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Review of the 1886 Revival from The Times
Thursday, February 18, 1886.
 
THE HAYMARKET THEATRE

A policy is as necessary to a theatre as it is to a political party, and the more consistent the policy is the better. The public enter into a tacit agreement with a manager that he shall produce a certain class of pieces; they like to be able to reckon with tolerable certainty upon finding a particular kind of entertainment where they look for it. This is a truth that the new managers of the Haymarket have yet to learn apparently, otherwise they would not have committed the mistake of following up a course of melodrama with Mr. W. S. Gilbert’s Engaged, which is not even farce but burlesque. Such sudden changes of front are bewildering and irritating to the mass of the playgoing public, as was seen last night in the unfriendly reception accorded to a piece which in its right place ought to afford amusement. What would be the right place for Engaged at the present moment it is hard to say if we may not suggest the pigeon-hole. It is certainly out of place at the Haymarket, especially when it comes in succession to such sombre dramas as Dark Days and Nadjezda. That it should originally have been produced here is nothing to the point, inasmuch as the later precedent of the theatre is wholly against it. In any case this revival is not a promising experiment.

Engaged is written entirely in the author’s characteristic vein but, unaided by music or a fantastic mise-en-scéne, cynical and sarcastic humour is apt to pall upon the appetite, and most people will feel that the notion of making all the characters of a piece utterly and avowedly selfish is amusing enough for one act, but depressing and tiresome when spread over three. Engaged is a modern version of The Palace of Truth, where people disclose their real sentiments without the aid of enchantment. Everybody is intent upon the main chance and makes no secret of it, from the impulsive Mr. Cheviot Hill down to the lowland lassie who proposes to serve him with a “bonny writ” in exchange for his broken pledges. The idea is clever, but it is played out sooner than the author imagines; although it might have inspired a whole string of Bab Ballads it does not contain sufficient motive power for three acts of so-called comedy, and on a large stage its effect is doubly attenuated.

The company is composed of clever “items,” but it lacks a head. If Engaged furnishes Mr. Beerbohm Tree with opportunity for a certain amount of grotesque humour, such actors as Mr. Brookfield, Mr. Mackintosh, and Mr. Barrymore are thrown away upon characters that are mere incidental sketches; and “female interest” even as Mr. Gilbert understands it, does not exist, since neither Mrs. Beerbohm Tree nor Miss Norreys is allowed for a moment to lapse into common sense. In reviving Engaged, the Haymarket management are on a wrong tack; if they would save the theatre from falling into discredit they ought to return at once to high-class comedy or drama, and place at the head of their company an actress of power and authority like Mrs. Bernard Beere.


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