|W. S. Gilbert > Interviews > "Brantinghame Hall"
A SHORT INTERVIEW WITH MR. W.S. GILBERT.
Mr. Gilbert was sitting at his table in the mullioned window in that sumptuous library of his, with its handsome bookcases loaded with splendidly equipped tomes, its cosy ingle nook, its oaken panels, luxurious carpet, quaint works of art in iron and brass, surely a retreat for a king. Mr. Gilbert lives in a palace. The playwright was drawing a graceful young lady in very unconventional widow’s weeds, a black cloak, lined with silver grey, falling in graceful folds on the adorable figure of Miss Julia Neilson, who is to play the heroine in "Brantinghame Hall," Mr. Gilbert’s new drama, which is to be produced to-morrow night at the St. James’s Theatre. "I have designed all Miss Neilson’s dresses," said the playwright, "for I have my own ideas about ladies’ dresses, which I like to carry out when I have the power."
"Such as what, Mr. Gilbert?"
"Well, I abhor bustles, improvements, tight lacing, and all such abominations, and think that woman’s dress should fall in natural folds to the figure. The heroine of my new play is an unconventional young lady, and in designing the costumes which she wears I have endeavoured to contrive dresses as such a person as my chief character is would be likely to choose."
"Would you tell me the story of your new play? You have not turned sanitary inspector, and begun to deal with sewers of Society?"
"Certainly not," replied the playwright, who was good enough to give me a few details about "Brantinghame Hall" which he allows me to publish — up to the surprise. Miss Neilson, for whom, at Mr. Rutland Barrington’s request, the play has been written, is the unconventional daughter of an Australian squatter, an ex-convict who has repented of his sins and is a rich man when the play opens, living 200 miles up country from Sydney. Miss Neilson is a flower of the forest, a beautiful child of nature, who knows not the taint of Society, gentle, soft-voiced, and speaking the language of the Bible. The son of a proud old English peer falls ill on her father’s station; she nurses him, cures him, and marries him. In the midst of this wedded bliss he is recalled to England by an urgent telegram, which informs him that he has come into a large legacy. He sails, and the ship in which he has taken passage goes down in mid-ocean. By this disaster the father becomes possessor of his son’s property, and looks forward to paying off the debts which have hitherto crushed the life out of him. Then appears Miss Neilson at the mansion of the Saxmundhams with the news that she is his son’s wife—she, the daughter of a convict. The proud old lord learns for the first time that his son has a wife, and is terribly upset, for the son’s money goes to the son’s wife, and not to his father. Miss Neilson only asks for the love of her "darling’s" father, and spurns the money, but the old lord is proud as he is poor. Here I must stop, for the sacrifice which the heroine makes is the pivot of the plot. "My idea was," continued Mr. Gilbert, "to present an instance of a woman’s ‘sacrifice of self.’" The play is in four acts, the first being laid in the bush, the others in England. The two interiors of old English mansions have been devised by Messrs. George and Pete, who were the architects for Mr. Gilbert’s house in Harrington-gardens.
Recurring to the matter of dress for a minute, I asked Mr. Gilbert if he had a standard of good taste for stage costumes.
"Most decidedly I have. I will allow no one to appear on the stage in any piece which I may control in a dress which might not be worn at a fancy dress ball."
"Then you would not allow a lady to play a man’s part?"
"Certainly not. I consider our pieces at the Savoy to be burlesques, and I have never allowed a lady to play a man’s part, or to wear a costume that she would blush to appear in at a fancy dress ball. That is my limit."
"Then you would abolish tights?"
"Of course I would, if they were merely worn to enhance the attractions of the leg. A Rosalind may wear decent tights, but they are necessary for the part. But what I object to are the rows of ladies’ tight-clothed legs, which are merely worn, in my opinion, to gratify the eyes of the young gentlemen in the stalls. In the old days, when I wrote burlesques, I was glad enough to get my pieces produced; but, having no authority, I had no choice in the matter. When I came into power I was told that burlesques without legs meant ruin. As I have told you, I consider our Savoy pieces burlesques; was I right or wrong?"
"Then I am to understand that if you were Lord Chamberlain you —"
"My dear Sir, I am never likely to be called to that high office, so let me decline to answer your question. My views are peculiar. In my own domain I enforce them."
Page modified 20 November, 2011 Copyright © 2011 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.