|Review of the 1900 revival
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For no very obvious reason Miss Janette Steer has chosen for revival two plays by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, and it is not surprising to find that the author has publicly declined to bless the enterprise. Certainly his final claim to an honourable place in the Biographia Dramatica will rest neither on Pygmalion and Galatea nor on Comedy and Tragedy.
The first of these plays did very well in its day for a public content with the prosaic treatment of what was properly a poetic theme – that is to say, it is honest journeyman work, marking a certain stage in Mr. Gilbert’s artistic development as well as in popular taste; but it is nothing more. Possibly an actress of transcendent genius in the part of Galatea might lift the play out of the region of the commonplace. That, however, must remain sheer conjecture until such an actress makes the experiment. Mere intelligence, earnestness, and moderate capacity, though they are all excellent things in their way, hardly seem to serve as sufficient justification for the present revival. The occasion, of course, does not demand anything in the nature of severe criticism. It is an entirely harmless entertainment. Miss Steer and Miss Annie Hughes are pleasant enough, Miss Regina Repton very much in earnest, and Mr. Harry Paulton as droll as ever. But the whole thing remains – if it is permissible to borrow one of Hazlitt’s favourite quotations – “of no mark or likelihood.”
In Comedy and Tragedy, a piece of unblushing convention, Miss Steer, being a conventional actress, is seen at her best. That a woman in an agony of distress over the mortal peril of her husband should be supposed by the bystanders to be acting, so that when she asks for aid they give her applause instead, is not perhaps the most credible of situations; but it is eminently theatrical, and Miss Steer makes the most of it. Here again, however, the results achieved cannot be said to warrant the reproduction of what was, even in its own day, an inferior specimen of a radically false dramatic species. The English theatre owes much to Mr. W. S. Gilbert; his position is assured; surely it was unnecessary to remind us that he, like the good Homer, aliquando dormitat?
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