|W. S. Gilbert > Interviews > Theatrical Pirates
"No," said Mr. W. S. Gilbert to a representative of The Evening News, who happened to see him on Saturday last: "no one knows the name, the plot, the dialogue, nor anything else connected with my new piece to be produced next Saturday, and therefore all ‘information’ given in connection with it must be mere conjecture."
"I suppose you have had plenty of inquiries about it?"
"Any number, I assure you. There is scarcely a paper either in London or out of it that has not sought some kind of intelligence from me about the nature of the production; but, of course, I cannot give it. Why should I? Such a thing is unheard of."
"Not quite unheard of, Mr. Gilbert. Many theatrical managers and dramatic authors have been very pleased to have the opportunity of getting their pieces well commented upon before production. You see, the public take an exceptional interest in your pieces."
"I am sure I am very much obliged to the public, and to you for saying so; but you see it would be most prejudicial to the interests of my colleagues, Sir Arthur Sullivan and Mr. D'Oyly Carte, as well as to myself, to let any information leak out."
"How so? I don't quite understand."
"Why, I am surrounded at this moment by a lot of hungry American newspaper reporters who would snap up any little item of news concerning our new production, and at once cable it over to their journals, and were we not very discreet the whole thing would find itself over there in a short time, and we should be defrauded of our copyright."
"Has such a thing ever happened to you before?"
"Most certainly it has. It occurred with ‘The Mikado.’ An American pirate, bit by bit, obtained an imitation of the piece, and when he discovered that the costumes were to be Japanese he sent to Messrs. ——— (mentioning a well-known firm), and ordered facsimiles — or as near them as possible — of all our costumes."
"What did you do then?"
"I had to go to Messrs. ——— and tell them that, if they supplied these costumes I should withdraw all the custom of the Savoy Theatre, and I had to buy up all that were made."
"Did this put an end to the affair?"
"As far as Messrs. ——— were concerned only, but the American pirate referred to then went over to Paris and tried it on again there, and again I had to buy up all the Japanese costumes that were to be found. I cannot tell you the amount of trouble and expense we have been put to by this kind of thing."
"I suppose you had often to invoke the aid of the law?"
"Very frequently indeed. I should think we must have been concerned in about fifteen or twenty actions. Is that not so, Carte?" said Mr. Gilbert, addressing the manager of the Savoy Theatre.
"A great deal more than that," replied Mr. Carte. "If you say between forty and fifty you will be nearer the mark."
"Then I suppose none of the actors and actresses themselves are permitted to know anything more than is absolutely necessary?"
"Not a word; and I can assure you that even the costumes they will wear are not known to them until the very last moment."
"When will your new piece be produced in America, then?"
"In about three weeks' time after it is produced here. The last time we sent a company out to America it was with ‘The Mikado,’ and we were compelled to exercise the utmost secrecy. The company were taken down in a special train from London to Liverpool, from thence transported in special tender on board the steamer, and were sent down into their cabins at once, and strictly forbidden to hold converse with any one until the steamer was well on its way."
"Was all this necessary?"
"Absolutely. Even Mr. D’Oyly Carte was obliged to take his berth in an assumed name, and, thanks to the strict vigilance he kept over everybody and everything, not a soul knew of the company's departure until days afterwards."
"I suppose you got the best of some one by all this stratagem?"
"Oh, yes. There was, as usual, a pirate over the water, preparing to bring out his version of ‘The Mikado’ and, indeed, had advertised its production for the Saturday following the Sunday or Monday that our company arrived. Of course, our unexpected appearance completely upset his plans. His production being billed for the Saturday, however, we advertised that we would produce ours on the Friday previous. He then again changed his to the Thursday, upon which ours was announced for the Wednesday, and it was actually produced on that night and met with a brilliant success."
"Well, you certainly deserved to succeed after so much skilful diplomacy, and it is to be hoped that your forthcoming production will not give such great trouble."
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