Pythias. In their country’s troubles they have fought side by side, shared the same dangers, and owed their lives each to the other. The war over they resume their peaceful occupations, and it is then only that Lucien, otherwise Roger Laroque, discovers in his friend’s wife his former mistress, who is only too anxious to reassert her empire over him. To the weakness of this woman, and the desire for revenge of Luversan, a spy whom he has cut down and ordered to be shot, and who bears an extraordinary likeness to him, Lucien owes it that a charge of murder is fastened upon him. Deceived by the resemblance, his own wife and his child cannot but believe him guilty of a crime which they are convinced they saw him commit. One method of escape alone presents itself, and as this involves the confession of his relations with Mdme. de Noirville, he dares not employ it. Noirville, who is an advocate, is charged with his defence, and hopes in spite of difficulties to get him off. At the moment when Noirville is about to plead his friend’s case, a love letter from his wife to his client is placed in his hands. For the time he is torn by diverse passions. Professional duty triumphs. He is on the point of securing an acquittal for his false friend and exposing his own domestic dishonour when, torn by conflicting emotions, he drops and dies in court. Forgetful of everything except the death of his friend, for which, indirectly at least, he is responsible, and misinformed that his wife is dead, Lucien declares himself guilty, and in consideration of his services to his country is let off with penal servitude for life. From this he escapes, and he succeeds ultimately in redeeming his character and bringing the true criminal to justice. The strength of the play lies in the scene in the criminal court, in which the convict’s infant daughter, Suzanne, is made a reluctant but deadly witness against her father, and in which, with the proofs of his friend’s treachery in his hand, Noirville does his duty, and, in so doing, meets his death from the reopening of his wounds. These scenes are played in admirably powerful style, Mr. Fernandez thrilled and carried away the audience by a display of overpowering passion, and secured the fortunes of the drama. A more virile and emotional piece of acting has rarely been seen. Miss Minnie Terry rendered inexpressibly touching and natural the distress of the young child who strives vainly to banish from her memory the terrible scenes she has witnessed, and swoons at length in court under parental adjuration to tell the truth which she knows will seal her father’s doom.
Mr. Tree doubles the parts of Lucien Laroque and Luversan. Whether he is wise in thus recalling the memories of the “Lyons Mail” may be doubted. The contrast is sufficiently striking, but the whole savours of stage artifice. It is needless to say that the two parts are finely rendered. The bewilderment of the brave and honourable man who sees so horrible a mesh of guilt enveloping and strangling him, is inexpressibly impressive, and the reckless animosity and the murderous instincts of the spy are no less truthfully shown. As a tour de force the whole is remarkable, and the contrast between the domestic serenity of the one life, and the malignity and dare-devilry of the other, contributes greatly to the success of the whole. Mrs. Beerbohm Tree’s acting when she receives her husband after his apparent commission of the crime, is finely conceived. Her look of horror could not be surpassed. Miss Norreys, Mr. Collette, and Mr. Robson, support, in lively fashion, a not very pleasing underplot. Miss Julia Neilson acts with much power in a disagreeable character, and looks wonderfully handsome, while Mr. Kemble, Mr. Allan, and Mr. Hargreaves are excellent in subordinate characters. A brilliant and an undisputed triumph was scored, and no mark of overflowing enthusiasm was wanting. Mr. Tree, who had been a dozen times summoned, was compelled to make a short and unrehearsed speech of acknowledgement. The theatre, cleaned and restored and lighted by electricity, looked very bright. Mr. Armbruster, specially engaged, gave some delightful music, dresses and decoration were new and effective, and nothing that could aid imagination or develop success was wanting. It seems worth while to state that the chief departure from the original made by Mr. Buchanan is in regard to the time between the two last acts. In “Roger la Honte” the hero escapes, goes to America, makes a fortune, comes back disguised, kills his enemy, and secures the happy marriage of Suzanne, now grown up, with Raymond de Noirville, a son of the advocate. Mr. Buchanan brings him back as a fugitive immediately after he has been sent out to New Caledonia, and spares us the death of Mdme. de Noirville. In the English version, moreover, the relations of Lucien with Julie de Noirville are ante- and not post-nuptial.
The Era (14 September, 1889 - p.9)
“A MAN’S SHADOW.”
A New Drama, Adapted from the French by Robert Buchanan,
Played for the First Time on Thursday, Sept. 12th,
at the Haymarket Theatre.
Luversan ... } Mr TREE.
Raymond de Noirville ... Mr FERNANDEZ.
M. Gerbier ... Mr ALLAN.
Picolet ... Mr COLLETTE.
Tristol ... Mr E. M. ROBSON.
Jean Ricordot ... Mr HARGREAVES.
President of the Court ... Mr KEMBLE.
Advocate General ... Mr TAPPING.
Lacroix ... Mr GURNEY.
Usher ... Mr ROBB HARWOOD.
Valet ... Mr LEITH.
Henriette ... Mrs TREE.
Suzanne ... Miss MINNIE TERRY.
Victoire ... Miss NORREYS.
Julie ... Miss JULIA NEILSON.
The long-looked-for production of Mr Robert Buchanan’s adaptation of Roger la Honte has come at last, and English playgoers have had some opportunity of estimating the merits of MM. Jules Mary and Georges Grisier’s drama, which, as our readers will remember, was first played at the Ambigu Theatre, Paris, on Sept. 28th last year. Mr Robert Buchanan has had a task of some difficulty in reducing to limits suitable to the tastes and patience of a Haymarket audience the five acts and ten scenes of the original. Comparison of A Man’s Shadow with our Parisian correspondent’s account of the French play seems to show that the adulterous liaison between Julie de Noirville and Roger Laroque has been toned down by Mr Buchanan into mere pre-nuptial immorality; and that the last two acts have been wisely compressed, with some alteration, into one. In the original, Roger not only escapes from New Caledonia, but flees to America with his daughter Susanne, where he becomes very wealthy. After twelve years, he returns to Paris, determined to discover the real murderer of Gerbier; and settles in the environs near Madame de Noirville, who is now white-haired and repentant, and whose son, Raymond, falls in love with Susanne. Finally, Roger entices Luversan into the house where the villain murdered the banker, and Luversan fires a shot which kills Madame de Noirville. Before dying she makes a declaration of Laroque’s innocence; and the hero disposes of his enemy by sending a pistol bullet through his body. In Mr Buchanan’s adaptation Laroque returns from New Caledonia and takes refuge in a cabaret, where his wife and child are staying. The police and the gens-d’armes are upon his track, and he conceals himself in a room. Luversan, entering the house, endeavours to discover the whereabouts of the fugitive in order to betray him to his pursuers; but the remarkable likeness between the two men leads the military party to fire upon Luversan, who falls dead; whilst Laroque has only to pass through the formality of an examination for his innocence to be proved by Madame de Noirville’s statements. We have taken it for granted that our readers possess a knowledge of the outline of the plot of Roger la Honte, which has already been twice described in our columns. Mr Buchanan has retained all the strong points of his original. The scene in which the jealous Julie de Noirville is goaded by the artful Luversan to throw down to him from a window her compromising letter to Laroque, which Luversan afterwards uses with such terrible effect; that in which the mother and daughter, looking “over the way” into Gerbier’s room, see, as they both think, Laroque murder the old man; and, above all, the terrible trial scene, with its crucial situation when Lucien de Noirville discovers, as he believes, that both friend and wife have proved false to him, nobly resolves nevertheless to do his duty to his client, and falls dead in the attempt—all these have been presented in English with as little garbling and alteration as was practically possible. The retention, too, of the French locale is artistic and satisfactory; and, though we may regret that the humours of Picolet and Tristot bear importation so badly, the interest and novelty created by the picture, finished and correct in every detail, of the interior of a French Court of Assizes, quite outweigh this subordinate deficiency. As a whole, Mr Buchanan may be said to have done his work conscientiously and well.
In the original performance of Roger la Honte at the Ambigu the parts of Laroque and Luversan were represented by separate individuals. Mr Beerbohm-Tree, however, preferred to take upon himself the double burden formerly sustained jointly by MM. Montal and Pouctal. The attempt was a bold one, but, as made by the manager of the Haymarket, was entirely successful. Who could suppose, indeed, that the chivalrous, refined, and conscientious Laroque, and the low-browed Luversan, with his vulgar affectation of ease, his snobbish elegance, and his mutilated hand, were represented by one and the same actor? The intervals between the assumptions of the different impersonations were wonderfully brief. Hardly had Mr Tree disappeared from our view as the one individual than he reappeared as the other; but those few moments had worked a complete metamorphosis not only in the actor’s appearance, but in his voice, bearing, and gestures. It was a marvellous instance of histrionic versatility, and Mr Tree has rarely, if ever, displayed his histrionic genius to more marked advantage. Mr Beerbohm-Tree divided the honours of the evening with Mr Fernandez. This ripe and finished actor rarely has a part in which he can display his powers as fully as he did in that of Raymond de Noirville, at the Haymarket on Thursday. Of course, in the earlier acts, Mr Fernandez had merely to reserve himself for the supreme effort of the third. In this he was magnificent. The silent eloquence of his facial expression as he listened to the questions of the President and to Laroque’s embarrassed replies; the agony of his discovery from his wife’s letter of her infidelity and shame, the fiery reproach hurled in an undertone at his friend; the bitter intensity of resolve depicted in tone, features, and bearing as de Noirville commenced his address to the jury; and the terrible reality of his collapse under the strain of his supreme effort, constituted altogether a performance which few actors on the English stage but Mr Fernandez could have given. Mr Allan was solid and natural as M. Gerbier; and Mr Collette and Mr E. M. Robson played the two comic French soldiers with care and cleverness. Mr Hargreaves, well made up, did much with the little part of Jean Ricordot, a witness; and Mr Kemble was exactly what was required as the President of the Court. Mr Tapping was distinct and decided as the Advocate-General; and Mr Gurney played Lacroix, the police agent, with steadiness and skill. Mrs Tree as Madame Laroque acted with earnestness, and, at times, with remarkable energy and feeling. Miss Minnie Terry, who played the child Suzanne, was suffering from a severe cold, which probably had something to do with the fact that he performance was slightly unsympathetic and superficial. Miss Norreys’ rôle of Victoire offered her but few opportunities, but of these she took full advantage; and in the scenes in which the servant overhears her mistress instruct the child to conceal the supposed crime of her father, and in which Victoire is threatened and cross-examined by Lacroix, Miss Norreys expressed anxiety and grief very vividly indeed. Miss Julia Neilson, who appeared as Julie de Noirville, had not quite estimated the acoustics of the Haymarket Theatre; but showed that her practice and experience in the provinces had not been in vain. She showed great promise by a very intelligent and earnest performance. Miss Neilson has much to learn, but the manifest improvement which she has already made gives every hope of future excellence. Minor parts were filled to satisfaction by Mr Robb Harwood and Mr Leith. The mounting was, on the whole, admirable, and Mr Walter Johnstone and Mr Walter Hann’s scenery deserves every praise. The interior of the first act, with its oaken fittings, was strikingly effective. In that of the second act the perspective had not been sufficiently allowed for in the size of the window over the way, so that the distance between the two houses seemed too little. The scene in the Assize Chamber in the Palais de Justice was wonderfully complete. Not only had every detail been carefully supplied, but the well-managed crowd and functionaries all did their work without even the smallest hitch. What pleased us most, however, in this scene was the artistic nature of the whole picture, with the sunlight crossing the court, and gilding the heads of some of the spectators. Warm praise must be awarded to Mr Tree’s superintendence, and to Mr A. B. Tapping’s active stage management. There were enthusiastic demonstrations after each act, and at the conclusion, after the curtain had risen and discovered Mr Tree, Mr Fernandez, and Mr Buchanan in a triumphant trio, Mr Tree was summoned separately, with a view of inducing him to follow the breach-honoured custom of first-night speech-making. In a few sentences, the manager of the Haymarket expressed his gratitude for past favours, his satisfaction with present success, and his intention of winning credit in the future by a series of classical matinées.
Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (15 September, 1889 - p.5)
There could be no mistake concerning the genuineness of the interest evoked on Thursday evening during the performance of the new drama, A Man’s Shadow—an arrangement by Mr. Robert Buchanan of the now celebrated French piece, Roger la Honte. For the undoubted success obtained the utmost credit is due to the actors, the adapter, and the stage manager. In the original, Roger la Honte is a very lengthy piece, relieved by a few striking scenes. It is conventional in character, and frequently reminiscent of The Courier of Lyons. The likeness to the old-fashioned melodrama named is rendered greater at the Haymarket from the fact that Mr. Tree plays the double part of a high- minded gentleman unjustly accused of murder, and of the real criminal, who follows the example of Dubosc in watching with savage glee the sufferings of the innocent prisoner. Mr. Buchanan has considerably curtailed the action; he has to a great extent re-arranged the story, and has written a new final act. Though complicated, the plot in its main issues is now thoroughly clear, and the whole moves with smoothness and precision. It was inevitable, perhaps, that the most absorbing portion should be (as in the original drama) the trial scene, but by dexterous theatrical manipulation the hero and the villain preserve their strength and vitality until the close. Exhibiting a wisdom that can scarcely be too highly commended, Mr. Tree has engaged for the next most important character (or rather characters) to his own that capable and emotionally forcible actor, Mr. James Fernandez. Upon the sympathy evinced by the audience towards the manufacturer, Lucien Laroque, and the advocate, Raymond de Noirville, the piece must stand or fall. Through the malignity and craft of a despicable fellow named Luversan, who facially is his counterpart, the manufacturer, whilst trembling on the verge of bankruptcy, is accused of murdering a banker with whom he has just had vexatious monetary transactions. The most serious piece of evidence against Laroque is the possession of some notes, known to have been lately in the banker’s hands, for which he refuses to account. The reason is that he believes them to have been sent him by the wife of his dearest friend, Raymond de Noirville, the advocate who is defending him and is fully persuaded of his innocence. To tell the truth respecting these notes would be to demonstrate to the world the unfaithfulness of Madame de Noirville. Laroque prefers ignominy—even death—to destroying the happiness of his trusting friend. But the villain insists upon De Noirville knowing all, and passes him a letter which his wife had penned to Laroque. Though terribly unnerved by this awful revelation, De Noirville resolves upon pursuing the defence, and is just about to read the fatal letter to the crowded court when he falls dead. This is the crisis of the play, and the effect of Mr. Fernandez’s acting as the advocate, together with the surroundings—carefully prepared to seize both mind and ear—is tremendous. Eventually Laroque’s innocence is proved, and the pitiless Luversan is duly shot. These two parts are played by Mr. Tree with as much contrast as they will admit of, and equal skill is displayed in illustrating the lofty sense of honour of the one as in depicting the rascality of the other. Mrs. Tree plays the gentle Madame Laroque; little Miss Minnie Terry the child Suzanne, who, having been a witness to the murder, is questioned by the President of the Court of Justice; Miss Julia Neilson the wretched Madame De Noirville; and Miss Norreys a serving maid. These characters, however, are altogether secondary to those sustained by Messrs. Tree and Fernandez, which could not be in better hands. The reception of A Man’s Shadow on Thursday night was deservedly enthusiastic.
The Echo (19 September, 1889 - p.2)
PLAYS AND PLAYHOUSES
“ROGER LA HONTE.”
The Haymarket success shows us how universal au fond is the taste for crimson sensation. Roger la Honte, whether in French or English, is purely and simply a melodrama. Of polished dialogue, social satire, moral or immoral teaching, literary beauty, psychological study, there is absolutely no vestige. It is a powerful, compact, and thrilling drama, skilfully handled, and of cumulative interest. Had it been produced at the Standard, the Surrey, or the Adelphi, it would have been a great success. At the Haymarket it is, to a great extent, the triumph of hypocrisy. The blasé West-ender professionally turns up his nose at sensational melodrama; he passes through the Strand, and, looking at the flaming Adelphi poster, thanks his superior culture that his taste is not as that of the plebeians. But Mr. Tree knows his audience better than they know themselves. Abating no jot of the pretensions of his house to high artistic distinction and refinement, he commissions Mr. Robert Buchanan to adapt a fine crusted foreign blood-curdler for him. A first-night crowd saunters into the theatre. The curtain rises, and the spell works. Here is sensation, blood, murder, crime, mystery, scenes as strained, exciting, and unnatural as in a “penny dreadful” novelette. The patronising approval of the audience vanishes; here is something which appeals to their natural taste—the taste the dainty lady who talks of Colonel Olcott or Mr. Whistler shares in common with her maidservant. A genuine burst of applause escapes the audience; then comes a moment of reflection. “Are we not giving ourselves away?” “No, it is the exclusive Haymarket, it is Tree. ‘On with the dance; let joy be unconfined.’” Oh, clever Mr. Tree! It is not the habit that makes the monk, not the swallowtail that makes the man of refinement. This is the first lesson of Roger La Honte.
OTHER INTERESTING NOTES.
Originally Mr. Tree was to have played one of the dual parts of Laroque and Luversan, Mr. Brookfield the other. Thus I announced some weeks ago, when I anticipated Mr. Buchanan in giving you an English version of the plot. Finally the poetical Scotch gentleman re-wrote the last act, and otherwise obviated the necessity of two actors for these rôles; and Mr. Tree decided to double. I submit that he made a mistake. Laroque and Luversan are too obviously one and the same man. They are merely differentiated by rendering Luversan grotesque—a comic opera villain. On his first appearance he looks like a cross between a Jack-in-the-Box and Mephistopheles. He pops up unannounced from nowhere, dressed in brown coat, dress waistcoat, and red cravat, and struts about with dancing-master gait. All through the play I think Mr. Tree does an injustice to his splendid acting in the more tragic parts by trying our gravity, as he does, by rushing out at one door as Laroque and back at another as Luversan, like Woodin, or some other quick-change “artiste.” As a general rule, when Mr. Buchanan adapts anything the programme contains an explanation, that though the central idea was suggested by the original author, the whole treatment of the subject is novel and Buchananesque. There was no such legend to be read in connection with A Man’s Shadow. The names of MM. Mary and Grisier were characteristically entirely omitted instead. Was this why there was just the ghost of a murmur when Mr. Tree, forgetful in the moment of jubilation that an actor is not an orator, burst into a few words of rhetorical gratitude to Mr. Buchanan before the footlights? Undeniably Mr. Fernandez’ grand scene in the Court-house, which reminded us of the stars of boyhood’s stage, was the finest feature of the night; unless it was the magnanimous generosity with which Mr. Tree insisted upon associating this actor with all the calls of the night.
LITTLE MINNIE TERRY.
A more graceful, exquisite little lady does not exist on or off the stage. She shows signs of being every whit as clever as even her “Aunt Ellen.” All that she does is natural and childlike—to the manner born, in fact. But even this delightful little girl does not cause me to waive in my dislike, under any conditions whatever, and purely on artistic reasons, to stage children. But that is a mere personal idiosyncrasy. My objection to the hateful exhibition made of this child in A Man’s Shadow is based on broader grounds. Some people like to see a little girl in a white frock, white sash, white shoes, and nicely-brushed hair, stand up, with her hands behind her back, and spout a birthday speech about praying for “dear papa” and intending to be good. I do not think such a performance a bit less objectionable off than on the stage. But when this little mite is called upon to witness a brutal murder by (apparently) her own father, to be cross-examined by the French police, brow-beaten by a Judge in open Court, and finally placed on the mental rack by her own father, unwittingly seeking his own condemnation out of his daughter’s mouth, and tortured till she swoons with agony, I say no words can be found too fervent to protest against this rough violation of all good taste. People will got to see it—people go to see prize-fights; people went hoping to see Baldwin leave the clouds a man, and touch the earth a jelly. But this does not make the thing worthy of the Haymarket management, or complimentary to the friends of our little stage-queen.
Local Government Gazette (19 September, 1889)
Theatrical and Musical.
Theatrically we are just now in a very restless condition. We do not know exactly what we want, though we believe we want to be serious, or, at least, to be treated as though we do. Hence the theatrical atmosphere is charged with experiment - our dramatists and our managers are testing our appetites, and giving our tastes a wide scope. Thus we have dallied with the dogmatic drama of Ibsen, and toyed with the passionate realism of the Dutch author of “A Man’s Love.” We have striven to be impressed by the elaborate psychology of Mr. Henry Arthur Jones’s “Wealth,” and have been lured back to Shakespeare by the actor’s personality and a brilliant show; and now we have arrived at the happy cross-roads of criticism, where we may rest at least awhile with the dramatic beauties of “The Profligate” of Mr. Pinero, and the human strength of “The Middleman” of Mr. Jones, until we feel impelled to select some still nearer way to reach the eternal truths of the drama. In the meanwhile, no one is more alive to this spirit of unrest than Mr. Beerbohm Tree. He has been giving us all sorts and conditions of plays, and never one like its predecessor. Domestic drama, romantic drama, historical drama, psychological drama, and Shakespearian comedy, and now the latest development of French melodrama. He is always on the alert to catch the popular taste, and, what is more, his keen managerial instincts are allied to an eager artistic temperament. Thus, having deemed it judicious to transplant “Roger la Honte” from Paris, where such a play is indigenous, to London, where it is not, he wisely allowed Mr. Robert Buchanan a free hand in the process of adaptation; and accordingly “A Man’s Shadow,” as the English version is called, proved a decided success on Thursday night, for the two great startling situations that make the play are relieved of much in their episodical surroundings that would be wearisome and impossible on the English stage.
* * *
As it stands, “A Man’s Shadow” is an exciting, though very painful and often harrowing play, of the uncompromisingly melodramatic order. Situation—strong, thrilling situation—is the desideratum, and to this end the wires of the dramatis personæ are pulled. Thus, consistent human motive is scarcely to be looked for; certain effects have to be produced by certain incidents, and the characters have to fit those. Psychology is out of the question, and motive must not be analysed. To bring about thrilling situation number one it is necessary that the villain should commit a murder so openly as to implicate the innocent hero; and to ensure agonising situation number two, it is imperative that a woman should league herself with this villain in the dark. But ordinary probability stands amazed before the manner of these things, or would, if it were not breathlessly hurried on from episode to episode by the knowing energy of the playwright, or rather playwrights, for we must regard “A Man’s Shadow” as the work of a trio—the two French authors and Mr. Buchanan. Starting with the old “Lyons Mail” notion that a virtuous and respected Parisian gentleman has a villainous “double,” they make the wicked one acting for purposes of revenge to destroy the good. The hero is accused of a murder committed by his “double,” who has woven an almost inextricable chain of circumstantial evidence about him; and his wife and child, happening to see the murder, are convinced that he is guilty, though the agonised mother trains the sensitive and terrified child to deny everything. Then comes the trial, and the child is brought to bear witness against her father, but still denies having seen or heard anything, though the perplexed prisoner implores her to speak the truth. The explanation of one piece of damning evidence could prove his innocence, and this it is in his power to give; but this revelation, though it saved his own life, would break the heart of his dearest friend, comrade, and advocate, for it would involve the public shaming of that friend’s wife, the prisoner’s former mistress. He therefore remains persistently silent on this point. But his “double” gives this information to the advocate just as he is about to make his speech for the defence, and believing his friend has been false to him, he is in the awful position of having to decide between proclaiming his own dishonour and the shame of his wife to save the innocent, or remaining silent and allowing the friend he believes to have wronged him to suffer unjustly. He chooses the path of duty, but sudden death spares him in the terrible act of performing it.
* * *
It was in this episode that Mr. James Fernandez, by his splendidly intense acting, ensured the success of the play. It was a grand effort, the situation was thrilling, and the audience was intensely excited and surprised; consequently, when the tension was over, the house rose at the actor and thundered its applause. The startling situation of the previous act, when the murder was committed, albeit the agony was unduly prolonged, had distinctly prejudiced the audience in favour of the play; but the end of the trial scene clinched matters, and the sombre but still exciting, and in some measure pathetic, last act—which, by the way, is entirely Mr. Buchanan’s own—was followed with that substantial interest which assured success always awakens. Mr. Beerbohm Tree played the dual part of the villain and the hero with artistic effect, suggesting the difference in resemblance, though he will surely work out his double conception with still more subtlety and greater distinction—for versatility in characterisation is his forte. Miss Julia Neilson played the advocate’s wife and the hero’s cast off and jealous mistress with much nervous force and suppressed passion, and in the last act with pathos. It was not her fault that the character was extravagant in motive; the beautiful young actress showed nevertheless that she had in her that true dramatic instinct and power of which we recognised the promise from the first. Experience alone is what she requires. Mrs. Tree was sympathetic and tender throughout as the hero’s wife, and Miss Norreys, in a small part with few opportunities, struck a natural note. Mr. Charles Collette and Mr. E. M. Robson played the silly comedy scenes in the right key, and by their discreet acting saved these from being tedious. Neither actor overstepped the modesty of nature, which they might easily have done. Small parts were admirably filled by Mr. Kemble, Mr. Allan, Mr. Hargreaves, Mr. Tapping, Mr. Gurney, and Mr. Robb Harwood. We doubt if a more beautiful and natural performance has ever been seen upon the stage than that of the hero’s child by that little genius, Minnie Terry. But surely no child of seven was ever called upon to play so harrowing and exhausting a part. A child of such exquisite sensibility as she is must surely be impressed by the significance of such distressing scenes. We have warmly advocated the right of children to appear upon the stage, but it is painful to see young children in terrible situations like those involving the child in “A Man’s Shadow.” It is, at all events, unnecessary to make her faint in the trial scene, since her consciousness is so soon necessary for the further dialogue. Mr. Buchanan was loudly applauded on Thursday night, but Mr. Tree was hardly wise to attempt a speech all about nothing. This “first night” speechifying is becoming not only ridiculous but a nuisance, and it is frequently merely a wrangle between the manager and one or two irresponsible youths in the gallery.
The Morpeth Herald (21 September, 1889 - p.2)
MR. BEERBOHM TREE
Is evidently inspired by a laudable wish to give credit where credit is due. The Haymarket Theatre has been smartly redecorated in honour of the new play, “A Man’s Shadow,” and every individual who has had his finger in the pie has his name printed in full in the programme. No one would begrudge praise for costumes and wigs so ludicrously true to Paris nature, but the grave announcement of the name of the cleaner of certain rather second-rate figure subjects on the ceiling may provoke a smile. We have all been aware for months past that Mr. Robert Buchanan, the ever energetic, was at work on the English version of “Roger la Honte,” which in places is more than a trifle slovenly in diction; but the writer to whose actual invention we owe a strong play, with a few fine scenes, is not made known to the Haymarket audiences. This is a great omission, and should be remedied. Not that anyone familiar with Mr. Buchanan is in the slightest degree likely to fancy the play is a piece of original work. It is apparently closely translated, and not “adapted” from the French after the usual fashion.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (21 September, 1889 - p.10)