|Gilbert > Plays > The Fortune Hunter > Times Review
BIRMINGHAM, SEPT. 27.
The Fortune Hunter, a three-act drama, written by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, was produced here to-night at the Theatre Royal, by Miss Fortescue and her company. We may say at once that this work is very unlike that with which Mr. Gilbert’s name is associated; and, unfortunately, the remark may be taken in its fullest sense. In dialogue The Fortune Hunter does not bear signs of the hand to which we owe the witty and ingenious librettos of Savoy opera. Its closest affinity in the stage at the present moment would have to be sought in the melodrama of the suburban theatres. In fact, it is with a purely melodramatic motive and situations that the case is concerned, while the dialogue is almost laboured enough to suggest the hand of a novice. It is evident that working in an unfamiliar medium Mr. Gilbert has not been able to give rein to his sense of the humorous. Some drawback of the kind has weighed upon most of his efforts to cultivate the drama as opposed to the libretto of comic opera. Perhaps the very qualities that establish his success at the Savoy militate against him when he sits down to tell a serious story in a serious manner.
The subject that Mr. Gilbert has chosen for illustration is the article in the Code Napoléon which allows a Frenchman’s marriage to be nullified if he has contracted it under the age of 25 without the consent of his parents. The Vicomte Armand De Breville has, under these circumstances, married a young English-woman of fortune. In a few months the fortune is dissipated, but the marriage still remains valid in name, while the Vicomte is at his wit’s end to face his creditors.
However, a strong temptation to nullify it presents itself. The Vicomte in his travels had met an American heiress, daughter of a Chicago pork dealer, and had sued for her hand and her ten millions of dollars in vain. He had a rival in an octogenarian English duke, who duly carried off the double prize, and on the deck of the P. and O. steamer, which forms the opening scene of the play, we make acquaintance with these various characters. A few months later the octogenarian peer dies, leaving the American lady once more free, and her fancy lights upon her quondam admirer, Vicomte Armand, who is thus tempted to discard his young English wife in order to marry the soi-disant “ten-million-dollar duchess.” In order to extenuate the infamy of his conduct, the Vicomte attributes the necessity of annulment to his proud and haughty parents; but the hollowness of this pretence is discovered when the aged Marquis and Marquise De Breville put in an appearance and, after explanations, take their English daughter-in-law to their arms and disown their unworthy son.
The first act having brought the dramatis personæ together on board the P. and O. liner, the second shows us the unhallowed home of the villainous Vicomte in the Champs Elysées. In the third act the perfidious husband is in the villa of the widowed duchess at Monte Carlo, pursuing his new matrimonial project. His evil genius whispers to him to make a clean breast of his wickedness, and the duchess forthwith gives him his congé. By this time, thanks to a revirement, which is commoner in sensational drama than in real life, the Vicomte has by this time come to see the error of his ways. He is resolved to do tardy justice to his English wife and to stay the nullity proceedings which he has instituted.
Unfortunately, being at Monte Carlo, while the case is set down for hearing in Paris on the following day, the Vicomte has no means of stopping the proceedings in time – or so at least he is advised by an addle-pated avocat, to whom, strangely enough, Mr. Gilbert has given the name of Maître Lachaud, that of one of the most famous members of the French Bar. There is no legal way of stopping the proceedings, but there is another expedient which the villain, now reformed, proceeds to adopt. This is to have himself killed in a duel. The occasion is not long in presenting itself – indeed Mr. Gilbert makes no scruple about fitting the action of his characters to the plot without regard to probability, in which respect he differs from the newer school of dramatists, who study plausibility perhaps too much.
At the desired moment an old friend of the wronged woman’s presents himself. A quarrel is speedily forced upon him by the Vicomte, rapiers are brought, and an encounter takes place on the spot, which is the Duchess of Dundee’s drawing room, with the result that the Vicomte, after the first few passes, suddenly throwing up his guard, allows himself to be run through the body. Naturally the now forgiving wife is brought upon the scene to receive her husband’s dying confession of regard for her, and for the inevitable child, of whose existence we now hear for the first-time, and amid a sorrowing group, which, seems to call for the limelight, the penitent Vicomte expires in the odour of sanctity.
The bare recital of this story is enough to prove its relation to a very different, not to say lower, form of drama than that which has brought fame and fortune to Mr. Gilbert, so that one may be permitted to wonder why the brilliant librettist should seek distinction in this newer field. “Newer” perhaps is hardly the word. Mr. Gilbert’s aspirations towards being a successful dramatist are of old date, and we are sorry to say there is little prospect of their being advanced by The Fortune Hunter. There is not a line in the new play that one would instinctively associate with its author’s name. In characterization there is just here and there a stroke of satire. The octogenarian Duke who has bartered his coronet for the Chicago pork dealer’s dollars is a physical wreck, and the line received with most laughter is the Duchess’s order to her manservant – “Undress the Duke and put him to bed.” It is not a wonderful joke, and, such as it is, is obtained at the expense of truth. Do octogenarian Dukes travel in quest of Chicago heiresses? The Chicago pork business and the American heiress herself, vulgar, outspoken, good-hearted, have been worn threadbare in drama. Though Mr. Gilbert takes them up for the first time a better effect is produced by the obsequious snobbery of a travelling cockney, who mistakes the Duke’s courier for His Grace himself, albeit the joke which is made at the tourist’s expense is drawn out to a dangerous degree of tenuity.
In the serious passages of the play the dialogue assumes a florid and rhetorical character, more suggestive of a transpontine theatre than of the Savoy. Mr. Gilbert, weighted by his unfamiliar responsibilities, has borrowed something of the style of the sensational novelette. A similar artificiality is imparted to his characters, which are all more or less stage-made puppets, into whose nostrils be has omitted to breathe the breath of life. Miss Fortescue, in becoming dresses of pink and black, enacts with earnestness and propriety, though at no time with marked force, the various phases of the heroine’s career. Mr. Luigi Lablache plays the villain in a “robustious” style, and Miss Cicely Richards has the comparatively easy task of embodying the American heiress on conventional lines. Upon Mr. Edmund Maurice devolves the rendering of the English gentleman who takes the heroine’s case in hand, and odds and ends of character are given by Mr. G. P. Hawtrey, Mr. Compton Coutts, and others. The piece was well received by the provincial audience, to whom Mr. Gilbert bowed his acknowledgment.
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