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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   The Princess by W. S. Gilbert

Review from The Times
Monday, January 10, 1870


Although Little Em’ly retains its full power of attraction, Mr. W. H. Liston, the manager of the Olympic Theatre, paid on Saturday a tardy tribute to the season by the production of a new burlesque, or, to speak according to the programme, a “Whimsical Allegory,” on a scale of magnificence which, even in these days of elaborate decoration, is surprising. It is called The Princess, the title and the subject having been taken by the author, Mr. W. S. Gilbert, from the well-known poem by the Poet Laureate.

The temporary triumph of the strong-minded woman, so often talked about now-a-days, and her ultimate submission to the resistless power of love, such is the theme, treated, not in ordinary rhyme, but in more stately blank verse.

The Princess (Miss M. Reinhardt), daughter of King Gama (Mr. G. Elliot), is betrothed to Prince Hilarian (sic) (Mrs. W. H. Liston), son of King Hildebrand (Mr. D. Fisher), but has resolved to lead a single life, and, moreover, has promoted the cause of female independence by establishing a “Ladies’ University,” over which Lady Blanche (Mrs. Poynter) exercises a sort of viceregal authority as “Professor of Abstract Philosophy.”

Prince Hilarian, however, not to be easily put off, betakes himself to “Castle Adamant,” where the Princess resides, accompanied by his friends, Cyril (Miss A. Thomson) and Florian (Miss M. Montgomery), and all three, assuming the garb of female undergraduates, obtain admission, through the good offices of the pastor, Golbo (sic) (Mr. St. Maur). Of Lady Psyche (Miss F. Addison), the “Professor of Experimental Science,” who happens to be Florian’s sister, they make a confident, and are overheard by Blanche’s daughter, Melissa (Miss P. Josephs), who, admiring Florian, willingly enters into the conspiracy, and is soon joined by her formidable mother, who has discovered the sex of the new students by means of a cigar-case, and is made to see that she herself will become the chief of the academy if the Princess retires.

However, when the imprudence of Cyril, who sings a reckless song (given with great spirit by Miss A. Thompson), reveals the truth to Ida, that stern young lady becomes wrathful in the extreme, and it is only her fall into a river and her rescue by Hilarian that induces her to refrain from visiting the intruders with condign punishment.

The story terminates with the invasion of Castle Adamant by King Hildebrand, who already holds King Gama a prisoner, but who, being a good-humoured soul, employs persuasion rather than forcible means to make the Princess capitulate. When Ida has already been disgusted by the effeminacy of her fair soldiers, whose strength of mind does not equal her hopes, she witnesses from one of her battlements a combat of six between her three brothers and her former pupils, till the peril of her kinsmen causes her to descend from her height and prevent extremities by becoming the wife of Hilarian.

It is the principle of Mr. W. S. Gilbert to depart from the routine of burlesque, and those who associate this species of drama with conventional “breakdowns” and loudly “funny” songs will find the Princess correspond even less to their expectations than the previous works of the same writer. But if, on the one hand, there is an intentional deficiency of reckless drollery, we have, on the other hand, singular neatness of construction, a skilful contrivance of situations, and an elevation of dialogue that denotes an approach to a new kind of dramatic entertainment. A speech in favour of woman’s rights put into the mouth of the Princess may especially be cited as an excellent specimen of Mr. Gilbert’s writing, and it also served to display great elocutionary power in Miss Reinhardt, known in the provinces as a tragic actress, but not familiar to London. The characters are generally played with great spirit, but are too numerous and equally balanced to require special observation.

The scenery, by Mr. J. Johnson and assistants, comprising a marvellous ruin, crossed by a practical bridge, and a castle of wondrous solidity, and the manner in which abundant resources have been turned to account by Mrs. W. H. Liston, who made her first appearance for the season, and under whose superintendence the piece was produced, merit the highest commendations. The hearty and spontaneous applause which followed the fall of the curtain on Saturday, and was in every way consistent with the feeling manifested by the audience throughout the performance, bears testimony to a decided, unequivocal success.

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