|W. S. Gilbert > Gilbert's Plays > Foggerty's Fairy > Review
Review published in the Illustrated Sporting and
Dramatic News, December 24th, 1881.
In Foggerty's Fairy, the new comedy which now replaces Brighton at the Criterion, Mr. W. S. Gilbert has attempted one of the boldest and most original experiments that has ever entered into the mind of playwright to conceive. He has here absolutely given the rein to that whimsical fancy which imparts to most of his productions their characteristic individuality. He has let his cynical humour run riot, mixing up the real and the supernatural, the probable and the impossible, the comedy of fairy-land and the comedy of farce in three complicated and witty acts of brilliant confusion. Happily it is not the province of the critic to prophesy with regard to the fate of the pieces submitted to him and to the public. Towards this play, for example, which has no exact parallel on our stage, it would be impossible to predict with any confidence the attitude of the general body of playgoers. To some it may well seem incomprehensible, to some irritating by reason of the subtlety of its motive. To others its fun will be all the more entertaining, because to appreciate it requires the exercise of some little thought and of much attention. By others, again — and perhaps these are the majority — its comical episodes, its laughter-provoking dialogue, its matter-of-fact fairy, and its clever mechanical change of scene will be vaguely accepted for the amusement which they severally cause without any particular regard to the scheme of the play as a whole. But be the result from this practical point of view what it may, Foggerty's Fairy may certainly be pronounced the most original and striking piece of drollery seen on the stage for many a long day.
There is not, we fear, much hope of telling the story of Foggerty's Fairy at any reasonable length in such a way as to fairly show how its points in actual representation are made. We may, however, briefly endeavour, at any rate, to indicate where these points lie. The first act, then, is occupied in a very fresh illustration of a familiar subject. For the hand of pretty Jennie Talbot, the sentimental daughter of a wholesale cheesemonger, there have been two rivals, Foggerty and Walkinshaw, young surgeons without much more practice than fell to the share of Messrs. Sawyer and Allen. At first, Walkinshaw was the happy man, but Foggerty treacherously told Miss Talbot the story of Walkinshaw's former engagement to Miss Malvina de Vere. Now, Miss Talbot, like many another young lady, requires her bridegroom to aver that he has "never loved before." When Walkinshaw makes the necessary avowal ne can of course no longer be believed. But Foggerty has fibbed with such success that he is about to lead Jannie Talbot to the altar with his former rival as his best man when, at the last moment, he, too, is proved to have loved, or, at any rate, to have proposed marriage before. Miss Delia Spiff suddenly appears upon the scene to claim the fulfilment of a promise made to her by Foggerty for her money, and in spite of her age and ugliness. The gloomy and jealous Walkinshaw is triumphant, Jennie is tearfully indignant, and everything threatens to go wrong, when Foggerty's good genius enters the room through a trap, to offer him her help. The incongruities of this episode, the business-like air of the fairy, the incredulity of Foggerty, and the means by which a charm is made to work through a pill and a draught — all these combine to render this unique scene irresistibly ludicrous. It is, of course the very crux of the play, and if it were either misunderstood or resented the rest could not possibly succeed.
The spell itself and its consequences are certainly less easy to work out effectively than was the case with the famous spell in The Sorcerer. The fairy obliterates Delia Spiff from Foggerty's life; but with Miss Spiff there have also to be obliterated all the results of the acquaintance. So when at the beginning of the next act Foggerty wakes to find himself relieved from the presence of his elderly fiancée, it is only to discover himself in a hopeless fog. He is now in his friend Walkinshaw's house, but he does not know it, fancying that he must be at home, and making all sorts of surmises to account for his supposed wife's absence. Then when he meets Jennie still dressed as a bride, and Walkinshaw got-up for a wedding, he believes that his own marriage is still about to go on, and is much annoyed when Malvina de Vere calls upon him to fulfil their engagement. It is long before it dawns upon him that the removal of Delia Spiff's influence upon his life has caused him to change places with Walkinshaw, so far as their love affairs are concerned. A very pretty scene occurs between him and Jennie before he discovers that he is now "best man" and not bridegroom, and when his vigorous protestations of love for Jennie surprise her into an avowal, though she is to marry Walkinshaw, she has always loved the faithless Foggerty best.
After this the fun soon becomes fast and furious — too furious to be in our judgment characteristic of the author's happiest manner. There is certainly a good deal of drollery in Foggerty's interview with Malvina de Vere, and their friendly steps towards an action for breach of promise. But there is almost too much of it, and there is certainly too much of the satire upon mad-doctors and their ways which occurs when Foggerty's friends believe him demented, and try to get a certificate to that effect from Dr. Lobb and Dr. Dobb. The climax, therefore, which is brought about when the hero takes a pill, summons the fairy once more, and brings matters back to their status quo, is very welcome, for towards the last the fun is felt to be flagging. The mad dream has been almost too long as well as too elaborate in its absurdities. This fault, if it be found to exist, can, of course, ba readily remedied, as there seems no real need for the hero's false confession, à la Topsy, of a crime which he never committed.
It would be difficult to say too much in praise of the spirit, the appreciation, and the judgment , with which Foggerty's Fairy is acted at the Criterion by all concerned. Played clumsily, or with any approach to the self-conscious humour of farce, pure and simple, the whole gist of the joke would be lost. Miss Rorke has to be quite serious in the illustration of Jennie Talbot's absurd sentimentality, Mr. Giddens must be earnest in poor Walkinshaw's absurd jealousy, Mrs. John Wood must give gravity to the burlesque romance which belongs to a Malvina de Vere. Mr. Maltby as Dr. Lobb, Miss Saker as the prosaic fairy — anxious not to be late for the pantomime lest she should be put with the stout ones at the back — Mr. Blakeley as the fussy cheesemonger, and Mr. Redwood as the madman's stolid attendant, all deserve similar commendation for the means which they have employed for the production of a really grotesque result. But, abave all, Mr. Wyndhain's services in connection with the production are worthy of note. He has to keep Foggerty at fever pitch throughout, and yet never to abandon the tone of light comedy. The rôle, in spite of its apparent frivolity, must be an exceptionally arduous one, and without this very adequate interpretation of it much of the wit of Mr. Gilbert's comedy must have been thrown away.
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