36. Marmion (1891)
by Robert Buchanan (an adaptation of the poem, Marmion by Sir Walter Scott).
Glasgow: Theatre Royal. 8 April to 9 May, 1891.
Edinburgh: Royal Lyceum Theatre. 27 June, 1891.
The Echo (8 June, 1889 - p.1)
It is a long time since one of the first critics of his day—George Henry Lewes—founder and first editor of the Fortnightly Review—declared the new poet, Robert Buchanan, to be a man of genius. At that time, and since, we have had many smart versifiers who are not poets but poetasters, and critics who are only criticasters. For many a year Mr. Buchanan has been at war with the criticasters, who, like other bundles of sticks, found strength in union—the union of “log-rolling.” They tried to crush him, and they failed. When they boycotted him in the literary journals he took, for a time, to the stage; and the result was that Mr. Buchanan soon became recognised as one of the cleverest, most ingenious, and popular playwrights of his day.
Now, Mr. Robert Buchanan is a Scot—a patriotic Scot, none the worse, however, for having been “caught” tolerably young. And, like a patriotic Scot, he has been dramatising the great Sir Walter’s “Marmion”—and for Edinburgh, not for London, at any rate in the first place. Mere politicians of the windy tribe take to Scotch Home Rule as the proper instrument for cherishing the national spirit. But perhaps a week of a first-rate Marmion would be worth a decade of a Parliament in Edinburgh.
The new drama is to be put on the boards superbly, and regardless of expense. Holyrood, Castle Douglas, Flodden will be represented as faithfully as stage art can make them. Mr. Buchanan is a Glasgow man. He was born there forty- eight years ago. He took his degree at Glasgow University. He was only nineteen years old when his first volume of poems, “Undertones,” was published. It was his attack on the fleshly school of poetry, seventeen years ago, that first brought about the long war between him and the log-rollers.
Glasgow Herald (2 April, 1891)
“MARMION” AT THE THEATRE-ROYAL.
If there is one thing that more than another distinguishes the career of Mr Howard as a director of the public taste in the matter of stage representations it is his keen sympathy with all that may be regarded as belonging to the branch of the drama that peculiarly appeals to Scottish feeling and nationality. Were such an institution as a National theatre possible among an anti-theatrical people like the Scotch, Mr Howard, above all others, would be the man who might be trusted with its fortunes so far as these depended upon management in keeping with the mind and will of the community. Just because of his ability to accurately gauge the public taste he has been conspicuously successful in the conduct of his numerous enterprises in the dramatic world. To the many proofs he has already given of his desire to foster Scottish drama he is now about to add another, and again he has turned to the pages of the Bard of Abbotsford. In Scott’s romantic poem of “Marmion” Mr Howard has found a theme worthy alike of his purpose and his enterprise. It used to be said, not so very long ago, that it was impossible to “act” Sir Walter Scott. Time, which changes all things, has swept this fallacy away. Sir Walter Scott has now a place, and a high place too, on the lyric as well as the dramatic stage, and who shall set a limit to the position he yet may occupy? It is, however, with the latest achievement rather than future possibilities that we have here to deal. Even the least studious admirer of Scott must know that rich as “Marmion” is in romance, grand and picturesque descriptive poetry, and thrilling dramatic incident, it could not be adequately played in its epic form. Much has had to be accomplished alike in the way of interpolation and omission to meet the exigencies of stage representation. This part of the work has been undertaken by Mr Robert Buchanan, and his task of bringing the text into due compass, while at the same time preserving its spirit and its essential details, has been accomplished with conspicuous success. In the poem each of the six cantos contains a complete and, so to speak, semi-independent portion of the narrative. This division has been almost wholly discarded, and in two important instances at least the sequence of the poem, and even the course of its events, has been materially altered. As it now stands, the romance is much better adapted for stage performance than in the original. The additions of a material kind that have been made are few. Perhaps the most prominent is the introduction in one of the scenes laid in Edinburgh of a brief dialogue, in the dialect of the capital, among a group of the inhabitants as to the probabilities of the coming conflict between Scotland and England. Besides giving an acceptable touch of local colour, this serves, like one or two passages of a similar character, to afford an opportunity for the introduction of comedy. This, however, is very properly resorted to but sparingly, and while the narrative is thus agreeably lightened at some points, its grandeur is never impaired. The “tale of Flodden Field” is preserved throughout, and if some of the flights of poetic genius which mark the original poem—notably the magnificent description of the fatal field, and of the scenes and incidents immediately before the battle—have had to be greatly curtailed, sufficient remains to convey not merely in outline, but in substantial form, the story of “Marmion” in all its brightness and all its gloom, and of the epoch-marking conflict in which the flower of Scottish chivalry were “a’ wede away.”
As the public are aware, “Marmion” will be produced at the Theatre-Royal on Wednesday evening next. In anticipation of the event, which will be a memorable one in the annals of the theatre in Glasgow, a brief description of the play, as it will then be presented, may be acceptable. The opening scene, as in the poem, is laid in “Norham’s castle steep.” To the fortress, with its battlemented towers and donjon keep, Tweed’s fair river in front, and the background filled in with “Cheviot’s mountains lone,” Marmion comes at set of day, on his way to the Scottish King at Edinburgh. He is received in knightly fashion as becomes his own rank and the reputation of his host, by Lord Heron, and the banquet that follows is utilised for illustration of the sumptuous hospitality that characterised the nobility in feudal times. Here Marmion is accompanied by Constance disguised as a page. This is a departure from the original narrative, made, no doubt, for the purpose of introducing a thrilling scene later on, in which the hapless maid is captured by the Abbot of Lindisfarne, and borne off despite the efforts of Marmion, who relinquishes her under the fear of the Church’s penalties. At Norham, De Wilton, as the palmer, first casts his spell upon his rival and enemy, and throughout the play the sinister influence of the one and the fate-haunted courage of the other are most skilfully intertwined. The second act opens with the scene in the hostel. The carousal of the soldiers and Marmion’s restlessness under the eye of the Palmer are graphically depicted. Fitz Eustace sings the song “Where shall the lover rest?” and afterwards a passionate interview takes place between Marmion and Constance. The faithful but discarded maid has wakened from a dream of the horrible punishment impending upon her for the breach of her vestal vow, and with supernatural vehemence she pleads with her hero to save her from her doom. A revolving scene brings into view the phantom fight, with De Wilton standing victorious over Marmion; and the scene being quickly re-formed, Constance is discovered in the grasp of the Abbot, with Marmion unnerved and powerless to lend her aid. A striking tableau is here introduced with the crouching girl in the centre, the Abbot, with crucifix uplifted, defying the soldiery and retainers to interfere on her behalf. The third act deals exclusively with the events at the abbey on Holy island. The voyage to the island of the Abbess and the nuns is represented by a moving panorama. A remarkably impressive effect is made of the landing, salutations being exchanged between the visitors and the inmates of the monastery, and various rites and ceremonies of the Church performed, including a procession of monks and nuns. De Wilton is here made to have an interview with Clare, who is about to become a nun, believing him to be dead. Marmion’s designs are explained to her, and it is arranged that she shall accompany the Abbess to Edinburgh to seek protection from King James. Next the dreadful scene in the penitential vault is enacted, the cell, as described in the poem, with Constance and the fugitive monk before the merciless tribunal, the hooded monks, and the dismal gloom of the cloister, making another striking tableau. Some of the finest passages in the poem have been retained, and the magnificent speech of Constance addressed to her judges brings the act to a close. The opening of the fourth act brings Marmion and his train to the Scottish capital. When the third scene opens the action has considerably advanced, and we find all the principal characters present with the Court assembled at Holyrood. King James and Lady Heron move majestically among the throng, he playing the lover and she the coquette. Her ladyship sings “Lochinvar,” and afterwards a grand dance is formed, the King taking part. The Abbess is there with Lady Clare, and His Majesty, after many royal compliments to the latter, promises them the protection which they seek. A sudden passage of arms between the King and Marmion brings the swords of the nobles from their scabbards, and the act closes with a picturesque grouping of the characters. The fifth and last act deals with the journey to Tantallan, the quarrel between Marmion and Douglas, and the rapid flight to Flodden. The disposition of the contending armies is indicated, the rush of the foes upon one another is described, and the varying fortunes of the fight are conveyed with stirring intensity. The death struggle of Marmion is graphically drawn, and the final scene terminates in a striking tableau representing the fatal field, De Wilton holding aloft the English banner, with the Abbess and Clare standing by the cross looking towards him with outstretched hands.
It has only been possible here to give an outline of the story. Sufficient, however, has been said to indicate that the play will be produced in a manner appropriate to the subject and in keeping with the reputation of the theatre. The incidental music has been written by Dr A. C. Mackenzie. Several of the scenes will largely depend upon their embellishment in this way, and the name of the composer may be taken as an assurance of their success. Mr Glover has painted the scenery; the simple statement of the fact is sufficient to create great expectations as to quality, with a feeling of certainty that they will be realised. It only remains to be added that the play has been worthily cast. Mr Howard will be the Marmion. How well he is adapted for the part is known to every playgoer in Glasgow, and far beyond our bounds.
The Scotsman (9 April, 1891 - p. 5)
PRODUCTION OF “MARMION” AT THE THEATRE ROYAL, GLASGOW.
IN the public compliments paid to Mr J. B. Howard as an actor-manager during the past few weeks special reference has been fittingly made to the attempts he has made to foster what may be called “the Scottish drama.” At the theatres with which he and his partner, Mr Wyndham, are connected the public are familiar with the revivals given from time to time of dramatised versions of the “Great Wizard’s” novels and poems, which with their beautiful Highland setting, and their more or less successful attempts to recall on the stage a bygone period of Scottish history, have been to the Scotsman, and more particularly in the summer time to the stranger within the gate, a source of much instruction and interest. In this connection it is almost needless to mention the operatic setting of “Guy Mannering,” the picturesque drama of “Rob Roy,” and the romantic play, so recently seen in Edinburgh, of “The Lady of the Lake.” Now we owe to Messrs Howard & Wyndham a stage version of that stirring tale of Flodden Field, “Marmion,” which was produced last night at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, for the first time on any stage. The claim of “Marmion” to be a “national” drama may be questioned. Lord Marmion is an English knight, and it is with his fortunes that the drama, as the poem, mainly concerns itself. But in the production of the play Scottish hands and Scottish feeling have been predominant. The adaptation of the poem to fit it for stage representation has been made by Mr Robert Buchanan; Professor Mackenzie has written a Marmion overture and the incidental music; Mr Glover has painted the scenery; and Mr Howard, under whose direction the whole drama has taken shape, has lived so long in Scotland that in respect of his art, at least, he may be claimed as a son of the soil. We can all recall the pleasure which this well-told tale of chivalry has excited. We have sorrowed over the wrongs of the misguided and betrayed Constance Beverley; sighed over the persecution of Clare, and rejoiced in her victory; praised De Wilton for his constancy as a lover; and, despite the dark blot on Marmion’s escutcheon, admired the courage and gallant bearing of the Falcon Knight. Scott’s tale is, in fact, full of dramatic incident, but being from beginning to end a narration by the Northern Minstrel, without almost a shred of dialogue in it, the task of the adapter to fitting it for stage representation was not an easy one. In the drama, the thread of the story running through the poem is well preserved. Marmion first appears at Norham Castle, journeys under the guidance of De Wilton by Gifford to Edinburgh to have his interview with King James, and returns to his own country by Tantallon Castle. But for the sake of effect, incidents are introduced or amplified in a way which the playwright is quite justified in doing. Constance, for instance, accompanies Lord Marmion to Norham Castle in her page’s attire, and in the first and second acts is no inconsiderable figure. As she disappears from the scene in the gloomy dungeons of the Benedictine Convent, Clare appears, and thereby the continuity of the feminine element in the play is preserved. In the scene at Tantallon Castle, Marmion in the play is made to carry off Clare by force from under the roof of the Douglas; and a street scene in Edinburgh is represented in which groups of citizens discuss the prospects of the war. Mr Buchanan has cast the drama in the same metre as the poem, and where he has been able to do so he has of course used Scott’s lines. Where he has invented, he has very happily caught the spirit and rhythm of the poet’s versification, so that at many points, unless by those who know Marmion well, it is difficult to say where Scott ends and Buchanan begins.
A crowded house last night put their emphatic seal upon the drama as a great success. It could hardly have been otherwise. Considered as a spectacle, the drama is one of the finest things that has been seen on the Scottish stage. Had it been at the Lyceum Theatre, London, it could not in that respect have been more magnificent or complete. The action is developed through a series of strong and beautiful pictures of the age of chivalry, on which the dark shadow of the Church ever and again falls with weird effect. The drama might almost be described as a spectacular procession of the first order, were it not that we have also action of a very dramatic character in progress, part of which at least took as great hold on the imagination of the audience as did the artistic tout ensemble of the stage pictures presented. A few of these may be specially noted. The opening scene, representing the ramparts of Norham Castle, was an excellent piece of work, a fair Tweed landscape stretching far beyond being finely painted, under a summer evening sky. Very impressive, too, was the banqueting hall of the castle, with its Norman roof and circular arch, and a gay scene it presented when filled with the men-at-arms and followers of Marmion and Lord Heron. Here occurs a striking interview between Marmion and De Wilton, disguised as a palmer, the ruffled tempers of all being quieted by an old English dance. In the second act Mr Glover has painted a landscape of great solemnity for the scene of the Pictish camp, where the picture of the overthrow of Marmion is seen; but this is subsequently overshadowed in interest by the scene in the Gifford Hostel, where Constance relates a fearful dream she has had, and where the sage is seized by the emissaries of the Church, who paralyse the swords of Marmion and his companions by threatening to launch on them the curse of Rome. There are two striking ecclesiastical scenes, superbly mounted, and in connection with the voyage of the Abbess from Whitby there is a series of well executed views of the coast of the North of England. In marked contrast to these scenes of brightness was the simplicity and sombre character of the convent scene, one of the most dramatic in the play, where Constance, brought before her stern judges, received her doom with defiant words. The picture of Holyrood, with its Court, was one of great splendour, but it was the only scene that appeared in the least incongruous in the play. No expense has been spared in the mounting of the drama, and to a large extent dresses, armour, weapons, and all other accessories were studied from those of the period to which the story belongs. Dr A. C. Mackenzie’s music was exceedingly harmonious and appropriate. It included settings to the ballad sung by Fitz Eustace in the hostel, “Where shall the lovers rest,” and to “Young Lochinvar,” the latter of which very spiritedly renders the feeling of the poem. The company also did the drama every justice. All the leading parts were well filled. In the role of Marmion Mr Howard gave a dignified and agreeable rendering to the part of the Falcon Knight, and was especially effective in those passages where Marmion is stirred to speak defiant words and do warlike deeds. The audience frequently signified their approval of his acting by repeated applause. In the Holyrood scene especially his appearance was very striking. Mr Wyndham played King James with great distinction; and the role of the Abbess was appropriately filled by Mrs Howard. A splendidly-acted part was that of Constance, which was entrusted to Miss Maggie Hunt. In her page’s dress she was a picturesque figure, and in the dream scene and amid the gloom of the convent dungeon her acting rose to a pitch of tragic intensity which had a thrilling effect. When the curtain fell on the latter scene Miss Hunt received a most enthusiastic “call,” and was loudly cheered. Miss F. Kingsley made a charming Lady Clare, speaking the lines with a gentle cadence which had their own effect. Mr Edward O’Neill’s De Wilton was a powerful piece of acting; and among other members of the company who filled their parts well, and who can only be named, were Mr A. Alexander, who doubled the parts of Lord Heron and the Lyon King-at-Arms; Mr Wellesley Smith as Fitz Eustace; and Mr Dalton Robertson as the innkeeper. Miss C. Hamilton as Lady Heron gave a very agreeable rendering to the Lochinvar ballad.
During the evening the following telegrams were received by Mr Howard:—
“Every success to-night, my dear Howard, with Marmion. You will beat your record even with Rob Roy and the Lady of the Lake. My heartiest remembrance to Glasgow friends.—HENRY IRVING.”
“Wishing you big success for Marmion. Just home from Australia. Kindest regards to all Glasgow friends. Shall be ready to play Rob Roy next season on a kangaroo.—TOOLE.”
At the close of the performance, Mr HOWARD came forward in answer to calls for a speech, and said he could not help responding to their generous enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm which they had displayed the whole evening. That night was a memorable one for everybody behind the curtain, and he hoped everybody in front. (Applause.) The anxious labours of many months, and the doubly anxious labours of the past few days, had culminated that night in what he would fain believe was a genuine success. (Applause.) He was sure that the spirit of Walter Scott had been hovering over them—(renewed applause)—and could be but have revisited the pale glimpses of the moon for the few hours they had spent in that theatre that evening, he was sure he would have been pleased to hear the soul stirring lines, and to see the magnificent pictures which they had been able to present, the like of which had not been equalled before, he ventured to say—and he hoped it was not a vain boast—upon the Scottish stage. (Applause.) He could not help feeling strongly that night. It was a success of which he was justly proud. (Loud applause.) He was sorry that the author of the drama, Mr Buchanan, was not present to witness and to share in the triumph, and he was also sorry that Dr Mackenzie was not present—(applause)—but as early as possible he should convey to both these gentlemen an intimation of the success that had been achieved. (Applause.) He was glad, however, that there was one representative Scotsman amongst them whom they had seen more than once that night—he meant William Glover. (Loud applause.) The production had been to Mr Glover and to himself, and to all concerned, he was sure, a labour of love, and they should look back upon that night with the most gratifying recollections. (Loud applause.)
Glasgow Herald (9 April, 1891)
“MARMION” AT THE THEATRE-ROYAL.
For the first time on any stage a dramatised version of Sir Walter Scott’s “Marmion” was performed last night at the Theatre-Royal. First productions—always important events in the dramatic world—are rare occurrences in Glasgow in these latter days, and the introduction of “Marmion” was, on that account, doubly interesting. Mr Howard’s present venture had been looked forward to with lively anticipation for some time, and the crowded state of the house when the curtain rose was a significant indication of the expectations that had been raised, and a flattering tribute to the popularity of the actor-manager. In the domain of Scottish drama Mr Howard long ago made an enviable reputation. In the hero of the poetic tale of Flodden he finds a part not less romantic and engaging than others with which his name is now peculiarly identified; while from the dramatic standpoint it is a more difficult and—if one may presume to say so with all respect—a more worthy study than even Rob Roy or Roderick Dhu. The Marmion of Sir Walter Scott is at once a knight, a courtier, a lover, and a soldier: in love and friendship as false as dicers’ oaths, in arms the bravest of the brave. It is a character which may well attract any actor, and in it Mr Howard has added to the many parts he has played one which, though coming late, will rank among the foremost and best of his creations. But it is not alone or mainly because Mr Howard has thus found fresh scope for his skill as an actor that the present production claims attention; it is noteworthy also, and chiefly, because it gives a new standard play to the comparatively limited field of Scottish drama, and because it has been inaugurated with a completeness as regards scenery and other stage accessories that make its first representation a memorable occasion in the annals of the local theatre. The difficulty of presenting an epic poem such as “Marmion” in the form of a stage play is self-evident. Changes in the sequence of events and even departures from the main lines of the narrative were inevitable, and in effecting these Mr Howard wisely availed himself of the assistance of a master in play-writing. Mr Robert Buchanan undertook the duty, and how well he fulfilled the task was amply testified last night. From the opening scene the interest was not only sustained but increased in intensity until the curtain fell upon the final tableau, while over all there seemed to breathe the poetic spirit and the martial fervour of the Bard of Abbotsford. As a play pure and simple, “Marmion” at once claims a leading place, and it has been richly embellished. Mr William Glover is an artist of whom any theatre may well be proud. The scenery of “Marmion” is his latest achievement; it is also undoubtedly his best. Dr A. C. Mackenzie has been equally happy in the incidental music. As has thus been indicated, the production was an unqualified success. In the course of a few words to the audience at the termination of the play, Mr Howard claimed for it a magnificent triumph. His claim was not overstated. It was conceded by unanimous and vociferous assent, and it is a safe prediction that subsequent representations will confirm and emphasise the verdict so justly won and so generously given.
A notice of the play which appeared in the Herald a week ago afforded a general indication of the line which the author has followed in dramatising the poem. The performance last night showed that in other departments much genuine labour must have been expended in bringing “Marmion” to a successful issue as a stage play. The costumes were careful representations of those worn in Scotland and England in the early part of the sixteenth century, while the scenes laid in ancient interiors were characterised by similar historic accuracy. The effects were exceedingly fine, and from beginning to end the stage was occupied by brilliant tableaux. Prepared as the audience undoubtedly were to witness an imposing spectacle, the spontaneous outburst of applause which greeted the rising of the curtain in the first scene showed at the outset that their anticipations had been fully met if they were not altogether surpassed. The courtyard of Norham Castle, with its battlemented towers overlooking a broad sweep of silver Tweed, formed a very effective scene, but the finest one in the first act was the banquet-hall of the ancient Norman castle. Stage banquets as a rule are not very interesting either to spectator or actor, but this one formed an exception. For one thing, it did not last long, and the audience had plenty with which to occupy themselves in analysing the really brilliant picture provided for their entertainment. Before the curtain fell, however, they had an indication that the play was one of action as well as of spectacle, for following on Marmion’s demand for a guide to Holyrood, the Knight, de Wilton, disguised as a palmer with black mantle and “Peter’s keys in cloth of red” appeared, and in dramatic style defied the dark-browed Lord. Equally effective, although on a somewhat less elaborate scale, was the scene at the Pictish camp, where Marmion is overthrown by his guide. Fine as all the set scenes undoubtedly were, perhaps the one which was regarded with the most interest was that illustrating the departure of the Abbess from Whitby Abbey and her journey to the Holy Isle. Profiting, doubtless, by experience gained in other plays, Mr Howard has represented the voyage by means of a panorama, showing the picturesque castle- crowned headlands of the counties of York and Northumberland. The arrival of the Abbess’s galley at the Holy Isle, and the subsequent debarkation of the pilgrims, have been made the occasion of a grand ecclesiastical procession. The most imposing effort in this direction, however, was in the next scene, where Constance Beverley is conducted to her living tomb by a cortége of frocked priests singing the Dies Iræ. Included in the other scenes are a capital reproduction of an old room in Edinburgh Castle and a most picturesque setting of “Flodden’s fatal field,” with which the play concludes.
It is impossible to do more at present than notice briefly the cast. As a whole, the play was splendidly represented; not one of the parts was unworthily bestowed. The principals were exceptionally good. There is a heavy cast, including a wide variety of characters, and, whether regarded severally or en masse, it would scarcely be possible to suggest a change that would be an improvement. Mr Howard plays the hero to the life. His splendid figure carries his coat of mail as gracefully as his courtier’s dress, and it is needless to say that he speaks the text with fine appreciation of its subtleties and its beauties. The death scene is an excellent piece of acting—intensely dramatic and yet entirely free from even a suspicion of exaggeration. The De Wilton of Mr Edward O’Neill was a well-sustained effort. Alike as the Palmer and as the Knight he acted with conspicuous skill; his defiance of Marmion in the opening act was especially noteworthy for the power displayed, which was also manifested in several of the later passages. Mr Alexander doubled the parts of Lord Heron and Sir David Lindesay, and in both he was eminently successful. Mr Wyndham had a kindly reception when he made his appearance as King James. He represented the Royal lover with becoming airiness of demeanour balanced, as occasion required, by a fine assumption of regal dignity. The Lord Douglas of Mr. F. Douglas was also an admirably conceived and acted character. Mr Wellesly Smith as Fitz Eustace played well, and in the hostel scene gave a fine rendering of the song, “Where shall the lover rest”; with its quaint refrain, beautifully set to music by Dr Mackenzie. Of the ladies of the company, Miss Maggie Hunt takes the leading place as Constance. In every respect she realised the character. As the faithful but discarded maid she followed the fortunes of her hero with touching tenderness and solicitation, and in the more tragic scenes she acted with singular effectiveness. The awakening from the dream in the hostel was splendidly depicted, and the address to her judges in the cell at Holy Island was declaimed with becoming spirit. Miss F. Kingsley sustained the difficult part of Lady Clare most satisfactorily, and Miss C. Hamilton was also successful as Lady Heron, singing “Lochinvar” with engaging piquancy. Mrs Howard was stately and impressive as the Abbess of St Hilda. The orchestral music is composed in Dr Mackenzie’s usual style. It was very carefully played, and was listened to with marked interest. At intervals throughout the evening there were repeated calls for the author, artist, and manager. When the curtain fell on the final scene the calls were renewed, and Mr Howard coming forward explained that unfortunately the author and artist were not present, but that he would take the earliest opportunity of informing them of the success which had been achieved.
The Stage (16 April, 1891 - p.14)
On Wednesday, April 8, 1891, at the Royal, Glasgow, was produced a version of Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Marmion,” dramatised by Robert Buchanan, with music by Dr. A. C. Mackenzie, entitled,—
Marmion ... ... ... Mr J. B. Howard
King James ... ... ... Mr. F. W. Wyndham
Lord Heron ... ... ... Mr. A. Alexander
Lord Douglas ... ... Mr. F. Douglas
Sir David Lindesay ... Mr. A. Alexander
De Wilton ... ... ... Mr. Edward O’Neill
The Blind Abbot ... ... Mr. S. Barrington
The Abbot ... ... ... Mr. Henry Moxon
Monk Richard ... ... Mr. Fonblanque
Fitz-Eustace ... ... ... Mr. Wellesly Smith
Blount ... ... ... Mr. Royce
Bishop of Dunkeld ... Mr. Barrington
The Captain of the Galley ... Mr. Gould
Host of the Inn ... ... Mr. H. Dalton Robertson
A Cook ... ... ... Mr. T. Walker
Allister McAllister ... ... Mr. A. W. Fitzgerald
A Retainer ... ... ... Mr. W. Freeman
A Soothsayer ... ... Mr. John Dobson
Lady Clare ... ... ... Miss F. Kingsley
Constance de Beverley ... Miss Maggie Hunt
The Abbess of St. Hilda ... Mrs. Howard
Sister Cicely ... ... Miss Keith
Sister Agatha ... ... Miss Effie Goodwin
Lady Heron ... ... ... Miss C. Hamilton
Scotland already owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. J. B. Howard and to the management with which he is associated for the splendid work they have done in fostering a national drama, particularly in the case of dramatised versions of the works of Scotland’s great son—Sir Walter Scott. The Rob Roy of this decade, as of the past, is that of Mr. Howard, not only from the lavish care which has been spent upon the production, but also because the part of the bold McGregor is one which Mr. Howard has made his own. The beautiful representation of The Lady of the Lake is still fresh in our minds with the lovely series of pictures of the wildest and grandest of the Scottish mountain and lake scenery. In many respects the present representation of Marmion not only excels Rob Roy and The Lady of the Lake, but as a spectacle rivals anything which has been presented on the Scottish stage.
The curtain rises on a solidly-built scene representing the courtyard of Norham Castle. The scene is carefully set, and it realises the description in the poem. No detail is missing from the picture:—
The battled towers, the donjon keep,
The loophole gate, where captives weep.
In yellow luster shone:
The warriors on the turrets high,
Moving athwart the evening sky,
Seemed forms of giant height.
Their armour, as it caught the rays,
Flashed back again the Western blaze
In lines of dazzling light.
Hither comes Lord Marmion at close of day on his way to the Court of King James at Holyrood, as the ambassador of King Henry of England, his errand being to make terms of amity between the two countries, and avert the threatened invasion of England by the Scottish King. Marmion enters the courtyard with his mail-clad retinue and is received with all the ceremony of those chivalric days by Sir Hugh, the Heron captain of the hold. The second scene is a front cloth of the armoury of the castle, and is chiefly occupied by preparations for the banquet in Marmion’s honour which is to follow. Here and interview takes place between the knight and Constance de Beverley, who accompanies him as his page. Marmion, who now loves Lady Clare (De Wilton’s bride), has tired of Constance, who for his love has broken her vows as a nun and fled from a convent. The banquet hall at Norham Castle, which forms the third scene, is a magnificent representation of an old baronial hall. It occupies the entire stage. It is enriched with every variety of accessory and detail, and yet preserves a noble simplicity and unity of design. The oak-beamed roof, the wide open fire-place, the elevated musicians’ gallery, the raised daïs on which sit Lord Heron and his guests, the tables ranged down the room at which are seated and grouped knights, squires, and pages, together form a mise-en-scene, the artistic impressiveness of which will remain long in the memories of those who have witnessed it. Marmion discloses his errand to Heron, and requests a guide to Holyrood. After rejecting those suggested by heron, Marmion accepts the offer of a Palmer. This, as the audience is at once permitted to see, although Marmion is himself ignorant of the fact, is no other than De Wilton, the noble knight whom marmion, by the aid of papers forged at his suggestion by Constance, has disgraced and dishonoured. There is a fine passage full of dramatic effect between the two men, the one knowing his enemy, and the other not recognising his former foe, who he thinks is dead, but uneasy at some vague recollection. The action of the second act takes place in the hostel, the landlord of which recounts the weird legend of the Pictish camp near at hand, where the man who is bold enough may at midnight, in flesh or in spirit, meet his most bitter foe. When the others have retired to rest, Marmion, who is restless and ill at ease, resolves to test the truth of the legend and steals out into the night. The Palmer, knowing his intention, also leaves, and doffing his gown and hood meets him at the Pictish camp. The scene here revolves and discloses the two in deadly combat among the ancient monoliths of the camp. De Wilton has got Marmion at his mercy, but spares his life in redemption of a promise he had made to a dying retainer who had followed his fallen fortunes in foreign lands. The scene reverts to the hostel where the ill-fated Constance is seized by the emissaries of the Church of Rome. Marmion makes a half-hearted pretence of rescuing her, but allows himself to be overawed by the Abbot’s threat of anathema. The third act is full of pictorial effect, ambitiously designed and most successfully executed. The Abbey of St. Hilda, at Whitby, is revealed when the curtain rises, and from the landing stage the Abbess, accompanied by Lady Clare and several nuns, embarks on a galley which is to carry them to Lindisfarne, where the trial of Constance for apostacy is to take place. There is here unrolled a panorama of the English coast from Whitby to Lindisfarne, which is best described in a transcript from the poem itself:—
And now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland,
Towns, towers, and halls, successive rise
And catch the nuns’ delighted eyes;
Monk Wearmouth soon behind them lay,
And Tyne Mouth Priory and bay.
Then past the tower of Widderington—
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell,
Then did the Alne attention claim
And Warkworth, proud of Percy’s name.
On Dunstanborough’s caverned shore
Thy tower proud, Bamborough, marked they there,
King Ida’s Castle, huge and square.
Then from the coast they bore away
And reached the holy island’s bay.
The various pictures are all beautifully marked by that living fidelity to nature and to art which always distinguishes Mr. Glover’s work. In the second scene (the Cloisters of the Abbey) De Wilton finds an opportunity of revealing himself to Clare, after which there is an impressive ecclesiastical procession singing the dies irae which fittingly preludes the succeeding solemn scene in the cell in which the trial of Constance takes place. The ill-fated girl is condemned to a painful death, and before being carried away she entrusts to the Abbess a packet of papers containing ample proofs of Marmion’s treachery to De Wilton. The first scene of the fourth act is the Camp near Crichton Castle, where Marmion is met by the Scottish Lion-King-at-arms, Sir David Lindesay, who bears with him messages from King James. After a front cloth of a street in Edinburgh, the third scene, an interior in Holyrood Palace, is revealed. It is perhaps hypercriticism to complain that this scene with all its magnificence, its brilliancy, and its gaiety—for it is eminently distinguished by all these characteristics—is yet from an artistic point of view unsatisfactory, marking as it does, with its commonplace note of colour, a falling away from the high level maintained in the series of tableaux. Marmion delivers his message to King James, who receives it courteously, but in a spirited speech informs him that the request is without avail:
Our full defiance, hate, and scorn,
Our herald has to Henry borne.
The Abbess with Clare has come to Holyrood to crave protection from James, and is handed over to the care of Lord Douglas, with whom also Marmion is bidden to stay until the war has commenced. The scene closes with a graceful minuet, led by the King and Lady Heron, the fair and frail dame with whom it is said he dallied away his time at so dear a cost as victory and life. The fifth act opens with a room in Edinburgh Castle, where De Wilton and Clare have another meeting. In the second scene, the gardens of the castle, Douglas, has occasion to protect Lady Clare and the Abbess from Lord Marmion’s desire to carry them away. The third scene is a capital act representing the Courtyard of Tantallon Castle. De Wilton is now restored to the full honours of knighthood by Lord Douglas, to whom the contents of the packet held by the Abbess are revealed, and he departs to join the English army. Marmion enters and endeavours to persuade Clare to accept his love and depart with him. This she refuses to do, and is eventually carried off by force. Marmion then takes leave of Douglas, and offers his hand, which Douglas refuses to take.
My castles are my King’s alone,
The hand of Douglas is his own,
And never shall in friendly grasp
The hand of such as Marmion clasp.
For some reason which is not quite apparent this scene is to an extent robbed of its full effect by the omission of the fine speech from the poem, ending—
Lord Angus, thou hast lied!
This is the most dramatic passage in the poem, and should also be so in the play. In scene four Marmion with Clare and his retainers comes in sight of the opposing armies, and in the closing scene he leads her to a spot where she can in safety witness the fight, and departs himself to join the fray. The progress of the battle is vividly described in the exclamations of Clare and the two knights, Blount and Fitz-Eustace, who are left to guard her. When the knights see Marmion’s falcon pennon fall they rush off to the aid of their lord, and Clare is left alone. Soon Marmion—this brave soldier and false lover—is borne in from the field wounded unto death. he hears the thundering cheers which proclaim the day is with the English army, and then
With dying hand above his head,
He shook the fragment of his blade,
And shouted “Victory.”
Charge, Chester, charge! On, Stanley, on!
The play then closes with a tableau of the Field of Flodden after the battle.
Marmion claims attention first and principally as a spectacle, and as a spectacle it is quite beyond criticism. The dominant note is a martial one, all through there is a clash of swords, the clang of mail, and the tramp of armed men. “The pomp and circumstance of glorious war” is reproduced in all the fidelity which ceaseless care and lavish expense can provide; every scene, even the most ordinary front cloth is a picture. Time after time Mr. William Glover was called before the curtain and most enthusiastically applauded. The series of brilliant paintings which the gifted artist has provided for this play will make for him an enduring place in the memories of his friends. Mr. Buchanan has done his work of adaptation with no little skill. He has adhered as closely as possible to the poem, and provided an excellent setting in rhymed verse for the various scenes and tableaux. Mr. Buchanan’s instructions were doubtless that he should follow Scott as closely as he could. The omission of one speech has already been referred to, and there is another in the death scene ending—“A sinful heart makes feeble hand,” which is powerfully dramatic. A reason for its omission is, of course, obvious, but it is none the less to be regretted. Dr. Mackenzie is at all points successful with the charming introductory and interlude music, which he has composed expressly for this production. Special mention may be made of a fine spirited setting of “Young Lochinvar,” and also of “Elen boro,” which is weird and quaint.
But little space is left for notice of the acting. The cast, as will be noticed above, is an exceptionally long one, but every part is played with care and ability. Mr. J. B. Howard is eminently well suited in the part of Marmion, and with his fine presence, martial bearing, and effective elocution, amply realizes the “stalwart knight with the ‘eye of fire.’” The character is a complex one, and Mr. Howard shows rare judgment in keeping well in front the dominant characteristic—that of the grim soldier, “prompt to ire.” Mr. F. W, Wyndham is a kingly representative of the ill-starred James IV. The part of De Wilton is played with ability by Mr. Edward O’Neill. Miss Maggie Hunt sustains in worthy style the principal female part, Constance. Her acting is marked by a genuine knowledge of the art. Mrs. Howard is a dignified Abbess, and throughout her work is impressive. Miss F. Kingsley plays with grace and sympathy as Lady Clare.
Throughout the evening the applause was frequent and hearty, and when the curtain fell at the close the enthusiasm was so pronounced that it left no shadow of doubt that Marmion was a success, and that it was likely to o’ertop in popular estimation the previous productions of Messrs. Howard and Wyndham. At the close, in response to a call for the author, the manager and the artist, Mr. Howard, led on Mr. Glover, and explained that Messrs. Buchanan and Mackenzie were unavoidably absent.
The Era (18 April, 1891)
Dramatised by Robert Buchanan,
and Produced for the First Time on any Stage
at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow,
on Wednesday, April 8th, 1891.
Marmion ... ... ... Mr J. B. HOWARD
King James IV. of Scotland ... Mr F. W. WYNDHAM
Lord Heron ... ... ... Mr A. ALEXANDER
Lord Douglas ... ... Mr F. DOUGLAS
Sir David Lindesay ... Mr A. ALEXANDER
De Wilton ... ... ... Mr EDWARD O’NEILL
The Blind Abbot ... ... Mr S. BARRINGTON
The Abbot ... ... ... Mr HENRY MOXON
Monk Richard ... ... Mr FONBLANQUE
Fitz-Eustace ... ... ... Mr WELLESLY SMITH
Blount ... ... ... Mr ROYCE
Bishop of Dunkeld ... Mr BARRINGTON
The Captain of the Galley ... Mr GAULD
Host of the Inn ... ... Mr H. DALTON ROBERTSON
A Cook ... ... ... Mr T. WALKER
Allister McAllister ... Mr A. W. FITZGERALD
A Retainer ... ... ... Mr W. FREEMAN
A Soothsayer ... ... Mr JOHN DOBSON
The Lady Clare ... ... Miss F. KINGSLEY
Constance Beverley ... Miss MAGGIE HUNT
The Abbess of St. Hilda ... Mrs HOWARD
Sister Cicely ... ... Miss KEITH
Sister Agatha ... ... Miss EFFIE GOODWIN
Lady Heron ... ... ... Miss C. HAMILTON
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
For their spirited enterprise in producing this specially prepared stage adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s “Tale of Flodden Field” Messrs Howard and Wyndham deserve the warmest thanks of all lovers of the poetic and beautiful in connection with dramatic art. The production is certainly one of the most elaborate— if not the most elaborate—witnessed in the provinces for twenty years past, and has only been placed before the public after many months of anxious thought, careful research, arduous labour, and a lavish outlay of money. The historical and archæological accuracy of scenery, costumes, properties, and general paraphernalia vouch for this, and show how much in earnest the management have been in their efforts to do justice to Scott’s grand narrative. Recognising this fact to the fullest extent, we have exceptional gratification in recording for Marmion a triumphant success. It is, however, a triumph for the scenic artist, costumier, and stage-manager, rather than for the dramatist; but if Mr Buchanan has not added to the literature of the stage a great acting play, he has provided a very pleasing and coherent vehicle for a grandly picturesque and animated spectacular display, which it would be difficult indeed to surpass. It may be freely conceded that Mr Buchanan has done his part well in adapting the poem to the stage. To dramatise an epic poem such as “Marmion” is no easy task, and if the play is sometimes lacking in dramatic action, and is occasionally weak in human interest, the blame does not belong entirely to the dramatist. It is apparent throughout that he has striven to do his work conscientiously, and in giving us the noble verse of Scott, descriptive of the shock of arms, instead of substituting realistic action, we recognise a lofty desire to take as few liberties with the original text as possible. In short, had Mr Buchanan been less reverent of the poem, the result of his labours might have been more satisfactory from a dramatic point of view. But, after all, any shortcomings noticeable in Marmion as a drama are amply atoned for by the almost embarrassing richness of the spectacular effects. The play is divided into five acts, which are subdivided into sixteen scenes in all, introducing in regular sequence a series of brilliant tableaux illustrative of the most salient incidents of the poetic romance.
The curtain rises on a view of Norham Castle and “Tweed’s fair river broad and deep,” and here arrive Marmion and his following, including Constance Beverly, “her sex in page’s dress belied.” Marmion is received in fitting manner by Lord Heron, and in scene two, the Armoury, we have the procession to the Banquet Hall (scene three) where a very fine spectacle is witnessed. Marmion demands a guide to Holyrood, and De Wilton in palmer’s guise is brought in, and a very effective scene leads up to De Wilton’s defiance of Lord Marmion, the act closing with an old English dance.
Act two opens in the hostel, where Marmion, Constance, and guard are resting. Here we have the palmer’s prophecy, the host’s story of the Goblin Hall, and the vision of Constance. Marmion departs to test the legend as related by mine host, and dare his mortal foe to single combat. The scene revolves and shows the Pictish camp and overthrow of Marmion, De Wilton standing over him. The scene returns to the hostel where the Abbot and monks arrive in search of Constance and Monk Richard, “sordid soul.” Discovering their prey they seize upon it as Marmion enters. He attempts to rescue Constance, but the Church is too powerful for him, and the curtain falls on a strong tableau.
Act three takes us to St. Hilda’s, Whitby Abbey, where we witness the departure of the Abbess on a galley bound for St. Cuthbert’s, Holy Isle. The voyage is illustrated by a very beautiful panorama, in which all the places on the Yorkshire and Northumberland coasts are faithfully depicted. The arrival at St. Cuthbert’s is made the occasion of a grand ecclesiastical procession. In the next scene, the cloisters, the palmer discovers himself to Lady Clare, and she avows her intention of flying to Holyrood to seek the protection of King James against the persecution of Marmion. We have in this scene a ghostly procession of priests conducting Monk Richard and Constance Beverly to hear their doom pronounced. They sing the “Dies Iræ” as they go, and the scene is very impressive. In scene three, Niefell, “the heads of convents three” are met to pass sentence on the guilt maiden for breaking her virgin vows, and the curtain falls for the third time as Constance calls down a curse on the Church of Rome. In this scene Miss Hunt, in her declamatory speech against the Church and its doings, displayed unsuspected dramatic power.
Act four begins with The Camp of Crichton Castle. Marmion and his troopers are resting. The dark-browed lord is somewhat disconcerted by the finding of De Wilton’s dagger and scroll, and the discovery of the palmer’s flight. The arrival of Sir David Lindesay, Lord Lyon King-at-Arms, and a retinue, to conduct Marmion on to Holyrood, gives bustling action to this scene, which, after some patriotic speeches, for which “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” has been drawn upon, changes to a street in Edinburgh, where we hear rumours of war and a soothsayer’s prophecy of impending ill to the house of Stewart. Scene three is Holyrood Palace en fête, a gay and charming scene, in admirable contrast to those that have gone before. Hither the Abbess brings Lady Clare for the King’s protection. The arrival of Marmion and his train leads to some stirring speeches, for Marmion, baffled of his prey, is in no mood for fine courtesy. After a minuet danced, Clare and Marmion meet, and he would lay forcible hold of her, but James gives her sanctuary, and the act closes well, with Marmion’s defiance of the Scottish King.
The act drop ascends for the last time on A Room in Edinburgh Castle, where we learn that war has been declared. Here De Wilton and Lady Clare have a brief meeting prior to the latter’s departure for Tantallon Castle, where she is to find protection under the roof of Lord Douglas. A change of scene takes us to Tantallon Castle. De Wilton is here restored to knighthood by the Bishop of Dunkeld, and goes forth to join the coming fray. Marmion, who has been the guest of Lord Douglas, has an interview with Clare and presses his suit. Being again rejected, he forcibly carries her off. Come we now to A Field near Flodden, where the battle’s storm begins to break. We are soon transported to Another Part of Flodden Field (scene five), and here the raging battle is described in dialogue by Lady Clare. Marmion is carried on mortally wounded, and after a very fine scene with Lady Clare dies as the concluding words of the poem pass his lips, and just as the backcloth rises and discloses a splendidly grouped battle tableau of Flodden’s Fatal Field.
The great success achieved by Marmion on its first representation was due chiefly to Glover’s truly magnificent scenery. As scene after scene was disclosed the enthusiasm of the audience increased, until it culminated in the fifth act in a demonstration such as has but rarely been witnessed anywhere in a theatre; but the entire production is, from first to last, characterised by true artistic feeling. The specially composed music is, for the most part, really high class, perhaps too much so to please the majority of playgoers. One or two numbers, however, are scarcely worthy of the composer, Dr. A. C. Mackenzie. In the setting of “Young Lochinvar,” for instance, he seems to have missed his chance, and has supplied an air of a commonplace character, and lacking in spirit. “Where shall the lover rest” is, on the contrary, a very charming melody. The incidental music, selected and arranged by Mr W. A. Leggatt, the conductor, is very pretty, especially the panorama accompaniment and minuet in act four, which are, perhaps, the musical gems of the production. The costumes, designed by Cattermole, are correct in every detail.
In Marmion, Mr J. B. Howard has a trying rôle, but he acts with consummate skill, carrying his armour as if “to the manner born.” His delivery of Scott’s lines is clear and distinct, and his action is always appropriate. Marmion’s death scene was especially artistic. Mr F. W. Wyndham bears himself with becoming dignity in the small part of King James. Mr Edward O’Neill as De Wilton displays much skill. Mrs J. B. Howard, in the rôle of the Abbess of St. Hilda, acts with impressive effect. Miss F. Kingsley is equal to the requirements of Lady Clare, and Miss Maggie Hunt as the ill- starred Constance Beverly acts with tenderness and feeling. Mr Alexander is very good alike as Lord Heron and Sir David Lindesay. Mr H. Moxon as the Abbot, Mr F. Douglas as Lord Douglas, Mr Fonblanque as Monk Richard and Mr Dalton Robertson as Host of the Inn, are all deserving of praise. Mr Wellesly Smith as Fitz-Eustace plays well, and sings “Where shall the lover rest?” with good taste. Mr T. Walker as a cook also renders a song in clever style, and Miss Charlotte Hamilton makes a charming Lady Heron, and sings “Young Lochinvar” artistically. The lesser rôles are all in good hands. There is a capable chorus, and the augmented orchestra is well balanced, and does its work excellently. The grouping and general mise-en-scène are most creditable to the stage-manager, Mr Henry Turner, and to Mr Howard, under whose immediate supervision the play was produced.
The Era (25 April, 1891 - p.10)
ONE of the minor parts in Marmion, now being played to crowded houses in the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, is that of the landlord of the hostel, played by Mr H. Dalton Robertson, and some natural curiosity has been expressed as to why Mr Robertson should hobble about on the stage like a Dutch lugger in a head sea, or a half-pay captain far-gone with gout. The reason is not far to seek. Some years ago, when Mr Robertson was playing a minor part in The Lady of the Lake, at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, he had to submit himself to the tender mercies of Fitz James, and allow himself to be thrown over a cliff. One unfortunate night, through the carelessness of an attendant, the throw was too realistic, for no one was at the foot of the cliff to receive Mr Robertson. He sustained serious injuries to his legs, and has not been so active on his feet since. It says much for the kindheartedness of Messrs Howard and Wyndham that they still retain Mr Robertson’s services. He acts his part admirably, and recites “The Host’s Tale” with considerable power.