KINGSLEY'S Water-babies had for many years dwelt in my mind as affording great possibilities for a children's play, and at odd times I had worked upon an adaptation of the book for this purpose, and during the run of the plays at Daly's I used to occupy my waits with perfecting the scenario, and writing the additional songs which I thought would be required. It was eventually completed, and in the spring of 1902 I read it to Mr. and Mrs. Bourchier, who were charmed with the idea. Bourchier immediately agreed to produce it at the Garrick, and made some suggestions as to the introduction of one or two scenes which I had left out, owing partly to a fear of overcrowding, and partly on account of the difficulties of scenery; which latter, Bourchier pointed out, were really non-existent. It was truly a labour of love rehearsing this play, and I did it entirely myself, with the exception of the dances, and Arthur Bourchier was so pleased with the result of my efforts that he kindly associated his name with mine as the producers. We had a great argument as to the Fairy Queen speaking Irish, for the reason that she appeared in the first act as The Irishwoman, but I disliked it very much, and although he was very obstinate about it he had to give way when I quoted Kingsley to him: "You are no Irishwoman, by your speech." Nellie Bowman made a splendid Tom, and in her scenes with the master sweep Grimes, excellently played by Darleigh, fairly brought he audience to tears. Frederic Rosse composed most of the music, and could well have done it all but that, for some occult reason, a second composer was introduced by the management. Alfred Cellier music to the song "I once had a dear little doll" was of course used. The Lobster was very popular with the little ones in the audience, and there were great rejoicings when he fought and killed the Otter in the lobster pot. On the first performance I was watching a sweet little girl in the stalls who was much interested, and when the Lobster after the fight, announced his intention of having a sleep because he had a "water-headache," she turned to her mother, clapped her hands with delight, and shouted out, " Mummy — a water-headache — how funny!" and I heard her talking of it as they went out. I painted small panels in oils as models of the scenes I wanted, and "Shiny Wall" came out most effectively. The son of my old friend Santley appeared as the Frozen Sailor in this scene, and made good use of a capital voice. My greatest delight was to sit in a box from which I could see well over the house, and watch the enjoyment of the children in front, which was, I really believe, equalled by the pleasure taken in their work by those on the stage. Another old young friend of mine was the principal Water-baby, Miss Mary Collette, daughter of the mercurial Charles, and very sweet she looked. She married shortly after the run of the piece, and I always insisted that her appearance as a baby secured her a husband.
I had an awkward moment at one performance when sitting next a little girl I knew; poor Tom was being beaten by Grimes, and from tearfulness the little girl passed to indignation, and turning to me said, "Where's his father?" Now in Kingsley's book it is expressly stated that poor little Tom never knew his father, but I felt that this would not satisfy the child, who repeated her question imperiously ; it then occurred to me to say he was dead, and this pacified her at once and she immediately asked for chocolates. I cannot quite follow the sequence of ideas, but so it happened, and I leave the solution to others.
Madge Titheradge was our première danseuse and made a great success with her dance outside the little school-house, or rather cottage; she danced with such evident enjoyment of her work. After seeing her in this and another play of mine I lost sight of her for some years, and going one night to the Playhouse I was much pleased with the acting of a young girl in The Drums of Oude, and there was something about her which seemed familiar and yet I could not place her. On looking at the programme I discovered her to be my little dancer, and was pleased to see that her early dancing had taught her to make strides in her profession.
This was followed at Christmas, 1904, by another play for children, which I had elaborated from two of the well-known "Dumpy books" called Little Black Sambo and Little White Barbara, for which I wrote two at least of what I venture to consider my best songs, but on this occasion the music was not done justice to, and owing to a misunderstanding I had with Bourchier I did not rehearse the piece myself and it suffered accordingly. Wilfred Bendall had written some charming and suitable music, but, without consulting me on the matter, some of the lyrics were given to other people to reset, and in addition to this slight, at the only rehearsal I attended the conductor informed me that he had " filled out " Bendall's score, the said score being made "light" at my request. Two of the best songs in the piece were in a part requiring a practised singer, and my dismay at the engagement of Frank Lawton, the well-known whistler, for the part, may be better imagined than described. Admirable artist and superb whistler he undoubtedly is, but, as he himself admitted to me, he does not profess to sing.
Naturally I remonstrated with Bourchier on the subject, but to no effect, and it was one of those heart-breaking experiences which struggling authors have to put up with, as in spite of a written guarantee that "the songs should be sung," they were not given to any one else, and were mutilated to the extent of one verse only in each, being "given" by Mr. Lawton. This high-handed manner of ignoring an author's wishes would, in the case of some managers, be deemed absolute discourtesy and in others perhaps as demonstrating an appalling want of appreciation of the fact that the songs in a musical piece are intended to be heard. Either alternative is equally unpleasant to contemplate in the case of a man of Arthur Bourchier's well-known urbanity and intelligence (he is undoubtedly in some parts quite a good actor), so I prefer to think that other reasons existed for conduct which certainly imperilled the success of the play.
To turn to a more pleasing feature in connection with this piece, the engagement of little Iris Hawkins for Little White Barbara was nothing less than an inspiration on his part, and contributed very largely to what success was achieved by the piece; there were other clever people in it, notably a sweet little girl who played the Chinese Dolly, Nellie Bowman as Black Sambo, and Frank Lacy as Jake. Of course Frank Lawton's whistling was a great feature, but should have been a special turn, with the songs rendered by someone else. I attended the first performance, and was gratified to find the play go as well as it did, though it afforded abundant evidence of the lack of assistance on the part of someone with a knowledge of musical requirements, and I wrote a letter suggesting certain alterations. I saw the play once or perhaps twice more, and some of these had been adopted and others ignored, so went no more, having surrendered all hope of seeing it in correct form until it returns to me in the fullness of time. I do not wish it thought that I am holding a brief for authors, not having the status which would warrant such a procedure; it is merely a statement of my feelings concerning an important experience in my life.
In March, 1904, was produced at Daly's that most attractive play The Cingalee, remarkable for its local colour and the absence of much of the go-as-you- please work so prevalent in the modern musical play, that is to say on its production, for it was not very long before "additional numbers" were introduced at the expense of certain picturesque items that were not considered bright enough. The first night of The Cingalee was nearly as remarkable in its way as that of The Mikado, in fact, the nearest approach to it in enthusiasm that I have known. For some reason which I could not fathom, George Edwardes was not pleased with the way it was constructed, and chopping and changing began almost immediately. One number for four ladies and their cavaliers, which had taken weeks to perfect, disappeared bodily, while others were twisted round, cut shorter, and put into different places, until the play differed so much from the original that it was hardly recognizable; however, it ran for a whole year, thus proving Edwardes's judgment correct, although there was nothing to show that it would not have done so if left alone.
This is the only piece I remember Fred Kaye having a song in; it was called "Freddy was fond of fireworks," but I fancy it did not even survive till the first night. Someone who saw the dress rehearsal and noticed the long cane I carried very kindly sent me a note pointing out that it was not the correct thing at all, and with the note came a cane that had actually been the property of a Cingalese nobleman, a most welcome present and one that I treasure. Isabel Jay made her entrance in a rickshaw, right from the back of the stage to the footlights, and at one rehearsal had an accident that might have been serious, the man in the shafts tripping over something and letting the machine go over backwards; most fortunately it was on the slope instead of the level stage, but Miss Jay thought it bad enough. Coffin was our hero, as usual, and Isabel Jay, his cousin, had come out to the tea plantation to marry him, but found him in love with one of the tea-girls, betrothed to myself, Boobhamba; when Bradfield was brought into the piece it was arranged that he and Miss Jay should be a kind of second pair of lovers, and she was to take no interest in Coffin, so why she came out there at all was a mystery if one stopped to think. This was the play in which Ida Renè was to have appeared, and, in fact, she rehearsed till within three or four days of the production, when she came to the conclusion that the part was not suited to her, and so left us somewhat suddenly; fortunately, that clever little artist Gracie Leigh was at hand to take up the part and play it successfully, at such short notice, not that her success was surprising, as in addition to her talent she possesses that personality which appeals so strongly to an audience, and is so rare a gift, especially in the sterner sex.
Once again fate played me a sorry trick in leaving me voiceless on a first night, as in Patience some years before, but on this occasion it hardly mattered so much, as Boobhamba was not all-important to the piece; indeed, as one critic wrote, with such undue prominence given to one or two roles it was a waste of good artists in the others. Adrian Ross had great trouble in finding me a good topical song for this play, and on the first night I was glad to escape by whispering one verse of the one I had, which was never used again. This was partly on account of my loss of voice, but also because of the lateness of the hour. The first act took very nearly two hours to play, and there was then a long wait before the second was ready. The audience had begun to show signs of impatience at the length of the first act, and I think were so relieved when it did finish as to feel no resentment at the wait, which they filled up by singing the National Anthem and cheering Her Majesty the Queen, who, with Princess Victoria, was occupying the Royal box.
Adrian Ross came to talk over the topical song with me the next evening (I had promptly cut the one of the night before), and we had a long discussion as to "refrains," but do as we might we could not fix on a good catch-word; he was leaving me, in despair of finding one, when in answer to some remark of mine he replied, "Well — there isn't much more to say." — "There it is!" I shouted. — "What?" he replied. — "Why the catch-word for the new song," I said. "Write it down before you forget it, and let me have the first verse to-morrow." He went away quite happy, and in about a week the song was put in and turned out quite a good one.
I think Lionel Monckton did some of his best work in the music for this play, and I should much like to see him entrusted with a libretto containing a coherent plot and witty dialogue, and free from the "introduced numbers" that so often upset the sequence of things. I think it was at my instance that he wrote an unaccompanied (or very nearly so) quartette for the piece, and very graceful and charming it was, quite in the best traditional Savoy style, but the voices did not seem to blend as they should have done, and although successful it did not gain the applause that I think it deserved.
There was an idea of effecting an extra amount of realism by the introduction in the first act of some elephants, and absurd as it may seem it was quite seriously considered, as I found one day when having lunch with George Edwardes, during an interval of rehearsing, at the "Cavour." A well-known agent came to him during lunch and said, "I have got those elephants for you to look at, Mr. Edwardes." — "Oh!" said George. "Well, send 'em up to rehearsal to-morrow, will you?" The man looked a little doubtful, and George said, " By the way — what do they want for them?" The price was named and that settled the elephant question, and to make up for the loss of such an attraction the agent was invited to find something exceptional in the way of dancers, which he did in the shape of a troupe called "the Three Amaranths," who did some marvellous gyrations of a dancing kind, the smallest of the three, a mere child, concluding the "turn" with what looked like a horribly dangerous mode of throwing herself about. This took place in what was called the Parahara, which appeared to the uninitiated to be some kind of festival commencing with priests and prayers, and ending with dancing and devilry, which, I imagine, is a mixture not entirely confined to the Cingalese.
There was a great run on animal duets about this time, and a very clever monkey duet, given by Gracie Leigh and Huntley Wright, was much liked, in fact, one of the critics alluded to it as " the clou of the performance." As this was one of the "introduced numbers" this criticism may appear unfair to the author and composer of all else, but after all it was only the expression of one opinion. It was replaced later by The Gollywogs, an effort to get away from bird and animal life, and a very successful one at that, becoming so popular as to necessitate gollywogs being given away to all the children visitors to the theatre at Christmas.
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