[Advert for Partners from The Stage (6 January, 1888 - p.11).]
The Times (6 January, 1888 - p.9)
In a note appended to the bill of his new play of Partners, which was produced at the Haymarket Theatre last night, Mr. Robert Buchanan intimates that the principal character, Heinrich Borgfeldt, is “founded upon that of Risler in M. Alphonse Daudet’s novel of ‘Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé,’ but that, while numerous suggestions have been taken from the book, the leading situations and most of the dramatis personæ are radically different.” It would be easy to join issue with Mr. Robert Buchanan upon the question of his alleged independence of M. Daudet’s novel, but this would be a needless as well as an ungracious task. We quote his acknowledgment of the source of his inspiration in connexion with Partners not for the purpose of proving, what is already well known, that an adapter is apt to develop something of a foster-mother’s fondness for the little foundling under his charge, but because it explains certain of the imperfections of the piece, which the first-night public noted with their accustomed frankness. “Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé” is unsuited to dramatization. M. Daudet himself has attempted the task and failed. Mr. Robert Buchanan has no doubt been wise, therefore, in endeavouring to shake himself free of the trammels of the novel; but the charm of that intensely realistic book has evidently pursued him throughout his undertaking to the extent of crippling the imaginativeness and the apt observation of character of which on other occasions he has given abundant proof. Regarded as an adaptation, Partners is a work of skill; the only question it raises is whether Mr. Robert Buchanan has not unduly handicapped himself in transplanting to London a story and a set of characters essentially Parisian in their growth, and governed by a code of morals which the Lord Chamberlain has not yet seen his way to accept.
The character of Heinrich Borgfeldt, which is taken by Mr. Beerbohm Tree, retains the German habits of thought and speech, the uncouthness, the goodheartedness, and the crowning domestic sorrow of Risler. He has, however, ceased to be a designer of wall-papers and become a partner in what appears to be a financial house in the City—a circumstance which it must be confessed is somewhat incompatible with the childish simplicity of his nature. Nor does the actor help materially to explain the part, which suffers in an unusual degree from the difficulties of adaptation. It would not be easy, we fancy, for Mr. Beerbohm Tree or Mr. Robert Buchanan to discover at the head of a great City firm an elderly German combining with the most primitive tastes the appearance of an impecunious music teacher, and incapable, after 20 or 30 years’ residence in this country, to speak English without a plentiful intermixture of such expressions as “nein,” “ja wohl,” “mit mein wife,” and “auf Wiedersehen.” These are small matters no doubt, and Mr. Tree or Mr. Buchanan might urge with some show of reason that the German attributes of the character require to be accentuated upon the stage. Still, such manifest exaggerations are apt to detract from the value of a study of character, or at best to lessen one’s faith in the truthfulness of the actor’s or the author’s observation. In addition to Risler, we discover in the cast, under the name of Charles Derwentwater, the younger Fromont, who endeavours, as in the book, but without the same success, to detach the young and flighty Madame Risler from her wifely duties. We meet also with the faithful cashier, M. Planus, renamed Mr. Parr, and with the “illustrious Delobelle,” the tragedian out of employment, who reappears as Mr. Algernon Bellair. Sidonie, the Madame Risler of the original, is a thoroughly corrupt creature, vicious by instinct, and impossible as a type of character in an English play. Mr. Buchanan has changed her into a weak, undecided, but on the whole well-meaning woman, who allows herself to be drawn into a somewhat serious flirtation and to inspire her friends, including an ingénue sister, with the dread that their friendly offices to save her from the effects of her indiscretion may be “too late.” Such hybrid types are seldom acceptable to a theatrical audience, who demand, above all things, clearness of outline, alike in character and situation; but it is obvious that the adapter having taken M. Daudet’s story for better or worse was unable to help himself. The character of Madame Risler in the new version owes much to Miss Marion Terry, who invests it with a certain amount of charm and even plausibility. Among the personages of Mr. Buchanan’s creating are Gretchen, a child of the Rislers, who helps to bring about the inevitable reconciliation between husband and wife, and who is played by Miss Minnie Terry, a juvenile débutante of the well-known theatrical family of that name; Alice, a younger sister of Madame Risler’s,; and Mrs. Harkaway, a wicked “woman of the world,” very distantly suggested by the Madame Dobson of the book, who leads the unsophisticated heroine into temptation. Alice is gracefully embodied by Miss Achurch, while Mrs. Harkaway is drawn with the necessary degree of viciousness by Miss Gertrude Kingston. Mr. Brookfield gives an amusing sketch of the impecunious tragedian, and Mr. Laurence Cautley and Mr. Kemble as the “gentlemanly partner” and the sober, staid cashier, are excellent representatives of their parts. But the interest of the play centres after all in the character of Borgfeldt, which is drawn by Mr. Tree with all his graphic detail and picturesqueness. It is another finished portrait of a somewhat eccentric cast to be added to Mr. Tree’s already well stocked gallery.
The Morning Post (6 January, 1888 - p.5)
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, entitled “Partners,” was produced last night at the Haymarket Theatre with the most gratifying tokens of success. The story, which the author frankly acknowledges was suggested by Daudet’s novel, “Froment Jeune et Risler Ainé” is of pleasant simplicity. It concerns the ruin brought on a mercantile firm and the destruction of the domestic happiness of the senior partner by the expenditure and lax morality of the junior partner, the restoration of credit and the cementing of the household gods being brought about by the self-sacrifice and nobility of the elder man in a way not unfamiliar to the stage. Mr. Beerbohm Tree’s impersonation of this character is perhaps as fine a thing as he has ever done. Nothing could be more winning than his tenderness in the lighter phases, and little within the limits of true art more powerful than his portrayal of grief and agony in the darker moods of the part. At the termination of the third and fourth acts he was called again and again to receive the acclamations of the house. Perhaps the most striking character after that of the hero is the one played by Mr. Brookfield, who, wonderfully made-up, impersonates a retired actor with rare humour and effect. Miss Marion Terry gives a sympathetic and touching rendering of the sorely- tempted heroine. Miss Le Thière has a pleasant part, which she fills with geniality and aplomb. Miss Gertrude Kingston is appropriately gay and vindictive by turns as a wicked woman of the world. Miss Achurch is supplied (not too well) with opportunities for the display of her skill, and Miss Minnie Terry is one of the most delightful of stage children possible. Mr. Laurence Cautley plays the villain with ease and finish, and Mr. H. Kemble is admirable as an old clerk of the imperilled firm. The play will need some compression and curtailment, and then with such acting as it contains its lasting success seems assured.
The Echo (6 January, 1888 - p.1)
THE THEATRICAL WORLD
Whatever may be said of the new comedy drama Partners, with which Mr. Buchanan presented the public last night at the Haymarket Theatre, it can hardly be urged that it is a wholesome play. The story, though much involved, is in reality a short and simple one. It is that of a rich German merchant living in London named Borgfeldt (Mr. Beerbohm Tree), who has married—by means of money lent to her father—a young and beautiful lady, of somewhat flighty ideas, named Claire (Miss Marion Terry). He has a young partner called Charles Derwentwater—a married man, by the way—who is desperately in love with Borgfeldt’s wife, and is besides a sort of “conventional lady-killer,” whom married women generally are supposed to admire. Derwentwater ruins the firm by his extravagance, and takes advantage of the absence of his old partner—who has rushed off to Germany in order to save, if possible, the credit of his house—to attempt the ruin of Mrs. Borgfeldt also. Here sympathy can hardly be said to rest with anyone. The old German has married the girl by means of money, one can hardly weep over him; the girl herself, though petted by her old “bear of a husband,” is too openly deceptive to deserve any sympathy; the youthful partner is certainly a very stagey lover, and attracts very little interest. The only actor in the play at this time that draws pleased attention from the audience is Miss Minnie Terry, who, as the little daughter of Mrs. Borgfeldt, rushes into the room at the critical moment when her mother’s honour hangs in the balance, and presumably saves her. Presumably only, however, for the husband, returning suddenly, certainly catches Mrs. Borgfeldt in a most compromising situation, and turns her out of house and home. Still, for some inconceivable reason, while he discards his wife he retains his partner; the firm is nearly ruined, but he intends to work as a clerk, and so save the good name of the house. The partner continues with him, and at the close, on a Christmas-day, when Borgfeldt becomes reconciled to his wife, the health of Derwentwater is actually drunk in a bowl of punch. Such is roughly the story of The Partners. Of course, there are a lot of side issues in the five acts, which are successively called “Mrs. Borgfeldt at Home,” “The Junior Partner,” “The Honour of the House,” “The Senior Partner,” “The Christmas Carol”; but they do not greatly affect the spectator, though they introduce a number of actors and actresses upon the stage.
This brings us to the consideration of the acting. Miss Marion Terry has a most difficult task. Does Mr. Buchanan wish to portray an innately bad woman, or one who is really good, but slips? If the latter, how comes it that she is so eager to get away from her husband to be alone in the drawing-room with Charles Derwentwater, and seizes every opportunity for a tête-a-tête with him? If the former, why send down the curtain of the first act as she sits looking sadly into the fire, and ejaculates, “If he had only stayed”? So through the whole play; her assurances that she is bewildered are always at variance with her readiness to dally with “Charles.” It is an incongruous character. As to the part of Borgfeldt, played by Mr. Beerbohm Tree, the most that can be said of it is that in point of detail and German accent it is irreproachable; but for the rest it arouses no enthusiasm, and becomes inexpressibly tiresome. The old man has very little to say, and takes ever so many words, and a very long time, to say it. Probably cut down and altered the part may have something in it—at present it is a poor one. Charles Derwentwater’s part, played by Mr. Lawrence Cautley, is not of a kind to please serious people. We know all the way through that it is an impossibility; that no such man could make such havoc with women’s hearts, and Mr. Cautley may ask himself whether it is usual to fall on the knee and clasp round the waist or catch hold of the hand of a married woman with quite so much frequency and cupidity as he portrays it. Miss Gertrude Kingston, who is a Mrs. Harkaway, a designing woman of fashion (and rival of Mrs. Borgfeldt in Charles Derwentwater’s affections), she herself being married, is very clever; but the part she has to play is repulsive.
If The Partners prove a success it will not certainly be on account of its inherent goodness or the skilful representation of its leading parts.
The Standard (6 January, 1888 - p.3)
The successful Red Lamp was last night replaced at the Haymarket by a five-act play called Partners, written by Mr. Robert Buchanan. The author acknowledges some indebtedness to the well-known novel “Froment jeune et Riola ainé,” but he claims the credit of inventing many of the incidents of the drama, and this credit must be given him, though in truth most of the personages have recognisable prototypes in fiction. Partners, as will be judged from the reference to M. Daudet’s book, is the story of an elderly man, whose trust is placed equally in his young wife and in his friend and partner, and who is driven to believe, with much reason, that they are both false to him. The scheme furnishes opportunity for some remarkably powerful and affecting scenes, but a fault of the play—apart form its extreme length, which is the more inexcusable, because there is not a little repetition in it—is its persistent atmosphere of mournfulness. More than once or twice during the evening it was felt that the acting saved the play, and that but for the personal interest which some of the characters evoked, the depressing influence of the story would have brought about its condemnation. When it has been considerably shortened, it will be materially improved, and it will then remain to be seen whether, in the opinion of audiences, its power atones for its painfulness. Borgfeldt, the senior partner, in an apparently wealthy firm, is, as he supposes, happy in the possession of a charming wife, a bright little child, and a partner, Derwentwater, who, except for some indifference in the matter of business, which signifies little, is all that a partner should be. Borgfeldt knows his own shortcomings. He is clumsy, unused to society, feels strange in his handsome house, for he is unaccustomed to luxury; and, indeed, is made absolutely uncomfortable by the stateliness of his butler, whom he deferentially addresses as “Mr. Dickinson”; and here, it should be said, that it is mainly to Mr. Beerbohm Tree’s remarkably courageous and skilful handling of this character that such success as the play may gain, will be due. It seems impossible when “the old bear,” as he calls himself, first appears, with his odd constrained manner, strongly marked accent, and ungainly appearance—ill-fitting clothes, intractable hair, and general uncouthness—that he can win the sympathy, regard, and respect of the audience as he speedily does. Borgfeldt, however, is suddenly called away, almost at a minute’s notice, to Germany, and this at a time when the attachment between his wife Claire and Charles Derwentwater is passing the limits of flirtation. Her evil Genius, who, for motives of personal revenge, tempts her to her ruin is a certain Mrs. Harkaway. A passionate scene between the lovers, as they must be called, takes place one night after a return from the theatre, and Claire has ceased to repulse her husband’s friend, when her child, who has been waiting for her mother’s good-night kiss, runs into the room. To many spectators the introduction of the child in this manner will certainly convey an extremely unpleasant sensation, but it may be that this is a point of sentiment, and it need not here be discussed.
Both as regards the honour of her name, and the peace of her home, Borgfeldt is only summoned home in time, if, indeed, it be held that he is in time. His faithful old clerk, Parr, sends him an urgent telegram, and the senior partner reaches London to find his business on the verge of ruin, owing to the dishonesty of his junior, and to find worse still at his home; for though in truth Claire has by this time recoiled from the danger to which she was rushing, her husband arrives in time to witness a scene between her and Charles, the nature of which he excusably misunderstands, so that he can only think that the worst has befallen him. Here the motive of the play became extremely complicated and involved. In a book, the reasons which influence Borgfeldt might be made comprehensible; on the stage they remain vague. He does not furiously denounce the villain who has striven to compass his ruin. On the contrary, Borgfeldt insists upon retiring from the firm himself and working for his guilty partner as a clerk, his reverence and affection for the memory of his old master (Mrs. Derwentwater’s father) being the reason; and of this something too much is heard. It is not exactly a heaping of coals of fire on the scoundrel’s head, but it is a complicated method of making him feel the despicable nature of his conduct. Mr. Tree had previously held together the scene in the office, spun out to undue length; and here again, though the proceedings of Borgfeldt are decidedly eccentric, the actor commanded attention, and a certain indefinite sort of esteem. As for his wife, he will not listen to her protestations of innocence, and drives her from his house. This hastiness has, of course, to be rectified in the fifth act, an act which is put together in a very loose and clumsy fashion. Borgfeldt is living in humble rooms, his child has been ill, pining for her mother, who is presently brought in by a Lady Silverdale, who has acted as a sort of good fairy. A letter, written by Claire to Derwentwater, conclusively establishes her innocence, and Borgfeldt repents his obstinacy.
It was nearly midnight when the curtain fell, and there is not time to discuss certain incidents which would tempt remark if leisure permitted. The end of the piece is very weak, and Mr. Tree, not without excuse, lost, to some extent, the grip of the character which he had hitherto so firmly maintained, but, nevertheless, his study of Borgfeldt will do much to increase his reputation as an emotional actor. Miss Marion Terry displayed a remarkably acute appreciation of the character of Claire. The struggle between love and duty was shown with admirable force and feeling. That Borgfeldt should not have recognised the accents of truth in Claire’s voice says little for his perception, for they were plain to hear. Miss Le Thière gave a very agreeable representation of the benevolent Lady Silverdale; Miss Achurch acted with tenderness and sincerity as Claire’s sister Alice; and the child was prettily and naturally played by Miss Minnie Terry. Miss Gertrude Kingston was less successful as the malicious Mrs. Harkaway, Claire’s evil Genius. The actress’s own emphasis weakened her performance, which also exhibited want of savoir faire and knowledge of effect. A most humorous sketch of an impecunious actor (Claire’s father, M. Bellair) was worked out with notable freshness and unconventionality by Mr. Brookfield. The character is full of choice bits of comedy, and is the more welcome as it is the only relief the piece contains. Mr. Kemble’s Parr is an excellent study of the faithful old clerk, jealous of his master’s honour, fearless in the discharge of his duty, dignified and eminently trustworthy. Mr. Cautley gave a highly efficient performance of Derwentwater; Mr. Allan’s butler Dickinson was a model of dignity and haughtiness as such qualities are accepted in the servants’ hall and Messrs. Stewart Dawson, Eric Lewis and Miss Emilie Grattan were serviceably employed. On the whole, the reception of Partners may be called favourably, though the verdict was not quite unanimous on behalf of the play, the audience, however, letting it be seen that the good work done by the actors was fully appreciated.
The Daily Telegraph (6 January, 1888 - p.3)
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, “Partners,” and his curious and perverse treatment of the simplest possible story that ever occurred to novelist or dramatist, reminds one irresistibly of a cat engaged in the cruel process of killing a mouse. We all know what the cat does. It allows the mouse to run, pats it, paws it, tortures it, and takes an unconscionable time in putting the little creature out of its misery. Last night this process of slow torture was inflicted on a patient but keenly observant audience. Mr. Buchanan was the cat; his simple little plot was the harmless mouse; the cruelty was inflicted on the audience, who knew exactly what was going to happen, but were treated to a gambol that, as the long hours drew on towards midnight, proved a little wearisome. That this should be so, that the interest should flag, halt, pause, and eventually dwindle down to nothing, was inevitable when we calmly consider what Mr. Buchanan has done. He has taken the space of five long acts to tell a tale that could conveniently be told—concisely, sharply, and vigorously told—in two acts at the utmost. The story is as old as the hills, but it is none the worse on that account. Unfortunately the dramatist has in this instance hardly anything new to say about it. Nothing is gained by spinning it out, dotting the “i’s,” crossing the “t’s,” over-elaborating, underlining, insisting on the simplest dramatic points, running up to a climax and shirking it, putting the cup of excitement to our lips for the mere sake of dashing it away again. Thackeray has suggested with infinite force and excellent humanity, Daudet has elaborated with rare descriptive faculty, as a novelist is permitted to do, the story of man’s truth and woman’s weakness, the honest manly husband, the weak and badly influenced woman, the handsome, persuasive scoundrel, who play their parts with a difference, but a very slight one, in Mr. Buchanan’s new play. Mrs. Rawdon Crawley is discovered in her intrigue with the rich old Marquis of Steyne by her simple-minded and confiding husband, whose eyes are filled with dust; old Risler, the man of commerce is cheated out of his young wife’s love by his flashy and seductive partner, young Froment. Age and honesty are on this side, youth and temptation on that. It is one and the same permutation and combination of character. But, new or old, all depends on the treatment; and, regarded from the dramatic standpoint, Mr. Buchanan cannot be said to have handled it with his accustomed vigour or virility. He talks his subject away until at last he becomes positively tedious.
An old man has got a darling. Heinrich Borgfeldt, a man of business, has married a young wife, and he forgets the almost inevitable consequences of the rash act. Claire, the pretty wife of the commerce-loving old German, has everything that should make a sensible woman happy—a good man’s love, a sweet child, a comfortable home, riches, luxury, and the esteem of the world—but she must needs fall under the spell of her old husband’s young married partner, who has little to recommend him in the way of talent or persuasiveness, and who, as drawn by Mr. Buchanan, is not much different from the ordinary, conventional French lover who pops down on his knees on the slightest provocation, seizes his partner’s wife passionately round the waist whenever they are left alone; the ordinary drawing-room amant, with flashing eyes and in dress clothes, who is supposed to fascinate innocent women as a serpent does a poor trembling rabbit. We have as little sympathy with Claire as for her electro-plated admirer. Neither character is well drawn. The woman is simply silly, and the man is obviously vain. However, they love, or rather they play at love-making at afternoon teas and fashionable assemblies. The infatuated Derwentwater buys extravagant diamond necklaces for his partner’s wife, the old German goes conveniently away, the crash comes, the firm is ruined, the peaceful home is destroyed, and old Borgfeldt, having discovered his wife in his friend’s arms, enters into a long business transaction, lectures, proses, explains, meditates, and eventually, on absolutely insufficient evidence of his wife’s actual guilt, turns her out of the house in a manner almost as heartless to her as she has been foolish and inconsiderate to him. Even at this point we cannot get the curtain down. The wife’s dismissal is surely the point the dramatist has been attacking. We have got so far, and we want no more. Mr. Buchanan thinks otherwise, and, for the sake apparently of gaining sympathy for his poor old German, he makes him bear the domestic burden on his own shoulders, screen his wife’s seducer, swear him to secrecy, put himself entirely in the wrong for no apparent purpose; and though, for all he knows or cares, the mother of his child may be starving, put on a dressing-gown, go into humble lodgings, and by poring over a ledger as a humble clerk redeem the honour and save the credit of the commercial house. But is the guiltless but silly wife forgiven? Naturally; it is Christmas time, the motherless child is dying, and the penitent, who was after all more sinned against than sinning, is welcomed to her home again by her venerable husband, who is positively forgiving enough to drink his scoundrelly partner’s health in a bowl of punch.
The story is replete with human interest, and would be difficult to tell without occasionally arresting the sympathy or stirring the emotional chords of the audience. A mother whose honour is saved by the appearance in the drawing-room of an innocent child in its nightdress was welcomed last evening as a touching spectacle. The inner meaning of it is dramatic and admirable, but it is a dangerous incident on the stage. What we maintain is that dramas with such plots as these have been represented before now with far more art and unquestionably less artifice. In the days when “Daddy Hardacre” and “The Porter’s Knot” held the town, when these simple domestic stories were put forward to interest, to stimulate, and to touch the true emotional chord, the dramatist was contented to scorn all this elaborate contemplation of detail and to come to the point. Those who had to write for Bouffé or Robson would not have needed more than a couple of acts to tell this simple tale. First the crash, then the recovery. That is all we want. Nobody needs these wearisome scenes between man of business and clerk to impress the fact that the unfortunate man is ruined; the audience, alert and inquisitive, resents a prolonged business scene between partners and confidential advisers following the crash of an old gentleman through a conservatory window and the discovery of his wife in his friend’s arms. Then is the time for action, not for meditation. The outraged husband acts, he does not talk.
We have alluded distantly to the acting of Robson, who was unquestionably the finest representative of this style of character in this class of play that the present generation has seen. Lafont was a more refined and subtle actor, but Robson had the power. Mr. Beerbohm Tree is, of course, too young ever to have seen Robson; but we wish he could have done so, if only to note the difference between that great actor’s method and his own in a character that should appeal at once and directly to the sympathies. Robson, or, for the matter of that, George Belmore, an actor of less genius but of quick nervous power, would never have dreamed of playing old Heinrich Borgfeldt in this particular way. They might not have equalled Mr. Tree in the mere minor detail and the studious elaboration of unimportant points of character. For instance, the German accent of the old fellow is all but faultless. Yet they surely would have moved their audience, stirred them, rivetted them, affected them to greater purpose. Having said what we have said about Mr. Buchanan’s play and his curiously perverse dramatic method, it is scarcely fair to Mr. Tree to hold him up to blame for what we may call dilatoriness of treatment, persistent over-elaboration of detail, and almost inexcusable dwelling over trifles. But of one thing we are perfectly convinced, and that is that the elaborate artistic method that this clever and observant actor brings to bear upon what are called character sketches will not do at all for parts of this description. If Mr. Tree is determined to tackle the emotional drama he must reduce the formality of his method. If Mr. Buchanan laboured with his dramatic scenes for the sake of favouring Mr. Tree’s love of detail, he made an artistic mistake, but, on the other hand, it is equally clear that no actor can properly affect his audience unless he quickens up, invigorates, and stimulates his art in scenes that require terse and telling acting. No one who ever studied that art could fail to be struck with the cleverness, the skill, and the observation of much of Mr. Beerbohm Tree’s performance. But it is not the style of acting that emotional scenes require. It was a bold attempt, it was a daring enterprise for a young actor. But his greatest admirers could have wished it had not as yet been attempted. He has not as yet gained the possession of that moving power or that brilliancy of attack which a Heinrich Borgfeldt requires. It is a Robsonian character, and some of us who have seen Robson know what that means. It means a succession of electric shocks; but that night there was not the sensation of a tingle. The character of Claire does not suit Miss Marion Terry. She was a good, pure-minded, innocent girl, pretending to be a weak, frivolous, unsatisfactory creature. She kept on telling us how silly she was, but no one seemed to believe it. The actress was not the woman the author evidently intended. Sometimes parts are badly cast—this was a case in point. Miss Marion Terry’s gentle, guileless manner does not suit a Claire who would have the determination to wreck a home or the nerve to encourage a showy lover. Miss Gertrude Kingston, a new-comer, came nearer the truth. This bold young lady, who evidently wants experience, the knowledge of using her voice, who has yet to be taught how to move and sit on the stage, and countless other things, still attacked one of the most disagreeable characters ever written for a lady, with wonderful nerve. She had made up her mind what to do, and she did it. A more objectionable personage than Mrs. Harkaway has seldom appeared in a stage play, but as the author suggested so did the actress follow his lead. It was certainly a clever performance—remarkably clever for a novice. One of the most carefully and naturally played characters in the drama was the quiet, sententious old clerk of Mr. H. Kemble. Coming after Captain Costigan and our old friend Eccles, Mr. Brookfield had a difficult task to extract much new fun out of the seedy, sponging actor father whose daughter has married into society. But though he over-dressed, and, as young actors will do, forced the “bit of character” into undue prominence, often spoiling the picture thereby, he made Mr. Algernon Bellair a fairly amusing person. Mr. Lawrence Cautley had a stagey part to play, and he acted it stagily. Miss Achurch and Miss Le Thiere were of great service in small characters; and little Miss Minnie Terry is a delightful child, natural, innocent, and pretty. She was not a stage child, but a real one, and seldom has infant taken the stage with more confidence, and less sign of having been parroted into her part. She had all the appearance of one quite used to the scene and incapable of nervousness.
The play was, on the whole, very well received, and much applause was bestowed throughout the evening on Mr. Beerbohm Tree. The author did not appear, and the mention of his name caused a division of opinion. The same diversity of judgment will probably follow the fortunes of the play. Those who are not very exacting will like it very well when it has been brightened up and relieved of its redundancy; but in point of art it will not be considered very remarkable for its workmanship or its acting.
Aberdeen Evening Express (6 January, 1888 - p.2)
MR BUCHANAN’S NEW PLAY.
The production last night at the Haymarket, London, of Mr Robert Buchanan’s new play “Partners” was the first important theatrical event of the year. Mr Buchanan candidly confesses that he has borrowed his hero from the character of the elder Risler in Daudet’s famous novel “Fromont Jeune et Risler aine.” But the story in its central idea is a far older one. Mr Buchanan’s hero is, in fact, one of those characters familiar on the stage and in fiction, of an elderly man who has married a young wife. He implicitly trusts her, and with her and his little daughter he leads a happy life. He even launches out into extravagances, all well within his ample means. A house far above his own simple German tastes, horses and carriages, a man servant, who is the bane of his master’s life, and whom his employer addresses with much unctuous reverence, he has secured for her sake. It is his trusted partner who breaks up this happy menage. That partner is depicted as weak rather than wicked. He and the old German’s young wife were boy and girl together. Now, however, he has a pretty girlish wife of his own, the only daughter of the man who first admitted the present head of the firm into partnership. The junior partner squanders the firm’s money, and dares to tempt his senior’s wife. All this is clear enough in the first act, and the rest of a very long story is devoted to the somewhat tedious unravelling of the plot. The erring woman commits no actual sin. Even when her lover breaks into her house at midnight, she is saved by the sudden appearance of the child who has missed its evening kiss. At last when the storm breaks, and the senior partner discovers all and suspects more than has really happened, he casts his wife forth, relinquishes all his own savings to save the firm from ruin and in order that the daughter of his old benefactor, who first admitted him to partnership, shall be kept in ignorance of her husband’s perfidy he voluntarily accuses himself as chiefly to blame for the fall of the firm, dissolves partnership (by word of mouth), and sinks to his old position as clerk. This is the most original and the least satisfactory part of the play. In the fifth act, which contains a somewhat involved Christmas scene, dramatic justice is done. When “Partners” is much abbreviated, and when many excresences bordering on farce are struck out, it should assuredly prove a powerful, and it is believed will be a successful drama. At present it is somewhat unequally played, although the characters of the elderly husband and his young wife are quite safe in the hands of Mr Beerbohm Tree and Miss Marion Terry. Mr Brookfield has the part of a broken-down actor, and the child five years old was last night prettily played by Miss Minnie Terry, the little daughter of Mr Charles Terry, and niece of Miss Ellen Terry.
The New York Times (6 January, 1888)
Robert Buchanan’s new play, “Partners,” was produced at the Haymarket Theatre to-night in the presence of one of the most brilliant audiences of the season. In an author’s note on the programme it was stated that the character of Dorgfeldt was partly founded on that of Risler in “Fromont Jeune,” by Daudet, but that the leading situations and most of the dramatis personæ were radically different. If by this Buchanan means that the names of the characters being changed and the wife white-washed makes the play radically different, it is so; but in fact it is in the main identical, and the resemblance to Daudet’s play is complete. It can be considered but an adaptation from the French author. The one string which is played upon is too fine to sustain the tension put upon it by the adapter, and what is considered the great scene of the play is lengthened by one-third more than was necessary or advisable. In its English shape the play is the old story of a confiding husband and a wife weak to the verge of guilt, except that the man who tempts her to dishonor her husband is his trusted partner. The usual misunderstandings produce a separation, which of course terminates as soon as one word of explanation is given. The play has some strong situations and many anti-climaxes, and is far from faultless in construction. It was respectfully listened to on account of the superb acting of Beerbohm Tree, who saved it from an early doom, although at the fall of the curtain hisses and applause were pretty fairly divided. If the piece ever succeeds it will require a great deal of compression and many alterations.
The Era (7 January, 1888)
“PARTNERS” AT THE HAYMARKET.
A New Comedy-Drama, in Five Acts,
by Robert Buchanan.
Heinrich Borgfeldt ... ... Mr H. BEERBOHM-TREE
Charles Derwentwater ... Mr LAURENCE CAUTLEY
Mr. Parr ... ... Mr H. KEMBLE
Mr. Algernon Bellair ... ... Mr CHAS BROOKFIELD
Mrs. Harkaway’s Husband Mr ERIC LEWIS
Dr. Somerville ... ... Mr STEWART DAWSON
Smith ... ... Mr ROBB HARWOOD
Boker ... ... Mr STRATTON RODNEY
Dickinson ... ... Mr C. ALLAN
Claire ... ... Miss MARION TERRY
Alice Bellair ... ... Miss ACHURCH
Gretchen ... ... Miss MINNIE TERRY
Mary ... ... Miss EMILIE GRATTAN
Lady Silverdale ... ... Miss LE THIERE
Mrs. Harkaway ... ... Miss GERTRUDE KINGSTON
The Red Lamp having burnt itself out, Mr Robert Buchanan’s play named above was produced on the evening of Thursday last, in presence of a crowded audience, that included many notabilities representative of art, literature, and fashion. The author of Partners acknowledges some indebtedness to Daudet’s admirable story “Fromont Jeune et Risler Aîné,” and chiefly for his drawing of the character of his elderly hero, which is partly founded on that of Risler. Mr Buchanan has erred mainly on the side of over-elaboration. The simple story he has to tell—a story often told before Emile Augier wrote his “Gabrielle” and since—is not equal to five acts, and so, five acts being considered necessary, the interest is weakened by being long drawn out, and something like weariness comes of vain repetitions and a multiplicity of needless detail. The most striking instance of this arises with the close of the play, where the long-looked-for climax having been reached with the reconciliation of a husband and wife, who have been separated through the man’s faith and the woman’s weakness, people in whom we have felt little concern are dragged on to assist in creating an anti-climax over a bowl of punch. If, however, the play has some faults, it has many merits, and these assured it even more than a respectable hearing; for there were scenes that were replete with human sympathy, and that not only moved the house to hushed attention, but conjured tears to the eyes of those who are not always given to the melting mood.
The scene of the first two acts is the house of Heinrich Borgfeldt. Heinrich is a wealthy manufacturer. He is a simple- minded old fellow, who has taken unto himself for wife a maiden who is younger than himself by twenty years. He has implicit faith in her, but while he loves her much, he loves his business more. He neglects his home for his office, but, at the same time, he indulges all the lady’s whims, and consents to provide her with a fine house, with carriages and horses, and with a butler, whom he regards with something akin to reverence. He has for partner a good-looking young fellow, Charles Derwentwater, who has been his wife’s sweetheart from childhood, and who envies him his possession, and is resolved to rob him of it, notwithstanding that he has a wife of his own in the daughter of Borgfeldt’s old employer. His passion for Claire—Mrs Borgfeldt—is encouraged both by the object of it and by a woman of fashion, Mrs Harkaway, and opportunity for mischief is soon provided by the fact that Borgfeldt is called away to Germany on important business connected with the firm. During his absence the illicit love-making is promoted for spiteful purposes of her own by Mrs Harkaway. Claire accompanies Charles Derwentwater to the theatre; at midnight in her own house listens to his protestations of affection; and is only saved from the danger that threatens by the sudden appearance of her child, who comes running from her bed to wish mamma “Good night.”
The scene of the third act is Borgfeldt’s office, and here we learn that Derwentwater is a traitor to his partner, not only in love, but also in business. He has embezzled large sums of money, and he has brought the firm to the verge of ruin. When, presently, Borgfeldt returns, the true state of affairs is made plain to him by his old confidential clerk, Mr Parr. The evidence of the books convinces him of the financial disaster that threatens, but he is slow to believe that his wife is false to him. He fights against conviction, but conviction comes at last, and the poor old fellow is for a time overwhelmed by the double blow which brings dishonour to the hitherto prosperous “house” and dishonour to his home.
In the fourth act the scene is again Borgfeldt’s residence, where his wife is giving a party all unconscious of his return. He suddenly makes his appearance while Charles holds her in his arms imploring her to fly with him, and to avoid exposure and disgrace. The guests are dismissed, and then the injured husband, in a scene with his partner, heaps coals of fire upon his head. For the sake of the scoundrel’s wife, who is the daughter of his dear old master, to whom Borgfeldt owes the position he has attained, Charles shall retain control of the business, and he—Borgfeldt—will take his place once more as a clerk in the office, will work night and day to avert the ruin which is impending, and will sacrifice himself to save the honour of the house. As for the weak and foolish Claire, believing her to have been something more and something worse, he takes from her her jewels; he drags even her wedding-ring from her finger; he orders them and all his and her fine possessions to be sold, and the proceeds to be devoted to the liquidation of the firm’s liabilities; and he drives her from his home with the wish that he may never look upon her face again.
In the fifth and final act we see poor old Borgfeldt the occupant of a humble lodging, toiling at his books in the endeavour to put business matters on a satisfactory footing. Charles has disappeared, and he firmly believes that he has followed Claire. But Claire is close by waiting the opportunity to see her darling child. This opportunity is presently provided by her sister, the gentle Alice, whose advice she has spurned and whose remonstrances she has resented. And then comes the end, with, as will readily be guessed, reconciliation brought about partly by the child and partly by a letter which has long remained unopened, and which reveals the fact that Claire has been only weak and foolish and that her husband’s honour has been by her untarnished. The important part of Heinrich Borgfeldt was taken by Mr Beerbohm- Tree, who cannot be said to have done it full justice. At the outset he was thoroughly at home with his work, and all hearts went out to the simple-minded old fellow in his love for his wife and child, and in his desire for the happiness of both, while wonderfully diverting was the actor’s suggestion of Borgfeldt’s reverence for the newly established butler, whom he regards with the awe that might come of the presence in his house of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Lord Mayor of London. Mr Beerbohm-Tree, too, may be credited with a powerful piece of work at the end of the third act, where the proofs of his wife’s perfidy are too strong, even for the great faith of the too confiding husband, and where, bowing his head upon his books, he breaks down with agonising sobs and vents his grief in a flood of tears. But the audience soon tired of Borgfeldt’s woes seeing that the actor became too slow and preachy in his method, and when, to the astonishment of everybody, the long-suffering and self-sacrificing German put on spectacles and presented the appearance of an octogenarian, everybody ceased to wonder that the young wife should have preferred the young and handsome lover to the old and unkempt and seemingly unwashed husband. Miss Marion Terry boldly attacked the difficulties of the character of the tempted wife, and gave us a telling illustration of the struggle between love and duty, her finest effect being created in the scene where Claire, ordered from her house, pleads, but pleads in vain, to be heard in her own defence. The villain of the play, Charles Derwentwater, was capitally represented by Mr Laurence Cautley. He made a very handsome lover, and he poured out his dishonourable passion as though he felt it. Decidedly one of the best played parts was that of Mr Parr, the head clerk, by Mr Kemble. This might have been a study from life, so eminently natural was it in every feature. A less welcome character was Algernon Bellair, father of Claire Borgfeldt. Bellair is described as a retired actor, and with his stilted speech and stagey stride he was made amusing by that clever actor Mr Charles Brookfield, but noting his miserable meannesses, his cadging propensities, and his actual dishonesty, we marvelled once more why, when a writer for the stage elects to represent the stage in one of his characters, the preference is so often shown for its seamy side. Mr Eric Lewis did well the little he had to do as “Mrs Harkaway’s husband;” and the worldliness and heartlessness of that lady were fairly set forth by Miss Gertrude Kingston, who, however, as yet lacks experience. This was her first appearance in London, and we may hope to see her to greater advantage, for she undoubtedly possesses a considerable degree of uncultivated talent. Mr C. Allan was vastly amusing as the butler, who, having served in aristocratic families, does not disguise his contempt for the middle classes; and Miss Janet Achurch played so well and so naturally as the heroine’s devoted sister that we could not but wish her more opportunity for the exercise of her ability. Miss Le Thiere gave distinction to the part of Lady Silverdale, an elderly lady, who, having been through the fire herself, works hard to keep the young and sorely tempted wife out of it, and a delightfully winsome and natural performance was supplied by little Minnie Terry as Borgfeldt’s child, Gretchen; while Miss Emily Grattan made a pleasing and satisfactory representative of Derwentwater’s wife. The fall of the curtain was followed by abundant cheering, but when Mr Beerbohm-Tree explained that the author was not in the house, the cheering was mingled with sounds of a less complimentary character. We incline, however, to the opinion that, with judicious alteration and compression, Partners should be assured of a fair measure of success.
The Sporting Times (7 January, 1888 - p.2)
ON Thursday night Beerbohm-Tree produced Robert Buchanan’s new five-act play, Partners, at the Haymarket Theatre, and it gave me great pleasure to notice that the audience gave the work a thoroughly impartial and attentive hearing. At ten minutes past eleven o’clock the curtain had not risen on the last act, and for a few minutes the gallery whistled, plaintively, “We wont go home till morning,” but otherwise not a thing was said or done to disturb or disconcert the performers in any way. When the last curtain fell, however, the verdict of the impartial pit was very clearly expressed. Tree came forward and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the author”—but the pit interrupted, “We don’t want him!” Despite this fact the fate of the play is by no means certain, for it has much in its favour to attract what are called “fashionable” audiences. The dresses of the actresses, for example, are in themselves a delight to smart ladies. The principal set scene is an artistic triumph of stage-carpenting, and above all the acting all round is particularly good.
THE plot is thin to say the least of it. An old German marries a young and pretty wife. He goes away, and she flirts vigorously with his young and handsome partner. In a scene suggestive of Peril, she all but pulverises the seventh commandment, but is saved by the sudden intervention of her child. Then the old German returns, turns his wife out of doors, and says that he does not feel quite well. Subsequently he takes her to his arms again, and all ends happily. Three hours and a half of this sort of thing are a trifle wearisome; but, of course, it can be easily cut into proper lengths, and sold at a reduction later on.
THE cares of management, multiplied by first night nervousness, naturally made Tree’s task a difficult one, when he attempted the portrayal of the old German.
THERE was much in his performance of undoubted excellence, and it will be better still when he forces his humour a little less, and lets jokes about “Mr. Dickinson” come more unconsciously. His quiet pathos, too, I preferred to those scenes where he had to tear passion in tatters, and now and then he made queer, inarticulate noises that would have provoked the laughter of a less consistently fair audience. There are moments, too, when an increase of rapidity would enhance the force of the situations; but Tree no doubt knows all this just as well as I do, and probably by this time he has made the necessary alterations. Lawrence Cauntley was an impassioned lover, while the small part of a butler stood out most admirably in the hands of Charles Allan. Brookfield struggled nobly with a caricature nuisance that stopped the action of the story at every turn, and Kemble covered himself with glory as a confidential clerk. I wish to goodness Kemble would never try to be funny again, he is so excellently artistic, so manly, real and altogether perfect in parts that demand firmness, gentleness, and true pathos.
OF the ladies, Miss Le Thiere did well as a sort of portly “Little Buttercup,” with admonition of “I told you so,” and “What did I tell you?” Little Minnie Terry was a capital child. Miss Janet Achurch looked nice and acted naturally, if a trifle despondently, and she wore sand shoes, I presume because she used to play in Sarah Thorne’s company at Margate. Miss Marion Terry wept and expressed the necessary emotion while acting most admirably in the Peril scene. Miss Gratton, in a very small part, was nice. The best performance of all, however, was that of Miss Gertrude Kingston, who, as Mrs. Harkaway, gave us a study of the modern woman of fashion that cannot be too highly praised. Her jerky walk, her short angular gestures, the quick, artificial, snappy voice, her every intonation proved the genuine artist and the keen observer. Nothing could possibly have been better, and I congratulate Tree on this admirable accession to his company.
Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (8 January, 1888 - p.5)
Mr. Beerbohm Tree’s talents as a “character” actor find special scope for their display as the hero of Mr. Buchanan’s new five-act comedy-drama, Partners, which was produced on Thursday evening. The part, that of Heinrich Borgfeldt, a middle-aged, uxorious German merchant, who speaks broken English, is acknowledged by the author to be founded on the character of Risler in Daudet’s Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé, a tale that, in other respects, has been of use to Mr. Buchanan in the construction of his play. The story is a simple one, turning on matrimonial discord, in which a young and sentimental wife, an old man’s darling, encourages the advances of her husband’s partner, a despicable sample of human nature, who, in addition to invading the sanctity of the old German’s home, brings the firm to ruin by a course of extravagance and dishonesty. The wife, who has never gone beyond the sentimentality of flirtation, is aroused to a sense of decency and duty by the influence of her child, but not before being seen in company with the would-be seducer by the injured husband, who has just returned from Germany, and been apprised of the junior partner’s two-fold perfidy. The husband separates from his wife, and with his child retires to a humble home, and bravely sets to work to reinstate his fortunes. In this resolution he triumphs, while, at a later stage, proof is afforded him of his wife’s innocence, and the piece concludes with a pretty picture of the kindly German merchant restored to happiness; and, notwithstanding his past wrongs and sorrows, left sound enough in heart to even breathe good wishes for the man so cruelly wronging him. The piece is an interesting one, and contains strong dramatic passages, but they are weakened by prolix dialogue, and the development of the story is somewhat slow. Mr. Tree’s portrait of Heinrich Borgfeldt is artistically and quaintly designed, and deservedly wins very hearty applause by its many touches of humour, pathos, and homely dignity; and above all, by the elaborate working out of a very distinct conception of a character which is original and impressive. The child, Gretchen, is charmingly acted by Miss Minnie Terry, and the erring wife, Claire, has a sympathetic representative in Miss Marion Terry. Humorous relief is given to the play by the introduction of an amusing personage—a Mr. Algernon Bellair, the father of Claire, retired from the theatrical profession, and according to his own account favoured by Melpomene, but misunderstood by the public, full of “quotes” from the old dramatists, and sorely impecunious—a part that is played with much quiet comicality by Mr. C. Brookfield. Mr. H. Kemble, too, as Parr, Borgfeldt’s faithful old clerk, performs with feeling and dignity. The other noticeable characters are acted by Miss Gertrude Kingston, Miss Le Thiere and Mr. Lawrence Cautley. The play has been placed on the stage with much artistic effect, and was received with favour.
A note from the management last night informs us that Partners has now been so judiciously curtailed that the performance concludes before the hour of 11. In the course of a few days it will be announced to commence at 8.30, and will be preceded by a new first piece. It is also decided to give morning performances every Saturday.
The Referee (8 January, 1888 - p.2)
DRAMATIC & MUSICAL GOSSIP.
THE chief theatrical event of the week was the production at the Haymarket on Thursday of the long-promised play by Robert Buchanan—“Partners,” to wit—which was announced some time back under the name of “The Honour of the House.” Commencing at about 8.20 for 8, it was listened to with exemplary patience and devout attention until 11.15, when during the interval between Acts IV. and V. cries of “Time!” and snatches of “We won’t go home till morning” resounded from the upper regions. Still, good-humonr prevailed, and there was no attempt to find much fault with the piece until the end, which came about 11.35. Considerable condemnation was then mixed with the applause, and not wholly without reason. “Partners” is a play more remarkable for length than for strength. It has certainly not suffered from stage-managerial scissors. In point of fact, it is an actor-manager’s play, and, like all such, is overburdened with matter for the actor-manager. But the play’s chief defect is that it is pervaded by the strained sentimentality which somehow seems to get into all Mr. Buchanan’s dramas dealing with the age we live in. The leading character in “Partners” is Heinrich Borgfeldt, who is a German, and the senior partner in a wealthy English manufacturing firm. As on the face of it there seems no adequate temptation for this senior partner to belong to another nation, it is not unlikely that Beerbohm Tree instructed his author to cut the part to a German pattern—for obvious good and sufficient reasons. But to my tale. Borgfeldt has a pretty wife, Claire, who is less than half his age, and they have a little daughter, aged five. He worships both. Claire does not perceptibly enthuse towards her good-hearted husband, but this may be because (apparently) he has never washed his face or brushed his hair. Anyhow ,Claire encourages the attentions of the junior partner, Charles Derwentwater, a pretty fellow, but a consummate cad. Charles sheds priceless presents upon Claire, and by these and sundry other extravagances draws so largely on the firm’s finances that when Borgfeldt returns from Germany he finds that his partner has not only supplanted him in his wife’s affections, but has also seriously imperilled “the honour of the house.” Whereupon poor Borgfeldt pathetically calls upon old Parr, his head clerk, to produce the ledgers, day-books, &c., and straightway sets about saving the firm from ruin.
After this the good old German goes home, and discovers his wife in Charles’s arms. But, mark you, Claire is not so bad as her husband thinks. We have already seen her in a scene of terrible temptation recalled to wifely duty and honour by the sudden appearance of her child—the first strong point in the piece, and one that absolutely saved the second act. Claire has since implored the charming Charles never to see her again, and she is really struggling with that quite too beautiful young man when her husband dashes in. Moreover, Claire has addressed a letter of remonstrance and farewell to the junior partner, which letter has fallen into the bands of Borgfeldt; but he—good, honest soul!—will not open a letter that is not addressed to him. If he had, he might have spared himself and family all the sufferings of the last two acts. Instead of which he drives his wife forth, and then makes himself a martyr by declaring to Charles’s young wife (the daughter of the house’s founder) that he (B.) is alone to blame for the commercial crash.
The last act is, like the first, weak and inartistic. It is chiefly remarkable for some unnecessary Christmas business of the diluted Dickens type. If I remember aright, Buchanan was wont to denounce Dickens for this sort of thing. There is certainly more dilution than Dickens in the introduced geniality, and perhaps this accounts for it. Eventually Claire returns penitent, that letter which has lain about so long is opened, and the erring wife is forgiven. Here you might think the play finishes. Not a bit of it. Borgfeldt produces some rum-punch, which he shares out among all and sundry, and, after some more cackle, drinks to all assembled and to his absent friend Charles, whom he seems to miss. The author of “Partners,” who sets forth upon the bill of the play that “the character of Heinrich Borgfeldt has been partly founded on that of Risler in ‘Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé,” has, in adapting portions of Daudet’s book for the English market, only succeeded in presenting an unpleasant story in a very strained style.
Beerbohm Tree, as Borgfeldt—a sort of character often played by Ben Webster—showed on the whole considerable power, and once or twice was very pathetic; but he had so much to say that before the evening was over the part became “as tedious as a king.” Quite half of it should be cut out. Also, his speech was much too foreign for one supposed to be so long resident in England. Germans of that sort don’t say “mein” this and “mein” that. Mr. Cautley was full of fire and passion as Charles, the junior partner. Mr. Kemble, as the head clerk, Parr, played with a repose somewhat foreign to him, and scored all the time. Mr. Brookfield is to be commiserated on having to waste his talent for character acting on an utterly conventional and absurd rôle of the Crushed Tragedian type. He played well; but the part is no use. Mr. Eric Lewis also had a stupid character. The ladies were not strong. Miss Marion Terry had but few good moments, and those only where the character carried her out of herself. For the rest, she was mournful. So was Miss Achurch, who intoned her lines. Miss Le Thiere did her best with the character of a good-hearted busybody with much too much to say. The most natural of the young ladies was Miss Emilie Grattan, who played the faithless partner’s faithful wife, and little Minnie Terry, as the child Gretchen. The music and the mounting deserve high praise.
This (Saturday) afternoon I have been informed that “Partners” has now been so judiciously curtailed that the performance concludes before eleven. Also that there will be a new front piece put on next Thursday, and that “Partners” will then commence at half-past eight. It has been decided to give a morning performance every Saturday.
The People (8 January, 1888 - p.4)
A first night at the Haymarket is always a pleasurable anticipation to lovers and students of the stage, for the reason that it has long since become a tradition of this house, the recognised headquarters of pure comedy and drama, to produce the best procurable pieces in the best possible style. But whether “Partners,” the new comedy-drama written by Mr. R. Buchanan, and brought out on Thursday night by Mr. Beerbohm Tree, will take rank among the highest presentments of this theatre, time alone will tell. The critical verdict upon the performance, taken purely upon its merits, cannot, however, be altogether so favourable as that with which in the main the good-natured audience greeted the play. The plot of “Partners,” which follows that of Daudet’s novel, “Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine,” quite closely, save in its ending, presents a middle-aged German merchant, who has worked his way up from the position of clerk in the office of the eminent London house of which he is the head. This simple-minded trader has for junior partner a young fellow less honest in nature though more attractive personally than himself, who, framed to make women false, takes a base advantage of his senior’s absence on business abroad not only to dissipate the capital of the firm to the point of ruin, but to attempt that of the young wife of his worthy but somewhat humdrum partner. from this pollution the lady, a former sweetheart of the junior merchant, is saved, after a moral struggle, at the crucial moment of yielding to his embrace, preceding a still graver fall, by the sudden apparition of her little daughter. The husband returns to his office to learn from his old and confidential chief clerk of the double breach of trust committed by his partner. Crushed at hearing of this simultaneous wreck of the affections of his heart and the commercial honour of his house, the hardly used merchant, before returning home to confront his errant wife, sits down sternly over his ledger with a view to ascertain the extent of the defalcations, in order that by work and sacrifice of all he possesses, he may retrieve, if possible, the failing credit of his firm. That done, at a late hour of the night he wends his way home, arriving there at the moment his wife is struggling for the second time to free herself from the arms of her treacherous lover. Believing her to have actually fallen, the indignant husband passionately refuses to hear any excuse from the wretched woman, wrenches the wedding ring from her finger, and dismisses her straightway from his house. In the humble cottage, to which, with his little girl, the merchant has retired, the truth of the actual salvation of his wife’s honour by the unconscious agency of their child is brought home to him through the perusal of a letter, written by the mother to the baulked seducer, in which, after upbraiding him for his cowardly assault upon her honour, she bids him never to enter her presence again. This letter, intercepted by the confidential clerk, and handed by him to his master on the night of his return from abroad, the merchant, from an over nice sense of delicacy in the circumstances, has refused to open, although its superscription is in the handwriting of his wife, simply because it is not addressed to himself. The perusal of the document leads up to the introduction of the compromised, but not absolutely guilty, wife, who receives the forgiveness she implored in the arms of her husband. The play, though wanting freshness of incident and characterisation, might be interesting enough to engage the attention and hold the sympathies of an audience were its story not so intolerably long drawn out, lasting, as it did, from eight o’clock until half past eleven, three and a half mortal hours. At least an hour must be “sawn out of the acts”—as poor H. J. Byron phrased it—if “Partners” is to be made attractive. In his impersonation of the Anglo-German merchant, Mr. Beerbohm Tree as is usual with him, presented by his excellent make-up a perfect character to the eye. In respect of the acting, like all Mr. Tree’s assumptions, this, his latest effort, beginning admirably, dwindled in interest and effect as it developed by reason of a persistent monotony of expression. Without the brightening relief of humour, save in one welcome touch, the German merchant is throughout so sentimental under all circumstances as to become a maunderer. Mr. Tree, failing to differentiate artistically, misses his opportunities. For instance, upon the news of his double calamity being broken to the merchant, he expresses natural emotion at his partner’s perfidy in exactly the same whining and irresolute tone as that exhibited by him at the infidelity of his wife. The weakness of the breakdown under the domestic trial, instead of being identical with, should be contrasted against, the commercial crisis, shown in the sudden change, when the business difficulty is approached, to a quick, firm, incisive manner, from which every trace of sentiment should disappear. Mr. Tree has yet to learn the value of light and shade in feeling as induced by varying motives and displayed in artistic contrast. As the respectable old clerk, Mr. H. Kemble acted naturally. The part of the unprincipled junior partner was rendered as little repulsive as possible by the quiet earnestness of Mr. L. Cautley. As a bombastic retired actor—a cross between Captain Costigan and Vincent Crummles—Mr. C. Brookfield exhibited much artistic humour, which unluckily ran to waste because the character, belonging in no way to the plot, was simply patched upon it. The young wife, as delineated by Miss Marion Terry, proved to be a graceful and sympathetic character, but acted, as it seemed, with less fire and intensity of passion than has heretofore been exhibited by this lady. Miss Achurch played a devoted sister of the peccant wife with sincerity; but as regards tone and appearance, upon a lower social level. The repulsive part of a wicked woman of fashion was enacted by Miss G. Kingston, a débutante, with faithfulness to the character and a certain distinction, though wanting in the repose of manner, ease of movement, and accomplishment of finesse which only stage practice can give. Minor parts were taken effectively by Messrs. Eric Lewis and Stewart Dawson, Miss Le Thiere, Miss E. Grattan, and a little daughter of Mr. Charles Terry, who made her entrée to the stage with pretty artlessness as the merchant’s child. At a call for the author, given with some evidences of dissent, Mr. Tree stated Mr. Buchanan was not in the house, but he would convey to him the approval “generally expressed by the audience.”
The Stage (13 January, 1888 - p.14)
On Thursday evening, January 5, 1888, was produced here a “new comedy-drama,” in five acts, written by Robert Buchanan, entitled:—
Heinrich Borgfeldt ... ... Mr. H. Beerbohm-Tree
Charles Derwentwater ... Mr. Laurence Cautley
Mr. Parr ... ... Mr. H. Kemble
Mr. Algernon Bellair ... ... Mr. Charles Brookfield
Mrs. Harkaway’s Husband Mr. Eric Lewis
Dr. Somerville ... ... Mr. Stewart Dawson
Smith ... ... Mr. Robb Harwood
Boker ... ... Mr. Stratton Rodney
Dickinson ... ... Mr. C. Allan
Claire ... ... Miss Marion Terry
Alice Bellair ... ... Miss Achurch
Gretchen ... ... Miss Minnie Terry
Mary ... ... Miss Emilie Grattan
Lady Silverdale ... ... Miss Le Thiere
Mrs. Harkaway ... ... Miss Gertrude Kingston
That Mr. Buchanan has succeeded with his latest effort cannot be admitted; that he has, on the other hand, given a clever young actor a character in which a legitimate triumph has been secured is beyond doubt. Mr. Buchanan confesses that in his new play are “numerous suggestions” that have been taken from Daudet’s story, “Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé.” With these we have nothing to do. The question is, what is the play like that has just been produced with such perfect stage management at the Haymarket Theatre? Is it a good acting play—one that will draw? Before answering this it will be well briefly to run through the plot of Partners. Heinrich Borgfeldt, a German, has been raised from the position of head clerk in an English merchant’s office to that of a partner. He is wealthy, and the soul of honour; his one idea in life is to do his duty, to keep the credit of his firm sound, its name untarnished. Borgfeldt has for partner in his business Charles Derwentwater, who is his very opposite in every way. Borgfeldt is old, and cares not for the gaieties of life; he is frugal in all things, save in securing the happiness of his young and beautiful wife, Claire. On the other hand, Derwentwater is young and handsome, a spendthrift, full of the pleasures of life, and is what is commonly called “a ladies’ man.” The result, according to the French school of thought, is evident. Derwentwater neglects his own wife, a simple, innocent girl, and becomes enamoured of Claire. She, poor foolish woman, is so fevered with his seemingly devoted admiration (chiefly shown by his presents of diamonds, bought at his firm’s expense), so mistaken with regard to her own husband, thinking his necessary attention to business neglect of her, that she half accepts her would-be destroyer’s vows, and for a time basks in a summer madness, which she thinks passionate love. In an evil moment Claire has listened to the advice of a friend—Mrs. Harkaway, “a woman of fashion”—who, in pique at Derwentwater’s turning from her own openly expressed admiration, soon manages to convince Claire that flirtation is not wicked so long as the husband remains in ignorance—that sin is not sinful unless found out. Weak-minded Claire, therefore, instead of boldly telling her husband all and turning her back upon Derwentwater, meets the latter half way, and without committing actual sin brings trouble and disgrace to her once happy home. Borgfeldt, owing to his firm having become involved in financial difficulties, undertakes a journey to Germany that he may secure money. Unsuccessful, he returns home to find his firm ruined, and seeming clear proof that during his absence his young wife has become the prey of his hitherto trusted partner. He is given a letter that has arrived at the office written by his wife and addressed to Derwentwater. This, which would explain all, he refuses to read, but instantly turns his wife out of his house. In the last act we find the old man living in comparative poverty, though he has once more placed the firm on a sound commercial basis. It is Christmas Eve, and as from outside his cottage he hears the message of “peace and goodwill to men,” carried to him by carol singers, the old man’s heart yearns that his wife, if innocent, may be with him once more. Claire, through the instrumentality of a mutual friend, Lady Silverdale, does return—the letter the husband refused to open is now read, proves her to be guiltless and faithful to her husband, and as the bells ring and the carol singers break out afresh, Borgfeldt takes his wife to his arms, and the curtain falls. This it will be owned is a simple tale that needs but simple and straightforward telling to make it successful. Instead of confining his play to two acts—quite sufficient—Mr. Buchanan makes the serious mistake of dragging the plot out through five weary acts that are crowded with unnecessary language, and hampered at every turn with anti-climax. True, the story of Partners is old—what of that? Old plots can be so re-dressed and clothed with rich ideas and beautiful language as to appear fresh and original. But no, Mr. Buchanan does not venture beyond well-beaten ground, his language is never above the average, his incidents are commonplace and tiresome. Take, for instance, the last incident in the play—the reconciliation of husband and wife. A dramatist who knew his work would have brought down his curtain upon the embrace. Mr. Buchanan, with a positive fondness for anti-climax, introduces punch drinking, and ruins the principal character, Borgfeldt, by making him drink to “Charles, my partner,” the very man who has tried to seduce his wife. Then again, in the office scene, Borgfeldt’s break down with grief should end the act, but Mr. Buchanan brings him back to common life by forcing business matters upon him—matters that should be finished with before the crushing news of Claire’s supposed sin is told. True that Mr. Buchanan has provided Mr. Beerbohm-Tree with a fine part in Borgfeldt, but he has also so constructed the character that few actors could gain for it the sympathy necessary for the success of the entire play. We have pointed out two instances that go far to rob the character of all pathos; a further one is where Borgfeldt, hearing the bells ringing and the carols sung, recalls the past. He is permitted but a moment to mark what there is of pathos in the incident before he is brought back again to the commonplace by an overbearing and quite out-of-the-picture character, “ a retired actor.” This character is conceived on the lines of the good old lend-me-half-a-crown-pay-you-to-morrow Micawber style, false to the state of the modern actor’s career and a blot upon the profession of the stage. It is very interesting to see what Mr. Beerbohm-Tree has done with this strange creation of the author’s, this Heinrich Borgfeldt. All who know this actor need not be told that the character is perfect as regards make-up and that his German-English accent is also true to nature. We have always considered Mr. Tree clever, we are now bound to admit that he has genius. Borgfeldt in his hands is a great, a noble conception brought to life and richly endowed with all the actor’s art. What faults are to be found with this performance are, we think, entirely due to the author. Mr. Tree has been censured for over-elaboration. All we noticed on the first night was apparently brought about by the over-anxiety of the actor in trying to render reasonably probable the inconsistencies and extravagances of an imperfectly drawn character. Mr. Charles Brookfield is admirably suited as Mr. Algernon Bellair, the retired actor, to whom we have referred. It is not Mr. Brookfield’s fault that Bellair becomes a nuisance at times, that his presence in certain scenes is destructive to art and to the general welfare of the piece. Mr. Brookfield does wonders with the part, and clearly proves his right to be looked upon as one of the most clever of our young actors. Another fine example of the actor’s art comes from Mr. H. Kemble, who as the head clerk, Mr. Parr, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, is true to life in every detail. The same remark applies to the Dickinson of Mr. C. Allan. Can anything be more amusing than the scenes between simple-minded Heinrich Borgfeldt and his grand butler Dickinson? They are splendidly funny; Mr. Allan plays like a true artiste. Mr. Laurence Cautley looks handsome and fascinating as Charles Derwentwater, but his acting wants heart and soul; not once did he on Thursday make us feel that Charles really meant to win Claire’s affections so that he might ruin her body and soul. Mr. Eric Lewis makes some amusement out of a small part, that of a henpecked husband; Mr. Stewart Dawson is fully competent as a doctor, and the two clerks are naturally played by Messrs. Harwood and Rodney. It is a rather difficult matter to speak of Miss Marion Terry’s Claire. Miss Terry is not the right lady for a part such as this. Her scenes with Mr. Cautley were on Thursday distressingly like rehearsals, there was little trace of that art that conceals art. In her scenes with Mr. Tree, Miss Terry acts as if Claire were a friend of Heinrich’s rather than his “darling frau.” Miss Achurch has little to do as Alice. She, however, looks the gently loving sister, and acts naturally. Miss Emilie Grattan, who has become quite a woman since last we saw her, is a pretty and innocent-looking Mary, and does all that is possible with the part; Miss le Thiere gives a well matured and most acceptable portrait of Lady Silverdale, while Miss Gertrude Kingston, a young lady who has wisely been gaining some experience in the provinces, gives an admirable study of Mrs. Harkaway. Her walk, talk and manners are well in keeping with this strange character; for Mrs. Harkaway dresses from head to foot in flaring red silk, she wears a single eyeglass, she whistles when Claire talks to her, she stands with her back to the fire after the fine old English gentleman style, she plays upon the piano like a woman without soul or manners, she snubs her little husband, and reduces him to the position of a pet dog; and, when leaving her friend’s drawing-room, she sneers at its occupants, and glories upon having brought misery upon its owner. To play such a dead-against-the-audience character, and succeed in gaining their applause, speaks well for Miss Kingston’s ability. A little child, Minnie Terry, daughter of Mr. Charles Terry, plays the tiny part of Gretchen with winning freshness. Perfectly free from all approach to staginess, this pretty infant gives her lines with such clearness and point as to make us think she has a natural gift. Great taste and liberality have been called into use over Partners. Nothing like Mrs. Borgfeldt’s drawing-room—for richness of design and perfection of detail—has ever been staged. The office scene in Act IV. also appears to be perfect as regards detail. The music introduced, “The Holly Berrie,” composed by Hamilton Clarke, is strictly in keeping with the old style of Christmas carol, while the incidental music, chiefly built upon German airs, is also from the same pen. Partners has, we understand, been in rehearsal a very long period, under the stage management of Mr. Edward Hastings, to whom is due the praise that the staging of the piece naturally brings forth. That Mr. Buchanan’s piece will succeed is pretty certain, and it will owe its success to its mounting and representation.
We are pleased to learn that since the first night Partners has been considerably “cut,” and certain faults of construction remedied by Mr. Buchanan, and that now the performance ends before 11 o’clock. It is Mr. Tree’s intention that in a few nights Partners shall commence at half-past eight, so that a new first piece may be played.
The Athenæum (14 January, 1888)
HAYMARKET.—‘Partners,’ a Comedy-Drama in Five Acts;
By Robert Buchanan.—Morning Performance: ‘Incognito,’
a Drama in Three Acts. By Hamilton Aidé.—‘The Ballad-
Monger.’ By Walter H. Pollock and Walter Besant.
THOSE who adapt French novels to the English stage are not much better off than their brethren who transfer plays “ready made.” Similar difficulties have to be faced in both cases, and resort is ordinarily had to the same expedients. It would not be fair to class Mr. Buchanan among adapters. The central figure of his play is the same as in the ‘Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé’ of M. Daudet. He has, however, departed widely from his original, and combined with much that is in that remarkable novel much for which he himself is alone responsible. None the less his difficulties are those of the ordinary adapter. Dealing with a story of feminine vice and masculine probity, he has been compelled to leave out half, and in so doing destroy the moral and the plot. That the Sidonie of the original could not be presented on the English stage may be granted. To substitute, however, for this grim type of feminine depravity the femme incomprise, of whom the world begins to pall, and to furnish a happy ending is to spoil a fine conception. Mr. Buchanan is entitled to claim that he has obtained a fairly sympathetic and, it may ultimately prove, a successful play. His work, however, is most uneven, and much of it infirm in construction. A psychological study at the outset, it ends like the mildest of domestic comedies. To call in the play-bills the last scene Christmas, and to surround the action with holly and mistletoe, is, perhaps, the most serious mistake that is made, since from the outset it tells the spectator who reads his play-bill that the issue is happy.
Commonplace and trivial beside the wrongs of Risler are those of Heinrich Borgfeldt, his substitute. Yet he even is not without cause of grave complaint. His wife is not absolutely unfaithful. For this, however, accident is wholly responsible. Twice is she in the arms of her lover and on the point of surrender when she is interrupted, once by her infant, who, crying for her, comes at the critical moment into the room, and again by her husband, who, breaking through the French window, all but realizes the conditions of proof suggested by Iago to Othello. The heroine is, indeed, an idle wanton, to whom it is impossible to concede one spark of sympathy or commiseration. When her husband tears from her neck and hands the compromising jewellery, including even the wedding-ring, the justice of the treatment is conceded by every spectator. Will he forgive her? is the question asked. Looking at the play-bill, the audience finds the question answered. Interest thereupon disappears, and as the play is long, those present grow intolerant of anything that delays the inevitable termination.
This is not the only important fault. As the play is arranged, the growth in the mind of Parr, the head clerk, of suspicion concerning the honour of Borgfeldt is sudden and inexplicable. For his refusal of his hand to his master some preparation should be made, or the incident should be suppressed. In like manner the cause why Borgfeldt takes upon himself the culpability for offences his partner has committed should be made clearer. Some scheme more promising than adding up the figures of his debts should be invented for the ruined merchant, who seems under the impression that to schedule his obligations is to meet them. Most important of all, perhaps, is to supply some motive stronger than is suggested for the infidelity of the heroine, which is thoroughly heartless and inexplicable. These alterations and others are necessary to render ‘Partners’ a good play. Less than these may, however, suffice to recommend it to public favour.
Such success as it obtains will probably be due to the acting, which in many characters is excellent. Mr, Beerbohm Tree’s performance of Borgfeldt has the nervous power which the acting of this remarkable artist always exhibits. It is not lacking in intensity; but the chief merit is the manner in which, through his absorption in business, he shows his blind faith in the wife who on the first opportunity is prepared to fall from virtue. It is a fine performance. Miss Marion Terry idealizes the character of Claire, the heroine, and renders her so graceful and sympathetic we refuse to see her nature as it is. Mr. Brookfield presents an amusing type of a prolix and ebullient old actor, who measures by the standard of the past, and finds wanting, all modern histrionic accomplishment. Mr. H. Kemble in the old clerk gives a piece of robust and conscientious acting which is of much service to the play. Mr. Laurence Cautley as the would-be seducer does all that can be done with a difficult part, and Mr. Allan was amusing as a butler. In a character intended, apparently, by Mr. Buchanan to embody the detestable aspects of Sidonie which he dared not incorporate in the heroine, Miss Gertrude Kingston made an unsuccessful début. Miss Achurch as the sister of the heroine would with less effort make more of the part. It is a mere ingénue rôle, and in trying to assign it serious importance Miss Achurch injures it. Miss Le Thière plays an aristocratic old meddler. The reception of ‘Partners’ was favourable in the main.
The Mercury (14 January, 1888 - p.2)
. . .
The new play at the Haymarket is all Mr. Beerbohm Tree, and it cannot be said to be Mr. Tree at his best. Mr. Tree has never been an emotional actor, and the part which he is now playing can produce no effect unless played by an actor who is wholly devoid of self-consciousness. Some very manifest absurdities in the character might then be overlooked, such as the uselessness of the head partner resigning the helm, and thinking to benefit the firm by resuming his place as a humble clerk. Moreover, Mr. Buchanan makes the elderly hero of “Partners” a kind of spoilsport, twice breaking up agreeable parties under his own roof. The scene in which he demands his wife’s jewels to sell for the good of the firm comes dangerously near the ludicrous; he did not give her the jewels, so clearly has no right to ask for them. The knowledge of life and manners on the part of the author seems ludicrously deficient; for what can we think of a lady described by one of the characters as “constantly leaving her box and interviewing her acquaintances in the stalls”? We can only say (as I heard a spectator in the stalls remark) “Quaint lady!” and pass on to other matters. In person Mr. Tree has undergone a complete transformation, and nothing could be more unlike the stealthy detective [ ... ] picturesque Gringoire of the “Ballad-monger” who pleads his cause with his lady-love while the soft strains of Maude Valérie White’s “Devout Lover” are played by the unseen orchestra. This time Mr. Tree impersonates a German, and his appearance and accent could scarcely be more perfect. As a study, the impersonation is very remarkable, but it smells of the lamp, and fails to touch the heart. It is, perhaps, the author’s fault more than the actor’s that Heinrich Borgfeldt is so silly and unsuspecting that he fails to gain our sympathies.
To Miss Marion Terry is assigned the part of the senior partner’s wife, and she plays it with all the consummate grace and charm which is the birthright of the Terrys. The scene in which she returns to her child is specially good, reminding one of another scene in another play in which her sister draws tears from the eyes of the audience as Olivia takes leave of her tiny brothers before running away from home. Miss Achurch plays a small part very sympathetically. Miss Gertrude Kingston, a débutante, plays an unpleasant part in an unpleasant style, but she is not without talent. Miss Le Thiere does well as Lady Silverdale, and Miss Minnie Terry is the most natural child actress who has appeared on the stage for many years. Mr. Lawrence Cautley is fearfully conventional as the nefarious junior partner, of whose extravagance we hear so much, but of whose actual expenditure we have no proof whatever. We know he buys a single diamond necklace, but that would not ruin a firm. Mr. Brookfield is extremely good as a retired actor—a sort of Eccles. The most amusing thing in the piece is the impersonation of Mrs. Harkaway’s husband, played with genuine humour by Mr. Eric Lewis. Mr. Lewis delivers his speeches with great point, and his exit when his wife calls him away is one of the funniest things possible. The forced smile with which he shakes hands with the company before darting after his wife is excellent—he is so evidently one of those good amiable people who fear to offend anybody, and succeed in pleasing nobody. The audience is delighted with Mr. Lewis, and it is a mistake that his part is so short. Some ill-advised cuts have been made since the first night, with the result that several of the characters vanish into space after the first act and are no more seen. There is one good situation in the piece—one scene which is strong, and really dramatic—a love scene between the wife and the junior partner, terminated by the entrance of the heroine’s little child.
Miss Terry wears some very pretty dresses in this piece—first a tea-gown of green velvet, with reverse and front of pale yellow gauze spangled with gold, the bodice made with very long square cut basques at the side, after the new fashion; next a toilette of pale pink, and then a really lovely ball-dress of white satin trimmed with a narrow line of dark brown velvet, the skirt opening at one side to reveal a panel of pale yellow veiled in folds of white lace. Miss Kingston wears a bright scarlet trimmed with black in the first act, and a very lovely dress in the ball scene—the front of pale green-spangled tulle, the train of cherry-coloured satin, which somehow or other is made to have a snaky aspect exactly in accord with the character.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (14 January, 1888 - p.10)