"IOLANTHE" REVIVED. The Westminster Gazette 1901 December 9 [by "E.F.S."]
The utter failure of "Ib and Little Christina" at the Savoy is startling and depressing. One would have thought that at a theatre with such traditions a beautiful if somewhat austere work of art would have had at least a succès d'estime, and that the music, if more advanced in form than the Savoy public is accustomed to, and the prestige of the house would have given the play a run of at least a few weeks. This is not said in the least degree in disparagement of the success of "Iolanthe," but only in sorrow that, practically speaking, no public support should have been given to the more ambitious and the really admirable work of art. Indeed, it is very agreeable to see that "Iolanthe" from first to last was in high favour with the house, since in every respect it is entitled to consideration as a work of art. It is possible to say that the dramatic scheme is not brilliant, and that the dénouement, the point by which the Lord Chancellor gets everybody out of difficulties, does no credit to him as an old equity draughtsman, or to Mr. Gilbert, really a marvel of ingenuity as a rule. Yet somehow this does not seem to matter, for the play is so full of fine lyrics, of quaint ideas and comical pieces of business, that one does not even think till afterwards that the plot is rather poor. In 1882, when it was produced, people talked about the poverty of the plot, and some were even indignant about the piece's savage democratic satire, and suggested that the House of Lords was unfairly treated. Unless memory plays a trick on me, one Socialistic number beginning "Fold your flapping wings" has been cut, but we are not so tender nowadays, and people laugh heartily and without malice at even the cruel lines that
Whether it was judicious to introduce a farthing's worth of "up-to-dateness" by Strephon's remark that one of his legs was a terrible pro-Boer is another question. It is agreeable to be able to say that the piece is surprisingly fresh – far fresher in humour and handling than most of the musico-dramatic works we have seen since its birth. It is quite amazing that the old jokes should seem so young – they are really like Mr. Gilbert's fairies, who, despite the passage of time, show no sign of age and use. In fact, the house laughed at every one of them, and no one can complain of the laughter, whilst the lyrics, if not so rich as some of Mr. Gilbert's in pure verbal ingenuity, were humorous enough and deserve the many encores that were received. Of course the composer's share in the triumph must be taken into account, and one may fairly say that the music is as wonderfully fresh as the book. Perhaps one or two of the numbers seemed a little fade, and the brass "tarantaras" were overwhelming; but union of music to thought and word could hardly be shown in greater perfection, and many of the ingenious complexities of orchestration which characterised the later works are fully foreshadowed. The hit of the evening was the Captain Shaw song. The first-nighters of 1882 well remember the roars of laughter when Captain Shaw, of the Fire Brigade, was in the house listening to the stanza:The House of Peers throughout the war
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well.
On Saturday the incident was repeated, for Miss Rosine [sic] Brandram once more sang the stanza of "Captain Shaw" and the chorus by their attitudes maliciously indicated to the house the place that he occupied in the stalls, whence very hearty laughter. Miss Brandram, by her admirable singing and capital acting, once more delighted the Savoy audience, and her great applause was really well deserved. The other ladies gave agreeable performances; and one can certainly speak with pleasure of Miss Louie Pounds, the new Iolanthe, and of the Phyllis, Miss Isabel Jay, who played very cleverly. Mr. Walter Passmore, the Lord Chancellor, perhaps is not quite so dry in humour as his predecessor, nor so suggestive of "the old equity draughtsman," and one might indeed hint that he is rather that curious anomaly of which we have living instance, a common-law Lord Chancellor; but his acting certainly was comic, his dancing ingenious, and he sang his songs as well as anyone could wish to have them sung, and won his encores with "a good deal in hand." Mr. Henry Lytton was as good a Strephon as you could wish to have, since his playing was quietly humorous, whilst his singing does full justice to the music. Mr. Leon,¹ the new Earl of Mountararat, has not the full-blooded humour of Mr. Rutland Barrington, but his singing was very good and effective; and Mr. Evett, the new Lord Tolloller, played soundly and sang well. Mr. Crompton, the Private Willis, seems likely to become a very useful Savoyard, and he got his encore on Saturday, but his singing is hardly up to the standard of the theatre. However, taking it all in all, one may say that we had a very good performance of a delightful piece, that the house was enthusiastic, and that if the public does not support such a charming entertainment the critics may despair. For we have had nothing half so enjoyable as "Iolanthe" for a long time past.Oh, Captain Shaw,
Type of true love kept under,
Could thy brigade
With cold cascade
Quench my great love, I wonder?
¹ W. H. Leon's name appeared in the opening night cast list, but was replaced, owing to illness, by Powis Pinder. W. H. Leon died of bronchial pneumonia on December 10th 1901. An obituary appears in The Era 1901 December 14
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 1 May 2002