|Review of the first revival
Pending the completion of the new operetta on which Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are understood to be engaged, the Savoy Theatre relies upon revivals of earlier favourites, and the Pinafore, having run its course, was on Saturday evening followed by The Pirates of Penzance. This work, having been first introduced in 1880, was originally perhaps rather less successful than its immediate predecessor; but its reception on Saturday was such that a long and prosperous career may be safely predicted for the revival. The audience was less distinguished than is usually the case at first nights at the Savoy, and the occasion was shorn of much of its interest by the absence of Sir Arthur Sullivan from the conductor’s seat. But, on the other hand, there was no falling off in the favour with which Mr. Gilbert’s good-humoured and perfectly harmless sallies, and the charming melodies which Sir Arthur Sullivan has wedded to them, were received by the audience. There was the usual ripple of half-suppressed merriment, occasionally bursting forth into loud laughter and rapturous applause, and leading to any number of encores, and general good humour was the order of the day.
It might have furnished a study of some psychological interest, and one extremely useful to the aspiring playwright, to note carefully those jokes and fancies which had lost nothing of their freshness as distinguished from others which appeared decidedly stale. Let us take an instance in point. The idea of a man who, like Rossini, has been born on the 29th of February, and who, therefore, is bound by his indentures to serve the pirates till his 21st birthday in the year 1940, is a mere quibble. One may laugh at it hearing it for the first time, but when once the element of surprise is used up there remains comparatively little that is amusing in it. One side of Mr. Gilbert’s wit relies entirely upon fantastic notions of this kind; but there is another side which goes deeper and almost attains to the dignity of “humour” in Coleridge’s sense, because it presents a reality of human nature, however exaggerated and fancifully distorted. The idea, for instance, of a policeman with humanitarian tendencies, who pities the burglar because in the intervals of his felonious calling he is capable of innocent enjoyment, but “runs him in” all the same, is, although very improbable, not in its nature impossible. There is a residuum of intrinsic truth at the bottom of this quaint conceit, and it is just this residuum, or, in other words, this touch of nature, which preserves the freshness of the joke and makes one like it even better the second time than the first.
The policeman’s song, rendered with sublime aplomb by Mr. Rutland Barrington and his merry men, was accordingly applauded to the echo. In other respects, also, the revival of the Pirates, although less elaborately mounted than that of the Pinafore, showed all the signs of careful rehearsal under the author’s own superintendence, without which a Savoy performance would not be what it is. Several members of the original cast took part in Saturday’s proceedings. Mr. Grossmith, as Major-General Stanley, was more correctly prim in his military attire and more irresistibly comic in his sentimental flights than ever, and his address to the running brooklets and blowing breezes – a masterpiece, by the way, of ingenious musical design – once more solved triumphantly the paradox, even more difficult than that mentioned in the play, of how a song can be admirably rendered without an atom of voice. Mr. Richard Temple as the truculent Pirate King, Miss Jessie Bond as Edith, and Mr. Rutland Barrington as the sergeant of police, already referred to, also sustained their original parts with undiminished success.
The character of Mabel, the heroine, “created,” as the stage phrase runs, by Miss Marion Hood, is now in the hands of Miss Geraldine Ulmar, a young lady gifted with a telling voice, which she uses with good effect in the vocal valse in the first act, and other pieces requiring an extensive compass and .a considerable amount of agilitá. Her voice, however, lacks the sympathetic quality and the melodic gem of the score, “Oh, leave me not to pine,” was given without much feeling. Altogether Miss Ulmar’s style of acting and singing is a little too pronounced for the subdued and refined scale of colour which is one of the chief characteristics of these performances.
Talking of colour, we may mention that the blues and reds of the pirates’ dresses were positively painful to the eye, and it must be hoped that successive layers of dust will soon tone down their brightness. It should also be noted that, while General Stanley’s numerous daughters singing in chorus wear the high-waisted frocks of half a century ago, their sister Mabel appears in a modern dress, including a “dress-improver,” which might have come from M. Worth’s atelier yesterday. This mixture of costumes is common enough on the Italian stage – vide, for example, La Traviata, in which the gentlemen disport knee breeches, while the heroine adopts the latest fashion of the day – but in an entertainment of Mr. Gilbert’s devising, which, although extravagant, is supposed to be to a certain extent rational, such an anomaly should not be tolerated.
Miss Rosina Brandram, as Ruth, the piratical maid of all work, was satisfactory; Mr. J. G. Robertson, an agreeable tenorino, sang well as Frederic, and if this young artist does not as yet show any particular dramatic aptitude, he may take comfort in the thought that his immediate predecessor, Mr. Durward Lely, was at first a very awkward actor, and yet, under Mr. Gilbert’s training, developed into the dashing tar in Ruddigore. Mr. François Cellier conducted the performance with care and circumspection.
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