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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   1924 G&S Season

I have reserved until last the Yeomen of the Guard, because it is unique in several respects. There is, for one thing, an element of real tragedy, which is absent from all the others, of tragedy, moreover, which is still unrelieved at the fall of the final curtain. Another unique feature is the presence of a really human character, the only one, perhaps, that Gilbert ever drew. Jack Point is credible; and the veracity of the character is, if anything, heightened by the tragic conclusion, for it is only upon the stage that one can usually rely upon a conventional happy ending. In no sense is the ending of this opera either happy or conventional. Nearly every one, indeed, is unhappy. Sergeant Meryll is to marry Dame Carruthers, as a result not of love but of blackmail; and Phœbe Meryll is condemned to wed the dreadful Wilfred. It is to be presumed that Dame Carruthers and Wilfred, at all events, are well satisfied, and the former has reason to be, since her mastery of Sergeant Meryll is obviously complete. But I hardly think that Wilfred's lot would prove any happier than the policeman's, for it is plain that Phœbe would torment and tease him without respite or pity. Elsie Maynard and Colonel Fairfax alone are conventionally provided for. It is a peculiar ending for a stage piece, but quite a reasonable one in life. How many Merylls are married to Carruthers and how many Wilfreds to Phœbes? Far too many. And moreover, how many Elsies are married to Fairfaxes? There was a time not many years ago, when it was quite a commonplace for the titled and landed gentry to take brides from the ranks of the players—not strolling players, perhaps, but nevertheless players. The example of some of these unions does not justify one in assuming necessarily, that Elsie Fairfax would be 'happy ever after.' In fact, the end of this opera teems with mésalliances in remarkable profusion, and were it not that Jack Point is incontestably dead, one might have had an entertaining sequel, sorting out the characters more suitably.

As to the manner in which this opera was performed, the outstanding feature was Mr. Lytton's Jack Point. Here one saw that great artist at his best. His performances throughout the season were always a joy to the beholder, for never does he lose an opportunity, and never is he at fault. But for artistry his Jack Point is surely unexcelled. The poor jester must be everything by turns: he must be 'properly quaint and amusing,' serious, careless, jocular, solemn. It is a difficult part, and the success of the piece depends upon its proper playing. It is necessary that Point should grow gradually more and more sad, more and more heavy-hearted; not by fits and starts, not suddenly or capriciously, but by slow degrees in just the measure of his growing fear of losing Elsie. This Mr. Lytton does admirably, conveying in natural and human manner his increasing concern, and the result is a moving performance which would place him in the front rank of contemporary players had he not achieved that eminence long since. Mr. Lytton has in his time indeed played many parts, and to all of them he has brought a distinction and an artistry that is too rare in these days; and it is to be hoped that his retirement will be long delayed.

Unfortunately, Mr. Lytton as Jack Point was so much more attractive a personality than Colonel Fairfax that one could only attribute Elsie's defection to the lowest pecuniary motive. The presumed purse and social standing of Fairfax were the only advantages which he possessed over Jack Point. He declared his love for Elsie in the words provided for him; but he wooed her in so unimpassioned and unconvincing a manner that one felt he realised that, after all, it was only a play, and that, of course, everyone knew he was bound to get Elsie eventually. In order to make Elsie anything but a designing minx it is essential the Fairfax should be at least as attractive as Point, and that he should manifest at least an equal regard for her. But this was not the case this season, and the effect was entirely foreign to intention of the author, who certainly never meant that Elsie’s character should be so represented.

I am afraid that I found fault with Colonel Fairfax in more respects than one. Surely Fairfax should be debonair, rather than melodramatic? Yet the part was played in quite the opposite way, and in the few lines preceding 'Is life a boon?’ one was reminded vaguely of a Lyceum drama. I should like to see this part played by Mr. Goulding, who would certainly give an interpretation far more nearly approximating to what one is bound to assume was Gilbert's intention. Mr. Derek Oldham's Fairfax would very well serve as a convenient and recent model of how the part should be played.

Phœbe Meryll is a part which suits Miss Sharp perfectly. Always pleasing in all her characters, she is undoubtedly at her best in the more mischievous parts, and Phœbe is one which affords her ample scope. Her scenes with Mr. Sheffield as Wilfred were most entertaining, for the latter's invariable excellence was most effectively supported. Miss Sharp looks far too young to have had a great deal of stage experience, but her acting would enhance the reputation of many very experienced and well-known artists, and her voice, too, is very appealing.

Miss Lawson had an exceedingly difficult task as Elsie, for she was playing Gilbert's conception of the part against an unsympathetic Fairfax. The result was that one was altogether bewildered at her final choice, for she could not help appearing even more inconsistent and fickle than women are alleged to be. Her voice was, of course, unaffected by this, and her, singing was, as usual, beyond criticism. Her bridal dress, however, was very much open to criticism, for it was twentieth century; and suburban at that, and it was in spite of and not because of it that she succeeded in looking as charming as ever. Some singers lose their good looks when they sing, but Miss Lawson is not one of these; and while on the subject of looks and singing, one must not fail to render homage to Miss Lewis for the unique manner in which she can convey almost any emotion, while singing, by altering slightly her facial expression. She can be sorrowful, masterful, and sometimes positively venomous, and her voice faithfully follows the lead of her features. One is never dull while she is on the stage, for she always is worth watching, even when not actually speaking or singing, and in their scenes together she and Mr. Lytton afford an entertainment which can hardly be surpassed.

Jack Point Point and Elsie
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