|Gilbert's Plays > The Palace of Truth > Review of the Original Production
In the new “fairy comedy” entitled the Palace of Truth, and produced at the Haymarket with great success, the author, Mr. W. S. Gilbert, has attained a point which he has been for some time approaching. His burlesques have never been quite as other burlesques, but have always revealed a persistent desire to get rid of those conventional buffooneries which long seemed essential to the fortunes of the grotesque drama, and the conjecture arose that he was going back to the school of the veteran Mr. Planché, who looked on the treasures of mythological and faëry lore not with a “guffaw,” but with a smile that indicated something like affectionate reverence.
In the Princess, founded on the Laureate’s poem, and brought out early this year at the Olympic, the grotesque element was reduced to a minimum. In the Palace of Truth this element entirely vanishes. Assume the possibility of fairy agency, and a nation neither antique nor modern, governed by one of those kings whom Madame d’Aulnoy loved to enthrone and to surround with a congenial Court, and the new drama may fairly be pronounced a romantic comedy of the more elevated kind. The dialogue, written in blank verse, and abounding in poetic diction, distinguishes it no less from the ordinary modern burlesque than from the fairy dramas which habitually amused our fathers at Easter, and which, created in sober earnest, were as prosaic as they were sober.
The Place of Truth is based on a romance affixed to the Tales of the Castle of Madame de Genlis, a work 50 years ago as familiar to the children of England as to those of Paris, and, if we can trust to the memory of early impressions, well worthy of republication now. The proverbial doctrine which it inculcated, the doctrine that “truth is not to be spoken at all times,” was rather trite than otherwise, but still it was most ingeniously and elaborately brought out, and clothed with a quasi-Oriental imagery which was fashionable when its prolific authoress poured forth her succession of ponderous novels. In the hands of Mr. Gilbert the story acquires a passionate intensity, which gives it a tone rather of the early 17th than of the later 18th century.
King Phanor (Mr. Buckstone) has a Queen Altemire (Mrs. Chippendale), with whom he lives on tolerable terms, and a daughter, Zeolide (Miss Robertson), who is wooed by Prince Philamine (Mr. W. Kendal). The difficulty which perplexes the Court in the first act is the question whether the passion of the Prince for the Princess is sufficiently reciprocated by the latter to justify a speedy union, and Mirza (Miss Caroline Hill), Zeolide’s companion, regarded as a model of virtue and discretion, seems strongly inclined to meet this question with a negative answer. Prince Philamine, who is largely endowed with the qualities of a perfect troubadour, is all ardour and enthusiasm; but the Princess, while she acknowledges her willingness to accept his hand, expresses herself in such laconic style that her real state of mind is not easily ascertained.
In his perplexity, King Phanor bethinks himself of an enchanted edifice, raised upon his domains, and aptly called the “Palace of Truth,” inasmuch as everybody within its precincts is compelled, on all occasions, without regard to the exigencies of self-interest or of etiquette to speak the plainest possible truth in the plainest possible language, and this without the slightest notion that he is departing from his ordinary manner. No one knows the secret of this Palace, save the King and Queen, and, therefore, when the whole Court is invited to a charming retreat hitherto unseen a great treat is expected. King Phanor, anxious to experiment upon others, is aware of certain little indiscretions in his own past life, which might be conveniently concealed from the Queen, and has, therefore, sagaciously provided himself with a talisman, which, acting as a counter-charm to the magical power of the Palace, will render him the sole exception to the general body of truth-speakers.
When the guests have all arrived at the Palace they make revelations that astound not only each other, but the audience likewise. That Chrysal (Mr. Everill), an abject flatterer, would insult everybody was to be expected, and the fact that Zoram (Mr. Clark), a musical courtier, who had always boasted of his profound knowledge of counterpoint, declares that he is unacquainted with the gamut seems but natural. But when we hear the impassioned Prince Philamine avow that he only wooes Zeolide from motives of vanity, while the really devoted person is the Princess, we have legitimate cause for surprise. Nay, the master of the magical apparatus, King Phanor, soon puzzles himself in most unpleasant fashion by abruptly acquainting the Queen with truths he intended to conceal. Sorely troubled he shows his protective talisman to Gelanon (Mr. Braid), a stately magician, who acts as chamberlain of the Palace, and learns that he carries a worthless article, in lieu of the proper talisman, that has evidently been purloined.
The drollery of the situations that arise from a simple notion is greatly heightened by the provision that the persons under the influence of this new atmosphere are never aware of the truths they utter, and that, consequently, their gesticulations are always at variance with their words. Chrysal, when he insults anybody to whom he speaks, retains his old visible forms of adulation, and the noted cynic Aristæus (Mr. Rogers) grumbles forth the confession that he is a very good-natured fellow, who always sees things on the sunny side.
In the third act, which, like the second, is in the Palace of Truth, the Princess Zeolide witnesses, concealed, an interview between Prince Philamine and her companion Mirza, and hears not only that the latter is preferred to herself, but that the two were attached to each other from early youth, and that Philomine has sacrificed Mirza to ambition. In an agony of grief, but in a spirit of magnanimity, she comes forward from her hiding-place, joins the hands of the lovers, and rushes from the stage in despair. But the episode does not end here. Desiring a love-token from Mirza, the impassioned Prince snatches an ornament richly set with diamonds, whereupon she at once falls to her knees, and frantically avows that she is a miracle of deceit and imposture. She it is who has stolen the talisman of King Phanor, now in the hands of Philomine, and has put the worthless article in its place. Of course, the disconsolate Princess will now be espoused to the Prince, and the whole concludes with the destruction of the talisman, which involves the destruction of the magical powers of the Palace of Truth, to the general joy of all concerned.
To this very graceful and original work ample justice has been done by the manager and company of the Haymarket Theatre. Mr. Buckstone, droll as ever, under a novel aspect, and Mrs. Chippendale, as the jealous Queen, stand at the head of a number of comic personages, each of whom is adequately represented. As for the acting of Miss Robertson and Miss Caroline Hill in the serious situation above described, it is a most powerful display of passion on both sides, and the persons accustomed to the “realistic” only will marvel at the amount of earnestness exhibited by the two young ladies, while illustrating a fantastic tale, which has no reference to actual life, amid scenery that converts the Haymarket stage into a continuous fairyland. As a comic contrast to these impassioned rivals, we should mention Azéma, a coquette of a very pronounced kind, who avows her amiable foibles with alarming frankness, and is played with excellent humour by Miss Fanny Gwynne.
When the big piece of the evening is over, people commonly leave the theatre, but those of the audience who are not in too great a hurry to reach home may be recommended to remain and see My Uncle’s Will, the one-act comedy that follows the Palace of Truth. Its author, Mr. Theyre Smith, made himself known about two years ago by a duo-drama entitled A Happy Pair, which, though belonging to a French school, was itself original, and was brought out at the St. James’s Theatre, when the two characters were admirably played by Miss Herbert and Mr. W. Farren.
My Uncle’s Will, written expressly for Miss Robertson and Mr. Kendal, is a piece of exactly the same class, save that a third person is occasionally introduced. Florence Marigold (Miss Robertson) and Charles Cushmore (Mr. Kendal), a lieutenant in the navy, are a young couple who have always loved each other, but whose love has been disturbed by the will of an eccentric uncle, who tried to bind them together by a bequest of £50,000. If Florence refuses to marry Charles, he and not she will have the money, and vice versâ, and if both refuse, the legacy will revert to Mr. Barker (Mr. Rogers), a retired merchant. The compulsion to be married implied in these terms has inspired Florence and Charles with mutual dislike, and each hopes to entrap the other into a profitable “No,” while cunning Mr. Barker, working on the feelings of both, hopes to carry off the golden prize.
As might be expected, the new hate melts down into the old love, and Mr. Barker is defeated. The slight plot of this piece, than which nothing can be less original, is merely devised for the sake of the epigrammatic dialogues, of which Mr. Theyre Smith is a skilled master. There are scarcely two consecutive lines in My Uncle’s Will that do not involve a repartee, and scarcely a repartee that does not tell with the public. The actors engaged in a work of this kind incur no small responsibility, since, if the words are not spoken with the greatest regard to point, and slightly varying emotions are not indicated with discrimination, it must appear insignificant, notwithstanding the pains bestowed on its composition. Miss Robertson and Mr. Kendal are perfect.
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