JUST as I was beginning to feel quite comfortable with a part in which I had no music to consider, the run of The Candidate came to an end, and I was once more a homeless wanderer. I had heard rumours of the revival of The Geisha, and rather flattered myself that I might be asked to take up my old part; however, no such invitation arrived, and I eventually promised to play in a new opera by yet another couple of fresh aspirants to fame and fortune in the persons of Michael Faraday and Frederick Fenn, the latter of whom was already known as the author of certain plays without music. This opera was called Amāsis, and when I was given the book to read, in order to judge whether the part suggested for me was suitable, I had vague impression that I had already had it submitted to my judgment, which turned out to be the fact. My original idea about it was that it would be handicapped by the costumes, which gave so little opportunity for any display of grace or elegance among the women concerned, and that the lyrics were somewhat laboured, and though excellent to read would not be so effective when sung. Both these views were to some extent endorsed on the production of the piece, but there was more to go through before this much-desired event happened.
In the first place I heard that the management at Daly's were not altogether satisfied with the cast of The Geisha, and that the comedian who was appearing in my part was finding it somewhat irksome to follow the lines laid down, not only by tradition, but also by the exigencies of the piece. These rumours culminated in George Edwardes asking me to return to the fold and take up my old part, while his other comedian took a well-earned rest. This was naturally a great compliment to me, but I should have appreciated it more fully (as also, I venture to think, would have the revival) had it been offered to me before the piece was produced. However, I went, and was received with open arms by those of my old colleagues still at Daly's. Great pressure was brought to bear upon me to resign the Amāsis engagement and stay on, and in my endeavour to do so I got as far as an interview with the managing director of Amāsis Limited (a syndicate to exploit it had been formed), at which I asked him to let me off, though I had not signed anything and was not legally bound; but when he asked me point-blank whether I did not consider myself morally bound to them, I was obliged to confess that I did, and that I had come to him feeling rather ashamed of my request. This terminated the discussion, conducted with an urbanity on his side which was a striking tribute to his diplomacy and good taste, and I left him prepared to exchange the position of a Japanese nobleman I was playing for the higher one of Pharaoh when desired.
In this connection I hope I may be excused in quoting what I felt to be a very great compliment paid to me in the Evening Standard, which said, in announcing my return to Daly's, "This is a distinct triumph for one of the ablest of the comedians of the old legitimate school as distinct from the new generation of individualistic entertainers, who are certainly vastly amusing, but who are not actors in the strictly artistic sense of the word – that is to say, their humour provokes laughter because of the personality of the player and of his funniments, which, amusing as they are, are quite ‘outside the picture' and have no regard to the unities, locality, or period of the piece."
The Geisha revival lasted only a little longer than that of the Gaiety Girl, all these pieces undoubtedly lacking the qualities which distinguish the Gilbert and Sullivan creations, most of the dialogue and the whole of the music of which seems to have been written for all time.
The rehearsals of Amāsis were in full swing, and having capitulated I attended the next one to which I was called, and was agreeably surprised on hearing some of the music. Louis Calvert, the managing director to whom I have before alluded, was superintending the rehearsals, with a capable lieutenant in Frank Stanhope and occasional suggestions from a modest individual whom I eventually found to be the author, Frederick Fenn. Calvert's treatment of the piece was (naturally to so excellent an actor) based entirely on strong dramatic lines, invaluable no doubt for a play, but wanting somewhat in the lightness necessary to comic opera. To do him justice I must admit that he had the courage of his convictions, and any views in opposition to his own were very definitely pronounced to be incorrect; this led at one rehearsal to such a difference of opinion between himself and the musical director, as to culminate in the latter leaving the theatre in dudgeon. I found the construction of the piece vastly different from what it was when I first read it, some time before, but later on it came back almost entirely to its original shape, much to the gratification of the author. One important alteration was the elimination of Pharaoh (the part I played) from the first act; this, I argued from the beginning, was unwise; but it was persisted in until the critics, with hardly a dissentient voice, strongly recommended the alternative, and after some weeks the change was effected. I also advocated the insertion of a topical song in the part, the objector in this case being the composer, who expressed a wish to depart from the beaten track of modern musical pieces; but he eventually gave way gracefully, and the song was not the least successful number, although it must be admitted on his side of the argument that one critic expressed regret at its introduction. On the other hand, one important journal said that all through the first act they were anticipating my arrival with a song in which "mummies and motor-buses, pyramids and Poplar would be jumbled up in a delicious song." Ruth Vincent had a part which gave her capital opportunities for the display of her admirable vocalization without unduly straining her powers of acting, and the soubrette part was well played by her sister Madge. Whitworth Mitton was a kind of ragged rival to the gorgeous Prince Anotep, played in vigorous fashion by Roland Cunningham, but Mitton was severely handicapped by a fearful costume and wig which robbed the part of much of the romance and the sympathy it should have claimed. It was also intended that he should wear a hump on his back, but the very idea of such a disfigurement gave him one, and he declined to make use of the false presentment; it was, however, carefully preserved, carried all round the provinces when we went touring with the play, and eventually given to him on the last week of the tour, as a birthday present.
Although I had known Norman Salmond for many years, this was the first occasion I had ever worked with him, and he did yeoman service as the High Priest, his carriage and stature making a most striking figure among us. The dramatic possibilities of the opera were so strongly insisted upon by Calvert at rehearsal that the company began to wonder if it were really a light opera or not, and as Calvert himself began to see that musical numbers called for a different kind of treatment, it was eventually agreed that the later rehearsals should be subject to suggestions from me. My first step was to introduce a kind of dance for Norman Salmond and his satellites, and Calvert's horror at "the High Priest dancing" was too great for words; but it secured an encore for the number on the first night, as Norman, waltzing round the stage, using his staff of office as a fairy wand, was a sight for the gods, who want amusing as much as mortals. We set to work very shortly after the production to bring the piece more into line with opera than drama. I was brought into the first act, and had an additional song in the second, which I wrote myself, called "Lovely Woman," and more fun being imported in both acts, the result was quite happy, and in spite of an unusually hot August and September we played to wonderful business.
A great factor in this added success was the importation of a little comedian named Lauri de Frece, who has a method decidedly original and unforced, though with the tendency of most comedians to overelaborate occasionally; however, you cannot put old heads on young shoulders, and it takes experience to learn how to let well alone. His part of Sebak, the keeper of the Crocodiles, was an infinitesimal one at first start, but in his hands it grew to be quite one of the most important without being unduly so. The contrast between my bulk and his extremely slight figure was very useful in some of the comedy scenes, as such contrast invariably is, and both of us being fairly ready in replying to any unexpected speech on the part of the other, these scenes were worked up to become quite a feature of the piece. We were asked one night to "fill out a few minutes" for some reason which I forget, and we did it so successfully that it was difficult to get back to "the author," much to the delight of all the chorus. The part of Ptolemy, which was originally played by Herbert Ross (his second appearance with me in musical comedy), was one of those disappointing kind of roles, from the artist's point of view, which seem to offer great opportunities and yet which, however well played, amount nothing out of the common. It was undertaken later on by Reginald White, who certainly extracted from it the most possible, once again vindicating the Savoy school, he having been with the repertoire company for some time.
We were obliged to vacate the New Theatre, owing to the return of Julia Neilson and Fred Terry with their hardy annual The Scarlet Pimpernel, and after a lengthy hesitation over the choice of three theatres at least, our management finally decided to squeeze us into the Criterion. The steps of the temple, as used in our first act, would have overlapped the stage into Regent Street and the Haymarket, and everything else was in the same ratio, so there was a general reduction of everything to fit the smaller compass; and there we proceeded merrily until within a few weeks of the spring tour which had been arranged, and on which it was intended to take the entire London company. Eventually it was decided to leave out Ruth Vincent, and there was a hue and cry to discover a substitute for this popular soprano, not a very easy matter, as at present there seems a great dearth of good voices; however, Constance Drever was discovered almost at the last moment, and in her capable hands the part lost none of its significance. We commenced the tour at Stratford, London, where there is a fine theatre, and it was instructive to notice how, at this short distance only from the West End, certain of the "points" made were quite distinct from the original.
I developed a throat attack and could hardly last out the week, but being always regarded as a kind of cast-iron person, there was no understudy, and I just struggled through by dint of cutting one song after the other until on the Saturday there was no song left. At Kennington the following week my place was taken by the composer of the music, Faraday, who had never acted before, and attacked his task in so light-hearted a manner as to be even capable, on the second night, of introducing gags of his own. One of the company said to me some months later, "Next to you, Barry, he's the best Pharaoh we've had, but I think he'd better stick to composing."
On Sunday, September 22nd, 1907, I rejoined the company at King's Cross on a bitterly cold morning, where I found a very gorgeous "special," in which I had a little saloon all to myself like Royalty, waiting to take us to Hull, where we arrived after a very comfortable and fast journey. Norman Salmond, de Frece, Mitton, and myself stayed at the same hotel through the trip, and were a very cheery party, with just enough occasional differences to afford the necessary vinegar in the salad.
This was my first appearance in Hull, and the whole week was a pleasant surprise to me, after the way in which I had heard the town and its audiences alluded to by certain, evidently unappreciated members of the theatrical profession.
We golfed during the week at Brough, one of the best inland courses I know, and the home of several of Yorkshire's most noted players. We had lunch at a charming little inn called "The Ferry" (why I do not know, as there was no ferry within miles of it) which had a quaint motto over the bar.
I made my first appearance as a caddie one afternoon. There was a ladies' competition, and several of us carried for them instead of playing. One of the men of our party got lost on the links, and under the impression that he had found the club-house, went in at the side door of a private house and ordered beer! He was received by the cook as a burglar, and left hurriedly.
Miss Drever seemed a little uncertain about her "cues" the first two nights here, and the stage manager suggested, when I spoke to him about it, that it was possibly the fault of Faraday, which seemed odd to me, as he was in London. My voice being still rather rough, I made up my mind to cut my topical song the second night, but the chorus was evidently determined I should not, gave the cue for it by coming on, and I had to sing it!
On my arrival at the theatre one night I found a representative of the Daily Express waiting for me with news of the death that day of my dear colleague, Rosina Brandram, and a request that I would write a short "appreciation" of her for the next day's edition. This was a phase of journalistic enterprise which I experienced for the first time; I dictated the article to the pressman while dressing and making up; it was wired to London before the curtain had been up five minutes, and the paper was lying on my breakfast table the next morning. Although I knew that dear old Rosie was ill, I had no idea it was so serious, and it made me feel very sad, but the footlights have a marvellous power of evoking a forgetfulness of everything but the matter in hand, and until the play was over I hardly realized that yet another link of the olden time was broken.
Roland Cunningham was unable to sing on the Saturday, and his understudy played at the matinee extremely well, but not so well at night. I have often noticed this effect in similar cases, and am inclined to believe that the nervousness of the initial effort is a great factor in the success.
Norman Salmond is a native of Hull, and we spent a most interesting morning going over his old crushing-mill, and the welcome given him by some of his old hands was a tribute worth the acceptance of any one. We thereupon dubbed him King of Yorkshire, and it was a great sight to see Norman with his long strides walking twenty yards ahead of the rest of us. We could never keep up with him after this in Hull, but I extracted a definite promise that in other towns he would modify his regal bearing and pace sufficiently to allow of our walking abreast.
There was a dense fog which accompanied us on Sunday the whole way from Hull to Sheffield, not only delaying our arrival, but completely hiding the glorious view of the town from the station; but it had disappeared on the Monday morning when we went for our usual exercise to Shireoaks, a very delightful course and by no means too easy. During a ten-minutes wait for our return train we went into the little village inn adjoining the station, to look at some stuffed fish, and on entering the sanded parlour found it occupied by some dozen colliers taking a well-earned pint on the way home. I was much struck by the good manners displayed by these rough-looking men, who were grouped round the fire, some two or three of them rising on our entrance and inviting us to take their seats. Norman Salmond promptly offered "drinks all round," and on the mugs of beer being brought I led off with "Come, landlord, fill the flowing bowl," and with Mitton, de Frece, and Salmond joining in the chorus we "let it rip" for all we were worth, intensely to the delight of our hearers, one old man saying he'd heard nothing like it for years, and he hoped we'd come again.
We were the guests that night of Colonel Vickers of Vickers and Maxim fame, who adds to his business ability the reputation of being a most delightful host, which he afforded us several opportunities of endorsing most cordially. There was some amusement caused at the menu of this particular supper, which certainly was rather odd: oysters, salmon mayonnaise, dressed crab, foie gras, and ices, for the peculiar nature of which Colonel Vickers declared I was to blame, having told him that for the time being I was on a fish diet! However, we were none the worse for it on the following day, when a large party of us went over the big-gun manufactory, with the Colonel and Major Leslie as cicerone, and it was a wonderful experience to see a block of white-hot steel of about fifty tons weight being rolled into an armour plate, a very beautiful effect being secured by throwing on to the steel large armfuls of brushwood just as the plate went under the huge roller, the sparks from which, as it caught fire in one blaze, leapt fully twenty feet.
I had a pleasant trip to town by the breakfast train one morning, having just an hour and a half for lunch at my home at Putney and being back at Sheffield at 6.30 to the tick, as timed by the Great Central. It was a "non-stop" return, the pleasure of the run being only marred by the presence of one of those railway bores who will insist on talking to everybody all the time and invariably about nothing.
The end of a cheery week saw us speeding northward to Edinburgh, with a return of the frost, and the snow lying all the way from York to our destination.
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