[Advert from The Era (6 October, 1883- p.12).]
The Edinburgh Evening News (8 October, 1883 - p.4)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S DRAMATIC METHOD.
“Freedom” was performed for the last time at Drury Lane on Saturday, but the production of Mr Robert Buchanan’s new drama (says a London correspondent) has been postponed till Thursday. Rumour is current that the action of the Lord Chamberlain has caused the postponement, for one of the chief scenes in the new play is an explosion of dynamite, and the authorities, though allowing powder, are very properly averse to permitting the use of dynamite even in the smallest quantities on the stage. Mr Buchanan’s play is of the smart sensational sort. The second dynamite factory in the Cab Mews appears in the first scene of the second act, and in the same act occurs the scene of a sailors’ dancing-saloon and opium den in Ratcliffe Highway. In the next act we are to have the wilder excitement of a shipwreck, with a terrific fight in the maintop of the foundered vessel. In the fourth act is a trial scene in the Central Criminal Court, and in the last act we are promised the condemned cell in Newgate, and (if report be true) the gibbet and all the paraphernalia of the hangman, the victim being, however, saved at the last moment. The play, which is called “A Sailor and his Lass, or Love and Treason,” has no fewer than 17 tableaux.
The Glasgow Herald (15 October, 1883 - p.7)
MUSIC AND THE DRAMA.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT)
London, Sunday Night.
. . .
Telegrams were sent out yesterday afternoon inviting the principal dramatic critics to an early full dress rehearsal of Mr Robert Buchanan’s new Drury Lane drama, “The Sailor and his Lass.” This work was to have been given on Thursday, but last Sunday evening the supports and sides of the heavy ship used in the third act fell with a crash and destroyed the entire machinery. The supports belonged to the old framework of the stage, and were supposed to be made of such wood as in those degenerate days is practically unobtainable. On examination, however, the supports were found to be perfectly hollow; and had the stage ship been manned by its living freight of 200 people, an appalling accident must inevitably have occurred. It would be unfair to speak from a rehearsal of the drama which will be produced to-morrow. But it may be said that the hero is a sailor, who overhears the plot to blow up the Local Government Board Offices with dynamite. The conspirators follow him to his ship, where they try to chloroform him, and afterwards, when the vessel is wrecked, the survivors on the main-top attack him with knives. Subsequently the hero is tried for murder, and a free pardon arrives only at the moment when the bolt is to be drawn. The Government have forbidden a view of the Local Government Board Offices, and the scene is now laid on the opposite side of Parliament Street, the dynamite explosion (managed of course by nothing more harmful than a battery) taking place off the stage. The trial scene at the Old Bailey, and the scene of the execution are likewise of that elaborate blood-curdling sort which melodrama lovers admire. The preparations for the execution of course take place out of sight of the audience, but the hideous realism of the black flag is preserved.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (15 October, 1883 - p.2)
A large number of persons of distinction in the literary and fashionable world assembled at Drury Lane Theatre last night to witness a full dress rehearsal of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play “A Sailor and his Lass.” Full dress rehearsals on such occasions are usually somewhat rude travesties of the real play, actors generally finding their way into their own clothing before the close of the performance. Last night proved no exception to the rule in this respect. The performance was really a trial of the remarkable machinery which constitutes a chief, if not the chief, feature of “A Sailor and his Lass.” A play machined by Mr. Augustus Harris is necessarily interesting, but one that is written by Mr. Robert Buchanan becomes a literary curiosity. In the competition, however, Mr. Harris will be found with his mechanical effects to run Mr. Buchanan very close. The partnership promises to be very satisfactory, but several performances will be necessary before the vast and complex stage settings can run smoothly. Last night’s experiment made this very clear. It also fully fortified the announcement of the remarkable character of the piece itself.
The Times (16 October, 1883 - p.3)
The prime merit of the grand new melodrama produced last night at Drury-lane is that it is set forth in five acts, in no fewer than 17 tableaux. A minor virtue is that it enables Mr. Augustus Harris to continue, in the character of a jack tar, that career of reckless but triumphant heroism in which he has already done so much to shed lustre upon the naval and military services of the country. For the rest, A Sailor and his Lass does not differ greatly from the accepted type of melodrama which a certain section of the public seem to delight in seeing again and again, and which, on analysis, will be found to resolve itself into the persecution of a chivalrous hero by a well-dressed but unscrupulous villain, whose ulterior object is to supplant his victim in the affections of a lady. Assuming that this familiar theme is worthy of being illustrated once again upon the stage, it may be conceded that Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. Augustus Harris have displayed great fertility of invention and mechanical resource in their manner of setting it forth. They have laid both land and sea under contribution for thrilling episodes, and not content with introducing a malicious shipwreck and an exciting rescue, and with transporting the centre of interest from the high seas to the bar of the Old Bailey, and even to the condemned cell in Newgate, they shatter the nerves of the house with a dynamite explosion.
It is, indeed, mainly upon the introduction of dynamite as a factor in melodrama that the claims of this play to novelty must rest. The dynamite explosion is not, perhaps, strictly speaking, new, since a similar incident was introduced by Mr. Pettitt a year or two ago into his Adelphi drama Taken from Life. But here for the first time we are brought face to face with the members of a secret dynamite society in the guise of dramatis personæ and are shown a lurid interior, suggestive of a blacksmith’s forge where the villainous compound is made. Unfortunately this striving after the realistic is not accompanied by a sufficient degree of invention on the part of the authors to justify it from the strictly dramatic point of view. The explosion, which occurs in a scene representing a metropolitan police station, has nothing whatever to do with the story; and even the society to whose agency it is attributable has no raison d’être beyond helping to wreck the ship in which the hero sails. In other and more legitimate ways, however, an abundance of spectacle and incident is provided. Peaceful farm-yard scenes, in one of which a live cow is seen in process of milking, alternate with picturesque views of the docks and the interior of a sailor’s dancing saloon in Ratcliff Highway and the sinking of a huge ship in full view of the house, to say nothing of the more familiar spectacle of a criminal court of justice and a prison interior. In view of so much scenic magnificence, the acting of Mr. Augustus Harris, Mr. Fernandez, Miss Harriet Jay, Miss Sophie Eyre, Mr. Henry George, and the numerous other members of the cast necessarily possessed little importance. The fact remains, however, that a remarkable Drury-lane success has been achieved.
The Daily News (16 October, 1883)
It was just ten minutes past twelve last night when Messrs. Buchanan and Harris came forward to bow their acknowledgments of the applause which had greeted the production of their new romantic melodrama, The Sailor and His Lass, at Drury Lane. They had had a good story to tell, and had told it by no means ill; moreover they and their colleagues had illustrated it with all the full and varied effects now thought not only appropriate but actually necessary on such occasions. The elaborate machinery of the stage had worked without an apparent hitch, and the waits between the acts had not been excessively long. And yet it was felt—by the authors probably not less than by the audience—that these four hours and a half, these five acts, and these seventeen tableaux, had proved far too much of a good thing. The fault is one which should not be difficult to remedy, and it should be remedied forthwith, for as it stands the piece has worn out the interest of its spectators exactly when its most exciting moment should be reached. The fault is not one merely of superfluous dialogue; it affects whole scenes which are not in the least wanted for the development of the main plot, and can hardly be required for mechanical reasons now that the management here has adopted the system of dropping the curtain in the middle of the act when one set-scene has to be exchanged for another.
The title, A Sailor and his Lass, has for most English playgoers a pleasant, hearty ring about it, suggestive of a simple love-story, though possibly of complicated misadventures, of troth plighted, of vows kept under difficulties, of struggles with land-rats and water-rates, and finally of the happy ending, which comes to all melodrama be it never so late in the evening. Such promise is more than fulfilled at Drury Lane. It is indeed probable that there has seldom been a jolly tar to whose lot it has fallen to meet with stranger accidents than befall Mr. Augustus Harris in the person of Harry Hastings, before the schemes of a scoundrel can be defeated and the hand of a fair bride can be won. Partly, it must be confessed, these troubles are of his own seeking. He has a sort of instinct for squabbles and fights and dangers. If a Land League agitator is making himself obnoxious it is the gallant young sailor who must step forward to bandy rough arguments with him. If manufacturers of dynamite have to be disturbed at their hellish work Harry Hastings is to the fore. It is he who rescues the virtuous rustic maiden while she is being plagued by the amorous squire; it is he who hands the last life-belt to the stowaway when the ship is sinking; it is her who, clinging to the mast, saves the life of his would-be murderer until that life is again forfeited by the monstrous ingratitude of his protégé. He is a fine fellow, this dashing mate of the Albatross, and he seems to us to deserve a better fate than to be tried for murder, to be condemned to death, and to march pinioned to the gallows before the reprieve arrives to save him from this last injustice. It is all a matter of taste of course, and these scenes in the condemned cell were evidently relished last night by many of their spectators. But to us this Newgate realism, which is really not needed to bring about an impressive and satisfactory finale, is morbid and wholly disagreeable. The form of entertainment derived from a life-like representation of the Dynamite Explosion in Downing- street is not particularly elevated; but it is certainly less unhealthy than this prolonged study of the preliminaries and accessories of death at the hands of the hangman. The explosion which occurs in the second act is skilfully arranged, and the dramatists have taken the liberty of tracing it to two of their characters—one of whom, an old farmer named Morton, is the tool of the other, a certain Number 13. This latter is a most uncompromising ruffian, having ruined one of Morton’s daughters, and incited her frenzied father to avenge the seduction by the murder of an innocent man. For reasons which must be taken for granted, this arch villain has a hand in the wrecking of the hero’s ship—and it is this wreck as illustrated at Drury Lane that will probably make the fortune of the piece. An unintentionally droll effect is, it is true, produced by the simultaneous exhibition of the exterior and interior of the vessel as she rolls and pitches on the waves, and the only wonder from this point of view is that she does not founder much earlier in the scene. But in spite of this defect— inevitable in the circumstances—the whole episode, with the subsequent perils and rescue of the crew, is most picturesquely dealt with, and Mr. Emden well deserved the credit which he here obtained for his skill.
The dialogue of the play, which gives few reminiscences of Mr. Buchanan’s literary art, was spoken with all due emphasis by Mr. Harris as the hero, by Miss Harriett Jay as the heroine, and particularly by Miss Eyre as the heroine’s deeply-wronged sister. The misguided old farmer has one powerful scene, which came too late in the drama to allow Mr. Fernandez’ ability in it to be fully recognised. Messrs. Harry Jackson and Nicholls gave the necessary comic relief in their subordinate rôles of cabman and timid conspirator; and Miss Clara Jecks made a clever sketch of the stowaway. Altogether, there is so much good material of one kind and another in The Sailor and his Lass, that, when it is duly digested and condensed, it can scarcely miss its mark. But the condensation must be prompt and unsparing.
The Morning Post (16 October, 1883 - p.3)
DRURY LANE THEATRE.
The sounds of dissent which at Drury Lane made themselves heard through the cheers elicited at the close of “A Sailor and his Lass,” may be taken as signs of the discontent of the audience at being kept for an hour and a quarter too long, rather than as an expression of disapproval of the work set before them. The new drama, due to Mr. R. Buchanan and Mr. Augustus Harris, has too much of the material the public loves to run any risk of permanent failure. All there is however of importance or interest is developed in the early acts, and the almost interminable series of the five closing acts, serve only to defer a conclusion which seems to be inevitable, and to weary, and, in the end, annoy the audience. This is the one great defect of the play. The strongest scenes, dramatically speaking, and the finest opportunities afforded the actors are not reached until a period when the public has grown impatient, and when the best acting fails to stimulate it. No difficulty should be experienced in removing this blemish. Of the successive scenes of the play, about a score in all, any one of half might be taken out without interfering with the comprehensibility of the plot, and with notable gain to the public. The excision of one act makes it indispensable if “A Sailor and his Lass” is to get its place even for the short period during which it can be given. For the purpose of excision the last act should be chosen. A very slight addition to the fourth act would bring about a satisfactory dénoûment, and the public would then be spared a closing scene of an execution, the grim and ghastly realism of which is intolerable. Putting aside this final blemish and the immoderate length of which we have spoken, “A Sailor and his Lass” may be awarded much praise. It is a powerful and emotional work, dealing with matters of actual interest, and bringing before the public a series of striking tableaux in which the marvellous resources of Mr. Harris’s house and his company are seen to advantage. Some claim is made at the outset upon the credulity of the public, which is asked to believe that a gentleman of large means and good birth, a country squire with broad acres, is not only a murderer, a seducer, a false witness, and everything else that a wicked squire can be, but the ally of a set of revolutionaries whose purpose is by means of dynamite to destroy social order and bring about a reign of anarchy. Granted this premiss, what follows may be accepted. It is then conceivable that the villain should, in order to “remove” a sea captain, who is his rival, send men on his ship to murder him and sink the vessel, and should, when this attempt miscarries, swear away his life at the Old Bailey. It may at least be urged in favour of these proceedings, that they furnish opportunities for a series of scenes which carry away the audience. The first act passes in a lovely pastoral scene by Mr. Emden, in which beneath the chestnut blooms a real cow is milked, and amidst other novel bucolic surroundings what promises to be a stirring action is commenced. Then follow views of the Tower, of the docks, of sailors’ dancing saloons, and at length of Parliament-street, with the famous dynamite explosion. This is managed with singular skill, and is likely to be long remembered. In the third act a series of views of life on shipboard, or wreck and escape, is exhibited, and the point of most thrilling interest is reached. Such more familiar and less sensational scenes as trials at the Central Criminal Court and views of London in the snow follow till the close is reached, when the news of a reprieve is received at the moment when the black flag is about to be hoisted as a sign that the hero is being hanged as a criminal. The stronger of these scenes, presented in a manner with which Mr. Harris has now rendered the public familiar, may stand beside anything that has been seen at Drury Lane. They are indeed marvellous. Mr. Harris plays with exceeding energy and with much dramatic feeling as the persecuted sailor. It is only to be regretted that the strongest scene is reached at a period so late that the public is indisposed to listen or to be interested. Mr. Fernandez acts in admirable fashion as a conscience-haunted murderer. Miss Clara Jecks gives a very sprightly piece of acting as a boy. Miss Jay has seldom been seen to more advantage than as the heroine, and Miss Sophie Eyre is very powerful as her sister. Mr. Henry George plays the villain in excellent style, and Mr. H. Nicholls and Mr. H. Jackson caused much amusement in comic characters. When the piece has been slashed and hewed into a reasonable length it is likely to prove one of the most pronounced of Drury Lane triumphs.
The Standard (16 October, 1883 - p.3)
The Sailor and His Lass, the new piece at Drury Lane, which began last night at 7.45 and came to an end—after a revolting scene which should never have been put upon the stage—at 12.15, is a melodrama of the familiar pattern, elaborately set forth by the painters and carpenters. There is once more the virtuous hero incapable of crime; the villain, who causes him to appear guilty of sins he never committed; and, as is usual, as indeed is almost inevitable, the villain is in love with the excellent maiden whom the hero adores. Along this well-beaten path the authors, Messrs. Robert Buchanan and Augustus Harris, travel afresh, going out of their way now and again, with more or less discretion—most assuredly with less at the end of the work—as the exigencies of the sensational scenes it has been decided to introduce may require. These scenes are for the most part excellent of their kind, and they may very probably make amends for the total absence of literary power and for the comparative absence of desirable novelty. One fault of The Sailor and His Lass, its inordinate length, may very easily be amended. The characters frequently talk, as they sometimes act, for no apparent purpose; when a third of the dialogue has been excised the sensational scenes will follow each other more quickly, and if the final act were taken out altogether, and the story wound up in the fourth, as might very readily be done, the curtailment would be worthy of all praise. The hero of the new melodrama is named Harry Hastings, and he is mate on board a merchantman. A farmer and his daughter are the fashion in modern melodrama, and consequently there is a farmer here, Michael Morton, whose daughter, Mary, Harry loves; while his other daughter, Esther, has been betrayed by a scoundrel and deserted. Morton’s exceedingly realistic farmyard is the opening picture, and here is a real cow giving real milk into a real pail at the hands of a real dairy maid. Here, too, is the villain Richard Kingston, who, having betrayed Esther, is seeking to betray her sister Mary, a project which is shared by his cousin (owner of a property to which Kingston is heir). Morton is earnestly searching for the man who ruined Esther, and by the exercise of his native cunning Kingston makes it appear that the cousin is the culprit, whereupon Morton kills the obstacle to Kingston’s succession to the estate he covets. All this fits well enough, and fortune continues to aid vice. Esther has been turned adrift by her father, and, with doubtful propriety, she accepts Hastings’ offer to accompany him on board the ship in which he is about to sail, thus putting it into Kingston’s power to get rid of the girl, who is an incubus, and the man who is his rival at one stroke. For he, it appears, is an Invincible, high in command, and in due course the audience is introduced to the Secret Dynamite Factory, where the conspirators meet. It is arranged that some of them are to ship on board the Albatross, Hastings’ vessel, and dispose of him on the voyage; but first, although it has no special connection with the drama, the recent dynamite explosion in Westminster has to be reproduced. It is the farmer Morton who is made to do the deed, by command of the villain Kingston. An explosion there is; nothing comes of it; but it brings down the curtain on what in modern melodrama is regarded as an effective situation. The ship at sea, sailing parallel to the footlights, is then disclosed, and for convenience of inspection the side is lifted up, so that what passes in the cabin may be readily seen. A ship is, however, such an intricate machine that this is not particularly effective, and it is, therefore, fortunate that melo-dramatic interest should now arrest attention. The attempt to kill the mate is frustrated by means of a stowaway, to whom he has been kind. As the mate struggles with his would-be murderers the vessel strikes and sinks; but he is able to cling to the rigging, after having placed Esther and her child in temporary safety. The scene is here decidedly picturesque. Mr. Emden has painted a striking sea piece; the mast to which Hastings and Esther cling rises and falls with the waves, the splash of which adds much to the reality of the picture. There is besides an exciting episode, for one of the Invincibles is also clinging to the mast, and, after imploring Hastings’ help, and being raised from a position of imminent peril, he tries to murder his preserver. A boat sent from the lighthouse to which the faithful stowaway and the murderous crew have made their way rescues the sufferers, and Hastings returns to the Farm, arriving, naturally, just at the moment when he is being traduced by his deadly rival. Danger from an unexpected source overwhelms the hero. He is accused of the murder which Morton committed; the old man will not condemn himself; Kingston swears that he was a witness of the assassination, and the “Interior of the Central Criminal Court during Assizes” is displayed. That this business is cut short must be admitted. All that is seen is the return of the Jury, who have been out to consider their verdict, the re-examination of Kingston, and the record of “Guilty.” Had the authors been wise they would have wound up their play at this point. Nothing remains except to free the innocent and bring home the villain’s guilt, and a very few minutes would suffice for this. The audience, however, is doomed to go through horrors which will pain those who feel the illusion, and must have a tendency to disgust those who are less susceptible. Hastings is seen in the Condemned Cell; the Governor of the Prison warns him that there is no hope, and advises him to make peace with Heaven; there is what would be, if the actor and actress were somewhat stronger, an agonising last interview between the lovers. Nor is this all. Vengeance has overtaken Kingston, whom Esther and an accomplice denounce. Morton admits his guilt, so that Hastings’ innocence is shown, and Mary rushes to Newgate to endeavour to stop the execution. The exterior of the snowy prison is revealed, and the girl beats at the door, begs the gaoler to let her in, and implores the sheriff to stop the dreadful preparations. Then the interior of the prison is seen. The procession to the scaffold passes slowly across the stage, a warder prepares to hoist the black flag, the bell tolls—no detail of the awful scene is omitted. Surely the elaboration of these horrors has no connection with dramatic art, and should be interdicted by good taste. The happy end, or at least the cessation of active disaster follows.
The most striking performance was that of Mr. Fernandez as the vengeful father. In the last act, where he confesses his guilt and denounces Kingston, Mr. Fernandez acted with really tragic intensity, and throughout his representation was powerfully conceived. Mr. Augustus Harris, as Hastings, though not successful in the love scenes, and quite wanting in that desperate force which might possibly go some way to excuse the Condemned Cell and prison scenes, played not only with vigour but with much discretion on board the ship, and in some other places where he was called upon to realise the honest, good-natured sailor. The character suited him better than any he has filled at Drury Lane. Mr. Henry George gave individuality to the part of the villain Kingston. The cool supercilious smile with which he scorned those whom he injured so irritated the sympathetic gallery that he received the welcome tribute of hisses and groans. Two comic personages, more amusing than the ordinary run of such parts, are the Bob Downsey of Mr. Harry Jackson and the Green of Mr. Harry Nicholls. The former is a benevolent cabdriver, and Mr. Jackson fills in the character with many adroit touches. Green is a professional agitator, who travels about the country to advise the labourers to rise, and who is also a prominent but an extremely timorous dynamiter. Of the ladies, Miss Sophie Eyre played the deserted and unhappy Esther with much feeling and earnestness. Miss Jay as Mary was equal to the simpler portions of the piece, but made little impression where strength was most demanded. The stowaway found a capital exponent in Miss Clara Jecks. Besides the scenes mentioned there is a well-painted view of the Docks, a realistic interior of a sailors’ dancing saloon in Ratcliff Highway, and various other streets and houses. When reduced to reasonable length, if only it be reduced judiciously, The Sailor and His Lass will no doubt fulfil the purpose of its production.
The Glasgow Herald (16 October, 1883 - p.5)
MR BUCHANAN’S NEW DRAMA.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
London, Monday Night.
The new drama, “The Sailor and his Lass,” by Mr Robert Buchanan and Mr Augustus Harris, was produced at Drury Lane to-night before an audience of nearly 4000 people, and with every evidence of success. It would, indeed, have been extraordinary if the most confirmed lover of sensationalism could have wished anything stronger than is to be found in the new play. A murder in the first act, a scene of a dynamite factory in a cab mews, a sailors’ dancing den in Ratcliff Highway, and a terrific dynamite explosion in the second act, a wreck, a rescue from a lighthouse, and a terrific fight on the maintop of the foundered ship in the third act, a trial at the Central Criminal Court in the fourth, and scenes in the condemned cell at Newgate and at an execution—although, of course, the hero at the last moment escapes—in the fifth act, form in themselves a very strong groundwork for a melodrama. The arrangement of the scenery has probably been the task of Mr Harris, while Mr Robert Buchanan is, it is believed, responsible for the story, and of course for the whole of the literary portion of the play. Both authors have performed their task well. In those highly-coloured works which alone are suited to the large stage of Drury Lane, subtle delineation of character, polish of dialogue, and other special features of plays adapted to smaller houses are not expected. It is essential to enlist the sympathies of the gallery by a tale of wrong in which, in accordance with theatrical precedent, the virtuous hero suffers untold persecution until the last act, when he is absolved from suspicion, and is united to his equally virtuous and well-beloved heroine. The hero in the present case is a young sailor, engaged to a girl, Mary Morton—a character charmingly impersonated by Miss Harriet Jay. Mary’s step-sister has been deceived and abandoned by a villain whose name she refuses to disclose. Her father suspects the young Squire, and in a quarrel stabs him. It is the purpose of the real villain, in accordance with melodramatic custom, to accuse the hero of the crime, and thereby rid himself of a rival in the affections of Mary Morton, and at the same time to keep a tight hold upon her father. Such is the groundwork of the play, which is, however, rich in detail. The hero, for example, overhears the dynamite plot by climbing on the top of a cab and peeping into the illicit factory, while the heroine’s father is made the agent of the explosion at the Local Government Board Offices. The arrangement of crowds in this scene is especially admirable, and the rapid congregation of a London mob directly after the explosion, and their dispersion by the police, are managed in most realistic fashion. The scene on board the ship was rendered somewhat ridiculous by the vagaries of a stage sailor, who entangled himself in the rigging in a manner which on real ship board would have endangered his life. The fight on the maintop is most exciting, although one irreverent member of the audience suggested that, in accordance with the laws of improbabilities in force at Drury Lane, the inevitable rescue from the wreck ought to have been effected by means of Mr Harry Jackson and his four-wheeled cab. In the last two acts the play suffered from a superabundance of talk, but when the necessary excisions are effected the remainder will probably prove one of the strongest melodramas ever produced at Drury Lane. So evidently thought the audience, who entered fully into the spirit of the affair, and soundly hissed the villain, while they as cordially applauded the virtuous speeches of the hero. Mr Fernandez as the father, Mr George as the villain, Mr Morris as the hero, Miss Clare Jecks as a street waif, Miss Harriet Jay as the heroine, and Miss Sophie Eyre as her abandoned sister all worked well to-night, while the whimsicalities of Mr Harry Nicholls as a comic scoundrel and Mr Harry Jackson as a virtuous cabman were thoroughly appreciated. To that clever artist, Mr Henry Emden, most of the principal scenes of London streets and buildings have been solely entrusted, while for the stage manager (a highly important feature in a Drury Lane drama) Mr Augustus Harris is, of course, personally responsible.
The Pall Mall Gazette (17 October, 1883)
“A SAILOR AND HIS LASS.”
IF elaborate scenery and realistic stage effects constitute a good melodrama then “A Sailor and his Lass” must be numbered among Mr. Harris’s Drury Lane triumphs. There are numberless thrilling scenes, moving incidents, and dramatic situations. The audience is delighted to have the scent of the hay wafted to it, and welcomes the agricultural details, the real cow and the apple-blossom, with undoubted warmth. If a four-wheeled cab, drawn by a real grey mare, raises enthusiasm, what can be expected from a dynamite factory, an explosion, a storm, a workable ship, a wreck, and a hanging? Surely these are enough to make the fortune of any sensation drama. But he would indeed be a phenomenal genius who could give compactness and continuity to a play which was divided into five acts and seventeen tableaux. So with all its realism and scenic pictures—which Mr. Harris knows so well how to produce—the story itself plays quite a subordinate part, and the action is delayed over and over again for the stage carpenter. The story is simplicity itself. Harry Hastings is the sailor hero, and Mary Morton is his sweetheart. Richard Kingston is the villain, whose hands gradually come to be imbued with every crime under the sun. He has betrayed Esther Morton, and having cast her off he falls in love with her sister Mary. Farmer Morton, the father of the two girls, is led to think that the squire of the village is the man who has wronged his daughter. The squire and the farmer meet, angry words pass, Morton draws his knife and runs his landlord through the body. Kingston, the diabolical, finds him redhanded, consents to keep his secret, and accuses the unfortunate Hastings, (who is some distance away at the time) of the murder, attributing jealousy as the cause. By the murder Kingston succeeds to the property of the squire, who is his cousin. Meanwhile Esther and her child have been turned adrift on the world’s mercy, and Hastings has promised to take her far away across the ocean, where she can hide her shame. The scene then shifts to a disreputable London street, with a mews on one side and a dynamite factory on the other, the interiors of which are both disclosed. A comic cabman (his morality is so unexceptionable that Mr. Harris really ought to put every London cabby on his free list) drives up with his four-wheeler and grey mare, bearing with him Esther and her child, whom he consigns to the temporary shelter of his own roof-tree. In the middle of an admirably managed thunderstorm, a number of conspirators arrive, and are admitted to the dynamite factory. Then Hastings appears, and quickly gets into mischief. He enters the factory, and is at once surrounded by the dynamitards, among whom, oddly enough, is the now wealthy Kingston. He is allowed to depart scot-free, but fearing that his secret alliance will be betrayed Kingston resolves that he must die. He manages to pass off his gang as sailors upon the captain of Hastings’s ship, the Albatross, and strict orders are issued to despatch him at the earliest opportunity. Here the scene is introduced in which a terrible dynamite explosion occurs, though apparently without any motive. The ship sails, and presently we find her in what we must suppose is mid-ocean. The ship itself, though no doubt the result of much thought and ingenuity, does not seem to be built on any approved model, and it would puzzle a jury of sailors to determine her rig. When we see her she is supposed to be driving away before a good “slant” of wind, but the sails flap about, and have a most unnautical appearance. Another contrivance, though necessary, does not heighten the illusion. The sides of the ship are drawn up like window blinds, and we have the interior disclosed to us. This wonderful craft knocks up against a reef and breaks to pieces, some of the crew escaping in a boat. They are lucky enough to reach a lighthouse which happens to be handy, and are rescued by the benevolent keeper and his old wife. The curtain again rises on the tableau of the play. We see a wide expanse of ocean, with the rigging of the foundered ship sticking up in its midst. To this frail support Hastings, Esther and her child, and the chief dynamitard are clinging. The dynamitard and Hastings have a deadly struggle, in which the latter flings his opponent headlong into the water. Then, opportunely enough, the lighthouse-keeper and his wife come to the rescue of these much-suffering people and carry them off. Hastings returns home, is accused of the murder of the squire, and is sentenced to death. Then matters look serious indeed, and for a moment it really appeared as if a grave departure was to be made from all the established rules of melodrama. We see him pinioned in his cell in Newgate, the chapel bell tolls mournfully, he is led out, preceded by a procession of warders, and taken to the scaffold—a sight of which we, fortunately, are spared. The black flag is got ready to hoist, when some one comes rushing in with a reprieve, and Hastings is saved, evidently not a moment too soon. Of the taste of all this we say nothing. The advocates of realism can wish for nothing more.
Mr. Harris as Harry Hastings, the brave British tar, entered thoroughly into the spirit of his part, making patriotic speeches, uttering glowing sentiments, moralizing here, preaching there, righting the wronged, and generally setting the world straight. In a word, he plays with his usual zeal and performs some Herculean labours. Mr. Henry George, as Richard Kingston, made a most redoubtable villain, and Mr. Fernandez played with much quiet force and good judgment as the much-wronged farmer. Miss Harriet Jay, to whom was assigned the part of the sailor’s lass, Mary Morton, was satisfactory, though a little too unemotional. Miss Sophie Eyre gave an admirable impersonation of Esther. The philanthropic cabman was done to the life by Mr. Harry Jackson. Mr. Harry Nicholls was amusing as the voluble Land League agent, the trembling conspirator, and the sea-sick “mariner.” Both cabman and conspirator gave a pleasant relief to the monotony of the story itself. In the earlier part of the evening the piece was received with much enthusiasm, and was evidently much to the taste of the audience; but it dragged visibly towards the end, which came about a quarter-past twelve. If Mr. Harris will strike out a few of the superfluous scenes and a slice of the tiresome dialogue, there is no reason why, with all its absurdities, “A Sailor and his Lass” should not secure some measure of the success which has attended his former efforts.
The Standard (19 October, 1883 - p.3)
TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD.
SIR,—My attention has just been called to a short leader in your Evening Edition of Tuesday commenting somewhat severely on the realisation of a public execution, with all its “revolting” details, in the Drury-lane drama, A Sailor and his Lass. Unfortunately, I quite fail to see in what respect such realisation differs, artistically speaking, from the pictures given in true tragedy of executions by the axe or guillotine, as in dramas illustrating the lives of Mary Stuart and Marie Antoinette, or of burnings at the stake, as in the well-known French play of Jeanne d’Arc, made famous by the acting of Rachel. I shall be answered, doubtless, that the rope is anti-poetical and hideous, while the axe, the guillotine, and the faggot are poetical. Again, I fail to see the distinction, though it was pointed out to me, adversely, when I first attempted, years ago, in my poems, to get pathos and beauty out of themes of coarse contemporaneous life. To myself individually, there is solemnity and poetry in the idea of a poor modern martyr, condemned to die at the hands of the common hangman, awakening in the dim light of a wintry morning, and walking to the scaffold, while the death-bell tolls, amidst the thickly-falling snow. From the beginning of my literary career I have been among the strongest opponents of capital punishment; and if, in the drama already named, I picture that horrible blot on our civilisation as it is, I do so, both as artist and man, in the confidence that the representation can shock no truly tender heart, or otherwise do anything but good. Nowadays, our judicial murders are done in secret, and nowadays the super-sensitive nerves of certain playgoers are “revolted” by any reproduction of the stern and terrible facts of human suffering. Though such things are, they must not be spoken of or seen.
Moreover, the misery of a ragged criminal is prosaic and disagreeable, while the sufferings of a King in sock and buskin are without offence to the æsthetic spectator. Fortunately, the playgoing public in general are differently constituted; they accept truth to nature, however familiar, and they sympathise with humanity, however lowly. For the rest, I am certain that no representation of merely revolting details, if unillumined by imagination and untempered by art, would be tolerated on our English stage; and if I had really overshot the mark in my drama—or rather, in the drama in which I have had the invaluable assistance and co-operation of Mr. Harris—the organised cabal which came to Drury- lane last Monday night would have succeeded in its purpose, instead of being crushed and defeated by the strength of an unprejudiced audience. No dramatist need fear the British public; for though its severity is sometimes terrible, its fairplay is proverbial. Judging from my own experience, I should surmise that the fairplay of some professional critics is more doubtful; but the Press in general, I am glad to say, resents unnecessary savagery on the part of particular members. To the critic of The Standard, among others, I owe my obligations; for though, as in the present instance, his criticism is somewhat hostile, he tempers justice with good nature, and now, as on former occasions, declines to deal in wholesale abuse.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Drury-lane Theatre, October 18.
The Pall Mall Gazette (19 October, 1883)
Mr. Robert Buchanan is much exercised in mind to think that the charge of “revolting realism” should have been brought against the execution scene in the Drury-lane drama of “A Sailor and his Lass.” Mr. Buchanan is a poet as well as a playwright, and perhaps this is why he fails to see “in what respect such realization differs, artistically speaking, from the pictures given in true tragedy of executions by the axe or guillotine.” But a critic might remind Mr. Buchanan that there are many things which are fitting enough in poetry, but which are wholly unsuited to sensuous realization either in painting or on the stage. Perhaps Mr. Buchanan would have remembered this canon but for the fact that he was influenced, it seems, by a didactic motive. He has always been “among the strongest opponents of capital punishment,” and he pictured that “horrible blot upon our civilization” as a man as well as an artist. If the result is one of which the critics cannot approve, it is only another instance of the loss which a work of art always suffers from the intrusion of a directly didactic purpose. All good art is didactic, no doubt, but, like happiness, the moral will be found all the better if it is not too assiduously sought.
The Stage (19 October, 1883 - p.14)
On Monday, October 15, 1883, was produced here a new drama, in 5 acts, by Robert Buchanan and Augustus Harris, entitled
A Sailor and his Lass.
Harry Hastings ... ... Mr. Augustus Harris
Walter Carruthers ... ... Mr. William Morgan
Richard Kingston ... ... Mr. Henry George
Michael Morton ... ... Mr. James Fernandez
Bob Downey ... ... Mr. Harry Jackson
Green ... ... Mr. Harry Nichols
Ben Armstrong ... ... Mr. John Ridley
Captain of the “Albatross” Mr. A. C. Lilly
Bradley ... ... Mr. Charles Sennett
Hurt and Coffee-stall keeper Mr. Arthur Chudleigh
Connell ... ... Mr. Bruton
Larry O’Brien ... ... Mr. P. Fairleigh
Master of Ceremonies ... Mr. Frank Parker
Waiter ... ... Mr. O’Kill
Lighthouse Keeper ... ... Mr. G. Gillett
Judge ... ... Mr. C. Douglas
Clerk ... ... Mr. Nicholson
Foreman ... ... Mr. Phipps
Governor of Newgate ... Mr. Villiers
Smith ... ... Mr. B. H. Bentley
Chaplain ... ... Mr. C. Johnson
Sheriff ... ... Mr. Lewis
Mary Morton ... ... Miss Harriet Jay
Esther ... ... Miss Sophie Eyre
Barby ... ... Miss Lottie Young
Polly ... ... Mrs. Lennox
Susan ... ... Miss Cissy St. George
First Masher ... ... Miss Addie Grey
Mary Brown ... ... Miss Emily Clare
This is an effective, but not, on the whole, a skilful specimen of the play panoramic or ultra-sensational that is constructed altogether on faulty principles. A drama to be worth anything should be so designed as to allow its scenery and sensation to spring naturally and effectively out of the given story. Mr. Augustus Harris thinks otherwise, and is evidently firmly convinced that for Drury Lane all that is wanted is a story written up to given scenes and sensational effects. We are aware that this plan has succeeded before, in the teeth of critical opinion; but the faultiness of the system is clearly shown when Mr. Harris comes to work with a gentleman who may be a very good novelist, but has never yet shown any capability as a dramatic writer. Mr. Paul Meritt and Mr. Augustus Pettitt were both trained under Mr. George Conquest, and know how to carpenter a play for the stage—they have studied dramatic construction as an art. Mr. Robert Buchanan knows little, or next to nothing, about the stage, and can only be guided on such matters by Mr. Harris, who is himself comparatively young and inexperienced. A Sailor and His Lass looks to the critical spectator as if the two authors had hunted out every possible dramatic device, situation and sensation, and had determined to weld the fragments together with a curious amalgam. No matter how discordant were the component parts, the dramatists made up their minds to hammer them together. The result is not satisfactory. Dynamite explosions, drinking dens in Ratcliffe Highway, scuttling of ships, shipwrecks, stories of stowaways, rescues from watery graves, trials at the Old Bailey, condemned cells, and realistic executions do not go well together. They do not harmonise or commingle, and the audience leaves the theatre in anything but a peaceful or satisfied frame of mind. Time was when one sensation scene, as it was called, was sufficient for any play. The Colleen Bawn and Arrah-na-Pogue were beautiful works that did not wholly depend on the Water Cave scene or the Ivy Tower. They were good plays independent of sensation. So to a great degree is The Silver King. Sensation assists it but, does not make it. In this instance, Mr. Harris has, in his endeavour to catch the vulgar applause, too directly jeopardised his chance of success. He has out-Heroded Herod, and run the risk of offending some of his staunchest patrons. The political and social dialogues are certainly not in the best taste, for, granted that we do not agree with political agitators of the Joseph Arch type, who set the agricultural labourers by the ears, they are vastly different from manufacturers of dynamite and black-hearted assassins. It is to be regretted also that public taste is so degraded as to relish for its amusement scenes so painful and revolting as are supposed to take place between the condemnation and execution of a criminal at Newgate. This is morbid stuff at the best, but as here presented it is earnestly to be reprehended.
The hero of the play is one Harry Hastings, who, by his unassisted actions, burlesques melodrama. His deeds are too preposterous even for this exaggerated picture of life’s romance. The lass of the sailor in question is Mary Morton, the daughter of a discontented old farmer, whose second daughter has been ruined by an unknown scoundrel. The scoundrel in question is Richard Kingston, who is the head of a league of dynamiters at war with society in general but very much satisfied with themselves. The sailor and the dynamite chief both love Mary Morton, but this fact is known alone to the girl. Suddenly the repentant Esther Morton comes down to the farm, but is spurned by her father because she will not reveal the name of her seducer. The gallant Harry therefore interferes, and bears her away to London, in order to ship her off to a new country. When his back is turned, Kingston poisons old Morton’s mind and makes him believe that the seducer of both his children is the young squire who is pestering him for rent. In a fit of drunkenness the old farmer stabs the young squire, and Kingston undertakes to say that Harry Hastings has committed the crime if only Mary Morton is given to him. This, as will be seen, is an improbable and ill-considered situation. There is no reason on earth why Harry should be accused of such a crime, and no probability that Mary will ever believe it if the accusation is made.
The scene changes to London and we naturally suppose that some steps will be taken to bring Harry to justice. Nothing of the sort. The second act is occupied in getting Harry off to sea with his future sister-in-law, and with complicated arrangements for inducing a gang of dynamiters to ship as sailors in order to mutiny on Harry’s vessel. When the ship has sailed with harry, his adopted sister, her illegitimate baby, and the dynamite crew, for some extraordinary and unexplained reason, a street in London is blown down by old Morton, the farmer, at the instigation of Kingston. No one can tell why or wherefore the explosion takes place, or can understand why Mary Morton is supposed to have perished in the explosion. A more mysterious and unnecessary sensation scene was never placed on the stage. In the third act the dynamiters turn to their work, mutiny, and would have scuttled the ship had it not been for a stowaway, whose life Harry had saved. As it is, the brig becomes a total wreck, and Harry, his sister and the baby are only saved by a miracle from a watery grave. The whole act is one of excitement and not of interest. The ship is a hideous property, that excites ridicule rather than astonishment. The lighthouse is an old effect, and so is the imminent death on the wrecked spars. Change it into a raft, and it has been better done very recently. When the shipwrecked Harry returns to win his beloved Mary, he finds to his astonishment that he is arrested on the charge of murder, committed before he sailed, and concerning which he could prove the most complete alibi ever heard in a court of law. But he is tried at the Old Bailey, condemned to death on perjured evidence, and given over to the hangman. We have the usual distressing details, the condemned cell, the intimation from the governor that the last moments have arrived, the parting interview, with its shrieks and sobs, the arrival of the sheriffs, the procession to the scaffold with chaplain and pinioned man, the hoisting of the black flag, when, of course, at the last moment, a reprieve arrives, owing to the tardy confession of old Morton that he, and not Harry, was the actual murderer. The evident plagiarism from Black-Eyed Susan is no improvement on the original, and it is needless to add that artistes of greater strength and expression than Mr. Harris and Miss Harriett Jay are required to make these Newgate scenes effective. They break down when they should be strongest, and had it not been for the acting of Mr. Fernandez, when old Morton confesses, it would have gone hard with the play. Mr. Augustus Harris works hard, and with gallant determination, but he overtaxes his strength, and overrates his experience as an actor in such characters as Harry Hastings. He has neither the voice nor the physique for such characters, and he would do well to limit his many managerial privileges. Why should it be imperative on a manager to act the leading character in every play, when he could do so much better in a subordinate one? Let Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Harris answer. Mr. Harris, on reflection, will see that such strong melodramatic parts require something more than personal energy and effusiveness. The scene in the condemned cell was altogether out of the reach of the plucky young manager, who may be advised to look before he leaps. In this cast Mr. Fernandez should have played the part. He had tiresome and uphill work until he came to the confession of the old dotard, when he aroused the audience to enthusiasm. This was the only bit of powerful acting that the evening’s amusement afforded. Without it the drama would have been dramatically dull. But another actor helped to save the play with Mr. Fernandez. This was Mr. Harry Jackson, who played a quaint old cabman with true humour and evident relish. The audience at once took to Mr. Jackson’s cabman, and he was the life and soul of the evening. He was the most popular character in the cast. Mr. Henry George played exceedingly well as the villain, with nice judgment and occasional power, and Mr. Harry Nicholls took another comic character—a member of a secret society against his will—in his well-known quaint style. He made a good contrast to the more racy humour of Mr. Jackson. Miss Sophie Eyre bore off the prize amongst the female characters by a picturesque and impressive performance of the repentant daughter, and Miss Harriet Jay, when she has had more experience, will do well with such characters as Mary Morton. At present her grief and joy are too demonstrative. Miss Clara Jecks was quite admirable as the little stowaway and in minor characters. Mr. William Morgan, Mr. John Ridley, Mr. George Gillett, and Mr. Barrett were of great service. Messrs. Grieve, Emden and Perkins are chiefly concerned in the scenic department, but neither practically nor materially does the scenery come up to much that has been seen recently at Drury-lane and at other theatres. The drama will, no doubt, be cut and compressed and reduced to working proportions, but on the whole it could be desired that the play were better acted and less morbid. The authors were called at 12.15 on the first night, and there were all the conventional signs of success, but of recent times calls have ceased to be a compliment, and first night cheers have not always a sincere ring in them.
The Era (20 October, 1883)
On Monday, October 15th, the New Drama,
written by Robert Buchanan and Augustus Harris, entitled
“A SAILOR AND HIS LASS.”
Harry Hastings ... ... Mr AUGUSTUS HARRIS
Walter Carruthers ... ... Mr WILLIAM MORGAN
Richard Kingston ... ... Mr HENRY GEORGE
Michael Morton ... ... Mr JAMES FERNANDEZ
Mary Morton ... ... Miss HARRIET JAY
Esther ... ... Miss SOPHIE EYRE
Barby ... ... Miss LILLIE YOUNG
Bob Downsey ... ... Mr HARRY JACKSON
Green ... ... Mr HARRY NICHOLLS
Ben Armstrong ... ... Mr JOHN RIDLEY
Captain of the Albatross ... Mr A. C. LILLY
Mrs Downsey ... ... Miss M. A. VICTOR
Carrots ... ... Miss CLARA JECKS
Bradley ... ... Mr. CHARLES SENNETT
Connell ... ... Mr BRUTON
Larry O’Brien ... ... Mr PAGET FAIRLEIGH
Master of Ceremonies ... Mr FRANK PARKER
Black Waiter ... ... Mr G. OKILL
Polly ... ... Mrs LENNOX
Susan ... ... Miss CISSY ST. GEORGE
Policeman ... ... Mr MAYSTON
Jew Slopseller ... ... Mr SLOMAN
Landlord ... ... Mr C. JOHNSON
Boy ... ... Master SMITH
Lighthouse Keeper ... ... Mr GEORGE GILLETT
Polly ... ... Mrs BARRETT
Judge ... ... Mr C. DOUGLAS
Clerk of the Arraigns ... ... Mr NICHOLSON
Foreman of Jury ... ... Mr PHIPPS
Police Inspector ... ... Mr STEVENS
Governor of Newgate ... ... Mr VILLIERS
Smith ... ... Mr B. H. BENTLEY
Chaplain ... ... Mr C. JOHNSON
Sheriff ... ... Mr LEWIS
Hurt and Coffee-Stall Keeper Mr ARTHUR CHUDLEIGH
First Masher ... ... Miss ADDIE GREY
Mary Brown ... ... Miss EMILY CLARE
It took from a quarter to eight until a quarter past twelve o’clock on Monday evening to tell the story of this most wonderful production, and at the latter hour the majority of those who had made up the crowded audience found that, if they wanted to discuss at once the merits and demerits of the piece, they would have to do it in opposition to a howling wind and a pitiless rain. From this bare statement of fact it will be gathered that The Sailor and His Lass is a drama of extraordinary length. Here was a mistake to begin with, and one that might easily have been avoided. Prolixity is a blunder, and the “too much,” of which we have often complained, is a source of weakness rather than of strength. And it is so evident too that the authors have erred in this respect quite wilfully. They probably had—we think most likely they had—a good, if a very conventional, story to tell, but they seem to have ransacked the literature of the minor theatres of the past fifty years, and to have dragged forth incidents and scenes, comic and otherwise, wherewith to spin it out and so to spoil it. They and their story more than once part company altogether. probably they imagine that the taste of the public is so degraded that a big sensation will be greatly preferred to dramatic interest, and so, putting their hero and heroine, their virtuous ones and their villains, almost altogether out of sight and out of mind too, they take their patrons round by Parliament-street to give a startling illustration of the attempt to blow down the Government offices by dynamite. This is only one—it is the conspicuous one—of the instances in which Messrs Buchanan and Harris have sacrificed their story for sensation, and have given us noise where they should have given us interest. Both in the matter of incident, then, and in the matter of talk, there should at once be a vigorous cutting down, and we would suggest that there might with advantage at once be sacrificed the business illustrative of a low dancing den, which in its realism is disgusting, and should never have been tolerated by the Licenser of Plays, and the exhibition, toward the end, of the details of a private execution at Newgate, which, to say the least, is brutal. Also, of course, should go that scene of the explosion above referred to. It is a drag upon the story, and it is sure to keep away the nervous, who when they visit the theatre are not most pleased—as some managers seem to think—when they are most frightened. To say that there is very much that is improbable in A Sailor and his Lass would be idle, for nobody would dream of expecting too much probability in a work of this class at Drury-lane, but we think we have a right to quarrel with the authors here for bringing the hero so near to a vile end for a crime with which there is not the shadow of a shade of evidence to connect him. The scene of the opening is a farm and orchard in Middlesex, about fifteen miles from London, and a very pretty scene it is, by Emden, with its pretty rose-climbed cottage, its fruit trees, its real cow, and the new-made hay throwing the “scent over the footlights.” (The cow and the hay, it may be remarked, are not by Emden.) In spite of their pleasant surroundings, it soon becomes evident that Farmer Morton and the rustics are anything but contented, for they are willing to listen to, and to applaud, the outpourings of the frothy agitator Green, a member of a secret society, ready to use dynamite to further their ends. What those ends are is not made very clear. The Farmer certainly has a grievance, for he is threatened with eviction by young Squire Carruthers, who is ready to come to terms only on condition that the Farmer’s daughter Mary will receive his odious attentions. Morton has already driven one daughter, Esther, from his door because she will not reveal the name of her seducer, who we quickly learn is Richard Kingston, the Squire’s cousin, and heir to his property. Mary’s sweetheart is a gallant young sailor named Harry Hastings, who offers to take Esther across the seas, this offer being for some remarkable reason accepted. Kingston has no difficulty in persuading the Farmer that his daughter Esther’s seducer was the young Squire, and the old fellow in his anger, plunges a knife into his landlord’s heart. Kingston, quite prepared for this, comes upon the scene, bids the farmer fly, and then, raising an alarm, denounces the now departed Harry Hastings as the murderer, thinking thereby to secure Mary Morton for himself. Now we hurry on to the second act and find the hero quite ready for all sorts of deeds of daring. He begins by boldly entering the workshop of the dynamite gang with Kingston at their head, and too readily accepts their assurance that they are engaged only in preparations for a little smuggling. Having interviewed a comical, good-hearted cabman who has taken care of Esther, he proceeds on his way to the docks, stopping only to assist Carrots, a street waif, and to bully a policeman. He is surprised and enters a protest, but an ineffectual one, when he discovers that the dynamiters have been engaged to man his vessel, they having resolved to follow him and to “settle” him at a distance from England. It is after this comes the Westminster explosion, so it is evident some of the gang are left behind in London. In the next act we get a view of the ship at sea. The plot to murder Harry is discovered by Carrots—on board as a stowaway— and, as forewarned is forearmed, Harry is prepared for the attack, and has anything but a pleasant surprise in store for those who seek to take his life. The ship, however, goes down, and our hero is presently seen in the rigging of the foundered ship with Esther and her boy. Here occurs the most exciting incident of the play. The most bloodthirsty of the gang clings to the rigging; Harry, in the goodness of his heart, assists him to mount to his resting-place; the villain, with black gratitude, again attempts his life, and then, amid the approving applause of the excited spectators, he is hurled back to the waters from which he has but just before escaped. Of course, rescue comes for the hero, and in the fourth act we find him back again at the old farm, only just in time to save his sweetheart from Kingston’s outrage and to denounce him. In return Kingston orders his arrest as the murderer of Squire Carruthers, and, amidst all the paraphernalia of the Central Criminal Court, we hear the jury pronounce him guilty, poor Esther, who has not yet found heart to denounce her seducer and the father of her child, whose word is accepted as proof of Harry’s guilt, falling in a swoon on the floor of the court. The last act is occupied with the arrest of Kingston; with the confession of the Farmer, who learns too late how cruelly he has been deceived; with the painfully realistic business of the condemned cell and the preparations for the execution, and with, as will readily be guessed, the arrival in the “nick of time” of the reprieve, and the joyful reunion of the sailor and his lass.
Mr Augustus Harris has never worked harder than in giving life to the part of the gallant young sailor Harry Hastings, and we doubt very much whether he has ever acted better. He was overflowing with enthusiasm, and if from the critical he did not secure the appreciation which doubtless he looked for, he had himself somewhat to blame for having, as joint author, arranged for himself certain risky scenes and situations where sympathy was impossible. He had, however, full compensation in the never-failing admiration of pit and gallery. Harry Hastings hugging his sweetheart as a jolly young sailor would hug; threatening the scoundrel who molested his sweetheart; bearding the dynamitist lion in his den; “taking it out of” a burly policeman; giving assistance to a street waif; fighting against “fearful odds” on board ship; posing picturesquely while he cheered his female companion on the mast; throttling a villain and hurling him into the black and boiling deep, was cheered and cheered again with an amount of enthusiasm that made the rafters ring. For ourselves we shall say that, greatly as we object to the Newgate scene, Mr Harris showed a command of feeling that certainly we had never supposed him to possess, tears being actually put into his voice where Harry Hastings turns upon the chaplain, who advises him to pray for forgiveness for his crime, and, with his consciousness of innocence, resents the advice as an insult. The finest bit of acting in the whole representation came from Mr James Fernandez, whose great chance came with the last act, where Farmer Morton learns how he has been led into crime, and, meeting Richard Kingston, his tempter and the seducer of his child, face to face, expends his old man’s strength in denouncing him. This was really a splendid effort, full of that tragic power which Mr Fernandez keeps in store. As Farmer Morton, with his crime confessed and his tempter denounced, fell dead upon the stage, the flagging interest of the house was aroused, and there went up a roar of applause, which was only a deserved compliment to one of the very best actors our stage can boast. Mr Henry George was quite in earnest as the villain Kingston, as was Mr William Morgan in the little he had to do as the Squire. Miss Harriet Jay showed considerable pathetic power as Mary Morton; and Miss Sophie Eyre merits praise for her portraiture of Esther, her denunciation of Kingston in the last act being very powerful. Mr Harry Jackson, we are sure, was very nearly first favourite of the evening. As the genial old cabman, Downsey, he has been fortunate enough to secure a large share of the authors’ best lines, and it was very seldom he spoke without provoking an outburst of sympathetic merriment. Mr Harry Nicholls as Green, the agitator, was droll, and he too caused much mirth; but Green belonged to farce and not to serious work. He was amusingly extravagant and relieved the weariness of many a scene, but—well, we can only repeat that he belonged to farce. Miss Clara Jecks stood out well as the waif, and put both pathos and power into that waif’s appeal to the policeman to be allowed to satisfy his hunger with the stray biscuit that had come in his way. Mr Paget Fairleigh as an Irish sentry also merits mention for an excellent bit of character, and the others engaged all seemed to work with a will. We must give further praise to Mr Emden for his fine sea-view in the third act. At the end there was a call for the authors who appeared, and who may yet make a success of A Sailor and His Lass if they will get the “sailor” to throw overboard all the lumbersome, cumbersome cargo he has allowed to get into his Drury-lane ship, which set sail with good wishes on Monday evening.
The Graphic (20 October, 1883)
IT will be remembered that Mr. Augustus Harris has recently made public confession that his last new romantic play did not prove remunerative, because, though audiences were numerous, they were not numerous enough to reimburse the outlay upon the costly scenery and mechanical contrivances. The reason given for this disappointment was no doubt strictly accurate, but, on the other hand, Mr. Harris as an experienced manager must have been well aware from the first of the conditions of success; and it is therefore impossible to escape the conclusion that, however numerous his audiences were, they fell considerably short of what he hoped and expected them to be. This is, in fact, to say that Freedom was an acknowledged failure.Nor were the causes difficult to detect. The truth is that Mr. Harris’s principle of management is a little behind the times. It is based on the old-fashioned maxim that the appetite of the play-going public may be fed inani picturá, or in other words, that in a romantic drama the first thing is to have a succession of picturesque scenes and startling effects; the second thing to have a story with which these scenes and effects are to be associated—whether directly or indirectly, whether skilfully or clumsily matters little. Plays,it is true, have again and again been constructed on this basis, and have succeeded; but it is no less true that romantic dramas which depend only on tableaux and scenes of excitement, are now passing rapidly out of fashion. Scenic effects no doubt still attract, and always will attract, the multitude; but they must, as a rule, form part and parcel of a drama which interests by virtue of a coherent and interesting story. If the reason of this change of fashion—or rather, this advance in the public taste—be asked, the answer is that playgoers have of late had the advantage of comparing good romantic plays with bad ones, and have learnt to know the difference. It is Mr. Sims and Messrs. Jones and Herman who have been most instrumental in bringing this change about. Those who have seen The Lights o’ London and The Silver King—pieces with plenty of “sensation” in them, but sensation subordinated to the purposes of a story that excites curiosity and maintains interest—are naturally ill-content with pieces constructed on the old-fashioned plan of trusting chiefly to the combined efforts of the scenic artist, the stage carpenter, the machinist, the property man, the costumier, the custodian of the gas-bags, and the director of the lime light.
These lessons the management of DRURY LANE seem slow to learn. Its latest venture, the joint work of Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. Augustus Harris, brought out under the title of A Sailor and His Lass, on Monday evening, can hardly be said to unfold a story, though it presents an inexhaustible series of incidents, amidst which Mr. Harris, in the character of one Harry Hastings, a gallant British tar, performs prodigies of valour, and exhibits unbounded generosity in the way of relieving the distressed and protecting the oppressed, though he is not able himself to escape from much trial and persecution at the hands of an uncompromising villain of the true suburban melodramatic type. Somehow or other his good and evil fortunes excite but little interest, even the harrowing details of a scene in which he is brought to the very brink of the gallows, on an absurdly false but successful charge of murder, failing to arouse any very deep sympathy. The fact is that the authors have failed to give an air of reality to his actions and sufferings, or generally to endow the proceedings of the crowd of personages of the play with the touch of truth which is needed. In brief, the lack of sincerity in the play is too obvious, as is the overweening confidence of the management in the “seventeen tableaux,” including the “great ship scene” and the “dynamite explosion,” of which so much has been heard in preliminary announcements. The explosion at the police station, the wreck, the sinking of the vessel, the rescue of the survivors, and other scenes are doubtless striking in their way, though hardly equal to the best scenes in Freedom, but it is to be feared that the authors have only prepared for themselves another reminder of the truth that audiences nowadays want something more than this. Possibly something may yet be done, by lopping off unnecessary details, towards justifying the favour with which the new play was received by a very friendly first-night audience. The acting was certainly good enough to deserve a better fate than that of being obscured and overpowered by “tableaux” and sensation incidents. Mr. Harris, we are willing to allow, is a very spirited and energetic representative of heroes of melodrama; while in Miss Sophie Eyre, Miss Harriett Jay, and Miss Clara Jecks the authors have the advantage of the services of actresses not wanting in power or charm. Plenty of that genial humour which by the settled canons of the romantic dramatist’s art is necessary to give relief to the serious scenes is moreover contributed by Mr. Harry Jackson in the character of a typical London cabman, rough, ready-witted, good-natured, and active in befriending injured innocence. Nor need we add that Mr. Fernandez, as the misguided old farmer, who makes confession of his crime towards the close of his story, is forcible and impressive.But a strong company is of little avail without a strong play. Mr. Harris’s faith is evidently in dynamite explosions rather than in acting, and hence the elaborate ingenuity expended on A Sailor and His Lass is, we regret to say, in great measure wasted.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (20 October, 1883)