20. The Blue Bells of Scotland (1887)
The Blue Bells of Scotland (adapted from Buchanan’s novel, A Child of Nature).
by Robert Buchanan.
London: Novelty Theatre. 12 September to 8 October, 1887.
London: Grand Theatre, Islington. 24 October, 1887.
(Harriett Jay played the role of Lady Ethel Gordon.)
The Morning Post (10 January, 1887 - p.2)
“The Blue Bells of Scotland” is the title of a new play written by Mr. Robert Buchanan for the American stage.
The Era (9 July, 1887 - p.8)
THE Novelty Theatre will shortly reopen under the management of Miss Harriett Jay, who will make her reappearance in a new romantic drama by Mr Robert Buchanan. The house will be redecorated for the occasion, and, in all probability, renamed.
The Referee (10 July, 1887 - p.3)
Miss Harriett Jay, I am told, has taken the Novelty Theatre, and when some alterations and cleaning up has been effected in that establishment, proposes to open it with a new piece by—by whom do you think? If you say by Robert Buchanan, as of course you will, you will have guessed right with one try. It is just possible that Miss Jay will see whether changing the name of the theatre will bring it a change of fortune.
The Glasgow Herald (25 July, 1887 - p.4)
Miss Harriett Jay announces that she will very shortly open the Novelty Theatre with a new five-act play of Scottish life and character written by Mr Robert Buchanan, and entitled “The Blue Bells of Scotland.” Mr Henry Neville will perform the part of the hero. The play has by way of motto the verse beginning “O where, O where, is my Highland laddie gone.”
The Entr’acte (30 July, 1887 - p.4)
Miss Harriet Jay has resolved upon making an experiment at the Novelty, and I sincerely hope she may succeed, though I am bound to say the odds are heavy against her. She will commence her campaign by producing a new play from the pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan. The Novelty is a theatre which requires some very potent factor to bring it out of the valley and shadow of blight; and whether Miss Jay will be able to supply that factor, we shall know within the next few months.
The Novelty has lately been used by amateurs who have been glorifying themselves and torturing their friends. I am very pleased that it is to be taken out of this groove, and that it is once more to take its stand as a theatre proper, for I was afraid it was fast drifting into that position which was once held by the little King’s Cross establishment, and, further back, by that Dean Street Theatre, where, if you paid to play Macbeth, the management would find you support. And if you paid liberally, applause was provided for you, too.
When I speak of the Novelty and Dean Street Theatres I am unconsciously reminded of Mr. Willie Edouin, who has made a good try at both of these establishments, and, I expect, with no such result as would make him anxious to try again. And if Mr. Edouin fails at a theatre, the chances are that nineteen out of every twenty managers will fail there too, for Mr. Edouin is quite a Mr. George Conquest, is thoroughly practical, knows every rope, and, if needs be, can paint the scenery and play the side-drum. Not only so, but Mr. Edouin is a first-rate burlesque actor, and rejoices in a wife who is equally clever; so that the chief actors in the pieces he produces are generally played by himself and wife. Well, if Mr. Edouin, with all his practical knowledge, can’t whittle a theatre into a successful shape, it is difficult to say who can.
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (13 August, 1887 - p.12)
MISS HARRIETT JAY is evidently not one of the manageresses who cannot tolerate a pretty woman in her company. She has engaged Miss Fortescue for the part of the heroine in The Blue Bells of Scotland, and if that lady cannot act very much, her good looks at any rate are beyond dispute.
Aberdeen Evening Express (19 August 1887 - p. 2)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S NEW PLAY.
In Robert Buchanan’s new play, to be produced early in September at the Novelty Theatre, the public will be called upon to sympathise with the Scotch crofters. The dramatist will picture his proteges as persons left by their nobly-born landlord to the mercy of a factor, in whose ruthless nature that heavenly attribute has no place. This factor is sketched at his worst. He is shown prosecuting with equal severity a bonnie Highland lassie and a rugged cotter. The bewitching heroine, Mina Macdonald, who unintentionally fascinates her lorldly master as well as his unscrupulous agent, will be personated by Miss Fortescue. For the heroine’s brother, Graham Macdonald, Mr Henry Neville has been cast. The play—as may be seen from this sketch of its purpose—is not without a political motive, but as the rehearsals have been commenced, it may be concluded that the censor has not offered any objection on this head.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (3 September, 1887 - p.2)
The Novelty being one of the few London playhouses demanding a low and moderate rent, I fancy the little theatre in Great Queen-street should now pay—with good management. Anyway, the clever and versatile new Directress has my best wishes for her success. To begin with, the lady has in Mr. Howard Paul secured a most genial and experienced Manager. As for Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, I hear, on trustworthy authority, that “Miss Harriett Jay, in casting ‘The Blue Bells of Scotland,’ has been particular in filling the smallest parts with the greatest care, so that a perfect ensemble may be obtained. Three weeks of incessant rehearsal, under the practised eye of the author and Mr. Henry Neville, ought to enable the drama to work well at the première, on Sept. 7. In act i. the action occurs in the Highlands; in act ii. there is a bustling fair scene. A tableau representing Shaftesbury-avenue by night occurs in the third act; a jungle in Burmah is given in the fourth; and the last scene of the play will be a marvel of scenic art representing a village by the sea. Mr. Henry Neville plays a young Highlander, Graham Macdonald; and Miss Fortescue enacts his sister, Mina, a part presenting great possibilities for emotional acting.”
The Era (3 September, 1887)
THE attention to realism in modern stage productions may be illustrated by an incident which took place the other day at the Novelty Theatre. Miss Harriett Jay having given instructions that the military costumes for The Blue Bells of Scotland were to be accurately realised down to the smallest detail, the costumiers summoned an expert, in the person of a stalwart sergeant of Highlanders, and submitted the dresses to his criticism.”All right,” was his opinion; “but,” he added, “where’s the water-bottle?” It appeared that every Highland soldier on active service carries on his person a flask of water for drinking, a fact which had been overlooked. The omission was at once supplied, and the military critic of the management expressed his complete approval. In The Blue Bells of Scotland, the singing and musical gifts of Miss Fortescue will be called into frequent requisition, and at the opening of Act 2, she will sing the beautiful old Scottish ballad, “Doon the Burn, Davie.”
The Stage (9 September, 1887 - p.12)
The Blue Bells of Scotland, Robert Buchanan’s new drama, which was to have been produced at the Novelty Theatre on Wednesday last, stands postponed till Monday to give time for more perfect rehearsal. Whilst the theatre has been closed it has undergone an almost entire renovation, been re-painted and re-gilded, fresh carpeted, and the foyer smoking-room re-decorated. In the latter are hung a number of oil-paintings, which give it the appearance of a picture gallery.
The Times (13 September, 1887 - p.9)
The elegant and handsomely-appointed theatre which was erected a few years ago in Great Queen-street without sufficient regard, it would seem, to the fact that that is no thoroughfare for the playgoing public, has been put to various uses. For some time past it has been placed at the disposal of amateurs. It has now, however, reverted to its original condition as a public theatre, being reopened by Miss Harriett Jay with a new drama by Mr. Robert Buchanan called The Blue Bells of Scotland. That success will attend this experiment is by no means certain, for on the fall of the curtain last night the attitude of the house was hardly such as to inspire a belief in the capacity of the new play to attract the public to an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Mr. Robert Buchanan has broken fresh ground in laying the hardships of the crofter or fishing population of the Highlands under contribution for dramatic purposes, but this subject is treated rather in an incidental fashion, his main theme being the old, old story of the betrayal of a simple country maiden by a smooth- tongued aristocrat, who assumes a lowly station the better to serve his wicked ends. Lord Arranmore, the villain of the play, is an absentee Highland landlord, who allows a hard-hearted “factor” or agent to oppress the simple-minded population owning his sway. Evictions are the order of the day, although the poor people find a warm sympathizer in the next-of-kin to the noble lord, the Highland chieftain Graham Macdonald. In these circumstances it occurs to Lord Arranmore, who is young and unmarried, but engaged to Lady Ethel Gordon, a young English lady, to visit his Highland estates in disguise as an English tourist, and the scheme brings him into relations with Mina Macdonald, Graham’s sister, whose beauty stirs his worst passions into activity. Mina Macdonald is in reality his cousin, but that circumstance does not deter Lord Arranmore from boldly abducting her in his yacht and carrying her off to a gilded cage in St. John’s- wood, after appeasing her homely scruples by a mock marriage. All this is set forth in the first and second acts, and the remainder of the play is devoted to a scheme of retribution in which Graham Macdonald and Lord Arranmore’s fiancée take part. In this somewhat conventional development of the story the author has been at pains to couple his characters with an event so recent as the campaign in Burmah. Lord Arranmore is colonel of a Highland regiment, and on deserting his victim in London, goes on active service in Burmah, whither he is followed by his avenging clansman in the capacity of a private soldier. The hostile meeting between the men occurs in a Burmah jungle, but at the moment of its threatening to have a fatal issue for the seducer, the natives attack the English detachment, and the enemies subordinate their personal quarrel to the defence of the English flag. When next the thread of the story is taken up in England we learn that Lord Arranmore has died penitent on the homeward passage, and that Macdonald has returned with the Victoria Cross and prestige enough as a soldier to secure him the hand and heart of Lady Ethel Gordon, after which the now Lord of Arranmore betakes himself to his Highland home with his English bride to console the sorrowing Mina and end the career of the tyrannical “factor.”
Although not free from disturbing improbabilities, the play it will be seen is fresh in tone and well conceived. It suffers pictorally from being presented upon a small stage, but the Highland scenes, including village dances as well as evictions, and the jungle fighting are in their way stirring enough. Miss Fortescue plays the Highland girl, Mina Macdonald, with much winning simplicity and sweetness, and to this character, who is more picturesque in a tartan plaid than in the “braw” attire of a St. John’s-wood belle, Miss Harriett Jay offers an admirable foil as the English lady. Than Mr. Henry Neville no more robustious a representative of Macdonald could be desired. The part suits this actor to perfection. Most of the male characters are addicted to the kilt, and Scotch enters largely into the dialogue. At the close of the performance the author was called, but a certain tenuity in the plot, coupled with a too frequent use of “tableau curtains,” which cut up the play into fragments, will probably debar The Blue Bells of Scotland from becoming a popular success.
The Daily News (13 September, 1887)
RE-OPENING OF THE NOVELTY THEATRE.
The leading incident in Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” with which Miss Harriett Jay commenced her management of the Novelty Theatre last night, is stated to be “founded on fact,” and no doubt a forcible abduction of a pretty Highland lassie by a wicked Scottish nobleman, though a little out of date in a tale of these orderly and settled times, is a thing within the bounds of conceivability. But unfortunately—excepting some admirable incidental touches of characters—this cardinal incident is set forth in a style that reminded the experienced spectator too strongly of an old and exploded class of melodrama. The fault was certainly not that of Miss Fortescue, who has never yet exhibited so much of force and sincerity and judicious self-restraint as she displayed last night in the part of Mina Macdonald; nor would it be fair to lay it heavily to the charge of Mr. William Lang, though this gentleman’s impersonation of Lord Arranmore did not indicate in any marked degree the qualities that might be supposed to fascinate the proud and beautiful Highland girl. The play, though new to the stage, is understood to be one of the author’s early productions, and it is probable that the incidental sketches of character, which go a considerable way towards redeeming its defects, are later grafts upon the original stock. Starting under the disadvantages we have referred to the performance though relieved by many bright scenes and passages never quite recovered from the first check. Moreover, as commonly happens on such occasions, not a few ill-starred lines and incongruous incidents provoked mirth of an untimely sort, and on the whole the new play obviously failed to take a firm hold upon the spectators’ sympathies. This is the more to be regretted as much expense has been bestowed upon the mise-en-scène. Interweaving with the story of this Highland Olivia (for Mina’s scruples are finally soothed by a sham marriage) a far-reaching scheme of vengeance on the part of a brother, as well as one or two other love stories, Mr. Buchanan hurries us on to various parts of the habitable globe in the elaborate fashion of a Drury Lane drama, though unfortunately without the amplitude of stage which realistic representations of the Piccadilly end of Shaftesbury-avenue and military outposts of a Highland regiment in Burmah demand. Not content with this, he garnishes the last of his five acts with sombre and stirring details of evictions of the Crofters in Skye with the aid of a gunboat and a detachment of Marines. Mr. Henry Neville plays in his accustomed dashing style the part of Graham Macdonald, the avenging brother who lives to forgive his dying enemy, succeed to his estates, and marry the lady, Ethel Gordon, who had been unwillingly betrothed in early life to the wicked Lord Arranmore; and Miss Harriett Jay, though she is unfortunately compelled by the text to exhibit a “coming on disposition” of a rather unmaidenly sort, enacts the part of Lady Ethel with much vivacity and humour. A fresher interest, however, attaches to the more simple and truthful incidental sketches of a sprightly Highland peasant girl, admirably played by Miss Marie Stuart, and an Irish soldier enlisted in a Highland regiment, a part enacted by Mr. Eardley Turner with abundant humour and freshness. Mr. Buchanan on the fall of the curtain received the honour of a call, but was not, as it proved, destined to enjoy a wholly flattering reception.
The Echo (13 September, 1887 - p.1)
Last night at the Novelty Theatre, after having been postponed from Wednesday last, in order, as Miss Harriet Jay informed the Press and the public, to secure a complete ensemble, was produced a new comedy-drama by Robert Buchanan, entitled, The Blue Bells of Scotland. Although the new piece cannot be said to be a complete success, or to have met with an unanimously favourable reception, the whole was undoubtedly well mounted, the principal parts were acted with spirit and made the most of by their several impersonators. A somewhat complicated tale, about a certain Lord Arranmore, who possessed large estates in Scotland, which had been brought into the family illegally by his forefathers, is the basis of the play. The lands really belong to a young Highlander (Graham Macdonald), who, however, appears to be unable to regain them unless Lord Arranmore should die while he was yet young and unmarried. The young lord himself knows not but what the lands are legally his own. At the opening of the story he is supposed to be abroad, serving in his capacity of captain of a Highland regiment, but hearing that his tenants were in trouble, and were being evicted from their homesteads by his steward Peter Dalston, and not having yet even been to Scotland, he obtains leave of absence, and comes to the “village by the sea” under the assumed name of Mr. Lawrence, in order to discover for himself whether the tales told about his steward were true. While in the Highlands his life is saved in a storm by Mina Macdonald, sister of Graham, and Arranmore, not knowing who she is, falls in love with her, and when he finds that she will not marry him without her brother’s consent, he takes the matter into his own hands, and runs off with her, and induces her to believe that they are married, whereas the man who conducted the ceremony was a sham. Graham, when he finds who it really is who has robbed him of his sister, follows them to London, and there comes across Mina in the arms of Peter Dalston, who also had often proffered his love to her, in Shaftesbury-avenue, just before the Pavilion. While in London, Mina had been shown her real position by another affianced lover, a Lady Ethel, and Lord Arranmore, after having been obliged to reveal his identity, and state that his marriage was illegal, bolts to Burmah to join his regiment, leaving her in the charge of Peter Dalston. She escapes, however, and comes across Graham, as before mentioned, in Shaftesbury-avenue. Graham, thirsting for blood, enlists in Lord Arranmore’s own regiment, and goes to Burmah, and after a fight with the Dacoits, in which the English get defeated, meets his enemy, with another officer, in the jungle alone; and the duel which follows is brought to an abrupt conclusion by their being surrounded by Dacoits, whom they hold at bay till they are rescued, Lord Arranmore receiving a fatal wound, leaving Macdonald master of his estates. Mr. Henry Neville played the part of Graham Macdonald exceedingly well, while that of Lord Arranmore was ably taken by Mr. Arthur Elwood. Mr. G. Canninge was good as Peter Dalston; and Mr. Scott Buist, as the Hon. Sam Gowan, with Mr Turner, as Sergeant Milligan, helped to enliven the story. Miss Fortescue won applause by her rendering of Mina Macdonald, and Miss Harriet Jay was fairly successful as Lady Ethel Gordon. Other members of the cast were:—Messrs. Hilton, Calhaem, Green, Land, Misses Marie Stuart, and Wingfield. The Blue Bells of Scotland will hardly have a long run.
The Morning Post (13 September, 1887 - p.5)
Mr. Robert Buchanan has chosen a theme for the foundation of his new drama, “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” which is a dangerous one at the moment, and not unlikely to raise feelings which it were better to leave undisturbed. It may be frankly admitted that in the result no serious consequences ensued, but under less skilful treatment a play which hinges upon the eviction of small tenant farmers might easily have caused demonstrations of conflicting sympathies which would not only have ruined the prospects of the piece, but which would have also turned the theatre into an arena of political warfare. It was difficult last night to free the mind from thoughts of recent events in Ireland, and one felt that “The Blue Bells of Scotland” was a drama wrought from combustible material, that a stray spark in the way of an injudicious line might in a moment ignite. Fortunately there was not fire enough in the author’s political sentiment to cause a conflagration. Mr. Buchanan introduced some effective touches of traditional stage art in confronting a cruel agent, who would turn virtuous old age from hearth and home, with a file of kind-hearted marines who refuse to carry out his orders and decline to help in unroofing and firing cottages. Who could fail to prefer Mr. Henry Neville’s frank and manly ways to the sneaking villanies of one of the most despicable of factors? The chord of sympathy which the author strove to awaken found but faint echo in the hearts of the audience, for the Scotch peasantry who were supposed to have been harshly treated seemed but little put out at their misfortunes. They held their fair, and footed it blithely in reel and fling. Bonnie lads and lassies were they, blithe in dance and speech, and not until the last scene did they seem to be miserable to any extent. The story is of no great novelty. Lord Arranmore visits his Highland estates incognito, and is saved from shipwreck by Mina Macdonald, who with her brother Graham, lives in quiet happiness under the humble roof of a foster-father, Koll Nicolson, an old fisherman. Graham’s ancestors were owners of the old hills which surround the cottage at Corryveolan, and he is next of kin to the present lord. Peter Dalston, the steward, is discovered by Lord Arranmore in dishonest dealings, and under threat of exposure is made to assist his master in carrying off Mina Macdonald. By the familiar expedient of a mock marriage, the scruples of the pure Highland girl are quieted, and not until she hears the truth from Lady Ethel Gordon the fiancée of Lord Arranmore, does she realise the position in which his perfidy has placed her. With miserable callousness her betrayer throws aside the toy he is tired of and goes with his regiment to Burma, whither he is followed by Graham, who in order to avenge his sister enlists in the same corps, biding his time until he shall meet the villain and demand reparation. This opportunity arrives when the British troops have suffered a check and the officers fly from their men somewhat more rapidly than the traditions of the gallant 72d would warrant. In a jungle, with no witness but a young subaltern, Graham forces Arranmore to fight, all distinctions of rank being ignored. At the cross of swords the enemy surprises the duellists, and Graham, with heroic generosity, returns his antagonist the weapon he had struck from his grasp, and in the presence of a common danger they fight back to back instead of face to face. In the contest Arranmore falls wounded, and Graham keeps the dacoits at bay until the rescuing bayonets of the 72d put them to flight. Meantime Mina is persecuted by the steward at home, who offers his hateful love as an alternative to poverty and shame. She is rescued by Angus-of-the-Dogs, a wandering ballad singer, and is restored to her sorrowing friends at home. A final attempt at wholesale evictions by Peter Dalston is frustrated by the return of Graham Macdonald, now owner of the estates, Lord Arranmore having succumbed to his wounds, not before doing justice to the honour of the lady he had wronged. As Mina Macdonald Miss Fortescue displayed pathos and power, her earlier scenes being marked by a winning sweetness of manner which was in harmony with the character and its surroundings. Miss Harriett Jay was hardly at home in giving expression to the rather forced and artificial language allotted to her. In one scene, however, she played admirably, when making advances to Graham with provoking archness by virtue of the supposed privileges of leap-year. A delightful sketch of a roguish lassie was the Jessie Macfarlan of Miss Marie Stuart, who plagued her Hibernian Highlander, Sergeant Milligan, with evident enjoyment. Mr. Henry Neville, as Graham Macdonald, acted with that hearty earnestness that has long since made him a favourite; Mr. Arhtur Elwood was at least a gentlemanly Lord Arranmore; Mr. G. Canninge was harsh and objectionable enough in all conscience as the steward; Mr. Scott Buist, Mr. Hilton, and Mr. Eardley Turner being acceptable representatives of the Hon. Sam Gordon, a young Cockney officer, Koll Nicolson, and Sergeant Milligan. The piece is well mounted, but its reception was hardly of a nature to justify the prediction of a successful career.
The Standard (13 September, 1887 - p.3)
Last night a new play by Mr. Robert Buchanan, called The Blue Bells of Scotland, was produced at the Novelty Theatre. The occurrence has to be chronicled as an incident of theatrical news, but there is nothing whatever in the piece that is worthy of serious criticism. The story is extraordinarily trite and feeble; threadbare episodes are worked out by uninteresting puppets throughout five acts, which are not lightened by any ingenuity nor brightened by a shred of wit or humour. A wicked lord travels under a false name to visit his Scotch estates. He is attracted by a simple maiden, abducts her, and takes her to a villa in the Regent’s Park. She believes that she is his wife till she is undeceived by the lady whom the lord was to have married; and then, recognising the truth, she flies to Piccadilly-circus. Here, by a series of those coincidences which the unskilful playwright is apt to employ when gravelled for lack of invention, she meets the bad lord’s worse agent, her foster-brother, an old Highlander from her native village, and a variety of other people whose presence at that particular time of night outside the Pavilion Music Hall it would be exceedingly difficult to explain on any reasonable theory. It then appears that the wicked lord is a soldier, captain in a Highland regiment on active service in Burmah; and the spectator is transported from the top of Waterloo-place to the Asiatic jungle. The ill-used lady’s foster brother has enlisted in the wicked lord’s regiment, with an intention of fighting his officer, but after the exhibition of a good deal of very lax discipline—to express it mildly—the two enemies unite forces against Dacoits and the seducer of innocence receives a wound from which he dies. The private succeeds to the peerage and the heroine is left a widow. Much of the sentiment of Mr. Buchanan’s play struck the audience last night as ridiculous, and derisive laughter frequently broke out where it was intended that sympathy should be awakened. Mr. Henry Neville plays the part of the foster-brother in his usual style; Mr. Arthur Elwood is the bad lord. Mr. Scott Buist is able to show that, with a fair chance, he might do fairly useful service as a light comedian. Miss Fortescue strives diligently but unsuccessfully to awaken interest for the heroine, and Miss Jay fills the part of the lady who was engaged to marry the bad lord, and actually does marry his virtuous successor. It is strange that so very poor a composition should have found its way to the boards of a London theatre. That it will linger long is in the highest degree improbable.
The Daily Telegraph (13 September, 1887 - p.3)
Not all the energy of Mr. henry Neville, or the prettiness of Miss Fortescue, or the Scotch scenes, and songs, and dances, or the battle scenes in Burmah, or the evident desire on all sides to welcome clever Miss Harriett Jay as a manageress, were able to hush down certain ugly sounds of disapprobation when the curtain fell last night on “The Blue Bells of Scotland.” Mr. Robert Buchanan attacks a somewhat threadbare and commonplace theme with his accustomed earnestness, and we occasionally almost forget the hackneyed character of the ballad in the cleverness of the accompaniment. A Scotch lassie is abducted by a wicked nobleman from her Highland home, and it is the task of her devoted brother to avenge his sister’s honour. Thus Graham Macdonald, so gallantly personated by Mr. Henry Neville, follows the aristocratic seducer to Burmah, having joined Lord Arranmore’s regiment as a private soldier. His motive is vengeance; his design is death. But when the pinch comes, and the two Englishmen are surrounded as they are engaged in a mortal combat worthy of Macbeth and Macduff, they agree to bury the hatchet for the moment and to fight back to back for Queen and country. It is a good situation and cleverly led up to, quite irrespective of the fact that it was anticipated by Sardou in “Patrie.” No one can have forgotten, who knows the French play, that fine situation in the Town Hall of Brussels, where the injured husband finds his wife’s seducer in his own familiar friend, just as they are baring their arms for a death struggle. There is a pause of hesitation: shall the husband kill his wife’s lover! No. They will fight side by side for Fatherland. However, in this case the guilty Lord Arranmore conveniently dies, and Graham Macdonald, for some unexplained reason, comes into the possession of his estates and is the saving of his tenantry. Dovetailed into this romance, we have the Irish question in a Scotch dress, evictions by a rascally factor, wailing Gaelic laments, instead of Celtic crooning, and all the sentiment of the distressful country patched on to bonny Scotland.
In an author’s note Mr. Buchanan disclaims any political bias. Red-hot Conservatives like Professor Blackie have sympathised with the evicted Highlander, and “the ruthless depopulation of the Highlands is a theme which appeals to humanity in general.” The audience did not appear to think very much about the matter one way or another; they would have liked a little more tune in the singing and a little less Scotch in the opening scenes; but they forgave much of it for the sake of a bright little bit of Scotch character, prettily, naturally, and effectively played by Miss Marie Stuart, who is new to the London stage. In the matter of scenery wonders have been done with a stage whose capacity has never before been so fully shown. A Scotch seaside village; a Highland fair, with games and sword dances; a Regent’s Park villa; an illuminated view of the London Pavilion and the top of Waterloo-place; a battle-field in Burmah; and various elaborate interiors are successively employed to illustrate the story of the abduction of a Highland girl by a relentless nobleman—an incident which Mr. Robert Buchanan gravely assures us is “founded to a certain extent on facts.” It will remain to be seen whether such enterprise as has been shown will meet with any adequate reward. The acting, though not particularly striking , is sufficient for the purpose; and though “The Bells of Scotland” strikes one as being an early work of the author written up to suit the times, it is wholly without offence; it contains some wholesome sentiment, though expressed in a crude fashion, and is commendably free from the gross realism and vulgarity that have disfigured recent melodrama. By any but an experienced and critical playgoer the “Bells of Scotland” may be listened to with very innocent pleasure. If not first-class work, it is at any rate harmless.
The Aberdeen Journal (13 September, 1887 - p.5)
“THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND” AT
THE LONDON NOVELTY THEATRE.
Special interest, at least in the eyes of Scotchmen, telegraphs our London correspondent, attaches to the new play by Mr Robert Buchanan—“The Blue Bells of Scotland”—which was last night produced at the Novelty Theatre, London, inasmuch as it is an attempt to give an insight into the grievances of the Scotch crofters. The play is described as a comedy-drama, and the description is not inapplicable. There is a great deal that is serious and powerful in some of the scenes, and there is also a great deal that is humorous and picturesque. It won’t do much, however, to enlighten the Southron as to the real merits of the crofter question. Tenants are turned out wholesale because they cannot pay their rent, and because of the relentlessness of the factor, whom an absentee landlord has given full power; and as this theme has been worked up often enough in Irish dramas, the novelty in the present case is confined to the Scottish surroundings. The play, although there were a few dissentients, gave unbounded satisfaction to a large audience. The interest is well maintained. Several of the characters are skilfully drawn, and the piece being splendidly mounted and cleverly acted, is likely to bring good fortune to a theatre which has hitherto had an unfortunate history.
The Globe (13 September, 1887 - p.6)
“THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND.”
This comedy-drama by Mr. Robert Buchanan, produced for the first time last evening at the Novelty Theatre, is not calculated, as a whole, to enhance the reputation of its author. It has certainly a few elements of freshness. There is its strong Scotch colouring, for example. Though the absentee landlord, the unjust steward, and the candidates for eviction have been met with over and over again in the Hibernian drama, still, when transplanted to Scotland they give a measure of newness to the scenes in which they figure. And, in the same way, though the English playgoer may not be very greatly kindled by Scotch song or dance—may, indeed, be inclined to think both of them rather too noisy for the stage, and altogether too liberally bestowed upon “The bells of Scotland”—nevertheless they are more or less of a relief after the abounding Irish jig and the aggressive “Wearing o’ the Green.” Mr. Buchanan’s Scotch hero, again, is so far untraditionally drawn that his deeds of derring-do are performed in the interest, not (as usual) of his wife o lady-love, but of his sister, who has been abducted by the aforesaid landlord by the aid of a the aforesaid steward.
When it is added that there is a certain amount of vigour in the military scenes, and that the comedy portions of the play are brightly and agreeably written, all has been said that can be said in positive praise of the work, which as it stands, is trite both in general scheme and in most of its details, and by no means perfectly constructed. The wicked lord who carries off the village maiden, and marries her (or pretends to marry her—in this case it is not quite clear which) under an assumed name, is not a novel personage, while the woes of Mina MacDonald, betrayed and deserted by Lord Arranmore, are those of many a heroine of the stage. But it is in the working out of Mina’s story that Mr. Buchanan is most conventional. The scenes in which she, her betrayer, and her fraternal defender figure, are all of the old clap-trap order. One of them, that which takes place at Piccadilly-circus, is even wholly unnecessary, for Mina could have been rescued quite as effectively, if not more so, in the scene preceding. The dénouement, again, is too long delayed; and, indeed, in several places the piece would be all the better for being played more closely and more rapidly. What, perhaps, militates most seriously against its success is the high-falutin character of much of the dialogue. Whenever Mr. Buchanan gets out of the comedy vein into the sentimental or heroic, he becomes strained and bombastic, and the result is that some of his most “fetching” speeches do but excite the laughter of his audience. They should at once be pruned or altogether done away with.
No doubt the play would appear less defective than it is were it more capably interpreted by certain of the “principals.” No fault is to be found with the Graham Macdonald of Mr. Henry Neville, which is at once gallant in bearing and manly in tone; nor is Mr. Arthur Elwood without power in the uphill rôle of Lord Arranmore. Mr. Scott Buist plays a young subaltern very vivaciously, Mr. Eardley Turner is fairly amusing as a comic Irishman, Mr. S. Calhaem makes a tedious Scotch ballad sing as acceptable as it is possible to make him, and Mr. R. Hilton’s tolerable Doric helps him to struggle more or less successfully with the depressing part of and old Highland sailor who has “dreams.” Miss Marie Stuart, as (let us hope) a phenomenally forward Scotch lassie, is arch and spirited, but plays to the audience somewhat too markedly. And, unfortunately, the two heroines, Mina Macdonald and Lady Ethel Gordon (with whom Graham eventually pairs off) are not adequately treated. Miss Fortescue, in the former rôle, is pretty and graceful, but artificial throughout, never once stirring the public to enthusiasm. Her song, in the first act, is far from being a triumph of vocalism. Miss Jay, though her intentions are excellent, has not yet the skill with which to carry them out. She plays with some effect in the scene where she exercises a lady’s leap-year privilege, but in general she lacks both ease and force.
The scenic portion of the performance is as well-done as the dimensions of the stage will allow. The supernumeraries have been carefully drilled, the dresses and appointments have had due attention paid to them, and certain scenes, such as the Highland village and the jungle, are excellently “composed” and painted. The view of Piccadilly-circus was received with applause, but suffers from being cramped for space. Even were this otherwise, playgoers, we believe, are tired of these would-be realistic representations of familiar localities.
The Lorgnette (14 September, 1887)
THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND.
Mr. Buchanan has chosen a simple theme for “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” produced at the Novelty on Monday night by Miss Jay. His main subject has served poet, playwright, and novelist again and again; but, treated with freshness and vigour, it will never fail to awake popular sympathy so long as human nature remains recognisably the same. It is the old tale of man’s selfishness and woman’s trust, relieved with stirring accidents by flood and field, admirable character drawing, and a great deal of curious and interesting lore about queer and interesting people. The drama opens in the Highlands of Scotland, and the two principal themes are at once touched upon. We are in the midst of a quaint Highland population, suffering under the iron rule of the agent of an absentee landlord, and we meet Graham MacDonald, the rightful heir to the rack-rented property, an ardent young fellow, burning to right the wrongs of the humble friends among whom he has passed his early days. Here, too, under an assumed name, comes Lord Arranmore, the responsible landlord, to demand accounts of his unjust steward, and philanthropically inclined to redress his tenants’ wrongs. But he finds metal more attractive than the crofter question in MacDonald’s sister, Mina, a pretty Scotch lass, whom he abducts and seduces. Graham, madly indignant at this wrong, enlists as a private in the regiment of his sister’s lover, under orders for Burmah, with the avowed intention of killing him. In an encounter with the natives the regiment is cut to pieces, and Lord Arranmore and Graham come together in a lonely jungle. Here a fierce duel ensues, but the sudden renewed onslaught of the enemy forces on the combatants the duty of forgetting private quarrels, and uniting their efforts to save the honour of their flag and regiment. Lord Arranmore is killed, and since he dies without issue, Graham, as next of kin, succeeds to the title and estates, and returns to England in time to checkmate the unjust steward, who has had things all his own way of late. It turns out, too, on the dead man’s confession, that he had really married Mina, who is, therefore, Lady Arranmore, and an “honest woman.” Mr. Buchanan has very skilfully embroidered this theme with studies of Highland and military life, and Miss Jay has mounted it superbly. The scenery of the third and fourth acts is particularly beautiful. Not even at Drury Lane, the acknowledged home of this kind of realism, have London audiences witnessed anything more beautiful and picturesque than the sets representing Shaftesbury Avenue by night, and the two jungle scenes in Burmah. The military manœuvres are gone through with admirable precision and smartness, and the closing fight in the fourth act forms a very impressive tableau. Here and there cutting will be necessary and a few performances will have the effect of extra drill on the crowds.
Mr. Henry Neville, as the young Highland chief, was the same handsome and gallant young gentleman with whom lovers of drama have been so long familiar, and won and kept the sympathies of the house from start to finish. Miss Fortescue, as his sister, showed a marked advance on any previous effort. Her long spell of varied work in the provinces and in America has done her good, and after Monday night’s performance she takes rank as a serious artist. High praise is due to Miss Marie Stuart for her clever and winsome portrait of a Highland girl, a most delightful performance, couched with quiet humour and sunny good spirits. Miss Jay was perhaps excusably nervous, failing to “let herself go” in her stronger scenes with sufficient abandon, but her comedy and love making were both admirable. Mr. Canninge was good as the dishonest steward, and Mr. Hilton broke new ground with excellent effect as Neil Mackinnon, the Highland seer. Mr. Arthur Elwood had a difficult task in personating the generosity and selfishness of Lord Arranmore, and succeeded to admiration; Mr. Calhaem furnished a clever bit of comedy as Angus-of-the-Dogs, a wandering ballad singer; Mr. Eardley Turner was genuinely and legitimately funny as an Irish Highlander, Mr. Scott Buist was lively and amusing as a rather rowdy young aristocrat, and all the subordinate parts were fairly played. The house is one of the prettiest and most comfortable in London, and Miss Jay begins her managerial campaign under very favourable auspices.
[Note: This review of The Blue Bells of Scotland was written by Oscar Wilde (Bibliography of Oscar Wilde by Stuart Mason. London: T. Werner Laurie Ltd. 1914 - p.45-47).]
St. James’s Gazette (14 September, 1887 - p.7)
It is a somewhat old-fashioned play with which Mr. Robert Buchanan has supplied Miss Harriett Jay for the commencement of her season at the Novelty Theatre. A note on the programme admits that some of the characters and incidents in “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” as the piece is called, have been already utilized in the author’s prose romance “A Child of Nature,” and there is other evidence to suggest that the play is a revised version of one of Mr. Buchanan’s earlier dramatic works. The exposition, however, of the supposed wrongs of the Scotch crofters and the allusions to what Mr. Buchanan calls “the ruthless depopulation of the Highlands” are evidently intended, like his quaint illustration of military proceedings in Burma, to bring the story up to date. These matters, though they have no very intimate connection with the highly melodramatic plot of “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” serve nevertheless to give vivacity and variety to the five acts in which a rather trite tale of lordly villainy and humble virtue are set forth. The evil genius of the romance is Lord Arranmore, who, while his grasping agent is tyrannizing over his tenants, occupies himself, incognito, in an attempt to lead astray an honest Highland lassie named Mina Macdonald. Failing in this, his lordship calls to mind the methods of the old transpontine villain who, whenever he found himself crossed in his lawless love, was wont to cry, “Once aboard the lugger and she is mine!” So poor Mina is promptly abducted by Lord Arranmore and his minions, and is taken on his yacht to London, where her scruples are lulled by a sham marriage. To the villa in the Regent’s Park where she is installed by her betrayer she is followed by that nobleman’s fiancée, Lady Ethel Gordon, who enlightens her as to her true position, which is then further aggravated by the departure of the faithless lord to join his regiment in Burma. Th e unhappy girl’s frenzied flight affords an opportunity for the illustration of Shaftesbury-avenue by night, in which, as in the other tableaux of the piece, singularly effective use is made of the small stage. The strongest point of the action is reached in the hostile meeting between Arranmore and Mina’s brother Graham, who, burning to avenge his sister’s honour, has enlisted in her seducer’s regiment as the easiest way to bring matters to a crisis. In the scene which shows how patriotism prevails over personal animosity, and how the two foes fight their common enemies side by side, there is a good deal of improbability but plenty of sound dramatic purpose. The end of the play is somewhat mechanical in its fulfilment of poetic justice. Lord Arranmore dies, and Graham Macdonald succeeds not only to his title but to his betrothed wife, the Lady Ethel. Perhaps it would have been better to let him live and repent; for the position in which his death leaves the heroine—a widow who has never been an acknowledged wife—is hardly satisfactory. For this ill-used lady Miss Fortescue’s graceful simplicity and refined earnestness win hearty sympathy. Miss Fortescue’s acting has made a marked advance in ease and spontaneity since last she was seen by a London audience; and she makes quite the most of sentiment which is sometimes rendered rather perilous by the inflated dialogue in which it is expressed. Mr. Henry Neville as the gallant Graham is less successful, for some of his fervid speeches are received with more than a hint of ridicule. Mr. Elwood makes Arranmore a gentlemanly but half-hearted scoundrel. Miss Jay appears as Lady Ethel; Miss M. Stuart and Mr. Calhaem do well in the incidental sketches of Highland character which afford the freshest features of the production. There seems no good reason why, although “The Blue Bells of Scotland” began its career rather unluckily, it should fail to hold its own among pieces of its order.
The Lancashire Evening Post (14 September, 1887 - p.2)
FROM OUR LONDON CORRESPONDENT.
LONDON, WEDNESDAY MORNING.
. . .
I “assisted” at the reopening of the ill-starred Novelty Theatre. The pièce de résistance was “The Blue Bells of Scotland.” The author is Robert Buchanan, who robbed English poetry of a powerful and musical singer when he forsook the shrine of the rhyming muse and took to writing blood-and-thunder dramas. “The Blue Bells of Scotland” is a very old story told with a Scotch accent. A wicked lord abducts a lovely maiden, goes through the ceremony of a mock-marriage with her, deserts her, and is pursued into the jungle by her angry brother, who attempts to have the wicked lord’s blood, but in the face of the common danger of a surrounding enemy, changes his mind and agrees to stand back to back with the wicked nobleman, and cut his way through a miscellaneous collection of supernumerary savages. The irate brother returns home “covered with glory,” the wicked member of the House of Peers opportunely dies on his way home from Burmah, and the mock-marriage turns out to have been the genuine article after all. Everybody forgives everybody, evicted crofters are reinstated, and the curtain falls on “The Blue Bells of Scotland.” The whole thing is a pot-pourri of “Human Nature,” “Stormbeaten,” and “Lord Ullin’s Daughter.” There are some real dogs attached to a blind Caledonian ballad-monger, some real bag-pipes, and some real Highlanders from Donegal, Mayo, and the Seven Dials in the piece. I noticed with pleasure the improvement in the acting of Miss Fortescue, who is evidently capable of emotional portrayals. Her chance was a poor one as the heroine of “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” but she made the most of it. It was just a little too bad on the part of the author to put the prophecy into her foster-father’s mouth that “she would one day marry a lord.” This statement and the majority of the tragic situations of the piece proved too much for the risible nerves of the gods. “The Blue Bells of Scotland” ought never to have been rung at the Novelty.
The Aberdeen Journal (14 September, 1887 - p.5)
LATEST LONDON NEWS.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENTS.)
LONDON, Tuesday night.
Mr Robert Buchanan’s new play is not, I fancy, calculated to hold the stage for long. “The Blue Bells of Scotland” is not without a certain native prettiness. It is spoiled by incomplete effort to emulate the scenic audacity of Mr Augustus Harris. This is all the more noticeable from the fact that the earlier acts lead up to quite a different kind of treatment, the fact proving that the drama was written a long time ago, when the kind of story which Mr Buchanan tells was popular and conceivable to the romance reading public. Upon this very old-fashioned tale Mr Buchanan has grafted a scene from the late naval expedition against the crofters, as well as a wing of an encampment of British troops in Burmah. In Mr Henry Neville we have an utterly impossible Highland laddie, and in Miss Fortescue an equally impossible Highland girl. In fact, the story is an odd mixture of “The Last of the Barons,” “Rob Roy,” the romances of Mr James Grant, “Lost in London,” and the realism of Mr Augustus Harris. Islington in the north rather than St James’s in the west would be more congenial ground for “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” that is upon the theory that the audience should be essentially Scotch. One naturally wonders that Mr Buchanan, when he had the crofters in hand, did not show us the working at the same time of Mr Bradlaugh’s Truck Act.
The Edinburgh Evening News (15 September, 1887 - p.4)
MISS MARY ANDERSON AND MISS FORTESCUE.
“Scrutator,” in his remarks in this week’s Truth on theatrical matters, says Miss Mary Anderson is a beautiful posture-maker rather than an impressive actress. Draped by Alma Tadema in any classic play, she looks a lovely picture; trading on the tradition of masculine Charlotte Cushman, she makes only a fair actress. She has been abused for doubling the characters of Hermione and Perdita in “The Winter’s Tale.” It is inartistic, unnecessary, un-Shakespearean, and so forth. But for all that she is wise in her generation. In the first place, people go to the Lyceum to see the beautiful Mary Anderson and no one else; and if she could possibly play mother, daughter, and monthly-nurse, as well as the hapless child of Leontes, her admirers would be well pleased, and let art go hang. Mary Anderson’s idea of tragedy is surely a mistaken one. She possesses one or two deep chest notes which she keeps concealed, until suddenly, to the surprise of every one, she lets them out with a bang. This running down the key from shrill treble to deep bass may be a vocal tour de force, but it is not indicative of any emotion. It is like the quiet little man in the corner of the orchestra who expresses terror by a sudden whack on the big drum. Her Hermione is uninteresting and commonplace; her Perdita is sprightly and unimaginative. But in the art of posture she is unrivalled. If she could only act as well as she can attitudinise, she would be greater than Rachel, for Nature has given her gifts denied to her most brilliant predecessors.
Regarding Miss Fortescue, “Scrutator” remarks: The secret is out. The Novelty Theatre has been re-established; and Miss Harriett Jay has gracefully consented to assume the office of manageress; Robert Buchanan has been asked to write up one of his old plays; Henry Neville, experienced in melodrama, has been engaged to act and direct; and pretty Miss Fortescue appears as a melodramatic heroine, abducted from the Highlands, decoyed into a mock marriage, pining in imprisonment in St John’s Wood, fainting between the London Pavilion and the Criterion, and wearing elaborate liberty gowns and rings worth a king’s ransom when starving with evicted peasants in the Highlands. This young lady is unquestionably pretty, and she is a far better actress than she was before she went to America. La Belle Fortescue is evidently in earnest; she has worked hard, and not unsuccessfully; and she now fairly ranks in the first line of our melo-dramatic heroines. But I would point out to her that when Mina Macdonald is living with a wicked nobleman in St John’s Wood, of course she may properly wear as many lovely tea-gowns as Bond Street can manufacture; but that the humble Scottish dependent of an evicted Highland family, the companion of peasants who are melting into tears because they cannot pay their rent, does not, as a rule, brave the Scottish mists in white muslin or contrast plaids and kilts and shawls and mufflers with æsthetic attire. With a little trouble “The Blue Bells of Scotland” might have been made into a play quite exciting and picturesque enough for the Adelphi or Princess’s. The play did not altogether deserve to be hissed. Its condemnation was in the laughter created by some of its silly scenes and bombastic dialogue. But it was hissed, and Robert Buchanan looked desperately angry.
Truth (15 September, 1887 - p.17)
“THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND.”
The secret is out. The Novelty Theatre has been re-established; and Miss Harriett Jay has gracefully consented to assume the office of manageress; Robert Buchanan has been asked to write up one of his old plays; Henry Neville, experienced in melodrama, has been engaged to act and direct; and pretty Miss Fortescue appears as a melodramatic heroine, abducted from the Highlands, decoyed into a mock marriage, pining in imprisonment in St. John’s Wood, fainting between the London Pavilion and the Criterion, and wearing elaborate Liberty gowns and rings worth a king’s ransom when starving with evicted peasants in the Highlands. This young lady is unquestionably pretty, and she is a far better actress than she was before she went to America. La belle Fortescue is evidently in earnest; she has worked hard, and not unsuccessfully; and she now fairly ranks in the first line of our melodramatic heroines. But I would point out to her that when Mina Macdonald is living with a wicked nobleman in St, John’s Wood, of course she may properly wear as many lovely tea-gowns as Bond-street can manufacture; but that the humble Scotch dependant of an evicted Highland family, the companion of peasants who are melting into tears because they cannot pay their rent, does not, as a rule, brave the Scotch mists in white muslin, or contrast plaids and kilts and shawls and mufflers with æsthetic attire.
With a little trouble “The Blue Bells of Scotland” might have been made into a play quite exciting and picturesque enough for the Adelphi or Princess’s; but it is cramped up on a small stage, and some of its effects meant to be realistic are supremely ridiculous. The wearisome, old, boring Scotchman, with half-a-dozen mongrel curs attached to his girdle, who preaches for half-an-hour in a hideous dialect; the blabbering Highlanders who sit on stools outside cottages, and catalogue their wearisome woes; the ear-piercing bagpipes that deafen the audience; the stern and uncompromising policeman who picks up Miss Fortescue in Piccadilly, and, looking at her, says, “Bless me! she ain’t one of the regulars;” may all be boldly sacrificed without any material harm being done to an often silly, and always commonplace, play. However, Mr. henry Neville declaims in broadcloth and fights gallantly in a kilt; Miss Harriett Jay proposes to her Henry, and makes love in a very winning manner in Leap Year; Mr. Arthur Elwood and Mr. Scott Buist are alternately sulky and boisterous as a dissolute peer and a vulgar peer’s son; Miss Fortescue, except for her dress in Scotland, is all that can be wished; and there is a bright-eyed, flirting, fascinating little Scotch lassie, played by a Miss Marie Stuart, of whom nobody had heard before. The play did not altogether deserve to be hissed. Its condemnation was in the laughter created by some of its silly scenes and bombastic dialogue. But it was hissed, and Robert Buchanan looked desperately angry.
The Stage (16 September, 1887 - p.16)
On Monday, September 12, 1887, was produced here a new and original comedy-drama, in five acts, by Robert Buchanan, entitled:—
The Blue Bells of Scotland.
Graham Macdonald ... ... ... Mr. Henry Neville
The Earl of Sedley ... ... ... Mr. William Lang
Hon. Sam Gordon ... ... ... Mr. Scott Buist
Lord Arranmore ... ... ... Mr. Arthur Elwood
Koll Nicolson ... ... ... Mr. Hilton
Angus-of-the-Dogs ... ... ... Mr. S. Calhaem
Peter Dalston ... ... ... Mr. G. Canninge
Neil Mackinnon ... ... ... Mr. F. Green
Rev. Mr. Freeland ... ... ... Mr. R. Johnson
Sergeant Milligan ... ... ... Mr. Eardley Turner
Corporal ... ... ... Mr. Smith
Farringford ... ... ... Mr. Vivian
Corporal of Marines ... ... ... Mr. F. Green
Sanderson ... ... ... Mr. White
Wylie ... ... ... Mr. Victor
Policeman ... ... ... Mr. Black
Lady Ethel Gordon ... ... ... Miss Harriett Jay
Jessie Macfarlan ... ... ... Miss Marie Stuart
Burlington ... ... ... Miss Wingfield
Mina Macdonald ... ... ... Miss Fortescue
Miss Harriet Jay commenced her management of the above theatre with a play which the author informs the public is indebted for some of its characters and situations to a prose romance of his, “A Child of Nature,” and he also quotes recent history as to the incident of the Royal Marines refusing to assist the civil power in the eviction of the crofters of Skye. The plot runs thus:—Lord Arranmore has long been an absentee landlord from his Scotch estates, but, visiting them in his yacht, the vessel is likely to be lost, when Mina Macdonald puts off in her boat, and pilots it to safe anchorage. She is sister to Graham, a cousin of the present owner of the lands, of which he is supposed to have been dispossessed by fraud. Struck by Mina’s beauty Lord Arranmore determines to possess her and gains her affections, but as she refuses to leave her home with him, he carries her off by force with the aid of Peter Dalston, his rascally grinding factor, who has also wished to marry her. In London we find Mina under the impression that she is a lawful wife, but Lady Ethel Gordon, who has been engaged to Lord Arranmore, undeceives her. Arranmore’s regiment is ordered on active service, and he leaves Mina distraught at the villainy that has been practised on her, when Dalston, to whose care she has been confided, appears on the scene and urges his detested suit upon her, even in the face of all that has happened. Mina escapes from the house and is rescued whilst wandering in London, by her brother, who has left the “Isles” in search of her, and who longs to avenge her wrongs. Finding that Lord Arranmore has sailed for Burmah, Graham, to follow him, enlists in his regiment, the 72nd Highlanders, and there they meet after an engagement in which the British troops have been beaten back by the Dacoits. Separated from the rest of the soldiers, Graham forces his officer to combat by striking him, and has just succeeded in disarming him, and holds him at his mercy, when some of the enemy approach. Graham forgets his private wrongs in a nobler sense of duty, and back to back he and his late foe defend themselves and are rescued by a detachment, but not before Lord Arranmore has been mortally wounded. On the voyage home on his death bed he admits that he was legally married to Mina, and Graham Macdonald returns to England. Having gained the Victoria Cross and otherwise greatly distinguished himself he calls to thank Lady Ethel for her kindness to his sister. From the time of Lady Ethel’s visit to his island home he has always loved her and even asked her to become his wife should he win a position in the world, and she on her part has fallen in love with him, but her engagement prevented her owning it. Now however, as he from diffidence makes no sign, she claims the privilege of Leap Year and proposes to him—(in a little scene that was charmingly acted by Miss Jay). A fresh surprise is in store; for Graham returning to the “Isles,” finds that Dalston is evicting the crofters and having them shipped off to America, among them Mina and her fosterfather, Koll Nicolson. Here it is that, having called in the aid of the marines to support the civil powers, the gallant fellows refuse to aid him in his tyranny, and his evil doings are put a stop to by the announcement that in consequence of Lord Arranmore’s death, Graham Macdonald being the next heir, all the property comes to him, and the curtain falls on the promise of future happiness for all, amidst the “Blue Bells of Scotland.” The play, which is supposed to be one of Mr. Buchanan’s earlier works, still bears evidence of youthful defects, which are not altogether compensated by the stirring incidents that are introduced, the improbabilities of some of which mar their introduction; and there is also much “fustian stuff” that could well be dispensed with, though as a whole it would in all likelihood prove thoroughly acceptable to provincial and suburban audiences. Mr. Henry Neville has lost none of his old fire, and made a gallant hero of Graham Macdonald. Miss Harriett Jay acted naturally and gracefully as Lady Ethel Gordon. Miss Fortescue looked winsome, but struck us as being cold and artificial. Mr. Arthur Elwood gave a fair picture of the libertine, yet half repentant, Lord Arranmore; and Mr. G. Canninge was sufficiently powerful as the hard- hearted Scotch factor. Miss Marie Stuart made the hit of the evening by her brightness and vivacity as a Scotch lassie, Jessie Macfarlan, and was frequently applauded. Mr. Scott Buist was very successful as the Hon. Sam Gordon, a rollicking, fun-loving young fellow with rather vulgar tastes, and Mr. Eardley Turner gave a very humorous sketch of an Irish-Highland sergeant. Mr. T. Calhaem and Mr. Hilton also lent efficient aid. The actors certainly did their best, and the scenery was all that could be desired, the village by the sea (Calcott), Shaftesbury Avenue by night (Yarnold), and the Jungle, Burmah (W. Perkins), all being artistic triumphs, but their beauty and the fair scene, the crowds and the skirmish, well managed as they were, were cramped by want of space, and did not give a fair chance to a class of play that certainly required a larger stage.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (17 September, 1887 - p.186)
There was at the commencement every promise that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new Highland drama, “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” would be the very play that was needed to reopen the Novelty with success on Monday night. There was a welcome freshness about the Highland village by the sea, where Miss Fortescue, as a wilful and pretty Highland lassie, first pilots the yacht of Lord Arranmore in safety to shore, and then excites in his breast such passionate admiration for her beauty that he boldly abducts her, and goes through a Langworthy marriage with her. Public sympathy was with the poetical dramatist against the ignoble factor who evicted the Crofters, and sought the hand of fair Mina Macdonald. But the play stumbled on transpontine lines when Lord Arranmore casts Mina adrift in a St. John’s Wood villa, and when all the principal characters last seen at the Highland villa chance by a remarkable series of coincidences to meet near the Pavilion Music-Hall. There Mina’s revengeful brother rescues his despairing sister from the grasp of the factor. Thence Graham Macdonald follows Lord Arranmore to Burmah as a private soldier; and is about to dispatch his Lordship in a duel when he is driven to use his sword against the enemy. Next-of-kin to Lord Arranmore, Graham Macdonald succeeds to the title; returns home with the V.C. to wed Lady Ethel Gordon (Miss Harriet Jay), and to arrest the wholesale evictions being carried out by Peter Dalston, the scheming factor (Mr. G. Canninge). Miss Fortescue was very charming in the Highland scenes as Mina Macdonald. Miss Harriett Jay acted in a charming light comedy vein as Lady Ethel Gordon. Brightest and most winsome lassie of all was Miss Marie Stuart (a decided acquisition to the London stage) as bonnie Jessie Macfarlane. Mr. Henry Neville was duly dignified and manly as Graham Macdonald; Mr. S. Calhaem’s Angus-of-the-Dogs was capital; and so was Mr. Hilton’s realistic old Highland fisherman, Koll Nicolson. Fresh and jolly was Mr. Scott Buist as the Hon. Sam Gordon. And Mr. Eardley Turner’s Sergeant Mulligan, the Irish Highlander, was an amusingly natural bit of humorous characterisation. With a revision of the London scenes, “The Blue Bells of Scotland” should yet do well. Mr. Howard Paul has made the house very comfortable in front, but should see to the further stall exit, which is rather circuitous.
The Era (17 September, 1887)
On Monday, September 12th, for the First Time,
a New and Original Comedy-Drama, in Five Acts,
by Robert Buchanan, entitled
“THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND.”
Graham Macdonald ... ... ... Mr HENRY NEVILLE
The Earl of Sedley ... ... ... Mr WILLIAM LANG
Hon. Sam Gordon ... ... ... Mr SCOTT BUIST
Lord Arranmore ... ... ... Mr ARTHUR ELWOOD
Koll Nicolson ... ... ... Mr HILTON
Angus-of-the-Dogs ... ... ... Mr S. CALHAEM
Peter Dalston ... ... ... Mr. G. CANNINGE
Neil Mackinnon ... ... ... Mr F. GREEN
Rev. Mr. Freeland ... ... ... Mr R. JOHNSON
Sergeant Milligan ... ... ... Mr EARDLEY TURNER
Corporal ... ... ... Mr SMITH
Farringford ... ... ... Mr VIVIAN
Corporal of Marines ... ... ... Mr F. GREEN
Sanderson ... ... ... Mr WHITE
Wylie ... ... ... Mr VICTOR
Policeman ... ... ... Mr BLACK
Lady Ethel Gordon ... ... ... Miss HARRIET JAY
Jessie Macfarlan ... ... ... Miss MARIE STUART
Burlington ... ... ... Miss WINGFIELD
Mina Macdonald ... ... ... Miss FORTESCUE
The Novelty Theatre has been lately the home of amateurs, and has almost entirely lost its prestige as a regular place of amusement; and a piece produced there runs the risk of meeting with but scant justice from critics and public. It was certainly not the influence of the genius of the place which made us think Mr Robt. Buchanan’s comedy-drama The Blue Bells of Scotland, which was first played at the Novelty on Monday night last, one of the most earnest, wholesome, and interesting dramas which have been produced in London for some time past. That it espouses the cause of the Highland crofters, and attacks incidentally the greed of the “factor” and the indifference of the absentee landlord, will be no objection to it in the eyes of humane individuals; and that its scenes are for the most part laid in the little-known locality of the Scottish Highlands gives freshness to the stage-pictures we are shown and to the personages to whom we are introduced. Chief of these are Mina Macdonald, sister to Graham Macdonald, a young Scotchman whose family have been dispossessed of the estate of Corryveolan by some legal fraud or quibble which is not explained, and who is almost as poor as the peasantry of the little Scotch fishing village where the action commences. Graham has fallen in love with Lady Ethel Gordon, the daughter of the Earl of Sedley, but, on proposing to her, discovers that she is already engaged to the Earl of Arranmore, the absentee proprietor of the estate on which Graham is living, and the employer of Peter Dalston, a villainous agent who grinds the faces of the poor tenants, rack-rents the property, and pays his loathed attentions to Mina Macdonald. A yacht is seen in difficulties off the shore on which the village stands, and Mina, who is rowing in the bay, and knows its dangers, pilots the little vessel safely to shore, thus saving the life and assisting the arrival of Lord Arranmore, who visits Corryveolan incognito as “Mr Lawrence,” and falls in love with Mina, if the sacred name of love can be given to his libertine passion. Lady Ethel recognises her betrothed, but promises to keep the secret of his identity, and Lord Arranmore, failing to persuade Mina to elope with him, gets her by force on board his yacht, and carries her off to London after going through a sham marriage with her in Scotland. To the villa in Regent’s-park, where the deluded Mina is placed by his lordship, comes Lady Ethel, who soon disabuses the poor girl of her mistake as to the legal connection between herself and Lord Arranmore, who, being about to start for Burmah with his regiment, is not sorry to get rid of his “encumbrance.” With jackal-like servility, Dalston, who has come to London to warn Lord Arranmore that Graham Macdonald is on his track, offers to “make an honest woman” of Mina; but his proposal is rejected both by his master and by the girl herself, to whom he makes it after Lord Arranmore’s departure. Dalston is mean enough to resort to force; but Mina escapes out of his hands and betakes herself from Regent’s Park to Shaftesbury-avenue, where she is about to be “run in” by a member of the police force, when she faints. Dalston, turning up, takes charge of her, and is on the point of carrying her off in a cab when Graham Macdonald arrives and knocks him down. In the next act we are in Burmah, whither, as a private in the ranks, Graham Macdonald has followed Lord Arranmore. The British are repulsed by the Burmese, and Graham confronts Arranmore in the jungle, strikes him, and forces him to fight. Just as the young Scotchman beats down the seducer’s guard, the enemy approaches, and Graham, relinquishing for the present his revenge, joins with his adversary in repulsing the attacking force. In the last act Macdonald comes home with the Victoria Cross and the acknowledgment by Lord Arranmore, who has since died of his wounds, of Mina as his lawful wife, to hear the welcome news that he (Graham) has come into the inheritance of his forefathers; and Lady Ethel, taking advantage of Leap Year, proposes to her former suitor, and is accepted.
In the course of the piece much “local colour” is introduced, such as a Highland reel and a sword dance, and the prevailing taste for realism is provided for by a picturesque view of Piccadilly-circus and the adjacent buildings. Considering the small size of the Novelty stage, the scenic effects were very well done, and would doubtless in a larger theatre have been still more effective.
The cast was both capable and interesting. Mr Henry Neville is one of the very best exponents of chivalrous and manly character on the English stage, and the part of Graham Macdonald is admirably suited to the display of his powers. Whether chatting to the villagers, making love with true Highland fervour, denouncing aristocratic failings and absentee barbarity, or crossing swords with his enemy in the Burmese jungle, Mr Neville was the same spirited, forcible, and finished actor that we have known him to be for many years. Miss Fortescue, as Mina Macdonald, showed how much can be done by practice to supply the want of marked ability. Her performance was intelligent, well-balanced, and accomplished, and she looked extremely pretty in all her dresses. Mr Arthur Elwood played the profligate Lord Arranmore to the life, and suggested with great skill the half-sullen character of the aristocratic libertine. Mr Scott Buist, though inclined to be restless and effusive, showed decided improvement on certain previous efforts; and Mr Hilton was picturesque and natural as Koll Nicolson, an old fisherman with the gift of second sight. Another character sketch was executed with remarkable skill by Mr S. Calhaem, whose representation of the wandering ballad singer, Angus-of-the- Dogs, was highly finished and dryly humorous. Mr G. Canninge as Peter Dalston was intensely villainous without being melodramatic, and gave the Edinburgh accent admirably; and Mr Eardley Turner was really droll as Sergeant Milligan. Miss Harriet Jay played Lady Ethel Gordon with neatness and intelligence; and Miss Marie Stuart as the Highland lassie, Jessie Macfarlan, gave one of the most natural and amusing sketches of Scotch female character we ever remember seeing. She caught the true characteristics of the “pawky” Scottish girl, and her impersonation was as delicate in detail as it was dryly humorous in conception. The spirited execution of the Highland sword dance in the second act by Misses Nelly Mordecai and Rosie Hall must not go unpraised, and deserved the encore it evoked. Care was noticeable in all the details of the production, and the efforts of the author and Mr Henry Neville in this connection deserve warm commendation. The Blue Bells of Scotland is a piece which is likely to do well in the provinces, where its vigorous action, earnestness of purpose, and vein of manly chivalry would appeal powerfully to the sympathies of popular audiences.
The Athenæum (17 September, 1887)
LYCEUM.—Revival of ‘The Winter’s Tale.’
NOVELTY.—’The Blue Bells of Scotland,’ a Romantic Drama
in Five Acts. By Robert Buchanan.
TOOLE’S.—Revival of ‘Dandy Dick,’ a Farce in Three Acts.
By A. W. Pinero.—Production of ‘Woman’s Wrongs,’ a
One-Act Comedietta, By A. M. Heathcote.
. . .
Mr. Buchanan’s new drama is a curiously composite production. It has a backbone of old-fashioned melodrama, a political moral, and some accessories of extravaganza or comic opera. The moral is of no special importance. An unjust and unscrupulous steward is no new figure on the stage, and whether the objects of his persecution be, as in the present case, Highland crofters, or, as in dramas of an earlier date, farmers who have “fallen on evil days,” is a mere matter of detail. With regard to the accessories the case is different. These are wholly burdensome. The seer who, like a male and an elderly Cassandra, predicts the evils he cannot prevent, is a wearisome old gentleman; the ragged Blondel, who, in the dress of a gaberlunzie man, sings in the London ways regardless of the persecution of the street arabs, and so finds out the imprisoned heroine, runs him hard in the race of dulness; and the peasants, who alternate between impotent curses at their oppressors and reels on the village green, arrest the action and supply no local colour worth preserving.
Mr. Buchanan has, indeed, written for the gallery. For its sake he has introduced pictures of a London street in which, like many a predecessor, the heroine sinks fainting and helpless; for its sake he has deluged his piece with conventional jingoism and burdened it with song and dance. He is capable of very much better work. His story, a portion of which he owns to have already used in his “prose romance ‘A Child of Nature,’” has some elements of interest. Its opening scenes show a lady betrayed by a nobleman in some fashion such as that which has obtained recently a succès de scandale in the law courts. Subsequent scenes, in which the brother follows to Burmah the betrayer of his sister, and in presence of a foreign foe saves the life he had gone out to take, have spirit, and the close administers poetical justice. These things compressed into the period of the “two hours’ traffic of our stage” would probably please the public. The minstrels and the seers must, however, away, or must be treated in a totally different fashion. It is a curious fact that the most agreeable scene is one of transcendent improbability, in which the daughter of an earl makes, on her knees, a formal proposal of marriage to a private soldier. This owes much to the manner in which it was acted by Miss Jay, who displays commendable brightness. Miss Fortescue as the heroine is deficient in pathos, but plays with sincerity and effect. Mr. henry Neville is characteristically gallant as the hero, a Highlander, but, except that he has generally with him a plaid, thrown over his shoulder, reveals little of the Scotchman. Miss Marie Stuart, who plays with much cleverness a Scottish maiden who might almost have stepped out of a farcical comedy by Mr. Gilbert, succeeds in assigning the piece such Scottish colour as it possesses. ‘The Blue Bells of Scotland’ obtained rather a stormy reception.
The Saturday Review (17 September, 1887)
THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND.
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN has not hitherto shown great capacity for playwriting, but he has never before descended to the level he reaches in The Blue Bells of Scotland. If the author desired a test as to the forbearance of audiences, he has fulfilled his object. Audiences, it has now been ascertained, will not endure placidly such rubbish as this. But that the piece should be gravely put forward as if for the entertainment of playgoers is a really incomprehensible proceeding. The story of the disguised lord who runs away with the virtuous peasant maiden, and goes through a pretended ceremony of marriage, is among the tritest incidents of fiction. If it were worth while to trace comparisons, it might be shown that there is a good deal of the plot of Linda di Chamounix in The Blue Bells of Scotland; but readers would not be edified, and it does not matter much where plays of this sort come from. That the virtuous peasant should be set up in a St. John’s Wood villa is well enough. But what we do not know—and never shall know, unless Mr. Buchanan is kind enough to tell us—is how it happens that the heroine, the hero, one of the villains, and other unlikely persons, all turn up with one accord at the same time one evening in Piccadilly Circus? A drama in which the heroine is simply left a widow when the curtain falls is obviously crude in construction. Mr. Neville plays the villain’s next-of-kin, heir to the lord’s Scotch estates, with his accustomed energy. Miss Fortescue gives a quiet representation of the heroine, and Miss Jay appears as an earl’s daughter, who has been badly brought up and is lamentably deficient in refinement.
The Illustrated London News (17 September, 1887 - p.2)
“THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND” AT THE NOVELTY THEATRE.
Miss Harriett Jay, authoress, novelist, dramatist, and actress, has assumed the management of the pretty little Novelty Theatre, and opened it with a new play, called “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” by Robert Buchanan. No one can accuse the new manageress of selfishness, for she is contented to take a small comedy character, which she plays with a bright sense of humour and genuine charm of manner. The dramatic heroine of the new venture is Miss Fortescue, who appears as a pretty Scotch maiden, a girl tempted away from her home by a handsome peer, cajoled into a mock marriage, deserted in London, and ultimately taken home to live forgiven by her friends. As an actress, Miss Fortescue has certainly improved; but she yet wants confidence and experience to undertake a character of this importance. Abducted maidens of this pattern usually have a protector in a gray-haired father or a broken-hearted lover. This time it is a gallant Highland brother who vows vengeance on his sister’s lover, follows him to the wars in Burmah, and is on the point of killing him when the Englishmen are attacked by the natives, and the enemies fight side by side for their country’s cause. There is surely something strangely like this story in another dress in Mr. Buchanan’s “Storm Beaten.” The sentiment is precisely the same and the characters in the same relative positions. A chivalrous hero of this pattern is naturally assumed by Mr. Henry Neville, who plays with remarkable vigour, and never allows the spirit of the story to flag. The opening scenes of the play are found to be the most tedious, because they are overdone with Scotch dialect and character; but many of the prosy bores of the play can be forgiven for a really humorous personation of a rustic flirt by Miss Mary Stuart, who at once ingratiated herself with her audience, and made the acting success of the evening. Considering the limited space at command, wonders have been done with the scenery; but it seems a pity that a play with so many good ideas in it had not been saved for careful revision of dialogue and a prospect of its production at a first-class melodramatic theatre. It sounds to the practised ear as if the drama had been written originally some years ago, and had been suddenly brought out to try its chance in these days of harmless sensation. The public, at the present moment, have too much to do with the troubles of the evicted Irishman to sympathise very much with the evicted Highlander. The sorrows of the Emerald Isle are quite enough, without forcing on our attention the misery of “bonny Scotland.” At this rate, pessimism becomes a little tedious. When the Principality of Wales puts its grievances into dramatic shape, England’s cup of misery will be full. However, the play is pure, which is one good thing; it has a real hero and heroine; and its incidents are not more improbable than in the most popular of melodramas. Miss Harriett Jay has shown, at any rate, that she can make the best of the literary goods that are offered to her, for she mounts the play remarkably well and sees that it is well acted.
Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday (17 September, 1887 - p.6)
THE Novelty Theatre has again opened its doors, this time under the management of Harriet Jay and Robert Buchanan, assisted by Howard Paul, who takes over the acting-managership. The Blue Bells of Scotland is the title of the new piece which the management have produced; and if we take the first few nights as a criterion, there is every probability of it having a long run. let us hope it will have, for it is very nearly time this unlucky house had a favourable turn of Fortune’s wheel.
Sunderland Daily Echo (17 September, 1887 - p.4)
“Never prophesy unless you know” ought to be the theatrical tipster’s motto. From what I had heard of “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” I certainly thought it would prove a great success. Influenced by the glowing accounts I received from the members of the company, I ventured to predict that the Novelty would at last score a boundary hit, but, alas, I was too sanguine. A large and attentive first night audience was attracted by the name and fame of Mr Robert Buchanan, only to find that his latest effort was a hash-up of the old material which had done duty for ages in the transpontine drama, and the curtain which had risen before an eager and expectant audience fell to a mingled accompaniment of applause and hisses. Everything was done to ensure success. The house has been very prettily decorated, and the company, headed by Henry Neville, Miss Harriet Jay, and Miss Fortescue, worked heartily together, but “The Blue Bells of Scotland” will never attract playgoers for any lengthened time in the Queen-street Theatre.
Reynolds’s Newspaper (18 September, 1887)
Let the author’s note, which appears upon the playbill of “The Blue Bells of Scotland”—the new comedy-drama with which Miss Harriett Jay commenced her management of this house on Monday night—tell its own story, or rather as much of the old hackneyed story on which its incidents are loosely strung together, as is worth the telling. It says, “Some of the characters and situations in ‘The Blue Bells of Scotland’ have been already utilized in the author’s prose romance, ‘A Child of Nature.’ The leading incident of the earlier acts, that of the abduction of a Highland girl by an English nobleman yachting in the North, is founded, to a certain extent, on facts. So far as the play may seem to have a political bearing, it is written in the interest of no party, for Liberals and Conservatives alike are agreed in execrating many of the Highland evictions; perhaps the strongest protests on the subject having been uttered by staunch Tories like Professor Blackie. The ruthless depopulation of the Highlands is a theme which appeals to humanity in general, apart altogether from political bias.” If, like other mistaken dramatists who have gone before him, Mr. Buchanan’s intention was to point a moral rather than adorn a tale, long before his play was over he must have discovered that his audience cared not a jot for what he put before them if it failed to amuse, and his high-flown periods—his penny plain and two-penny coloured delineation of character—moved only to laughter and ridicule. On the other hand, so long as the author kept within the limits of comedy, all went well, for his dialogue was bright, amusing, and natural, and was fortunate in its delivery by those to whom it was chiefly entrusted—to wit, Miss Marie Stuart, a bonnie Scotch lassie, with a pretty musical voice, who we believe to be a novice on the London boards; Mr. Scott Buist, a young and clever actor; and Mr. Eardley Turner, whose sergeant in a Highland regiment was as good in its way as was his Touchstone, of which we made favourable mention in our record of last Saturday’s theatricals. As the hero of the story, Mr. Henry Neville, who, in spite of Old Time, remains at the head of our romantic jeunes premiers, raised the part of Graham Macdonald, the brother of the abducted Mina, from the depths of that bathos into which Mr. Buchanan’s ponderous phraseology now and again threatened to smother it, making it a human and interesting impersonation. His best bit of work was given in a scene representing a jungle in Burmah, where, after challenging Lord Arranmore, his sister’s abductor, to mortal combat, he defends him from the attacks of dacoits, a repeat of an incident in the Drury Lane drama, “Human Nature.” Mr. Neville’s natural representation of chivalrous courtesy was also of good service in his love-making scene of the last act, wherein the object of his affections rewards all his gallant and virtuous deeds of the four preceding ones with the gift of her hand. The role—viz., that of Lady Ethel Gordon—was pleasantly and unobtrusively represented by Miss Harriett Jay, who, in Act 2, was upholstered in a wadded scarlet petticoat, and draped in the skin of some white-coated animal, for all the world like an item in an expensive drawing-room suite. Like Mr. Neville’s, one of her best scenes was that of the love-making in Act 5. Miss Fortescue, acting as the heroine, Mina, was not remarkable, but her singing, à la Marguerite, at her spinning-wheel, decidedly was, and here the “Blue Bells” became decidedly
“Jangled, out of tune, and harsh.”
There may be differences of opinion as to the lady’s beauty and as to her acting talent. Anent her vocalism, none. Mr. George Canninge, handicapped with the most absurd lines of the play, nevertheless contrived to make a good character part of relentless crofter hater, persistent love-maker of the heroine, and steward and toady to the reigning Lord of Arranmore. As the seducer of female beauty and aristocratic cad of the play, Mr. Arthur Elwood cannot be complimented; but other parts were effectively filled, and two young ladies, Miss Nelly Mordecai and Miss Rosie Hall, won a deserved encore for their “Highland sword dance.” A gentleman who, as Mrs. Brown would say, “seemed to play entire by his ears,” obliged with the bagpipes, and the scenery was far more ambitious than the Novelty Theatre has before attempted, representing amongst its scenes a village by the sea, a fair in the Scottish Highlands, the Shaftesbury- avenue, with a view of the illuminated Pavilion Music Hall—which, by the way, Mr. Buchanan tells us is but five minutes’ walk from the Regent’s-park—and a military outpost in Burmah. Both the sun and the moon, however, which figure in these scenes, like the play itself, want cutting. At the close of the performance, a large portion of the audience indulged in the sport of author-baiting. Miss Jay has redecorated and made the Novelty a very pretty and comfortable house; but we are afraid that Mr. Buchanan’s new comedy-drama is scarcely likely to prove more attractive than the majority of ventures hitherto tried at this ill-starred house. As for the comedy-drama’s title, it might as appropriately have been styled “The Bells of Corneville,” “The Bells of Haslemere,” or “The Bells that go Ringing for Sarah.”
The Referee (18 September, 1887 - p.2)
Miss Harriett Jay is to be commended for her courage in assuming the management of that hitherto unlucky house, the Novelty, and also for setting the same in order and reviewing its exits; so that now, although, like many larger theatres, the little Novelty leaves something to be desired, it is at least as well provided as most. One modern improvement, however, Miss Jay has neglected, and that is the introduction of the “no-fee” system. Let us hope that Harriett may, in the fulness of time, be converted to the no-fee faith. Meanwhile the new manageress has, perhaps not unnaturally, chosen for her initial production a drama written by her brother-in-law, the Bard Buchanan. This is entitled “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” and deals, to some extent, with the evictions of crofters from their native heath—a dastardly business that, as the author says in his preface on the playbill, “appeals to humanity in general, apart altogether from political bias.” This being thus, it is a theme that should inspire the dramatist, but it has not inspired Mr. Buchanan to the extent which might have been expected. His working of the crofter business would be striking enough, but that in the other parts of the play he has attempted too much. Also, like some other persons of “culchaw,” he has evidently been haunted by the notion that in modern-day dramas the play-going public have to be “written down” to. “Written down” to forsooth! It were well if some play writers and play actors always had as much wit as playgoers. It is clearly this notion that has caused Mr. Buchanan to spoil a breezy Highland drama, in which the scent of the bagpipes is sometimes wafted across the footlights, by dropping in such an unrealistic bit of realism as the Novelty representation of Shaftesbury-avenue in a snowstorm, and the London Pavilion without its braziers. The play has other blemishes, such as love speeches for the hero of a high-falutin nature, and too much talk where the action alone would be almost sufficient. All this is to be regretted, because “The Blue Bells,” after all, has many merits, chief of which is its plentiful supply of rattling low comedy and its local variety entertainment. Some of the business, however, is often as much Irish as Scotch, and the play might therefore just as well have been called “The Blue Bells of Shandon.”
The scene of “The Blue Bells of Scotland” is various. It starts in the Highlands, N. B., where the whole of the dramatis personæ sing all the time. Then it shifts to Regent’s Park, and by-and-by from Shaftesbury-avenue to British Burmah, then back to London, and finally settles down in Bonnie Scotland again. It would seem that Buchanan has had in his mind the old fishing village proverb, that “He who saves a stranger from the sea makes himself an enemy.” Mina Macdonald, in Act I., saves from drowning Lord Arranmore, the hitherto absentee landlord of those parts. Mina’s brother Graham is of right entitled to the Arranmore estates. Arranmore has come down incognito and in a yacht, and he at once proceeds to seduce Mina, but finding her obdurate, he says, “Aha! once aboard my yacht, and then”——. But why yacht, and not the immortal “lugger”? Anon he abducts her aboard his yacht to a villa in Regent’s Park, all in accordance with a “dream” which the local dodderer gives off, ever and anon, in order to spoil some effective “curtains.” Mina’s brother, after waiting to denounce Arranmore’s Wicked Steward, hastens in pursuit of the seducer, and after awhile finds Mina prostrate in the snow in Shaftesbury-avenue, whither she has fled since she learnt that the marriage with which Arranmore, alias Mr. Lawrence, has soothed her scruples is a mock one. Graham Macdonald knocks down the Wicked Steward, who has also turned up, and then takes Mina to a place of safety. Anon we turn up in Burmah, British India, and find Arranmore in charge of his regiment. But, at his elbow, standing sentry, is the now Private Graham Macdonald, biding his time for vengeance. The Lily-Livered Betrayer begins to scent assassination in the air. “Not so,” replies a chum giving off the finest bit of fat in the piece; “it is not in Scotland they shoot men in the back!” A little later, after a retreat, Arranmore and Macdonald meet face to face in an adjacent jungle, just as Captain Vere and Frank Beresford do in the Adelphi Dismal Swamp, and Graham at once proceeds to fight Arranmore. He disarms that nice young man, and is about to strike, when the Enemy is heard again approaching, whereupon the Avenger, after a lot of totally unnecessary cackle, hands the seducer back his sword, and stands side by side with him to face Old England’s foes. In the fifth act, Graham returns to England, pointing out that Arranmore has died en voyage, after making reparation to him and to his sister; Graham just drops into a mansion’s library in London to see if the Lady Ethel Gordon (formerly betrothed to Arranmore, and whom be loved in Act II.), still loves him, and on being proposed to by her, in Leap Year fashion, accepts her; hastens back to his estates in North Britain just in time to stop the wholesale and awful evictions then proceeding by order of the Wicked Steward; and so all ends happily.
Henry Neville was manly and straightforward as the impulsive Graham Macdonald, and deserved credit for the earnestness with which he gave off that hero’s high-falutin love speeches. Miss Jay was pleasing and refined as the Lady Ethel Gordon, whose telling of a falsehood at a critical moment prevented Graham from stopping his sister’s abduction. A pretty and pert new-comer, Miss Marie Stuart, made a highly favourable impression by her vivacious acting as a forward Scotch lassie, own sister to Meg in Mr. Gilbert’s “Engaged”—only livelier. Mr. Eardley Turner, as a “Highlander” born in co. Donegal, was droll and of great assistance in the comic scenes. Messrs. Calhaem and Scott-Buist did well in “character” and low comedy parts respectively; but Mr. G. Canninge was not suited as the Steward. Miss Fortescue the photographed played the heroine Mina in a stilted and stagy manner, as though she had been weaned on Fitzball and Almar; and Mr. Arthur Elwood, as the lordly seducer, went in for imitating Irving’s voice and Willard’s side glance; but there the imitations ended. These two players had a really good scene in the villa, but were quite unable to make anything of it. Elwood was a leetle bit better in Burmah, but only a little. He should go in for cultivating a lighter footfall. All the scenery, with the exception of the Shaftesbury-avenue set, was striking and picturesque, but the players might have been stage-managed better. I suspect that Neville, having to look after this as well as play the lead, found too much to do. True, he had Buchanan to help him, but then, you know, an author is not always fit to be his own stage manager.
The People (18 September, 1887 - p.4)
The leading incident of “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” the highly conventional melodrama written by Mr. Robert Buchanan, with which Miss Harriett Jay on Monday night re-opened the Novelty, is the abduction of an innocent Scotch lady, socially reduced by ;poverty to the grade of a peasant, by the lord of the Highland estate on which she lives. Following the old threadbare course of melodramatic action, the girl is ruined after a mock marriage by her aristocratic seducer, who, however, as the result of a death-bed repentance, finally acknowledges the outraged damsel as his wife, though how she can really have been so as the result of sham nuptials remains a puzzle. But that is a detail. The ruined heroine’s brother, who, despite his impoverishment, happens to be the next heir to the peerage and property of the coroneted seducer, enlists as a private in the kilted Highland regiment in which the wicked lord is serving as a captain, to the end that he may execute condign vengeance upon his sister’s wronger. The two men meet out in Burmah, where the private confides his vengeful design to his lieutenant, who, strange to say, fails to report at headquarters this threat against his superior officer, constituting a criminal offence. Instead of so fulfilling his obvious duty, this easy-going young subaltern actually plays the part of second in an impromptu duel between his own captain and the private belonging to the same company. At the moment, however, that the ranker disarms his antagonist, the Burmese enemy is heard approaching in force. At this warning the gallant private promptly returns his sword to the officer he has disarmed, and, reacknowledging his authority, helps him, with the further aid of the subaltern “second,” to fight off their multitudinous foes, one of whom, to the infinite diversion of the audience, fell dead with chagrin, because his rifle, after many misfires, persisted to the last in not going off. The heroic private, bringing with him the Victoria Cross, returns home after the Burmese campaign to find himself Lord Arranmore, the wicked peer having died of his wounds on the way. As the owner of the Highland estates as well as the title, the new lord at once sets himself right with his tenants by reinstating them in their holdings, and discharging with ignominy the rapacious steward who has rack-rented and evicted them. In retaliation upon the petty tyrant, these simple folk serve him exactly as the process-server is served in “The Shaughraun.” The play is virtually a compilation of such curious coincidences as that just cited; another being the magnanimous forgiveness by the heroic private of a personal wrong for sake of a patriotic duty, and incident conveyed bodily from Sardou’ “Patrie,” produced in England under the title of “Fatherland.” Returning to the plot, the soldier private, now turned peer, marries a certain romantic Lady Ethel Gordon, who, released by his death from her engagement to the late Lord Arranmore, takes advantage of the chronological accident of leap year to ;pay her addresses and ultimately pop the question to his successor. This incident, by the way, has its identical precursor in an old comedy, entitled “Leap Year,” produced thirty years ago by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean at the Haymarket. In its serious action “The Blue Bells of Scotland” is essentially artificial. For example, at the close of the first act, when the wicked lord violently carries off the heroine in his yacht, her gallant brother, instead of instantly launching the sailing boat by his side and giving chase to the yacht, which, as yet, is scarcely under weigh with its living contraband, stops to maunder over his sister’s fate, curse the unjust steward who has plotted her abduction, and vow vengeance upon her lordly seducer. Again, this same unjust steward, to whose charge his master, grown tired of his victim, returns her, proceeds to make love to the girl, to be taken, of course, with all faults, on his own account. Spurned by her, he proceeds to use violence, when, in the nick of time, the damsel’s screams bring her brother to the rescue. Here, with a mere change of names, the audience see rehearsed over again the hackneyed scene of Beauseant, Pauline, and Claude Melnotte in “The Lady of Lyons.” The “damnable iteration” of these stale and tedious commonplaces of melodrama are, however, relieved by a certain welcome freshness seen in the lighter phases of the action. As a winsome Scottish lass, brimming over with innocent yet canny coquetry, eminently Scotch in its cautious worldly wisdom, Miss Marie Stuart won all hearts and all hands as well. This welcome débutante possesses every attribute requisite for light comedy—a pretty presence, unconscious characteristic humour, natural vivacity, facial play, and, above all, a voice so musical and sympathetic as to render even the Scotch accent pleasant to the Southron ear. Established at once as a popular favourite, Miss Stuart will be heard of again. As the serious heroine, Miss Fortescue was artificial throughout. This lady’s face, like her voice, is pleasant so long as no strain is put upon it; but, under the influence of emotion, both grow hard and unsympathetic. Mr. Henry Neville enacted the heroic avenger of injured innocence with his well-known gallant bearing and earnestness. As an ancient gaberlunzie, Mr. Calhaem was well made up and acted with picturesque effect. Mr. Eardley Turner, in the part of a Highlander born in Donegal, played with quiet humour. As the Lady Ethel Gordon, who uses the traditional privilege of leap year accorded to her sex, Miss Harriett Jay showed, with a certain intelligence and refinement of speech, a weakness of characteristic expression indicative of the amateur. At the close of the play a section of the audience in the pit and gallery were malicious enough to call the author on to the stage for the evident purpose of hooting him off again—a form of wanton insult to be deprecated all the more because it is growing up into a practice.
The Birmingham Daily Post (27 September, 1887 - p.8)
THE HIGHLAND CROFTER QUESTION.—The Central News learns that a syndicate, composed of Highland members of Parliament and prominent Highlanders, is about to be formed to produce throughout the country, and afterwards in the United States and in the colonies, Mr. Robert Buchanan’s drama, “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” now on the boards of the Novelty Theatre, London. The object aimed at is to interest the public at home and abroad in the Highland crofter question.
The Lancashire Evening Post (28 September, 1887 - p.2)
A funny story is going the round concerning Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, “The Blue Bells of Scotland,” a notice of which appeared in this column. Mr. Buchanan announces on the first page of the bill of the play that the incidents are largely founded on fact. Now, of the two villains who nightly secure the hisses of Novelty audiences one is a factor whose chief delight is in evicting crofters and firing their desolated homesteads. The London correspondent of the Liverpool Daily Post states that a well-known Highland factor has heard all about the play and its villains, and has instructed an agent learned in such matters to visit the Novelty and report the result of his observation. The Highland factor, who, I suppose, would never dream of entering a place of amusement, intends, so says the correspondent to the Post, to vindicate his honour if the likeness turns out to be a “speaking” one.
The Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette (29 September, 1887 - p.2)
The average newspaper reader has long grown accustomed to taking his politics from his favourite paper, and it is quite a new thing to use the stage for the political propaganda. It is to be done, however, and now that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s “Blue Bells of Scotland” is failing to draw at the Novelty Theatre, it has occurred to some gentlemen of warm sympathies with the grievances of the Crofters that it would be well to secure that the play should be performed in the provinces and the United States. I hear that a syndicate of prominent Highlanders, headed by Dr. Clarke, M.P., is now making the necessary financial arrangements. I should have thought, though the piece is not exactly to the taste of the London playgoer, that it would have stood on its own merits. There is, perhaps, a little too much of the Crofters’ grievance in it, but it has some genuinely strong dramatic situations.
The Stage (30 September, 1887 - p.13)
Mr. Robert Buchanan, in addition to his many gifts, has apparently acquired that of divination. He has discovered that the critics who did not like his earnest play, The Blue Bells of Scotland, “pooh-poohed” it with an effort because of political bias. So he has hired some Scotch crofters to act as supers, and has secured a syndicate to stump the play on political grounds. Most sensible people think that the less the stage has to do with politics the better. Perhaps the syndicate will discover this, also, in due time, and the critics may be left to themselves until they next meet Robert Buchanan at the Haymarket, when they will be invited by the management to pooh-pooh the new play, Partners, or to praise it. I trust the latter!
The Blue Bells of Scotland - continued