Gilbert's Letter to The Times of 2 May 1888
Issue 32375, pg. 5 col G


Mr. Herkomer's "The Sorceress"


Sir,--The conditions under which Mr. Herkomer presents his musical "tableaux vivants" (I adopt your critic's description of the entertainment, which, I regret to say, my engagements have not permitted me to witness) are so wholly unlike those under which ordinary theatrical entertainments are produced that I am afraid it will be impossible to draw any conclusions from them by which our stage can materially profit. The abolition of the detested footlights, and the substitution of a row of lights round the inside of the proscenium, is the natural outcome of the substitution of electricity for gas as a lighting medium. It has, I believe, been in operation at the Budapest and some other Continental theatres for several months; it has certainly for some time past been in contemplation at the Savoy Theatre (where certain structural difficulties had to be overcome), and, as I explained in the columns of an evening paper six weeks ago, will in all probability be adopted at the new theatre which I am building for Mr. Hare.

I understand that Mr. Herkomer's production "plays" for about an hour, and consists of a single scene, in which an extremely simple fragment of a story is told in gesture accompanied by musical illustrations. Now, it is quite obvious that an entertainment in which story, locality, dramatic effect, and opportunities for acting are all subordinated and made accessory to scenic illustration would scarcely be tolerated on a first-class metropolitan stage. At a leading London theatre the play and its performance must necessarily be the first consideration, and the scenic effects should in all cases be accessory to these essentials. In Mr. Herkomer's production the scenic effects seem to be the primary consideration--the story and its exposition being of a very rudimentary character, and treated merely as the peg upon to which to hang an excuse for some very beautiful and highly effective pictorial illustrations.

I hope I shall not be understood as intending to reflect in any way upon Mr. Herkomer's very interesting experiment. I merely wish to show that the conditions which he has created, and under which he works, are wholly dissimilar to those which are imposed upon theatrical managers who have to keep an audience entertained from half-past 7 to 11, with carefully-written and elaborately-constructed stage plays (represented by actors who, in many cases, must be provided with opportunities for the display of their special abilities), and probably involving at least three changes of scene, which must of necessity be effected within the regulation 15 minutes of entr'acte.

I am your obedient servant,

London, April 26.
W.S. GILBERT
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