25. The Old Home (1889)
The Old Home
by Robert Buchanan.
London: Vaudeville Theatre. 19 June, 1889 (matinée).
London: Vaudeville Theatre. 21 June to 6 July, 1889.
The Derby Daily Telegraph (27 May, 1889 - p.3)
Mr. Robert Buchanan justifies the claim recently put forward by one of his admirers that he is an exceedingly busy man. Yet another comedy from his pen has been read to the Vaudeville Company, and will be produced by Thomas Thorne at no distant date. A correspondent tells us that the story of the play turns on the marriage of the daughter of a rich but eccentric Australian to a spendthrift English baronet, and the interest is entirely domestic. The scene is laid in England—during the first act, in the county of Essex; during the second and third, in London.
Mr. Richard Mansfield, too , has made a call upon the services of this prolific playwright, who, we are informed, has been commissioned to write a drama of strong historic interest. By the way, Mr. Mansfield’s representations of “Richard III,” which have been remarkably successful, are to be brought to a termination at the end of the present week.
The Era (1 June, 1889 - p.8)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S new Vaudeville play, now in active rehearsal, is one of purely domestic interest, and both subject and characters are entirely modern. The leading character, which will, of course, be played by Mr Thomas Thorne, and will afford full scope for that popular actor’s powers, is that of a quaint old Australian colonist, who, having emigrated from London when a poor lad, still preserves his affection for everything English. His only daughter, the heroine of the piece, has accompanied him home, and has married a young baronet of sporting tastes. Of the complications which ensue after the return of the Australians to the mother country we can at present say nothing; but they involve the introduction upon the scene of many typical members of “society,” both high and low. Mr Fred. Thorne, Mr Garthorne, Mr Cyril Maude, Miss Bannister, Miss Marion Lea, Miss Marie Linden, and Miss Fanny Robertson will be in the cast; and Miss Winifred Emery will play the heroine.
The Times (20 June, 1889 - p.5)
The new comedy by Mr. Robert Buchanan tried yesterday at the Vaudeville, under the title of The Old Home, is not remarkably original, either in plot or in treatment. To the scores of matinée plays that are yearly produced and forgotten it bears what may be called a family resemblance. It is neither good nor bad; if it has no shining merits, it has no conspicuous defects. In a word, it is commonplace. The experienced playgoer who sees the story begun will have no difficulty in guessing its development and its conclusion, together with the various distractions to be encountered en route. The course over which the author takes us is one where every hurdle and hedgerow are familiar enough to be cleared at a bound with ease and assurance. Septimus Porter, an old “Colonial,” and his daughter have returned to England with a fortune; and for the sake of her money the lady has been married by a young baronet of “fast” habits and associations, Sir Charles Fenton. Among his friends Sir Charles numbers a disreputable major, who betrays and abandons a country girl. As this unhappy young person seeks an interview with Sir Charles, Lady Fenton and her father assume that he is the seducer, a suggestion to that effect being made by the major, who hopes thereby to ingratiate himself with his friend’s wife. Domestic trouble ensues. The baronet, if innocent of the graver charge whispered against him, is indubitably guilty of flirting too much with Mrs. Waldegrave, a lady whom he has met in society. But in the end the author’s house of cards so carefully constructed is blown over by a breath of commonsense, and the inevitable reconciliation between the young couple is effected just as Lady Fenton and her father, disgusted with London life, are on the point of returning to Australia. This story is too obviously insincere to arouse much interest, and the types of character it presents are mostly conventional. Mr. Thomas Thorne, as the disillusionized trader of Gum Tree Creek, affects the pathetic mood to comparatively little purpose; and of the other leading characters it need only be said that Miss Winifred Emery is winsome and engaging as Lady Fenton, that Miss Marion Lea is an attractive “society lady,” and that Mr. Gartborne is a plausible representative of the raffish man about town.
The Morning Post (20 June, 1889 - p.3)
In “The Old Home,” by Mr. Robert Buchanan, produced yesterday with decided success, Mr. Thomas Thorne has secured a play which will in all probability be as profitable to the management as pleasurable to the audience. It is a sound, healthy, vigorous piece, with agreeable contrasts of smiles and tears, and one principal incident which keeps the interest of the audience well sustained to the close. The characters are life-like, and the writing is smart and effective. Mr. Buchanan writes like a satirist. He lashes the follies and pleasant vices of Society with an unsparing hand, but it is the writing of a dramatist whose heart is warmest when his pen is keenest. Some will no doubt think him very outspoken, for Society would rather be tickled than stabbed. But when an author has so much justification as may be found in some of his most trenchant lines, it is easier to admire than to blame. It may be necessary to tone down a phrase here, a sentence there. That will not affect the play as a whole. “The Old Home” is one of the best pieces performed at a matinée for a long time, it is full of interest, and will prove thoroughly attractive. The applause of the audience, the laughter and tears, seemed genuine, and gave a reality to the compliments paid to the author and performers such as is by no means the rule at matinée representations. The story is simple enough. An “Old Colonial” having made a fortune comes to England to make it his home. His beloved daughter is wooed and wedded by a young English baronet who has got into debt, and has mortgaged his estate. But the “Old Colonial,” proud of his pretty daughter being the wife of Sir Charles Fenton, readily finds the money to clear off these difficulties, and the young couple take up their abode in the beautiful old home. But Sir Charles has not told his kind-hearted father-in-law all his embarrassments, and the result is that the young baronet is very nearly being made bankrupt, and again is only saved by the “Old Colonial’s” money. Meanwhile he is surrounded by a set, some fast, others foolish, not a few vicious. Among the latter is a Major Dashwood, a man of the world, unscrupulous and selfish to the last degree. The young wife had been made uneasy by the attentions Sir Charles has paid to a flashy widow, whose ideas partake of the ideal of womanhood suggested by the recent Ibsenite craze. Mrs. Waldegrave thinks only of the “higher ideal” of womanhood, not of woman’s duties or affections, and imagines she is justified in making the wife unhappy to gratify a passing caprice. But worse remains behind. A young girl comes to see Sir Charles with a pitiful tale of seduction and ruin, and the circumstances point to him as the betrayer. His wife, already wounded by his conduct, suspects him, and in the agony of the suspicion leaves his house, and for a time matters look as black as may be against Sir Charles. Happily, various incidents occur which, in the end, appear to prove that the husband has been guilty of more folly than vice, and the poor girl who was the victim is discovered, and her story clearly proves that not Sir Charles, but his false friend, Major Dashwood, was the seducer. A reconciliation takes place and the Major, after receiving a sound thrashing from the “Old Colonial,” departs vowing vengeance. These are the outlines, and they are filled in with much amusing and satirical dialogue and sundry clever sketches of character. That of the old father-in-law, as played by Mr. Thomas Thorne, is really excellent. The feeling of a man who has spent an active life in the Colonies is admirably indicated, and Mr. Thorne plays with a pathos and humour, deserving and obtaining the warmest commendation. The “Old Colonial’s” views of London life are very droll. He says Society life during the height of the London season “would take the jump out of a kangaroo,” and many bright bits of satire are put in the mouth of this hearty and genial personage. In acting the part Mr. Thomas Thorne has rarely been seen to greater advantage. M. Frederick Thorne, as a sententious old colonial friend who hates the shams of Society, was also excellent. Mr. Wallace Erskine was to be commended for a very natural and agreeable rendering of Sir Charles, and Mr. Garthorne, in the unsympathetic part of the Major, was to be credited with clever and effective acting, the only fault of which that at times he was too demonstrative. Mr. Cyril Maude, as a foolish young man about town who marries an actress, had an amusing part, and played it with genuine ability. The anxiety of the silly young man that his pretty theatrical wife should not be called an actress, but an “artiste,” was very funny. Miss Winifred Emery, as the young wife, acted with admirable skill, talent, and feeling, and Miss Marion Lea was extremely clever as the insinuating Mrs. Waldegrave. Miss Edith Bruce made a lively character of the young actress, and Miss Fanny Robertson as the Hon. Mrs. Hackabout was excellent. The pathos of the betrayed girl was well expressed by Miss Ella Banister. “The Old Home” was beautifully put upon the stage, and its success could not be doubted, hearty cheers greeting Mr. Buchanan when he appeared at the footlights. The drama will be placed in the evening bill to-morrow, Mr. Thomas Thorne and the Vaudeville company sustaining their original characters.
The Standard (20 June, 1889 - p.3)
It would be unwise on the part of the management of this theatre to hastily accept the favourable verdict passed upon Mr. Robert Buchanan’s comedy, drama, The Old Home, produced yesterday afternoon. There is so much that is dramatically effective in the piece that an audience disposed from the outset to be friendly could not do otherwise than applaud, but the author has not displayed the skill in the construction of his plot that is naturally expected from one who has had much stage experience, and, notwithstanding the excellence of some parts of the work, the whole leaves a sense of unreality which is irritating to those who have followed the development of the play with interest.
In the first act Septimus Porter, a rich Australian, permits his daughter Minnie to marry Sir Charles Fenton, and talks effusively about the glories of the Old Country, and the superiority of English Society, though he receives a somewhat rude shock on finding that his aristocratic son-in-law is heavily in debt. The marriage is apparently one of love; but Minnie is eventually led to believe that Sir Charles only desired her money, and she is further troubled by his attentions to an affected widow, who talks nonsense about art, idealism, and fashionable æsthetic follies generally. The simple-minded wife has had no training for the life in which she is now called upon to participate, and the crash comes when her husband’s unscrupulous friend, Major Dashwood, makes it appear that since her marriage Sir Charles has ruined and deserted a North-country lass, Mary Mason, who comes to her house to gain information concerning her betrayer. Utterly disillusioned, Minnie and her father resolve to return to Australia, and for some unexplained reason take lodgings near the Docks previous to starting upon their voyage. In this East-end retreat every one turns up in the manner familiar in transpontine melodrama, but scarcely acceptable in a play intended for educated folk. After some vexatious delay, it is, of course, explained that the author of Mary Mason’s troubles is not Sir Charles Fenton, but Major Dashwood himself, and a reconciliation takes place between husband and wife. That stumbling-block to dramatic authors—the third act—has once more proved too serious a problem for Mr. Buchanan to solve, and the conventionalities, which are only apparent to a small extent in the earlier portion of The Old Home, become tiresome and silly as the end is approached.
There are some telling lines in the dialogue, and also some which, to say the least, are equivocal. The tirades against the rottenness of English Society are tedious and out of place, while the author, in showing that his hero has only been foolish, and not criminal, disproves his own case, which falls to the ground like a house of cards; and this want of sincerity is fatal if we are to regard The Old Home as a didactic play. The representation was for the most part excellent. Miss Winifred Emery was charming and sympathetic as the young wife, who recalls Mabel Vane in Masks and Faces; and Miss Marion Lea offered a clever study of character as the affected young widow, Mrs. Waldegrave. Mr. Thomas Thorne as the somewhat priggish old Colonial trader, Mr. Cyril Maude and Miss Edith Bruce in two brightly-written comedy parts, and Mr. Wallace Erskine, Mr. C. W. Garthorne, and Miss Fanny Robertson were all equal to the duties required of them. The Old Home, however, will have to be reconstructed to some extent if it is to become permanently successful.
Pall Mall Gazette (20 June, 1889 - p.7)
“THE OLD HOME” AT THE VAUDEVILLE THEATRE.
Mr. Robert Buchanan has done plenty of good dramatic work in his time, and during the last few years especially he has succeeded in giving us some clever and effective pictures of the days when our great-grandfathers were young; but in his latest attempt to fit Mr. Thorne and his company with a suitable play, it can hardly be said that he has hit the mark. “The Old Home”—as he calls his new comedy-drama—is conventional in its outlines and fragmentary in its details. It gives one the idea of a piece which has been perpetrated in days gone by, laid aside by its author, and after the lapse of many years pulled out of its hiding-place, refurnished with topical allusions and generally written up to date. The foundation consists of well-worn and time-honoured theatrical material, while the superstructure is adorned here and there with the weak philosophy of the day and the childish chatter of the modern “chappie.” One can easily understand that Mr Buchanan would hardly miss a chance of a sly dig at the Ibsenites and their wild theories, but surely it was unnecessary to introduce such a played out type of character as the young man about town who wears curiously uncomfortable garments and babble harmlessly of “oof-birds” and “supper-clubs.” Mr. Cyril Maude is one of the cleverest of our coming actors, but he could scarcely be expected to find much fun left in a cup of comicality which has already been drained to the dregs. The fact is “The Old Home” is a series of short moral lessons, which are certainly not couched in the happiest terms. A formal introduction to the principal personages of the play is barely necessary, for they are all old friends whom we have known for many a long year. There is the rakish young baronet, who has married for money the daughter of a wealthy and good-natured old “Colonial:” there is the fast major, “his friend,” and there is the weak and confiding little country girl, who falls a victim to the wiles of the aforesaid “dashing militaire.” An estrangement arises between the baronet and his wife, chiefly because the former chooses to philander in a foolish way with an objectionable widow, who talks feeble “marriage philosophy” with a fashionable drawl. Then, to put a finishing touch to the position, the Major manages to cast the burden of his own misdeeds on the shoulders of his friend, and the wife in company with her father leaves her husband, as she says, for ever. Naturally enough the real Simon Pure is exposed, and Lady Fenton forgives her husband all the indignities which this most despicable of heroes has heaped upon her. The “masher” deserts the purlieus of the Corinthian and the Gardenia, and marries a virtuous “chorister.” The deceived country girl is left lamenting as the curtain falls, and her betrayer receives a sound horse-whipping at the hands of the kind-hearted old Australian. Surely Mr. Buchanan has given us no lack of “morals” to choose from; but, after all, “the play’s the thing,” and that is just where the author has failed. Miss Winifred Emery’s performance as the heroine was by far the most interesting feature of the afternoon: it was full of natural charm, and there was no lack of power when occasion demanded it. The brothers Thorne both played well, but Mr. Wallace Erskine as the young baronet was decidedly overweighted. Miss Edith Bruce, Miss Fanny Robertson, and Miss Ella Banister did fairly good work, and Mr. Cyril Maude, as we have already remarked, tried hard to make bricks without straw. Miss Marion Lea and Mr. C. W. Garthorne did not show to much advantage; the former must try and subdue her growing mannerisms, and the latter should put more “power” into his acting. The play was received with something like enthusiasm by a comparatively friendly audience, but it is difficult to foresee a substantial future for “The Old Home.”
St. James’s Gazette (20 June, 1889 - p.5)
YESTERDAY’S NEW PLAYS.
“THE OLD HOME.”
TRUE to his prejudice against first nights, Mr. Thorne chose yesterday afternoon for the production of the new play by Mr. Robert Buchanan, next to take its place in the programme at the Vaudeville. The experiment was successful in so far as it secured a patient hearing for a very commonplace and conventional piece; but it will, we fear, prove to have been a mistake if it encourages the managerial belief that “The Old Home” is likely to secure a popular triumph. The least blasé of playgoers can hardly help feeling that he already knew by heart the sentiments, the motives, and the characters of the familiar stage puppets so crudely introduced in Mr. Buchanan’s latest work. The returned “colonial” with a long purse, a big heart, and very little manners; the refined daughter who marries for love, only to find that she has been married for money; the good-looking scamp who flirts with his old sweetheart in his unsophisticated wife’s drawing-room and gambles away his simple father-in-law’s fortune; the treacherous friend, the intriguing widow, and the ruined rustic damsel—we have met them all before, and frequently under more interesting conditions. Hardly a single new turn is given to the old story of the disillusion awaiting ingenuous country cousins, who plunge joyously into town society expecting to find it a paradise where all men are honourable and all women are to be trusted. The freshest part of the play is that which concerns characters only associated in the most arbitrary way with its main plot. A vapid young man about town, embodied to the life by Mr. Cyril Maude, has secretly married a lively actress, who describes herself as an “artiste” and is most amusingly impersonated by Miss Edith Bruce. The scene between these two when Dolly compels her Johnnie to introduce her to his august mamma is really entertaining. But the trials suffered by the old colonist and his daughter at the hands of a worthless baronet and his rascally ally command very little sympathy, and it is unluckily with these that “The Old Home” is chiefly concerned. Mr. Thomas Thorne’s rather forced pathos cannot wring from any one a tear over the misfortunes which befall the elderly Australian whose bluff honesty of purpose is so painfully self-conscious and whose lack of shrewdness is so phenomenal in a self-made man. Miss Winifred Emery, on the other hand, by her sweet pure girlish style wins not a little pity for the distress caused to the heroine partly by the heedless selfishness of her husband and partly by the machinations of a villain aimlessly played by Mr. Garthorne.
New-York Tribune (21 June, 1889 - p.1)
Another failure is to be set down to the credit of Mr. Robert Buchanan, whose “Old Home” was tried at a Vaudeville matinee. “That Doctor Cupid,” by the same author, has been running at this theatre long enough to prove that there is a public even for Mr. Robert Buchanan. This new piece, which will be given in the evening, cannot be more vulgar or inane than the other.
The Era (22 June, 1889)
“THE OLD HOME.”
A New Comedy-Drama, in Three Acts, by Robert Buchanan,
Produced at a Matinée at the Vaudeville Theatre,
on Wednesday, June 19th, 1889,
and put in the Evening Bill on Friday, June 21st.
Mr. Septimus Porter ...... Mr THOMAS THORNE.
Matthew Bramble ...... Mr FREDERICK THORNE.
Sir Charles Fenton ...... Mr WALLACE ERSKINE.
Major Dashwood ...... Mr C. W. GARTHORNE.
John Hackabout ...... Mr CYRIL MAUDE.
Bangle ...... Mr F. GROVE.
Stanhope ...... Mr J. WHEATMAN
Lady Fenton ...... Miss WINIFRED EMERY
Mrs Waldegrave ...... Miss MARION LEA
Hon. Mrs. Hackabout ... Miss FANNY ROBERTSON
Dolly Drew ...... Miss EDITH BRUCE
Whisper ...... Miss ROSE DUDLEY
Mary Mason ...... Miss ELLA BANNISTER
Very recently we anticipated the production of Mr Robert Buchanan’s new play named above by revealing that it was of purely domestic interest, that both subject and characters are entirely modern, that the part provided for the popular lessee, Mr Thomas Thorne, would be that of a quaint old Australian colonist, who, having emigrated from London when a poor lad, still preserves his affection for everything English, and allows his only daughter on his return to marry a young baronet of sporting proclivities and extravagant habits; and that the complications ensuing would involve the introduction upon the scene of sundry typical members of what is known as “society.” We did not predict that the play would in some measure be controversial, because it is never safe to predict before you know, and we confess that we were without knowledge. In the performance before the large audience assembled at the Vaudeville on Wednesday afternoon we quickly discovered that the author had not neglected the opportunity to do battle with the Ibsenites, and to condemn the shams and deceits, the lies and the trickery, that in his somewhat pessimistic view prevail in modern English life, and threaten disaster. His “views,” however, are not allowed to interfere too much with the developement of a thoroughly interesting if somewhat conventional plot, and into the mouths of some well drawn characters he has put some exceedingly vigorous dialogue.
The story opens in the gardens of the Manor House near a village in Loamshire—a very pretty set by W. Perkins. This is the home of Sir Charles and Lady Fenton, and also of Mr Septimus Porter, the lady’s father, an old colonial, who with his partner, Matthew Bramble, has in Australia realised a large fortune, and has returned to England to end his days. Not in idleness, though, for he is a busy man, and Sir Charles is quite willing to accept his services even in menial capacities, and thus to save himself trouble. In the eyes of Septimus Porter Sir Charles is quite a perfect husband. He knows he has had his fling, as the saying goes, for he—the old colonial—has had to pay pretty heavily for it, having paid off the mortgages on his estates and restored to him the title deeds; but he believes now that he has settled down, and he is quite proud of the aristocratic introductions secured for his darling daughter by her alliance with a young gentleman with a handle to his name. Among the visitors to the house are Sir Charles’ friend—so called—Major Dashwood and Mrs Waldegrave, a rich widow, who we quickly learn was a former sweetheart of Fenton’s. She means mischief, and goes to work to exercise some of the old fascination, a fact that is duly noted by the Major, and which he tries to use to his own advantage. He is a libertine, and he marks down Lady Fenton for his prey. He tries to work upon her jealousy, but his success at the outset is not very great, and he gets nothing for his pains but a severe snubbing. When the company, now recruited by a “masher” named John Hackabout and his mother, a “society” lady who shuts her eyes to his peccadilloes, have gone into luncheon, there come upon the scene a couple of sheriff’s officers, intent on the arrest of Sir Charles for debt. Old Septimus Porter is filled with wrath at the bare mention of such a thing, but when proofs of the indebtedness are produced, although his faith in his son-in-law is shaken, he boldly declares that not even the whole judicial bench shall send him to prison, and once more undertakes to liquidate his liabilities. The scene of the second act is Fenton’s drawing-room in Mayfair, for which fashionable quarter—tired of a humdrum country life—he has left his pretty home in Loamshire. At a “reception” he finds opportunity to renew his flirtation with Mrs Waldegrave, and once more Major Dashwood works upon the jealousy of the young and neglected wife. This time he meets with more success, for Lady Fenton plainly sees that she is neglected, and soon thinks she has good reason to believe that her husband is a worthless scoundrel. For there comes to the house a poor country girl, who is evidently in deep distress. Her object is to obtain monetary assistance from Sir Charles Fenton. She encounters Septimus Porter, and to him unfolds the story of her wrongs, without, however, disclosing the name of the author of the same. The old colonial assists her; and, after her departure, picks up and reads a letter she has dropped. It is addressed to the man who has betrayed and deserted her. It bears no name, but on being submitted to Lady Fenton she, meditating on the terms in which it is couched, and encouraged by hints from Dashwood, arrives at the conclusion that it is meant for her husband. Thereupon she turns upon Sir Charles, declares before her father that he married her for her money, denounces him as worthless and untrue, and announces her intention to separate from him for ever. With the protection of her father’s arms she will seek a healthier and happier home, and will shun the society of those who live and lie by rule. In the third act we find Lady Fenton and her father in humble lodgings near the docks. They are contemplating a return to Australia. Sir Charles has not only brought himself to the verge of ruin by his extravagance, but has very nearly “cleaned out” the old colonial. The husband comes repentant to seek reconciliation, but is spurned as a libertine. His explanations are cut short and treated with scorn, and it is only through the intervention of Dolly, an actress who has been taken to wife by the masher John Hackabout, that in the end the truth is made clear, and the guilt of the betrayal of poor Mary Mason is brought home to Major Dashwood, who thereupon gets, at the hands of the old colonial, the severest thrashing that a stout stick and a strong arm can administer. When he has been kicked out there is peace once more between husband and wife, and, as old Matthew Bramble has been at work with certain securities in their interest, we are led to suppose that their shattered fortunes will be repaired, and that, as the story books put it, they will live happy ever after.
The part of the kind-hearted, generous-souled colonial is, we should say, one that is exactly to the liking of Mr Thomas Thorne, for, as in the case of a certain Parson Adams, it allows of opportunity to contrast what is meek and mild with what is defiant and strong, and even permits an indulgence in that good honest “Damn” which the actor knows so well how to deliver. Mr Thorne had the house with him throughout, and when he came to the thrashing business of the last act the delight of the spectators was expressed with enthusiasm. Mr Frederick Thorne splendidly made up as old Bramble, hesitated a little with the text at the beginning, but improved as he went on, and shared in the honours bestowed. Mr Wallace Erskine did not get too many chances to distinguish himself as the neglectful husband, but played well his part, and particularly distinguished himself in the scene of the last act, where Fenton protests against a base charge, and, puzzled, has to depart without explanation. The wicked Major was represented, as wicked majors have been represented many a time and oft on the stage, by Mr C. W. Garthorne; and a most amusing study of a modern masher was supplied by Mr Cyril Maude as John Hackabout, the house fairly roaring over the droll scene of the second act, where Johnny to his aristocratic mother, played in finished style by Miss Fanny Robertson, introduced his wife—the “artiste” Dolly Drew, represented with characteristic humour and vivacity by Miss Edith Bruce. Miss Marion Lea gave distinction to the part of Mrs Waldegrave; the sorrows of Mary Mason were touchingly set forth by Miss Ella Banister; Mr F. Grove and Miss Rose Dudley made matters lively at the outset as a couple of comic servants; and a great and unmistakable success was scored by Miss Winifred Emery, who justified the warmth of her reception by a really beautiful and powerfully touching portrayal of Lady Fenton, the declamatory force of the scene where she denounces her husband exciting the warmest admiration and exacting the heartiest of applause. After the fall of the curtain Mr Buchanan was summoned, with the principals, to the footlights, and cheered to the echo; and with the approval thus manifested and the encouragement thus offered Mr Thorne last evening (Friday) put The Old Home into the evening programme, where it is likely to remain for a considerable time.
Reynolds’s Newspaper (23 June, 1889)
But for the smart cynical dialogue which every now and again crops up in Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play of “The Old Home,” and in which he runs a tilt at Ibsen’s diseased spine bone dramatic theories, the play might have very well passed as a revival of a transpontine drama popular a score or so of years ago. In it we have the good old farmer who makes money enough in the antipodes to buy “The Old Home,” and makes it a present to an aristocratic son-in-law on the wedding of his pretty and refined only daughter, to say nothing of paying off the young scamp’s debts; the weak husband, who, loving his pretty wife full well, and her money more, yet allows himself to drift into something more than a flirtation with an unscrupulous woman of society, whose talk is bad, but whose morals are worse; the villain, who seduces village maidens, and to serve his own vile purposes lets it be thought that the weak, but not altogether bad, husband, is the sinner; the weak-minded masher, with a smart little music-hall “arteeste” for wife—a duplicate pair of Tom Taylor’s Trotters and Montmorenci in the “Ticket-of-Leave;” and the seduced maiden who mourns her sin and desertion in a black cloak which she flips about as a crow does its wings. Each and all of these are they not old and tried friends, who are recognised before they have uttered a score of words? Of course, “my son-in-law” gets into debt again, and the “Old Home,” before the curtain finally falls, becomes, as Mrs. Willoughby says of her £5 note, quite a second Mr. Milton’s Paradise Lost and got back again. On Wednesday afternoon the play was received by a large audience with immense favour, and Mr. Thos. Thorne, who played the delightful old father in fresh and natural style, was applauded to the echo when he administered a severe castigation to the villain, even as the Vaudeville audiences of old applauded Mr. John Maclean when, as Martin Chuzzlewit, senior, he administered a thrashing to the hypocrite Pecksniff. To the success of the drama there is no doubt but that this popular actor in no small measure contributed. Miss Winifred Emery was charmingly sympathetic as the young and forgiving wife; Miss Marion Lea properly languid and sneering as the eccentric opinioned lady of fashion; Miss Edith Bruce made an excellent stage picture out of the sketch of the music-hall artiste Mr. Buchanan had furnished; and Mr. Cyril Maude a good deal out of the well-worn type of the masherdom of the bars and music-halls. Mr. Wallace Erskine played exceedingly well as the weak husband, and saved the part from being an utterly contemptible one; Mr. Fred Thorne, as a friend of the cheery farmer’s, with a rough voice and a tender heart, and Miss Ella Banister, as the black-cloaked one, also deserve a full meed of praise. “The Old Home,” having passed the easy ordeal of a morning performance, is now on the evening bills.
Local Government Gazette (27 June, 1889)
Pursued by the shades of neglected Magdalens, Mr. Robert Buchanan has once more taken up his pen to urge that they should take their places in society, and whether originally dairymaids or duchesses, should be received in our wives’ drawing-rooms, and encouraged to tell their little histories regardless of time and place. The story of “The Old Home,” produced at the Vaudeville on Wednesday afternoon, is a simple one. Sir Charles Fenton is a young baronet with mortgaged acres, and in the first act he is yawning away a country existence married to a young colonial girl, who has replenished his empty purse. A simple dairymaid, whom he is wont to chuck under the chin, is introduced to make the pictorial completeness of the idyl. Then there is the Australian father, who, having found the money, remains to deliver homilies on domesticity, interspersed with Biblical texts. A dashing major—a Major Dashwood—endeavours to persuade the simple wife that her husband is neither pure not perfect; while other persons to whom we are introduced include a society adventuress (widow, of course), and a young man belonging to the genus known as “Johnnie,” who apparently never moves without his mother—not generally a peculiarity of that genus. There is little or no action, scarcely the commencement of a plot, and the first act is distinctly dull. But there the dulness ends. The second act passes in London. There are bailiffs claiming money in the kitchen, and the dairymaid declaiming her wrongs in the drawing-room. Between the two and the major, who is still en evidence, Lady Fenton is persuaded that her husband is responsible for both events. In the third act, when the dairymaid’s delinquencies are traced to Major Dashwood, the presence of the bailiffs is forgiven, and all ends happily. This is all there is of plot. There are speeches about everything, about society, the marriage laws, the Pelican Club, and the social status of actors, about pictures, and politics. Sentiments that drew down thunders of applause from the “gods,” who can hear them again and again with evergreen enthusiasm, are put into the mouths of all the principal characters; and when, in the last act the colonial papa horsewhipped the villain the climax was reached and the verdict of success unanimously accorded to the gratified author, who, if he will only curtail his moralising, which in its present excess is detrimental to the dramatic action, may once again add this to his successful endeavours to fill Mr. Thorne’s theatre.
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As the colonial father, Mr. Thomas Thorne has added another to his long list of successful characters. He was earnest, hearty, and impressive, and almost made us think that we had never heard those moral truisms before. Mr. Fred Thorne, as his partner, gave us a clever little character sketch. Miss Winifred Emery, as the wealthy wife, acted with her usual sympathetic charm, though her husband, as pourtrayed by Mr. Wallace Erskine, did not do well enough to deserve the love she lavished on him. Mr. Cyril Maude did not make too much of the silly, amorous “Johnnie,” who marries a burlesque actress, to whom on all occasions he insists on his mother (admirably played by Miss Fanny Robertson) referring as an “artiste,” a mild joke, which was rapturously applauded each of the six times it was repeated. As the “artiste,” Miss Edith Bruce was vivacious as usual. Miss Marion Lea, as the society widow, was just a little too arch. She is pretty and clever, and her costumes were beyond criticism, but she must beware of affectations. Mr. C. W. Garthorne was the iniquitous major, and Miss Ella Banister the betrayed dairymaid. “The Old Home” was transferred to the evening bill on Friday.
The Graphic (29 June, 1889)
IN The Old Home at the VAUDEVILLE Mr. Robert Buchanan has once more shown his dexterity in fitting Mr. Thorne and his company with a new play. There is nothing very original in his story: no daring spirit of innovation has impelled the dramatist to dip his pen into the inkstand, no hankering after the unconventional has tempted him to convert his play into a homily. Society is satirised, but it is in the old form of a contrast between illiterate honesty and fashionable depravity. The antithesis is neither so direct as in the case of the Huron let loose into the fashionable world in Voltaire’s story and Marmontel’s play, nor so full-flavoured as in those domestic dramas in which Mr. Toole delights to show us, as somebody has said, that “h’s are not everythink.” Septimus Porter, the worthy squatter, who has returned to his native land with a sound heart, a lovely daughter, and an ample fortune, is, it is true, not without his own little weaknesses, one of which we should hardly have expected of him, for it takes the form of hankering after an aristocratic alliance. When he has devoted his fortune to the object of making his daughter “Lady” Fenton he begins to discover that the new world into which he has gained admittance is idle, hollow, insincere, and cynical. His son-in-law flirts desperately with a wicked widow under the very nose of his afflicted wife, while he recklessly squanders his father-in-law’s fortune; and, on evidence scarcely less cogent than that which confronts the hero of Mr. Pinero’s Profligate, he is for awhile believed to have brought ruin and disgrace upon a poor village girl. This is the secret of the play. So carefully is it kept that probably most of the spectators are taken by surprise when it is discovered that Sir Charles Fenton has not committed the crowning act of baseness, and is, therefore, not beyond the final forgiveness and reconciliation which awaits the explanation in the last act. Conventional both in conception and treatment, the materials are nevertheless skilfully put together, and the reception accorded to the play at the matinée performance has since encouraged the management to transfer it to the evening bill. Mr. Thomas Thorne’s sturdy, straightforward, good- natured Australian inspires warm sympathy, as does his Australian crony Matthew Bramble, played by his brother Mr. F. Thorne; and Miss Winifred Emery won the hearts of all in the character of the wife who, though true and trustful, has her full share of womanly spirit. The wicked widow is rather too crude in her cynical duplicity, and Miss Marion Lea, in this part, unhappily allows some peculiar mannerisms a freer play than usual. Among the most decided successes of the occasion were Mr. Cyril Maude’s performance of an empty-headed young man about town, and Miss Fanny Robertson’s impersonation of a fashionable mother, who is not too particular ab out her son’s morality till his loose training comes home to herself.
The Academy (29 June, 1889)
MR. BUCHANAN’S NEW COMEDY.
WHY is it that there are scarcely three writers for the Theatre who have the individuality, the full literary independence, of the high-class novelist and of the only poets whom it is possible to read? One asks the question even in regard to a comedy, in the main as interesting as that which Mr. Robert Buchanan produced at the Vaudeville last Wednesday week. Over and above some faults of construction—they are not very great ones—one feels, what the writer himself is probably not conscious of, that his utterance on life is not entirely sincere and personal: is not wholly his own. In saying this, I judge him by a high standard. A certain commonness, that belongs to the stage too often, lingers in characters which, on the whole, he has polished to distinction. That is, the conventional stage character is mixed here and there with the characters of Mr. Buchanan’s imagining. The answer to our question is no doubt partly to be found in the fact that it is too much the custom of the stage writer to be literary tailor—as I have said before—as well as artist. Mr. Buchanan’s literary tailoring is of a good sort. His best customer of all, Mr. Thomas Thorne, has had his measure taken perfectly. Nor are others neglected. Mr. Frederick Thorne has rightly enough been well looked after, and Miss Winifred Emery’s raiment—so far as Mr. Buchanan has supplied it—is unquestionably “tailor-made.” These three artists, all admirable in their way, are asked to do nothing whatever which is not within their province—which does not suit their method and their personality; and they are enabled to do nearly everything which is absolutely of their best.
I shall not exactly tell the story, but I shall hint at it in speaking of a few of the characters. Mr. Septimus Porter, personated by M. Thomas Thorne, is a worthy and wealthy gentleman from the Colonies. He has a partner, Mr. Frederick Thorne, who is his fidus Achates. This Matthew Bramble believes in him entirely, advocates his causes always, and has a right to do so. Mr. Porter has likewise a daughter, who is very charming. That is Miss Winifred Emery, and she plays with singular refinement and truth—presenting the very best impersonation she has yet afforded to the stage. The daughter of Mr. Porter has married one Sir Charles Fenton, who, after the fashion of the day, has had a “Past”—not a very serious “Past” however, as it consisted chiefly in a flirtation with Mrs. Waldegrave before she became a widow; nay, more, before she became a wife. On revient toujours à ses premières amours; and though Sir Charles Fenton like his wife very much as the companion of many days, he finds Mrs. Waldegrave still very acceptable to him as the companion of a few. A false friend of Sir Charles’s, one Major Dashwood, does his best to fan into fiery jealousy young Lady Fenton’s childish dislike of the widow. He wishes to make love to her himself, and that is his way of setting about it. But Sir Charles is to be accused too of worse proceedings than any of these. It seems that he has brought to town, and retained in a bijou villa, a young woman of the name of Mary Mason, who had sold butter and eggs, or something of the sort, in the country. In reality, he is innocent of any dealings with Mary Mason. She has been besieged, in truth, by the false friend, as duly appears in the sequel. The end is that Sir Charles and his wife are entirely reconciled. Love is not dead between them, though the day of friendship has dawned. Excellent Mr. Porter—who, having made his fortune in the colonies, where there is no aristocracy, had believed that well-bred people were wholly faultless— understands that his son-in-law has gambled a little, and in many ways has been foolish, but is spared the distress of having to believe that he is a knave.
There is a comic under-plot, which is very distinctly amusing, though a keen analysis might discover the fact that it is not quite natural. It deals with a certain Hon. Mrs. Hackabout, her son John Hackabout, and one Dolly Drew, who is in an extremely subordinate position on the London stage. It is with a cynicism that is rather overdone that Mr. Buchanan opposes the morals and the thoughts of Mrs. Hackabout, and the other people in society, to the morals and the thoughts of those to whom society offers no charm. Mrs. Hackabout does not in real life express with quite so appalling a frankness her opinion of the temporary connexions that may be formed by her son. There is, nevertheless, an element of genuine comedy in her change of attitude towards the young person Dolly Drew when she learns that her son has actually had the audacity to marry her. Dolly Drew is in a sense a second Polly Eccles. At all events, it is in that fashion that Miss Edith Bruce represents her. Miss Bruce is clever, but I think her impersonation a mistake. The Hon. Mrs. Hackabout is at all events polished; and she would never have been reconciled to a daughter-in-law so hopelessly loud—dare I, without offence to the lady, add so vulgar? The thing is too highly coloured. Miss Marion Lea, on the other hand, in her telling representation of the young widow of good society, does not overstep the limits proper to comedy; but it is well to remember that, while her art is seen in comedy, something more than her art is seen in pathos. Miss Fanny Robertson makes Johnny Hackabout’s mother quite amusing, though she lacks a certain distinction. Johnny himself is represented to perfection by Mr. Cyril Maude. He is thoughtless, he is good hearted, he is inferior to Dolly in mental power—she leads him which way she will; and yet Mr. Cyril Maude manages to suggest that somehow he is not a nobody. The part of Mary Mason, which wants variety—being almost all upon one note of elegant affliction—is looked and acted very gracefully by Miss Banister.
Among the men’s parts in “The Old Home,” minor characters are sustained fittingly by Mr. Grove and Mr. Wheatman. Mr. Garthorne, with a touch of Mr. Kendal in voice and manner, yet manages to convey what Mr. Kendal hardly ever could—that the character he impersonates is a very bad lot. As Sir Charles Fenton, Mr. Erskine acts for the most part intelligently; but he is not sympathetic, and he so represents the part that we are much more apt to believe in Sir Charles’s weaknesses than in such virtues as the author has allowed him. Had Mr. Gillmore—who plays, to my entire satisfaction, in a piece in which I am more vitally interested—undertaken this character, he would have made it easier for us to forgive Sir Charles’s faults and to believe in his qualities. To Mr. Fred Thorne’s excellent character- acting in the part of Matthew Bramble—the genial Chorus to the story—I have already paid tribute; and Mr. Thomas Thorne, as Mr. Port, is of course thoroughly at home in a character that is simple while yet it is shrewd, affectionate and irascible, sensible but homely.
The play itself, if it does not bear about it a complete proof of unity of design or of quite thoroughly original conception, at least interests us in its serious moments and entertains us in its lighter. Mr. Buchanan writes with vigour, and he aims many arrows—and some of them strike the gold—at the latest follies, now and then even at the latest wisdom, of to-day.
The Theatre (1 July, 1889)
“THE OLD HOME.”
A new three act Comedy-Drama, by ROBERT BUCHANAN.
Produced at the Vaudeville Theatre on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 19, 1889.