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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Foggerty's Fairy
Review published in The Times, December 26th, 1881.


CHRISTMAS AMUSEMENTS (excerpt)

THE THEATRES

Mr. Wyndham’s clever company at the Criterion has been engaged for some few days past with a new piece by Mr. Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert is one of the most considerable of all our playwrights, the most careful, the most finished, and, up to a certain point, the most skilful; yet, it must be admitted, he lacks ideas. Ideas, indeed, he has, quaint, uncommon, and peculiarly his own; but they came to him some time ago, and they have remained with him very long. Foggerty’s Fairy is practically no more than another elaboration of the idea which first surprised and amused us in his “Bab Ballads,” and to which he has really been confining himself, with rare and not very successful exceptions, ever since. Wit Mr. Gilbert has and humour, but in his work both wit and humour are subordinate to the grotesque.

Now, the essence of grotesque is surprise, and the essence of surprise is brevity. What surprised and amused in a “Bab Ballad” or a Trial by Jury becomes, perhaps, a little wearisome in a succession of acts, and even more, perhaps, than a little wearisome when it is employed as the framework for an elaborate plot. This new play at the Criterion has the same fault as his Engaged which, after a languid existence at the Haymarket some few years ago, has lately started into fresh and seemingly vigorous life at the Court. Both suffer from the absence of humanity. There is no flesh and blood in the characters; they are merely ideas, the immature and unsubstantial pledges of the writer’s love of the grotesque.

Yet the work, such as it is, is done with a neat, practised, and nimble hand; small and unimportant as the object may to some of us seem, the workman’s eye is kept steadily upon it, and even to those who would prefer a little more seriousness and solidity, a larger measure of breadth, in short, to so much length, the work must always possess a certain, if only momentary, attraction. The real quality of a writer of such distinction as Mr. Gilbert has attained cannot but be of interest to those – and they are many now – who take an earnest and thoughtful interest in the work of our stage, and we shall hope to find an early opportunity again to examine it. Let it suffice for the present to say that, at both houses, the actors do their work well, though at the Court the actor’s true business may be best described as to abstain from acting.


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