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Review of the Production from The Times
Wednesday, January 21, 1874
 
ROYALTY THEATRE

The new comedy, brought out with great success at this theatre, and entitled Ought We to Visit Her? is ostensibly the joint work of Mrs. Edwardes and Mr. W. S. Gilbert. We have reason to believe that this is the nature of the partnership:– Mr. Gilbert, with the sanction of the authoress of a well-known novel thus entitled, wrote the play which is based upon it. The mention of the two names is an act of justice not every day to be contemplated. The matter is found by the lady, the dramatic form is produced by the gentleman, and both have a fair title to the fame which attaches to the theatrical result. Be it understood that in co-operations of this sort the matter is not the mere δύναμε whereof we read in the more recondite works of Aristotle, and which is capable of becoming anything, but that it already has a form of its own, that of the narrative. Against the difficulties of this undramatic form Mr. Gilbert has been compelled to fight, and victory is the consequence of the combat.

We do not mean to say that the play to be seen at the Royalty is by any means to be accepted as a substitute for the clever novel upon which it is founded. The descriptions, the satire, of Mrs. Edwardes, are not to be squeezed into two hours of time, or into a space bounded by a row of footlights. The comedy is but a shadow of the novel. Nevertheless, through the very fact that the shadow does not too accurately represent the substance, it is a play.
The novel, Ought We to Visit Her? is a symbolical character in the history of the great war between “Bohemia” – a country which Shakespeare, with an eye to the future, rightly described as having a seacoast – and “Society.” Concerning this war no telegrams arrive, and to many a quiet paterfamilias its existence is utterly unknown; but to a large portion of British subjects, especially those connected with literature and art, it is of infinitely more importance than anything connected with Ashantee. In the question, Ought We to Visit Her? the difficulty of settling a boundary-line, which is the cause of this, as of so many other wars, is clearly indicated.

The principal personage is a girl in her teens, of humble origin, who, just about to make her appearance on the stage, breaks off an engagement to marry Francis Theobald, a young Guardsman of high lineage, who plays extremely well at écarté, and who, if he is not exactly a “leg,” is something very like it. The fond couple lead a merry, happy-go-lucky life on the Continent, choosing especially those towns (N.B., the book was written before 1872) where gaming is an honoured institution, and their happiness is increased by the birth of a child, to which, because she was born in the spring, they give, with a careless sentimentality, the name of Blossom. Life flows on smoothly. Francis and Jane Theobald, by dint of a little sharp play on the side of the former, exist very pleasantly until calamity, wearing the guise of good fortune, pays them a visit.

A cousin has died, and Francis, with tastes which nothing but successful écarté can satisfy, finds himself entitled to the princely revenue of £600 a year, plus a house in an imaginary English county called “Chalkshire.” To Lidlington, in Chalkshire, Francis and Jane accordingly go, but here difficulties foreseen by Francis, unforeseen by Jane, arise. An anti-Bohemian spirit prevails through Chalkshire, where “Society” reigns despotically, chiefly represented by Mrs. Crosbie, and the still more formidable Mrs. Coventry Brown. Francis, quasi-“leg” though he be, and Lady Rose Golightly, who resides near Lidlington, and leads a dreadfully disreputable life, are perfectly acceptable; nay, the presence of Rose diffuses a roseate hue around it. Francis belongs to an old Chalkshire family, and Lady Rose is the daughter of a duke. But, as for poor Jane Theobald, just on the eve of becoming a member of the ballet when she made the acquaintance of Theobald – “ought we to visit her?”

The question is answered in the negative by the ladies of Lidlington, and when Jane appears as a candidate for membership in a croquet club she is summarily blackballed. But the gentlemen of Lidlington differ from the ladies. Rawdon Crosbie, a lieutenant in the army, son of terrible Mrs. Crosbie, albeit he is engaged to Emma Marsland, a stupid but amiable little heiress, falls desperately in love with Jane, who, thoroughly virtuous at heart, encourages his infatuation a little too much, for the sake of spiting her female foes. The officers of the garrison are likewise smitten more or less deeply by the artless and not over-refined manners of the fair Bohemian, and – what is much more serious – she completely captivates Lady Rose’s brother, the Duke of Malta, who has come down to Lidlington on a visit to his sister.

These somewhat dangerous surroundings would be less perilous than they are did not Francis Theobald, in early days an admirer of Lady Rose, unwarrantably renew his former attachment. With all her Bohemian levity and coquetry, Jane is an excellent wife and mother. But the flirtations of her husband with Lady Rose are so thoroughly undisguised as to become actually insulting, and when, at last, he takes himself off to join his old “flame” at Cowes, Jane feels herself so deeply wronged that she resolves to elope with the Duke of Malta, who has made an appointment to meet her at Brussels. But after crossing the water she falls ill at Ostend. A telegram is sent to her husband, who, having won a “pot of money” from his aristocratic friends at Cowes, immediately joins her, and after an interval, during which the life and death of Jane are nicely balanced, a reconciliation takes place.

Many scenes and a great number of personages are employed to develop this story in a narrative form, and we may add that every scene is highly coloured and that every personage has a marked character. Now we are in an hotel at Spa, now at Theobald’s newly acquired home called “Theobald’s,” in Chalkshire, now at the Lidlington croquet ground, now on the county race-course, now at the race ball, and every place is literally peopled with living figures. In the principal comedies on which his dramatic reputation chiefly depend, Mr. Gilbert has shown a stern regard for the “unities,” and in this case an apparently endless variety lay before him. The problem is only to be solved by exhibiting Jane’s character, so completely elaborated by Mrs. Edwardes, and, hewing down every person and thing which was not necessary for that purpose. Thanks to his ingenuity a play is constructed in three short acts, each consisting of a single scene. The first is at Spa, where Jane is made acquainted with her false position by being flattered by some of the Chalkshire exclusives while they mistake her for a Russian Princess, and “cut” her as soon as the mistake is discovered. The scene of the second is the croquet-ground, where she is placed in direct antagonism with her persecutors.

The third does not comprise, but perverts the flight to the Continent. There is no Duke of Malta, and the person with whom Jane would elope is young Rawdon, but Lady Rose resigns the husband to the wife, instead of taking him to Cowes, and thus happiness is obtained at a cheaper price in the play than in the novel.

Great has been the sacrifice at which “unity of action” has been obtained. Those who are familiar with the book will much lament the absence of the Duke, of a certain Mr. Henry, of James’s sister “Min,” who is on the stage, and of a whole host of living representatives of “Society” and “Bohemia.” But if they understand anything about dramatic construction, they will own that Mr. Gilbert has performed his task remarkably well. His work has not been like that of those who, placing a novel of (say) Mr. Dickens on the stage, make use of certain effective chapters and exclude the rest. In the second and third acts of Ought We to Visit Her? there is nothing that exactly corresponds in the novel; but the dialogue talked by the personages is taken from various chapters, and, with singular taste, is combined into “one harmonious whole.” The book is not reproduced, but dramatized.

Jane Theobald is an admirable part for Miss Henrietta Hodson, and admirably it is sustained. The combination of the Bohemian exterior with an inward sense of rectitude, of the practised coquette with the devoted wife, is clearly and delicately portrayed, and the pathos, where pathos is required, is genuine. There is only one element in Mrs. Edwardes’s Jane which is not accentuated – namely her irascibility. Something in Miss Hodson’s nature forbids her to become a termagant. The amiable emotions she depicts with the utmost accuracy, but the angry passions she rather indicates than exhibits. Her Jane Theobald is no more a vixen than her Juliana (in the Honeymoon), and, perhaps, it is to this very circumstance that her impersonations owe their charm.

The other personages who are made conspicuous are Rawdon, played with becoming impulsiveness by Mr. C. Wyndham, and the amiable Emma Marsland, gently sketched by Miss A. Wilton. Mr. Peveril does all that he can with Francis Theobald, but this very ungentlemanlike gentleman is a blot on both the novel and the play. One can sympathize with a man who ought to be shot, but not with one who ought to be horsewhipped.

The scenery, by Mr. J. O’Connor, is excellent.


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