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Review of the first night from The Times
Friday, January 27, 1871

About a twelvemonth ago a theatre was opened in Sloane-square, Chelsea, but remained so utterly obscure that it is doubtful whether many persons residing in its vicinity ever heard of its existence. The hopeless edifice had not stood long when it was pulled down, and on its site a new house, bearing the above title, has been erected, under the supervision of Mr. Walter Emden. This was opened on Wednesday night, under the management of Miss Litton.
The appearance of the theatre, which is small and constructed with regard to commodiousness and elegance, and the names on the programme show that the performance of a somewhat refined species of drama is contemplated. Mr. Hermann Vezin, Mr. Frank Matthews, Mr. Belford, Mrs. Stephens, Miss E. Bufton, Miss Brennan, and Miss Kate Bishop are all accepted favourites, and the list is increased by Mr. E. Righton, who on Wednesday made his first appearance in London, but brings a high reputation from the provinces.

After the conclusion of an introductory farce and of an inaugural address in rhyme, delivered with much eloquence by Mrs. Hermann Vezin, Mr. Gilbert’s comedy, entitled Randall’s Thumb, begins. The title refers to the unpleasant position in which a young gentleman named Buckthorpe (Mr. Hermann Vezin) is placed, through the circumstance that, consistently with the law of self-defence, he has assailed a supposed robber with a swordstick and caused him to fall from the edge of a precipice. Terrified at the incident, he flies the country and remains abroad till the noise of the affair has blown over, instead of relying on the justice of his cause. By this ill-advised proceeding he has put himself “under the thumb” of Randall (Mr. Belford), a desperate adventurer, who, knowing what has happened, makes him believe that the coroner’s jury, who sat on the body of his victim, returned a verdict of wilful murder against him, and that £300 is offered for his apprehension. He thus compels him, to do any dirty work which may be for Randall’s interest.

This is the relation between Randall and the man under his thumb when the curtain rises for the commencement of the piece, the action of which occurring at an imaginary seaside town, called Beachigton, allows the introduction of some extremely pretty scenery. Worthy Mr. Randall is bent on the perpetration of a new villany. According to his own account, he married a very old lady, who died shortly after the ceremony, leaving the whole of her property, £30,000, to her niece Edith Temple (Miss Kate Bishop). The will having been made before marriage can be legally set aside, but Randall is so familiar with the criminal branch of the law that he considers it undesirable to become conspicuous as the plaintiff in a civil suit, and he therefore urges Buckthorpe, whom he has brought down with him to Beachington, to cultivate the acquaintance of Edith, who is stopping at the principal hotel with her uncle, Dr. Trotway (Mr. H. Mellon), and learn all he can of her deceased aunt’s antecedents. As it happens, Buckthorpe discovers in Edith a young lady of whom he was enamoured some years before, and whom he would have married had not his early dissipation made an unfavourable impression upon the mind of her father.

He is now a reformed man, and the hope of recovering the affections of Miss Temple inspires him with the desire of being, not the tool, but the adversary of Randall.
The story which constitutes the main plot of the piece is carried on amid a throng of persons, who at first seem to have little or nothing to do with it, but most of whom are ingeniously brought into connexion with it before the fall of the curtain. There are Mr. Flamboys (Mr. Astley) and his wife (Miss E. Bufton), a newly wedded pair, who pretend to have been married five years, that they may not be exposed to the impertinent curiosity consequent on the avowal of a honeymoon, and keep up the delusion by quarrelling before company, though they are as affectionate as possible when left alone. Then, by way of contrast, there are Mr. and Mrs. Scantlebury (Mr. Frank Matthews and Mrs. Stephens), whose theory of happiness is directly opposite to that of the Flamboys, and who, having been married 35 years, feign that they are on their wedding tour, on purpose to look interesting and, consistently, are affectionate before company, though they have their little bickerings in private.

Joe Bangles (Mr. E. Righton), an elderly medical man, intimate with Dr. Trotway, and Miss Spinn (Miss. M. Brennan), an adventurous spinster, who does her best to hunt him into matrimony, complete the group. A pic-nic party, organized by Miss Spinn, brings all these personages close together, and likewise serves to introduce a somewhat “sensational” scene, as the waters rise, and the chief personages are obliged to save themselves by means of a boat.

The development of the story consists in the gradual release of Buckthorpe from “Randall’s Thumb.” By some decision in the Vice-Chancellors Court he has become a comparatively rich man, and is finally engaged to Edith; but his intimacy with Randall, from whom everybody shrinks, casts a slur upon his character. He finds an unexpected friend in Joe Bangles, who has himself entertained a predilection for the young lady, and does not wish to see her united to a man of blemished reputation. Extracting from Buckthorpe a confession of his secret, Joe resolves to see the difficulty brought to a close, and, confronting Randall, openly tells him that if he was in a position to prove the murder, and nevertheless, concealed his knowledge, he is legally an accomplice, and may be apprehended accordingly.

From this moment the power of the mighty Randall is gone, and he drops lower and lower into an abyss of incapacity. The man whom Buckthorpe murdered is not dead at all, but turns out to be Joe Bangles himself, who took Buckthorpe for a thief, and fell from the cliff without injury to his neck. There was no coroner’s inquest and no reward was offered. Neither was Randall ever married to Edith’s aunt. There was, indeed, some sort of marriage with – somebody, but as Miss Spinn, who was once a pew-opener, can prove, it was not the marriage Randall has described. In short, the poor fallen tyrant loses everything, even his hair and his whiskers, which the police detach when arresting him on a charge of forgery, and he remains a bald-headed image of detected villainy. That wonders may not cease, Buckthorpe turns out to be the son of Mr. and Mrs. Scantlebury, lost in infancy.

It will be seen that Mr. Gilbert has constructed his plot with no slight ingenuity, boldly forcing the means at his disposal to bring about the required ends. Indeed, when two minutes before the fall of the curtain he makes the unexpected revelation that Buckthorpe is the offspring of the old couple who pretend to be enjoying their honeymoon, it almost seems as if he has returned to his old habit of burlesquing, and is inclined to crack a joke at the expense of his own story. The dialogue is written with his accustomed point, and he has taken great pains to exhibit varieties of marked character. His anxiety to form a large characteristic assembly has, indeed, led to an exuberance which will render necessary the curtailment of some of the earlier scenes, since the personages who sustain the interest of the play are sometimes thrown into the background by others, whose chief object is to show their own peculiarities. It should be observed, however, that as the piece progresses the interest is increased.

Mr. Gilbert is fortunate in his company. The new actor, Mr. E. Righton, who during two acts had played bluff Joe Bangles satisfactorily enough, took the audience by surprise in the third, when he set the unwieldy swindler at defiance. Mr. Belford, capitally made up as Randall, looked so big and his adversary so small, that the fury of the latter and the growing timidity of the former produced a most comical effect. Buckthorpe, though he is the central figure in the plot, is not very strongly marked, but he offers opportunities, which were readily seized by Mr. Hermann Vezin, whose manly outburst against the intolerable oppression of the man with the “thumb” was admirable. The other parts were well played.

The evening’s entertainment terminated with a farce by Mr. F. A. Marshall, entitled Q.E.D., these familiar letters denoting the signature of one Major Adolphus Spagle (Mr. Belford) to a matrimonial advertisement, and also being the initials of Dr. Quintus Epicurus Donne (Mr. E. Righton), a Professor of Moral Philosophy, resident in the same house. The result of this identity is that the Professor is brought into contact with Miss Bridget O’Shaughnessy (Miss M. Brennan), a violent Irish damsel, the correspondent of the Major, when he expects Madelle. Mayonne (Miss Kate Bishop), a French lady, to whom he is ultimately married. All, of course, comes right in the end. In this little farce, which is written with much vigour, the two ladies have greater occasion for display than in the comedy. The broken English and the unobtrusive manner of Miss Kate Bishop and the strong Milesian spirit of Miss Brennan are alike excellent. Mr. Righton, so good as Joe Bangles, is not equally at home as the simple-minded professor, to whom the author evidently intended to give somewhat of an idyllic tone.

Both pieces were perfectly successful, and the two authors made their appearance before the curtain in compliance with a loudly-expressed demand.

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