WEDMORE, Frederick. THE STAGE. "RUDDYGORE." The Academy 1887 February 12 New series 32(771): 118-119
 

THE production of a new piece by Mr. Gilbert and Sir Athur Sullivan at the Savoy has become in the world of the theatre and in the social world besides an event as important as anything that can occur at the Lyceum or the Princess's; and it is, of course, the union between the pungent satirist and the delightful musician which gives to the Savoy pieces an importance not granted in France to work of satire by such masters of that art as Meilhac, Halévy, and Labiche an importance reserved in France for the labours of the younger Dumas alone. Now this fact might be made the text for a very grave sermon indeed upon the condition of the English theatre, where social questions are not debated, where grave problems are not raised, where interest concentrates itself on the cynical humour of Mr. Gilbert, on the farces of Mr. Pinero, on the splendid setting of some familiar classic. But this is not the day for that sermon. Gilbert and Sullivan's successes, their prescriptive right to triumph, is, as it were, a fait accompli; and we have only to compare the new piece with its predecessors, the novel, but perhaps hardly sufficiently elaborated, satire on melodrama with the satire on the conventional admirers of the primiteves in art, and the piece which innocently-minded natives of Japan deemed to be a rather superficial study of their land and its manners. The "Mikado" was of course no study of Japan at all. It was a study of truly British or shall we say truly human weaknesses, made by means of dramatis personae arrayed in Japanese costume. It is doubtful whether Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur have been quite as firtunate in their theme in "Ruddygore" as they were in "Patience" and the "Mikado"; and it is scarcely conceivable that "Ruddygore" shall exhibit the freshness of "Pinafore." But it is better than certain other pieces by the two workers which have yet been found enjoyable. And if, in these early days of its performance, ons is to be so bold as to attempt to assign it its permanent rank, that must be, we suppose, between the three plays that we have named on the one hand, and the "Princess Ida, "the "Pirates," and "Iolanthe" on the other. Anyhow, while we doubt whether there is that in it which can secure the unexampled popularity of "Patience" and "The Mikado," there is no question that it is to these pieces a worthy and ingenious successor.
    Satire on melodrama and on the melodramatic novel had so often been attempted before from the days of Mr. Thackeray's early serio-comic writing to those of the burlesque in which the gifted Miss Nellie Farren has appeared on the stage of the Gaiety that it must have been curiously difficult for Mr. Gilbert to be wholly novel in matter, though individuality of method would always be his; and, to speak plain English, it is his method, not his matter, that has saved him in "Ruddygore." The story itself has not all the originality which might conceivably belong even to caricature; but the manner is Mr. Gilbert's own, and it does not weary. As to facts, here is the bad baronet bad, it is true, only as the maidens in "Patience" were love-sick, "Love-sick all against their will" here is the faithful retainer, as touchingly devoted to his master as Mr. George Barrett at the Princess's is devoted to Miss Eastlake in a pathetic play by Mr. Sims or Mr. Jones; here is the village damsel easily won; here is the humble suitor who is discovered to be after all of a noble line; and here is the sailor, as gallant as Mt. Terriss himself, though less picturesque. But as to ideas, once in the region of ideas we are with Mr. Gilbert indeed, who by no means believes that whoever entertains the lowly entertains always angels unawares. We are with Mr. Gilbert, whose simplest and most pastoral maiden has an eye to the extent of those flocks and herds of which a lover may profitably be possessed; whose truest comrade declines to deny the existence of errors in his friend, and would scorn in any way to palliate them; whose deepest patriot is probably at bottom a little bit of a poltroon. And Mr. Gilbert's cynicism or shall we say his breadth of tolerance is presented and made acceptable by an ever fresh ingenuity. Thus, it is his function to make a British sailor, and a British sailor of the great French war-time at the beginning of the century which is the time of the action of the piece narrate, as his noblest exploit, the hasty flight of a revenue sloop from possible encounter with the French. The men aboard the sloop had fancied the French ship a merchantman. She proved to be a frigate; but they answered her shot with a cheer, "which paralysed the Parley-voo," and when they went about with all speed, the Frenchmen

                "Blessed their lucky stars
    We were hardy British tars,
Who had pity on a poor Parley-voo,
                            D'ye see?
Who had pity on a poor Parley-voo."
Again, when this sturdy warrior is employed by his foster-brother to aid him in his love suit, he is quickly smitten with the lady he was to have approached but as an agent or deputy; and, as he is a person who in every circumstance of life thus far has obeyed the dictates of his heart, he wishes to consider whether, indeed, he does right to disregard the dictates of his heart now. And, as he comes to the conclusion that he does not do right by any means to disregard them, he makes love to the lady violently, and at once. And the conclusion that he expresses, after conscientious argument, is reached by the lady herself in spontaneous verse. Thus prettily does she address her earlier lover:
"My heart, that once, in truth was thine,
    Another claims.
Ah! Who can laws to love assign,
    Or rule its flames?"
    But the method of Mr. Gilbert's satire is known, and on the story he has selected to unfold we need hardly dwell. It answers its purpose, nor is its purpose unworthy. It gives the audience a continuous pleasure; and it does that by wit of dialogue, by curious distortions of humour, by lively fancy, by an artful adaptation of itself to Sir Arthur Sullivan's now merry and now tender and now mock-heroic strains by an adaptation of itself, no less artful, to the peculiarities of performers with whose ways and capabilities, and, we must add, with whose limitations, Mr. Gilbert has become entirely familiar.
And that brings us to the performance itself. Mr. Grossmith who is wont to be a tower of strength at the Savoy, but whose opportunities were less in the "Mikado" than in "Patience" was "out of the bill" when we saw the piece last week. His part, which is that of the simple hero who discovers that he is a baronet, and bound to be bad, was played by Mr. Henri,¹ an actor much less known, much younger, much less practised, who models himself after Mr. Grossmith as far as possible, but who not unnaturally lacks at present the aplomb and dexterity of the favourite dry comedian, whose ease and quaintness are hs charm as an actor, and whose skill in singing consists in doing something with no voice at all. Nor has Mr. Henri the advantage of Mr. Grossmith's legs, which, not to put too fine a point upon it, are those of the white rabbit in Mr. Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland. Mr. Barrington is somehow both visibly himself and visibly true to his character as the younger brother, who at first passed for the baronet. His solemnity of manner and seriousness of gaze are as useful to him as his pleasant voice. Mr. Durward Lely, who made a mark in the last piece, is the mock heroic sailor in the present, and sings well, acts well, dances a hornpipe a "blameless dance" indeed with grace and freedom. Nor is Mr. Lewis below the necessary level as the faithful retainer. The ladies are again Miss Rosina Brandram a highly proper elderly relative and chaperone if need be, who sings agreeably and is this time never once invited to be common Miss Leonora Braham and Miss Jessie Bond. It is difficult to say which is the best of these, for all are efficient. Miss Braham is Rose Maybud, the village heroine, whose notions of duty are culled from the book of etiquette. Perhaps Miss Bond's part is that which gives best occasion for the display of cleverness; certainly of cleverness in characterisation. She is, in the first act, Mad Margaret mad with the facile madness of melodrama and in the second, clothed and in her right mind, she pursues the unimpassioned career of a village schoolmistress. The scenery is very effective, though for our own parts we would have had the seaport village of Rederring more simply quaint with the quaintness of the eighteenth century as it is, it is partly Tudor. The other style would have made a more fitting background not only for the figures and the magnificent uniforms of the Hussars, Dragoons, and Lancers, which make so much of the show, but more especially for the quaint short-waisted raiment of the Empire, which, worn by so many pretty laidies, plump and lively or lively and svelte, suggests now a drawing by Charles Green, now a pale suave canvas of Orchardson's, now David's "Madame Récamier."
FREDERICK WEDMORE.



¹Later became famous as Henry Lytton. (return to paragraph)
 
 

transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 13 November 2000