WHEN first making acquaintance with the irresponsibilities of what is popularly known as musical comedy, I felt a certain sense of insecurity, owing to the absence of boundary marks in the shape of lines written by the author, and I believe that for quite a year or so I shocked a great many of my fellow-artists by the tenacity with which I clung to the "text." This, of course, was due to my Savoy training, and to this day even I am occasionally conscious of a guilty feeling when making a gag, and find myself looking round to see if the author is anywhere at hand.
The beginning of my long stay with George Edwardes was marked in an unostentatious manner by my appearance in the Gaiety Girl at Eastbourne. This was done to meet my wishes, as I wanted a few weeks to get into the part before appearing in it at Daly's. There were a few lines in the piece which I fancy could not have had much margin in escaping the eye of the Licenser of Plays, some of them being in my part, and I was rather upset when the local manager came to see me, just before the curtain rang up, to tell me of what he evidently considered a great compliment paid me by the heads of two of the largest schools for young ladies for which Eastbourne is so famous, this being that each proprietress had booked a large number of seats because "Mr. Rutland Barrington's name on the programme was a guarantee that they could safely bring the young ladies." What I had done to deserve such an excellent reputation I am not quite aware, and I have never paid a return visit to see whether it is forfeited or not. On relating this incident to the author, he greatly consoled me by saying that in all probability the significance of the lines in question would be entirely lost on the old ladies unless explained by their pupils.
After visiting a few more coast towns, of which Yarmouth alone stands out with any vividness on account of its excellent golf links, I took up the part at Daly's, where I had the pleasure of being associated with Lottie Venne, Mrs. Phelps, Hayden Coffin, Fred Kaye, and others too numerous to mention. There was a revival of this play in later years in which, owing to "existing contracts," I suffered the mortification of seeing my old part, in which I had been so successful, none too well-handled by an artist who was physically unfitted to play it. I myself played the Judge, a part which, when I first joined the company, was being admirably rendered by my old friend Eric Lewis. The play which followed this was The Artist's Model, and as it had been written before I joined the company, there was no part in it for me, so I was again thrown back to the "legitimate" in the shape of a revival of The Mikado at the Savoy.
There had been one of the periodical sort of public outcries for a Gilbert and Sullivan revival, and it seemed to promise success, as most of the old cast was available. I did not look forward with any special pleasure to my reappearance as Pooh Bah, as I had got rather tired of the part during the long original run, and my forebodings were realized, as after playing it for a month or so I began to feel as if I had never played anything else, and it so worked on my brain that I felt compelled to ask Carte to release me, which he very kindly did, and within a very short time I returned to Daly's for The Geisha, which play was the commencement of a stay of ten years with George Edwardes.
Oddly enough, my engagement this time also commenced with a few weeks on tour, as I rehearsed a week at Plymouth and then opened in Birmingham. Being anxious to have a companion on this tour who was a good golfer, I suggested to Herbert Ross that he should join the company. It seemed to strike him as a happy idea, so I sent him to interview George Edwardes, who said, "I hear you want to go on this Geisha golf tour with Barrington?" Ross expressed his desire to do so, and was forthwith engaged. On asking what part he was to play, George replied, " Oh, there's no part; you'd better see the stage manager," which he did, and it ended with his strolling on with the other naval officers and chipping in with a line when he saw a chance. Within a week or so he suggested to two of these officers that certain of their lines were quite unsuited to their personal appearance, and that they would be wise to surrender them to him. They actually did this, and eventually his part was quite a good combination of all the best lines from the others added to his own inventions. There are not many actors who could play such a game as this on their fellow-artists, and there are fewer still who can play a better game than Ross at his best. His golf was naturally rather expensive to me, but it worked out about quits with the piquet which we played during our journeys and waits. We were a rather strong combination in a foursome, and many of the clubs we visited used to put up couples against us who almost invariably contributed to our weekly hotel bills liberal fashion.
Roland Cunningham was also with us on this tour, but at that time had not taken up golf, but we had many happy days at it of late years.
We had a tenor with us who was rather an oddity in his way, even for a tenor, though he certainly had a most sympathetic voice and sang with great charm and finish. He always dressed to look rather like one's boyhood's idea of an Italian bravo, and his slouch hats were the admiration of the passer-by.
He had quaint ideas too, for not so very long since he was invited to play the part of Defendant in Trial by Jury for some great benefit, and on attending the first music call declined to attend the stage-rehearsals. When remonstrated with he said, " You can inform Mr. Gilbert that I will study the music, and playing the part cannot present any difficulty to an artist who has played Lohengrin." I presume it did, however, as some one else played the part.
On arriving at my dressing-room in Glasgow one Monday, I found to my alarm and annoyance that it reeked with some overwhelming odour — (this is many years ago, and the theatre has since been thoroughly overhauled) — and naturally demanded to be moved; but it was the "star" room, and there was nowhere to move me to. I foraged around and discovered the possibility of screening off a portion of the very large property-room. This was done, and I was feeling happier, when the dresser who looked after the tenor aforesaid appeared with a polite request that he might join me, having been put into the room I had vacated. Of course I consented, but as his presence cramped me I cast about for some means to be rid of him. On consulting Herbert Ross, he came to the conclusion that the best plan to gain my object would be to secure a supply of some even worse odour than the one we had fled from, and with the assistance of the property master this was done. On arriving the next night I was greeted with a smell that you could absolutely have hung a hat on!
What it had been done with I never knew, but it was innocuous and cost half a crown, and I am certain no one ever bought so much smell so cheaply. When the tenor arrived his face was a sight to watch (there were several of us doing it). He yelled out, "My God, I shall die!" seized his clothes and made a dash for the room he had previously declared unfit for a dog, but in which he gladly remained for the rest of the week, and consoled himself by prophesying all kinds of complaints for me.
I laugh at this even now when I think about it; but when I told the story for the first time, to my intense surprise it did not go at all well. This was on the following Sunday, when we went to Edinburgh, and a dear old friend of mine, Walter Hatton, gave a dinner party to about six other men to meet me, and I told this true history as an after-dinner story, but to my dismay it was received with a chilly silence. When his guests had gone I asked Walter Hatton if he could offer any explanation, He said he could think of none, except, perhaps, that they might have felt it a little personal, being all of them directors of the theatre in question.
It was during this visit to Edinburgh that I made the acquaintance of the Law family, the head of which is the present proprietor of The Scotsman. Some of the happiest weeks of my life have been spent at their summer residence, Archerfield House, which possesses within the estate its own delightful golf-links, where one can play nine holes out to sea, bathe, and play the second nine in to breakfast, lunch, or dinner as suits the mood of the player. It was on this course that Tait and Hilton played a very memorable match, Hilton going round in seventy-four and not winning one single hole.
A peculiarity of the parts I played in both The Gaiety Girl and The Geisha was that there were no songs in either and remarkably little concerted music. This was owing to the fact that they were written for Monkhouse, who was supposed not to be a singer, though I well recollect his joining in a duet with Ada Jenoure in Gilbert's Mountebanks at the Lyric Theatre.
San Toy was the next Daly production, and whether the polygamous leanings of the Marquis Imari in The Geisha suggested the idea to the author, or for some other unexplained reason, I know not, but I was doomed in this piece to the possession of "six little wives," and the idea worked out so successfully that for the remainder of my career with George Edwardes I was fated to play the bigamist — fortunately for me without any of the penalties or pleasures attaching to the position. I am not sure that this continual harping on one, or rather six strings, was not just a trifle monotonous for the audience, and I once remonstrated with George Edwardes on the similarity of my parts and the narrow scope they afforded, to which he replied, "They don't mind what you do, Rutty, as long as they just see you." This sounded very complimentary but did not absolutely console me, and I have found since leaving him that on having more, and more varied, work in plays I have appeared in the public has been kind enough to show a decided appreciation of the change. There is no manner of doubt whatever that an artist may stay too long with one management, but it is difficult thing to avoid in face of the undoubted pleasure the public has in welcoming the same cast in piece after piece.
From my own case I can support this theory by the fact that I was frequently asked, "Are you not at the Savoy?" for some year or two after I had severed the connection. I heard of an actor who met George Edwardes in the street one day, stopped and spoke to him, and George said, "Come and see me, my dear boy — I think I can find you a part, and he was much astonished when the actor replied, "Why, Mr. Edwardes, I've been with you at the Gaiety for the last six years!"
San Toy was the first piece in which I suggested the advisability of my having a topical song, an idea which appealed at once to George, with the result that I had one in every piece that followed. Adrian Ross very kindly used to consult me as to the refrain, by far the most important feature of these songs, and having fixed upon something we hoped would prove catchy, he would write an introductory verse or two, and the rest was left to me. I was extremely fortunate in possessing the faculty of writing verses about people or things of immediate or transitory interest, the great advantage of the gift being that if one has to wait until supplied by the recognized author of the lyrics, the topic was frequently stale before the verse came to hand. Adrian Ross paid me the unsolicited compliment of publishing my name with his in connection with all these songs, but in spite of that people even now express surprise when I tell them that my topical verses are my own unaided efforts. I was once taken to task by a — it could not have been "the" — dramatic critic of a world-famous half-penny paper for what he was pleased to consider a fault of ignorance. I was singing a verse during the visit of the King and Queen of Portugal to London, in which I, of course purposely, rhymed " frugal " with " Portoogal," so much to the amusement of His Majesty that he did me the honour of sending for a copy of the verse after hearing it. The aforesaid critic wrote in his paper: " The poet of Daly's must have been very hard up for a rhyme in this instance — perhaps he will allow me to suggest ' sort-o'-gal ' as avoiding such dreadful mispronunciation."
I wrote to the editor about this young man, but received no reply, so I assume that he at least had a sense of humour.
San Toy, as was the case with most of the Daly
productions, required a tremendous amount of rehearsing, and I have always found that when this is
the case it results in a greater amount of friction
between author, actor, and stage-manager than is
usual when things shape quickly. This friction is frequently increased by, if not perhaps wholly attributable to, the presence of one or more personal friends
of the manager who assume the privilege of making
suggestions. When you take into consideration the
facts that, as a general rule, the modern producer
comes to his task without any too firmly developed
ideas as to what he wishes the principal artists to do
(trusting to rehearsals to unfold possibilities), and in
some cases also lacking the capacity to assist the said
artists; and that all artists have an inclination to
look upon suggestions which concern themselves
almost puerile and certainly ineffective, it is somewhat marvellous that these musical comedies arrive
at a production at all. In the whole of my career I
have only known one man perfectly qualified to
point the way they should go to all concerned, from
principal to chorus, and that one is
Edwardes determined to have a "reading" of San Toy to the company — an innovation at Daly's; and I well remember the nervousness of the author. He was still further disconcerted when, Act I having been received with "modified rapture," after Act II had been in progress some five minutes, a certain line drew a very hearty laugh, greeted by George with the remark, " Bravo, Morton! That's the first laugh."
The natural obstacle to a reading of the pieces was the fact that huge portions of them were written either during rehearsal or after leaving off, in time for the next day, this being not so much the fault of the author as owing to the objections that George would take to certain scenes, and as very few of his objections were overruled — he being both Steward and Jockey Club — these scenes had perforce to go by the board and fresh ones be written. This occasionally tangled the story considerably; but however much it distressed the author, it did not so affect George, who had about this time developed a strong antagonism to "plot." On one occasion it necessitated a totally different line being wanted, and George appealed to the artist — no use; the stage manager — no; then to me — no; when he finally turned to the author and said most genially, "Morton, can't you think of a line?" However, with all these troubles San Toy eventually proved one of our biggest successes, even though that delightful and wonderful artist Marie Tempest did not feel quite happy in the title role; indeed, she left us before very long, and was replaced by a very charming little San Toy in Florence Collingbourne.
Later on, by way of a marked contrast, the part was played by Ada Reeve, who certainly surmounted in a very clever way the difficulties presented by a character so diametrically opposed to her method and personality. Fred Kaye had a very long speech to deliver on one of his entrances, which gave the Chief a lot of trouble and cause for consideration. After trying it all kinds of ways without success, he took a moment for silent thought, and suddenly exclaimed: "I've got it, Freddy! You just come on hurriedly, walk to the middle of the stage, and say 'What!'" It was left at that.
On one occasion I determined to sing as many encores of "Introduce it into China" as the audience would allow. They amounted, including two introductory lines, to eleven verses, and I honestly believe they would have stood more, but I had not got them.
I have one very charming personal recollection in connection with San Toy. The occasion was a great reception given to the C.I.V., on their return from the war, by the Artists' Corps, who numbered many of them, and of which Corps my old friend Brandon Thomas was an officer. I wrote a special song on the C.I.V. for the occasion, and Florence Collingbourne kindly sang it. One of the gallant warriors was introduced to her at the concert, and they were shortly afterwards married.
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