|Gilbert > Plays > The Gentleman in Black > Review from "The Era"
"The Era", May 22, 1870, p. 11
THE CHARING-CROSS. – Nearly fifty years ago, Dr. Robert Macnish introduced the readers of Blackwood to “a little, meagre, brown-faced, elderly gentleman, in a snuff-coloured surtout, a scarlet waistcoat, black small-clothes, and a wooden leg,” who, going beyond the length of the Pythagorean philosophy, not only believed but put into practice the doctrine that two living bodies may exchange souls with each other. On Thursday evening Mr. W. S. Gilbert, whose Princess at the Olympic achieved so much popularity, introduced us to The Gentleman in Black, whose caprices, founded upon the same doctrine, form the subject of a most mirth-provoking musical legend. It is quite unnecessary to make our readers acquainted with the alias of the Gentleman in Black, seeing that it is never mentioned to ears polite; a very dark “dash” indicates it in the programme, and certainly the author has striven hard to show that the gentleman in question is not always so black as he is painted. Hans Gopp (Miss E. Fowler), a German peasant, is the accepted lover of Bertha (Miss Emmeline Cole), but finds his suit impeded by Baron Otto Von Schlachenstein (Mr. E. Danvers), described by the villagers who have seen him as the most ugly man in existence, “with moles all over his face like hat pegs.” Bertha jokingly accepts the attentions of the Baron, and excites the jealousy of Hans Gopp, to whose assistance comes the Gentleman in Black (Mr. Flockton), arrayed in most unorthodox manner, seeing that instead of horns he wears feathers, and has neither tail nor hoofs. Metempsychosis is suggested to both Hans and the Baron, each jealous of the other. The change is at once made, with the assistance of sundry invocations and a little blue fire, and then confusion becomes “worse confounded.” The Baron, who before made all to tremble before him, now “roars like a sucking dove.” The Baroness (Miss Maxe) and her five children arrive, but Otto Von Schlachenstein knows them not. The “bairns” sing “Father, come home,” and the Baroness by turns implores and threatens, and the end of the first act shows us the Baron completely “floored” by the entreaties of his wife and the denunciations of the villagers.
In the second act we find the Baron at home in the Castle of Schlachenschloss, but still wondering by what right he is there, and astonishing his steward, Grumpff (Mr. W. Terrott) by the alternation in his demeanour. Hans Gopp arrives, and by a narration of a most mysterious story as to their having been changed at birth, induces the mystified Baron to sign away his rights to his title and estates in favour of himself. The metempsychosis, which was to have lasted a month, is put an end to by the Emperor, who, of course, has power to change the calendar, the services of the Gentleman in Black being called into requisition for the purpose. The poor Baron is then “kicked out,” Hans Gopp marries Bertha, and “all goes merrily as a marriage bell.”
Mr. Danvers, as the Baron, was highly amusing. He has naturally a comical face, but with the same face dotted all over with “little hat-pegs,” the effect was irresistible. Miss E. Fowler played Hans Gopp with much vivacity; and the sweet voice of Miss Emmeline Cole in the part of Bertha fully sustained the right to the title given to the piece as a musical legend. In the song “Am I to blame for that,” in which she reproaches Hans for his jealousy, an enthusiastic encore was the result, and a similar compliment was paid to her singing of “I’ll try to make amends.” Mr. F. Robson extracts a good deal of fun from the character of Tintelstein, the Syndic of Schlachenschloss, and the reading of an address to the Baron, prepared three years before for the Empress, created roars of laughter. Mr. W.M. Tarrott made a satisfactory first appearance here as Grumpff, and in the song in praise of his whip met with hearty applause. One of the most effective songs is that sung by the Baron on making his appearance among the villagers, “How d’ye do, Miss what’s your name!” [sic] and this, too, had to be repeated. The music is of a bright and sparkling character, and has been supplied by Mr. F. Clay, who has evidently taken Offenbach and Hervé as his models. There is an efficient chorus, the dresses of the villagers are strikingly pretty, and two admirably painted scenes have been supplied by Mr. W. Leitch. The applause, which abounded throughout the representation, stamped the piece as a success, and, judging by the enthusiasm which greeted the author and composer on their appearance before the curtain, The Gentleman in Black will be found “at home” at the Charing-cross for many weeks to come.
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