52. Two Little Maids From School (1898)
Two Little Maids From School
by Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe (Harriett Jay) (an adaptation of the play, Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr by Alexandre Dumas).
London: Metropole Theatre, Camberwell. 21 November, 1898 for one week.
There is a letter to The Era (26 November, 1898) from Buchanan concerning his adaptation of Dumas’ original play.
The Daily Telegraph (3 November, 1898 - p.11)
Another new play for the first time at a suburban theatre. Mr. J. B. Mulholland, of the Theatre Metropole, has arranged to produce on Nov. 21 and original piece by Robert Buchanan and Harriett Jay. By the way, there is a fine dramatic subject in Robert Buchanan’s “Father Anthony,” which is as right on the subject of the “seal of confession” as the “Village Priest” was indefensibly wrong. The title of Mr. Buchanan’s new work is not yet decided, but it is good news to hear that an important part has been given to that delightful actress, Miss Annie Hughes, who has been “resting” too long.
The Stage (10 November, 1898 - p.13)
Two Little Maids from School is the title of a new romantic four-act comedy written by Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe, who have founded it on Dumas’s Demoiselles de St. Cyr. It will be produced on Monday, November 21, at the Metropole, with cast of characters as follows:—Le Duc D’Anjou, Mr. Harold Eden; Le Duc D’Harcourt, Mr. Herbert Cottesmore; Roger de St. Hérem, Mr. William Kittredge; Dubouloy, Mr. Lesley Kenyon; Courtois, Mr. W. E. Woodhouse; José, Mr. Hill; Captain of Musketeers, Mr. J. D’Arcy; Madame de Velasquez, Miss Alma Stanley; Sister Alphonsine, Miss Henrietta Cowen; Henriette, Miss Lindo; Charlotte de Merion, Miss Winifred Fraser; and Louise Beauclair, Miss Annie Hughes. The acts are indicated thus:—Act one, Pavilion at St. Cyr; act two, St. Hérem’s Hotel, in Paris; act three and four, Hall of the Embassy at Madrid.
The Glasgow Herald (11 November, 1898 - p.7)
The name of Dumas is already well to the front in London theatre programmes. But yet another adaptation is to be produced on the 21st—namely, an English version from the pen of Mr Robert Buchanan of the “Demoiselles de St Cyr.” The piece has already been witnessed here in French, and Mr Buchanan has wisely retained the French scenario, not attempting to transfer it to this country. Accordingly, the first two acts will be respectively laid at St Cyr and at an hotel in Paris, the last two acts taking place at the French Embassy at Madrid. Miss Alma Stanley will play “Madame de Velasquez,” Miss Cowen (sister of the composer) will be the “Nun,” and Miss Annie Hughes has been cast for the part of “Louis Beauclerq.”
The Era (12 November, 1898 - p.14)
“TWO LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL” is the title of the new romantic comedy, by Messrs Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe, to be produced at the Metropole, Camberwell, on Monday, the 21st. It is founded on the well-known work by the elder Dumas, “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr,” but new characters are added, and the details are considerably altered. The leading female part will be played by Miss Annie Hughes, and Miss Alma Stanley and Miss Winifred Fraser will also be in the cast. Other leading rôles will be played by Mr Leslie Kenyon, Mr William Kittredge, and Mr Harold Eden. Both dresses and scenery will be entirely new, and the whole production will be on a liberal scale. The carnival dance in the third act will be arranged by M. Edouard Espinosa.
The Graphic (19 November, 1898 - p.7)
Two Little Maids from School—a title which recalls The Mikado—is the name of a new comedy by Mr. Robert Buchanan and the lady who is known to the world under the signature “Charles Marlowe,” which is to be produced at the METROPOLE Theatre, Camberwell. It is an adaptation of the elder Dumas’ admirable comedy in five acts, entitled Les Demoiselles de Saint Cyr, brought out at the THEATRE FRANCAIS fifty-five years ago.
The Pall Mall Gazette (22 November, 1898)
ANOTHER DUMAS PLAY.
IT was scarcely to be expected that an age which revels in the adventures of Gaiety girls, of shopgirls, of runaway- girls, of three little maids from school, and heaven only knows how many other denominations of young ladies, should have missed the opportunity of turning to account the intrigues of those two wittiest of “Little Maids from School,” to wit, “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr.” Mr. Mulholland, of the Metropole Theatre at Camberwell, has been fortunate, too, in catching the Alexandre Dumas ball on the bound, and the result was a delighted audience at the production, last night, of Messrs. Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe’s latest adaptation from the great French playwright.
The plot on which the play depends is a slight one. The young ladies of St. Cyr, the fashionable seminary patronized by Mdme. de Maintenon, are shown in the first act to be uncommonly artful minxes, with views on love and matrimony altogether surprising in a convent. Charlotte de Merian, however, is sincerely in love, while her friend and adviser, Louise Beauclair, is merely extremely anxious to find a lover. Their desires are quickly gratified, for Roger de St. Herem, a dandy of 1700, has, by means of a secret key, made his way into the establishment, and he brings with him his companion, Hercule Dubouloy. The latter is to divert the attention of the lady’s companion, while Roger declares his grande passion to Mdlle. de Merian. All goes well, but the scene has unexpected results. Louise sets her cap at Dubouloy, and although he is to be married that very day to another lady, he is compelled to vow that he loves her to distraction. Not content with her own triumph, Louise, suspecting that Roger has no serious intention of marrying Charlotte, determines by a bold coup de main to bring matters to an issue. She sends to warn Mdme. de Maintenon of what is going on, and the result is that Musketeers march into the convent and arrest the two too-gallant gallants. They are promptly conveyed to the Bastille, and are not released until they have actually been through the marriage ceremony with the respective ladies. In the second act we are shown the dismay of our heroes on finding their new wives established in their houses, Both the husbands determine to forsake the angels whose perfections they so warmly sang but a few hours before, and depart for Spain; not, however, before they have had interviews with the “demoiselles,” which form the liveliest and most humorous scenes in the play. The wives follow their runaway husbands to Madrid, and in the third act we are entertained at a ball in the French Embassy, in which a carnival dance arranged by M. Espinosa was a feature thoroughly effective and artistic. But in spite of some bright repartees and amusing encounters between the pairs of lovers, the interest is on the wane. We can already guess that all will end happily in the fourth act, and the scenes in which the King of Spain and a majestic fortune-teller, Mdme. de Velasquez, play a part are not sufficiently bound up with the main incidents of the intrigue. To Miss Annie Hughes the chief honours of the evening are due, and she was well supported by Miss Winifred Fraser.
The Daily Telegraph (22 November, 1898 - p.10)
TWO LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL.
Mr. Robert Buchanan came before the footlights at the Metropole Theatre last evening and regretted the absence of telegraphic and telephonic communication with the Elysian fields, a circumstance that precluded the possibility of transmitting to “Alexander the Great” an intimation of the favourable reception accorded by the Camberwell public to the adaptation of “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr.” The idea was a rather daring one, and reminded us of the Irish manager, who in response to a loud demand for the author, after the revival of a work by Sophocles, expressed his sorrow that the gentleman was not in the house, and, moreover, grieved to state that he had most inconsiderately failed to attend a single rehearsal! In modestly disclaiming any share of glory for himself and his partner, “Mr. Charles Marlowe,” the clever author-dramatist showed excellent sense. It is not always that playwrights are so diffident about their own handiwork, and it would, of course, need a theatrical dictionary to embrace a full list of plays bodily “lifted,” without acknowledgment, from the French. We may say at once that the two adaptors have no reason to be ashamed of their share in the latest London production, and it is something in these days of strained dialogue and of scenes simply worked up to create “situations” that a straightforward and workmanlike comedy should be able to hold a suburban audience by the brightness of its writing and the ease of its progress. “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr” was one of a series of comedies written for the Théâtre Français, and produced in the summer of 1843. Based on a Boccaccio story, and written by Dumas in conjunction with MM. de Ribbing and De Lherie, it reminds us to-day that a really dramatic idea, ingeniously handled and artistically developed, never loses its hold upon the most hardened playgoer. It would be idle to attempt to compute the number of dramas, comedies, and comic operas built up on the notion of a forced marriage, repented at first by one of the parties and terminating in a loving reconciliation. Neither would it be easy to reckon the lovelorn lasses following their swains in disguise, watching their “philanderings” in foreign parts, and finally reducing them to a proper sense of duty and responsibility. The complications of a masked ball have long been recognised as part of the dramatic “stockpot,” which no well-regulated theatre may disdain. So, to an audience at the end of the nineteenth century, it will doubtless appear that they have “seen something very much like this before.” Unquestionably so. The two demoiselles from the school of St. Cyr are repudiated and deserted by their husbands, after those two aorous personages, with lax ideas of l’amour, have been trapped into marriage, when they had hoped only for intrigue. One of the little maids is worldly—the other tender and affectionate. But the time comes when the men who have loved and left them pine for their companionship and sympathy, and the curtain falls upon a happy ending skilfully evolved and naturally produced.
It will have been noticed in the recent numerous versions of “The Three Musketeers” that the adaptors of the novel have experienced considerable difficulty in fitting their dialogue to the period of the action. In “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr” we are taken back a couple of hundred years, and the pronouncedly modern style of certain of the lines strike us as rather incongruous. On the whole, however, it must be allowed that Mr. Buchanan and “Mr. Marlowe” have guarded against this exceedingly well, and some of the flavouring of up-to-date farcical comedy in the manner of the acting must be attributed chiefly to Mr. Leslie Kenyon, the representative of Hercule Dubouloy, who entered upon his task with a rollicking spirit and dash that would have been eminently suitable to Burnand, Bronson Howard, or Henry Arthur Jones at the Criterion, but which, we must confess, seemed to be rather “out of the period” in a comedy which blends humour with one or two fine dramatic scenes full of power and sympathy. Mr. Kenyon is evidently a bright and intelligent gentleman, and an actor is easily liable to be taken off his balance by the applause of an appreciative, if not nicely-discriminating audience. Perfect in his lines, and with a keen appreciation of humour, Mr. Kenyon gave a good performance, but we venture to suggest that it was hardly Dumas. A little self-restraint will soon put this right, and it is in no uncharitable spirit that we offer a warning note. Mr. Acton Bond, unfortunately for him, required too frequently the assistance of the official with the prompt-book, but when he had dispensed with that assistance, his Roger de St. Herem should be greatly improved. It is on these two actors that the fortunes of “Two Little Maids from School” largely depend, and they must take care to throw away no opportunity. Miss Annie Hughes proved a bright and attractive Louise Beauclair, and the comedy presented, in effective contrast, this sprightly, scheming, and self-contained young lady, with her unselfish and loveable schoolfellow, gracefully impersonated by Miss Winifred Fraser. What the future of the costume play is to be—whether the present fashion is to be more or less permanent, we will not pretend to say. Mr. Beerbohm Tree is a strong believer in the costume play as he has shown by “A Marriage of Convenience” and “The Silver Key,” not to mention others. Mr. Charles Wyndham has faith in it, and Mr. Robert Buchanan must have been gratified to notice how gallantly and jauntily the company engaged for “Two Little Maids from School” wore their beautiful dresses. The piece has been well mounted, and adds another feather to the already will-crowned cap of this excellent and enterprising theatre. Fine feathers will not make a fine play, but “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr” is not fustian. The house appreciated to the full the thrust and parry of the dialogue, the smoothness of the intrigue, and the crispness and sparkle of the repartee. The collaborators had sound material to work upon, and, with the one slight exception of the over-modern note to which we have already alluded, they have acted with great judiciousness. There is no gush or pretence at fine writing, but a firm, dramatic grip is held throughout. “Two Little Maids from School” was received with unmistakable favour; the laughter broke frequent, loud, and free; and the applause at the fall of the last curtain had a genuine ring about it.
The Daily News (23 November, 1898)
Now that Alexandre Dumas the elder is so much in fashion that there are some half score of different versions of “The Three Musketeers” contending for public favour it has occurred to Mr. Robert Buchanan and “Charles Marlowe” that there are other pieces by the same great author that are worthy of adaptation. Accordingly they have prepared a version of “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr,” which is being played during the present week at the Metropole Theatre, Camberwell. “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr” has not been played in English during the lifetime of the present generation, although M. Coquelin was seen here in the original some years ago in the comic character of Duboulay, the unfortunate bridegroom, who is torn away from his intended bride on the wedding day, and compelled by order of the all-powerful Madame de Maintenon to wed one of the young ladies of the pensionnat of St. Cyr, in which the King’s mistress takes so great an interest. It is a bright and vivacious comedy of intrigue of the cape and sword description, introducing us to the noble gallants and fair ladies of the Courts of the King of France and that grandson of his who became King of Spain under the title of Philip V. Mr. Buchanan, as is well known, is a skilful adaptor, but on this occasion he seems to have taken little pains with his task. There is no part of French history more familiar to an average French audience than the reign of the Grand Monarque, but some explanation might well have been furnished for the benefit of English audiences as to the part played by historical personages in the piece. A visitor to the Metropole Theatre just now might well ask who is this Madame de Maintenon who is referred to but not seen, and who has such influence that two gentlemen found guilty of penetrating surreptitiously into the St. Cyr school to flirt with a couple of the young ladies have no option but to marry them forthwith or to languish for an indefinite period in the Bastille. Yet this is the pivot of the whole plot. The husbands, thinking they have been tricked by the young ladies, refuse to live with their wives, and it is only after they have met them at a masked ball at Madrid and fallen in love with them under their masks that a reconciliation is effected. Mr. Buchanan and his colleague have curtailed passages here and there, but in the main they follow the original with rather servile fidelity, even to making a French nobleman speak of “my hotel,” when he means his private residence. Some who are familiar with the French play may have been curious to know how in the English version the most famous mot in the dialogue has been rendered. We refer to the scene wherein the Vicomte de Saint Hérem, who is jealous of the attentions paid to his wife by Philip V., quarrels with the Spanish monarch. “Quit the room!” (“Sortez”), says the King; on which the Vicomte retorts, “Sire, your ancestor Henry IV. would have said “Sortons,” which, though it means literally only, “Let us quit the room,” conveys to the French mind the impression of a challenge to fight a duel. The epigram is obviously difficult to translate. The adaptors get over the difficulty in a very simple way—they omit the passage. As for their own contribution to the work, it consists merely in the introduction of a stately fortune-teller, played by Miss Alma Stanley, who has barely a dozen words to speak, and who does not serve any really useful purpose in the story. Still, with all its faults, the adaptation is amusing, as it could hardly fail to be, and it gave evident pleasure to the audience. None of the performers have that air of distinction that one associates with the French Court of the seventeenth century, and more than one of them seemed, moreover, to be a little uncertain of their parts. The latter defect, at least, will tend to cure itself. The best performance is that of Miss Annie Hughes, who is full of roguishness and vivacity in the part of the more skittish of the young brides who so unmercifully teases the man who becomes her husband malgré lui. Mr. Acton Bond, too, was sufficiently grave and earnest in the character of the Vicomte, and Miss Winifred Fraser was sympathetic as the Vicomte’s wife. For the rest, Mr. Leslie Kenyon plays Dubouloy in rather commonplace low comedy fashion, and Mr. Harold Eden is a King of Spain without even that spark of kingly dignity which even the grandson of Louis XIV. must have possessed.
The Stage (24 November, 1898 - p.15)
On Monday, November 21, 1898, was produced here, for the first time, a romantic comedy in four acts, adapted by Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe, entitled:—
Two Little Maids from School.
Le Duc D’Anjou (afterwards Philip V. of Spain) . . . . Mr. Harold Eden
Le Duc D’Harcourt . . . . Mr. Herbert Cottesmore
Roger de St. Hérem . . . . Mr. Acton Bond
Hercule Dubouloy . . . . Mr. Lesley Kenyon
Courtois . . . . Mr. E. G. Woodhouse
José . . . . Mr. L. Cottesmore
Captain of Mousquetaires . . . . Mr. G. D’Arcy
Madame de Velasquez . . . . Miss Alma Stanley
Sister Alphonsine . . . . Miss Henrietta Cowen
Henriette . . . . Miss Maud Lindo
Charlotte de Merian . . . . Miss Winifred Fraser
Louise Beauclair . . . . Miss Annie Hughes
At the conclusion of the performance Mr. Robert Buchanan, in response to calls for “author,” appeared before the curtain, and regretted that as telegraphic and telephonic communication had not yet been established with the Elysian fields he was precluded from making known to “Alexander the Great” the success which the play had achieved; but we venture to say that could the original author of Demoiselles de St. Cyr have been present he would not have been overjoyed with the version of his work that was presented on Monday evening. The theme is so hackneyed and so worn that it needs exceptional brilliancy of dialogue and well-contrived situations to put life into its body. Moreover, the dialogue of 200 years ago is not the dialogue of to-day, and throughout the comedy the conversation was too modern to deceive us into the belief that we were living in the year 1700. Not only is this so, the company had evidently taken their cue therefrom, and played in a much too modern spirit, till the romantic comedy was turned into a musical comedy with the incidentals omitted. The promise of a sterling success shown in the second act was not sustained through the third and fourth acts, which were much too long and occasionally tedious, and they could with advantage be merged into one.
Charlotte, in love with Roger, is surprised in her secret by Louise, a bosom friend, who takes upon herself the character of chaperone, and insists that Charlotte shall marry her lover as soon as she can arrange it, and settles all preliminaries with the gentleman in question when he appears. He has gained admittance with a passkey, and she insists that at all interviews she shall be present. This is not quite to Roger’s liking, and he calls in a friend, to pair off with Louise and get her out of the way. But unfortunately it appears the friend is to be married that evening, and cannot stay. Louise, however, meeting him as he is about to retire, he half changes his mind, and finally makes violent love to the chaperone, who, nothing loth, and being a wicked little body, returns his caresses. For Charlotte’s sake, however, Louise has informed the head of the college that her friend is about clandestinely to leave the house. The guards are summoned, Roger and Hercule are surprised, arrested, and conveyed to the Bastille. Upon Roger’s appearance next morning at his hotel after a night in the Bastille (where at midnight he has been compelled to marry Charlotte), he discovers that the latter has already taken possession of his rooms, and slept in his apartments, and being highly disgusted at the turn events have taken he decides, greatly to Charlotte’s surprise and sorrow, to have his own rooms in another part of the house. He declines to recognise her as his wife, and it is his intention to depart for Spain at once. Charlotte, a tearful little creature, breaks down at this, as she looked for happiness, not misery, and retires to her rooms to calm herself. Hercule appears, and, confronting Roger, challenges him to a duel in the courtyard, and, upon the latter asking the reason, he learns that Hercule has been treated in exactly the same manner as his friend, and that he has been compelled to marry Louise. Angry words give place to sympathetic greetings, and, as Hercule strongly seconds Roger’s determination to travel into Spain with Le Duc d’Anjou, both leave to make ready for the journey. Louise now pays a morning call upon Charlotte, who is in despair at the result of her rash act; but Louise is in high spirits over the affair, and professes complete indifference as to whether her husband goes or stays, advancing the truism that the less you worry about a man who loves you the more devotedly will he dangle after you. When the husbands return equipped for the journey she wishes them bon voyage with the greatest exuberance, says she is going thoroughly to enjoy herself, and laughs heartily, while poor Charlotte sinks into a seat utterly wretched and miserable. Arriving at Madrid, the two friends attend a ball given at the French Embassy, and encounter two dominos, with whom Duc d’Anjou, now Philip V. of Spain, appears to be fascinated greatly. Needless to say, these are the two wives, who have travelled after their husbands to see what they do with themselves. Also needless to say, the two husbands, in the first instance, make violent love to each other’s wife, and finally to their own wives, greatly to the annoyance of King Philip. When he arrives to conduct the ladies to supper they both unmask, greatly to the consternation and dismay of Roger and Hercule, who are dumfounded at the apparition. Upon the morrow Roger announces to Charlotte that she is no longer his wife, as a dispensation has been received annulling the marriage, which he considers the best way out of the difficulty, especially as the King has been very free in his attentions to her. Hercule follows his friend’s suit, and both announce their immediate return to Paris. Philip V., however, explains that it was entirely a different matter that engaged Charlotte’s time, which being explained, Roger, now in love with his late wife, offers to renew the relationship. Charlotte accepts; Hercule also follows in his friend’s footsteps, and they leave for Paris and happiness.
The company engaged for the representation of the comedy were not by any means strong, and, speaking generally, were disappointing. Mr. Harold Eden as Philip V. played the part in an eccentric manner reminiscent of the comic duke of opera bouffe, and Mr. Herbert Cottesmore as Le Duc d’Harcourt acted this small part in a dignified manner. Mr. Acton Bond merged himself into the spirit of the period more than the others, but circumstance prevented him doing justice to himself. Mr. Leslie Kenyon played Hercule Dubouloy quite in an “up to date” style; some of his mannerisms, both of speech and action, were reminiscent of Mr. Edward Terry. However, he was word-perfect, and rattled through his part in double quick time. Miss Alma Stanley appeared in a thankless part as Madame de Velasquez. Miss Winifred Fraser played the deceived wife in a winsome and sympathetic way, and was so earnest in the assumption of love for Roger that it seemed cruel that he slighted Charlotte so shamefully. Miss Annie Hughes as the little dare-devil Louise had nearly the whole weight of the play upon her shoulders, and had it not been for her very roguish and charming impersonation of this deliciously written character, full of wit and repartee, the comedy would have proved dull indeed. Other small parts were in safe hands. The scenery was very tasteful and appropriate, and the costumes were of the best, and looked exceedingly handsome. Mr. Edmond Rickett, the musical conductor, has supplied the incidental music, which greatly enhanced the situations in which it was employed.
The Guardian (25 November, 1898 - p.5)
Not to be behind the age, Mr. Robert Buchanan and “Charles Marlowe” (Miss Harriet Jay) have produced at the Metropole Theatre, Camberwell, an adaptation of Dumas’ comedy “Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr,” under the title of “Two Little Maids from School.” The comedy is one of Dumas’ poorer efforts, and it is not improved in adaptation. But its intrigue is cleverly if mechanically manipulated, and several of the situations reveal a good deal of ingenuity. The “two little maids” are brightly played by Miss Annie Hughes and Miss Winifred Fraser, while Mr. Leslie Kenyon and Mr. Acton Bond are passable as the recalcitrant husbands. The piece goes gaily enough, and seems well suited to the tastes of suburban audiences.
The Graphic (26 November, 1898)
BY W. MOY THOMAS
“TWO LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL”
AFTER the stir and movement, the noise and the colour of The Three Musketeers, the version of Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr, by Mr. Robert Buchanan and his coadjutor “Charles Marlowe,” brought out at the THEATRE METROPOLE, Camberwell, must needs seem to the spectator to offer a rather mild feast of excitement. But the comedy to which the adaptors, or perhaps I should rather say the translators, have given the title of Two Little Maids from School, sets forth a pretty story with a background of French history in the days of Louis XIV. and Madame de Maintenon, and in spite of a rather tedious excess of dialogue over action it seemed to interest the audience. That background of history, by the way, has a certain inconvenience, for whereas audiences at the THÉÂTRE FRANCAIS, where this work of the elder Dumas was brought out some sixty years ago, were presumptively familiar with the bygone phases of life at the Court of France which it portrays, it is not so at Camberwell. To the French spectator the mere mention of St. Cyr suffices to bring back the traditions of the famous convent school founded by the Royal mistress for the benefit of poor young ladies, and to impress him with the audacity of the proceedings of Roger de St. Herem and his comrade, Hercule de Dubouloy, who, not content with carrying on an intrigue with the “two little maids,” actually contrive to enter the sacred precincts of the convent. In brief, the “preparation” which, as M. Sarcey delights to repeat, is the great essential of the dramatist’s effects, is there ready to hand. An English audience, on the contrary, can hardly be expected to be so well acquainted with St. Cyr, and I fear that the high-handed proceedings of the King’s mistress, who, when she detects the convent intrigue, consigns the two adventurous young gentlemen to the Bastille, and declines to release them till they have, much against their will, married the young persons whom they have compromised, were a little puzzling. From this point forward the comedy element becomes brisker and more diverting, as the spectator is hurried through a series of adventures arising from the flight of the bridegrooms to Spain, whither they are pursued by their wives. How jealousy in the end kindles love, and these semi-attached couples become finally united, it would be long to tell. The piece suffers, no doubt, something from the fact that long before the episode at the Court of the King of Spain, which is a sort of coda to the story, is finished, the end is necessarily foreseen. The acting, also, was a little wanting in spirit and finish, though the thoroughly natural vivacity and pleasing manner of Miss Annie Hughes served that delightful young actress well in the character of the roguish Louise Beauclair, and Mr. Acton Bond played with sincerity and passion in the part of Roger St. Herem. The play secured a very cordial reception.
The Saturday Review (26 November, 1898)
SO soon as Christmas looms faintly from under the horizon, the waters of theatrical enterprise are frozen in the metropolis. Comes that brief interval during which the Managers close their eyelids and the hydra-heads of every Syndicate nod in coma. Then the dramatic critic finds himself dashed down from those giddy heights of obscurity in which he revolves at other times, and is confronted with the necessity of becoming a private gentleman, free to spend his evenings by his own fire-side and to doze, in the aureola of his own reading lamp, over Hazlitt’s dramatic essays, or Aristotle’s Poetics, or the latest example of those gaunt superfluities, theatrical Memoirs. At Camberwell, however, where plays need not run longer than six nights, the waters flow still with a strong current, and the eyelids of Mr. Mulholland do not droop. And thus, even now, the dramatic critic has his uses. The other night, I was summoned to a performance of “Two Little Maids from School,” which Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. Charles Marlowe have extracted from one of Dumas’ comedies. As this notice can only appear on the morning of Saturday, the date of the play’s last performance at the Metropole Theatre, why should I have been called in to tell the inhabitants of Camberwell whether the play were worth seeing or not? All I can do is to advise such inhabitants as have been waiting for my opinion—to advise them strongly—not to go to the Metropole on Saturday. If there be one in Camberwell who reveres Dumas, or Mr. Buchanan, or British Drama, as I do, let him save his shillings for the next production in Mr. Mulholland’s very pretty little theatre.
I need not explain myself at any great length. The plot of the original play, “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr,” seems to have been a purely mechanical contrivance, such as Dumas loved (quite rightly) for his artificial comedies. Two men, A and B, flirt with two girls, C and D. They are entrapped into the Bastille, where A is forced to marry C, and B, D. A and B, furious, leave C and D the next morning. How to convert the formula (C – A) + (D – B) into the formula (C + A) + (D + B), is the problem left by the first two acts, to be solved by the last two. Needless to say, there is a masked ball; A flirts with C, B with D; C makes A jealous, and D, B; and all ends happily. Not, in itself, an enthralling story! I have no doubt that Dumas made a charming comedy of it, however. I can imagine, too, that if Mr. Grundy had laid hands on the plot and translated or adapted it, the result might have been pleasing. “The Silver Key” and “The Marriage of Convenience” were no more interesting in their plot than this play; but Mr. Grundy adapted them with some measure of elegance and grace and wit, with a sense of Dumas and of the plays’ period, and he contrived to make of them a very pretty entertainment. In “Two Little Maids from School” there is not, so far as I could gather, one graceful or witty line, not one touch, even, of the eighteenth century. All is as dull and as common as it can be. To say that it is mediocre, would be positive flattery. The adapters do not seem to have grasped the first two principles in the adaptation of a French costume play: that the atmosphere of the period must be suggested through other modes of speech than those used by the man on the omnibus, and that the French language must be translated into English equivalents. The characters in “Two Little Maids from School” are made to talk exactly as though they were riding on omnibuses, except that their conversation is interspersed with such phrases as “en route,” “à bientôt,” “pensionnaires” and “bonnes fortunes.” From every point of view these Gallicisms are fatal. In translating French, a man’s aim should be to make us forget that he is doing anything of the kind; in every word that he leaves untranslated, he does violently remind us. In translation of French for the stage, the danger is made twice as deadly by the fact that (with, perhaps, half a dozen exceptions) no English actors or actresses can pronounce French without giving one a shudder. It is bad enough that they should be obliged, in these adaptations, to pronounce the French names of the dramatis personæ. In this play, for example, the name of “Dubouloy” is consistently pronounced as “Doobaloy” (rhyming with joy). Indeed, consistency in mispronunciation is the most that can be expected of any caste. Some castes say “Madarm,” others “Madamn”: neither way is very pretty, but either can be borne if it is strictly adhered to throughout the evening. The caste of this play was unswerving from “Madamn.” That, I am afraid, is almost the only compliment I can pay to the caste of this play. Miss Annie Hughes, who acted the part of D, is a clever and charming actress, and she has a sense of humour, but she did not (as she might have, despite the authors) once show the vein of artificial comedy. She chose to clown. Perhaps this choice was forced on her by the utter incompetency of the actors and actresses who were with her. The parts of A, B and C were acted, respectively, by—but I have a kindly nature, and I withhold the three names—whose bearers, I trust, will, out of gratitude for my forbearance, hasten to inscribe them on the books of some rudimentary School of Acting. It remains to say that the play was well-mounted, and to regret that Mr. Buchanan shows no signs of amendment. Mr. Buchanan is by nature a poet and a wit, and, in literature, he has written much that is good. In drama, he seems to have no ambition to do anything but play the drunken helot for the good of the rising generation. This is a great pity, I think. There are so many drunken helots, and so few men who could, like him, have written fine plays. Had he, from the outset, chosen to use his talent honestly, instead of prostituting it to the public, he might by this time be the acknowledged master of dramaturgy in England. As it is, he can only be regarded as a very terrible example.
Looking at this article, I am struck by the fact that for the first time since I lept into dramatic criticism, I have actually tried to damn a play. Hitherto, I have not found a really bad play, and so I have always been able to say more or less nice things. In one or two cases I have been quite enthusiastic. Yes, there are one or two plays which I remember as being really good. But, with the solitary exception of “Pelleas and Melisande,” (which, as you know, was not written by an English dramatist), there are not any which I remember as being works of original genius, achievements of the first rank. True, I have not been a dramatic critic very long. It may be that this period of almost unrelieved mediocrity may have merely happened to coincide with my dramatic criticism, may have been an exceptional era in the history of the English stage. I am afraid that the evidence is against such a supposition. I am afraid that years come and years go, and whilst new genius crops up regularly in English literature and painting, English drama, like English music and sculpture, goes steadily on without any pre-eminent additions to its value. I do not doubt that the drama is, as we are always hearing, better than it was in the ’fifties. Tom Robertson, with his charming talent, paved the way for better things, and better things have walked along that pavement; but, having come to the end of it, they do not seem to progress. A few years ago, at the time of the Independent Theatre, one heard much of a Renascence. Ibsen was to be the regenerating influence. For a time our dramatists dallied with sexual problems. But that time has passed, and even the most strenuous evangelists of Ibsen find themselves forced to admit that native drama cannot be regenerated by the influence of any alien, however great be that alien’s genius. After a few hectic months, English drama relapsed into deeper lassitude. New theatres are built, and there are always new audiences to fill them, and new plays to produce in them. But one looks in vain for the playwright who shall reveal to us some new method, set some new example, startle us violently out of our customary attitude of polite and weary approval—one looks in vain for him who shall, in a word, cause drama to progress. What is wanted is not merely a man who will write plays well according to the present conventions of dramaturgy. What is wanted is a man who will create a new dramatic form. I hope he will come in my time. There will be great fun when he comes.
The Newcastle Weekly Courant (26 November, 1898 - p.5)
Still another play founded on a work of Alexandre Dumas has made its appearance. It is a romantic comedy—“Two Little Maids from School,” adapted by Messrs Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe, from “Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr,” but somehow or other it has not been particularly well received. The original play is bright and sparkling, with the true Dumas’ spirit, and with his characteristic background of courts and courtiers, plots and intrigues, all very effective and amusing, if not very profound. This English version, though provided by two such well known literateurs, falls far short of the original play. It is entertaining and pretty, but there is a lack of the audacious joyousness and buoyancy which are inseparable from any work of the famous novelist. It would seem that this Dumas boom has had its day. The fact that success has not rewarded the efforts of such experienced playwriters may deter others from risking a similar result, and original plays will thus have a better chance of being accorded a hearing.
The Era (26 November, 1898 - p.12)
MR ACTON BOND took up the part of Roger De St. Hérem, in Two Little Maids from School, which was produced at the Theatre Metropole on Monday last, at short notice; in fact, he did not get a chance to study until the evening of the 17th inst. The part, by-the-by, is several type-written pages longer than that of Wilfrid Denver, in The Silver King. Mr Robert Buchanan, knowing Mr Bond’s difficulties, was most complimentary to him on his performance.
”TWO LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL.”
An Adaptation, by Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe,
of Dumas the Elder’s Demoiselle de St. Cyr,
Produced at the Theatre Metropole, Monday, Nov. 21st.
Le Duc D’Anjou . . . . Mr Harold Eden
Le Duc D’Harcourt . . . . Mr Herbert Cottesmore
Roger De St. Herem . . . . Mr Acton Bond
Hercule Dubouloy . . . . Mr. Lesley Kenyon
Courtois . . . . Mr. E. G. Woodhouse
Jose . . . . Mr. L. Cottesmore
Captain of Mousquetaires . . . . Mr. G. D’Arcy
Madame de Velasquez . . . . Miss Alma Stanley
Sister Alphonsine . . . . Miss Henrietta Cowen
Henriette . . . . Miss Maud Lindo
Charlotte de Merian . . . . Miss Winifred Fraser
Louise Beauclair . . . . Miss Annie Hughes
Messrs Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlowe have done what, perhaps, was the only thing to be done with Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr for the provinces. The verbose and deliberate comedy of Dumas’ play would be deemed wordy and out-of-date by a suburban audience. The adaptors have extracted all the finer flavour from the piece, and have tried to turn it into a farcical comedy. Where they have managed to do this they have been quite successful in amusing their patrons. Where they have adhered too closely to their original the piece drags a little, and this is quite reasonable. To be interested in a comedy we must have a real belief in its personages. Now, amusing as the entertainment at the Theatre Metropole on Monday was, it was not in the least illusive. No one could possibly believe in Miss Annie Hughes as a damsel of the aristocratic St. Cyr, or be carried in imagination into the Spanish embassy at Madrid, even with the aid of Mrs Samuel May’s pretty dresses and M. Edouard Espinosa’s admirably arranged dances. So long, however, as the element of broad fun was supplied all went well; when a return to the long-winded dialogue, and sober, quiet comedy of the elder Dumas was made there was a “drop.” Fortunately, the fun was in the ascendant, and a diverting entertainment and a successful production were the result.
The adaptors have chiefly confined their labours to condensation. Whole scenes have been boiled down into sentences, and the dialogue, if not particularly polished, is always pithy and to the point. The “demoiselles” in question, Charlotte De Merian and Louise Beauclair, are pupils at the celebrated seminary of St. Cyr, which is under the immediate patronage of Madame De Maintenon, who, though an improper person herself, had the greatest regard for propriety in others. Roger De St. Herem, by favour of the Duc D’Anjou, gets into the seminary, and makes love to Charlotte, who is fascinated by his professions of affection, and falls deeply in love with him. Her companion, Louise Beauclair, is much more worldly and suspicious than Mademoiselle De Merian, and, in order to save her from possible seduction, Louise acquaints Madame De Maintenon with what is going on. By this step Louise also affects her own fortunes. Hercule Dubouloy, Roger’s faithful and admiring friend, is induced by him to engage Louise in amorous converse in the pavilion while Roger makes love to Charlotte in the shrubbery. When, by Madame De Maintenon’s orders, the house is surrounded with soldiers, Dubouloy shares with his friend the fate of being arrested and sent to the Bastille.
Imprisonment and threats of starvation soon induce both gallants to consent to marry the ladies to whom they have made professions; and the second act shows them to us in a state of bitter indignation at the compulsion which has been practised upon them. After a pathetic scene between Charlotte and her husband, and a droll interview between Louise and Dubouloy, the husbands set off for Madrid, with the intention of amusing themselves with the Spanish senoritas. The wives follow them, present themselves to the French ambassador, and, masked for the carnival, are introduced under false names to their husbands, who do not recognise them. Roger and Dubouloy are the more interested in the mysterious strangers, because the young men have been told by the ambassador that the incognitas have been sent by the French government to fascinate the Duc D’Anjou, now Philip V. of Spain. The “curtain” of the third act is the unmasking of the wives, and the husbands’ discomfiture and annoyance.
In the last act, after some “see-sawing” business in connection with the annulment of Charlotte’s marriage, and the removal from Roger’s mind of the suspicion that she was an accomplice in the trick which secured her marriage, the husbands make up their minds that they adore their wives, and depart with them for France, the King graciously falling in with the arrangement.
The strength of the production was in the acting of Miss Annie Hughes and Mr Leslie Kenyon, who sent the house into roars and screams of laughter by their acting as Louise Beauclair and Hercule Dubouloy. Miss Hughes, despite a tendency to over-work her musical laugh, was demurely droll as Louise. Mr Kenyon played Dubouloy in a dashing, free- and-easy, and “up-to-date” manner, which proved extremely effective. He took a bold, fearless grip of the part, and handled it with remarkable audacity and complete success. Mr Acton Bond represented Roger De St. Herem with keen appreciation of the difficulties and opportunities of the role. He vanquished the first, and utilised the second in a manner which deserved warm praise; and his firm, well-considered, and able interpretation did much to strengthen the serious portions of the play, which demanded good acting for their adequate interpretation. Mr Harold Eden gave a highly original reading of the part of the Duc D’Anjou, depicting with skill and spirit the airy affectations and mincing mannerisms of the royal roué. Mr Herbert Cottesmore might modify the deep-mouthed pomposity of his French ambassador, which, perhaps, was a little exaggerated in detail, though excellent in conception. Mr E. G. Woodhouse was quite efficient as Courtois; and Mr G. D’Arcy made a manly Captain of Mousquetaires. Miss Alma Stanley had a few lines to speak as a mysterious Madame De Velasquez, who intervenes occasionally to do a little chiromancy. She looked immensely imposing in a gorgeous costume. Miss Henrietta Cowen did useful work as Sister Alphonsine; and Miss Winifred Fraser showed intelligence, ability, and delicate perception in the part of Charlotte De Merian. The incidental music by Mr Edmond Rickett was appropriate; Mr W. T. Hemsley’s scenery was pretty and unpretentious; and the Carnival dance in the third act, arranged by M. Edouard Espinosa, was warmly redemanded. Mr Walter Tyrell attended ably to Mr Buchanan’s interests in front; and to Mr E. G. Woodhouse’s efforts as stage-manager much of the success of the piece was doubtless due. Artists and authors were loudly called for at the close of the performance; and Mr Buchanan appeared before the curtain, and, after thanking the audience, begged them to give the credit to the genius who had made those shadows live—Alexandre Dumas, rightly called “the great.” The funny scenes in the piece are very funny indeed; and if the last act can be shortened and strengthened Two Little Maids from School will form a very agreeable and amusing entertainment. The performance evoked, at intervals, very hearty laughter, and when the nervousness of a first performance has worked off and certain alterations have been made Two Little Maids from School is likely to prove very popular.
“TWO LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—I desire to correct the statement, made in an influential quarter, that Two Little Maids from School is merely a literal translation of Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr. So far from this being the case, the adaptation is unusually free, particularly as regards those scenes between Dubouloy and Louise, which created the greatest amusement, and which it would be very difficult to find in the original. At the same time, I have borne public testimony to the fact that the structure of the play belongs to Alexandre Dumas, who found the material for it in one of the stories of Boccaccio. To those critics who have objected, naturally enough, that the comedy has been developed by the adaptors on somewhat “farcical” lines, I can only reply that the original piece, as played in the formal method of the Théâtre Français, has always failed to awaken the enthusiasm evoked last Monday night at Camberwell. In my opinion, indeed, the theme is distinctly farcical, and should be treated with the vivacity and high spirits which farce demands.
Yours faithfully, ROBERT BUCHANAN.
Nov. 24th, 1898.
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