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Review from The Saturday Review
June 4, 1898.
"THE BEAUTY STONE"
Scene: WARDOUR STREET
MR. C. Give thee good morrow, gossip!
MR. P. Heaven save thee, merry gentleman! What do'st ?
MR. C. Nay, but I gad me to no especial quest.
MR. P. Art not here in the servicement of that good knight, Sir Henry? For well I know he hath much trust of thee, and that 'twas e'en here thou didst disinter for him King Arthur's hallow'd bones.
MR. C. 'Twas e'en here! But th'art in misprision, natheless, of my immediate presence. Fared I hither but for my own pleasuring, having ta'en for many yearn much delightment i' the spot.
MR. P. By Saint Carolo, a right goodly reason! For myself —
MR. C. Aye, tell me of thyself! Art still in thrall to that accursèd knave, Heinrik of Norway?
MR. P. I' sooth, I ha' somewhat tottered i' my fealty o' late. My thought hath stray'd back to old Thomas de Robertson, my first dear liege. Hast seen my fair mummer-maiden, my last-begot ?
MR. C. Aye, I did clap eyes on her at the Court, not many eves agone. Beshrew me, a personable wench! And hast cast off those naughty drabs — on whom a malison! — "The Second Dame Tanqueray" and "Dame Ebbsmith Of Whom All Man Wot?"
MR. P. That have I, gossip — 't least for a space.
MR. C. Then, by the finger-nails of St. Luke, art thou so much the more blessèd !
MR. P. Methinks that I misdoubt me not of thy good wisdom.
MR. C. Methinks that he who would fain doubt the wisdom of a sage is not sage himself !
MR. P. Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho, ho! A right shrewd jest!
MR. C. But, in all graveness, gossip, sith we have thus encounter'd one the other here in the very abodement of Romance herself, and sith we have naught better to do, wherefore should not we make some joint emprise ?
MR. P. Why, by the arrows of Saint Sebastian, that will we!
MR. C. Thy hand on't !
MR. P. Let us to pen!
[Exeunt arm in arm.
I have tried here to indicate for my readers the style in which " The Beauty Stone " is written, and the attempt has not been such a strain on me as I had expected. Indeed, it is surprising how easily this kind of English can be written, even before one has got into the swing of it. In listening to the "original romantic musical drama" at the Savoy I was appalled by the amount of trouble which the mere writing of it must have cost its authors. I did not realise that the difficulty is in listening to that style, not in practising it. Why Mr. Pinero and Mr. Carr, with all their knowledge of audiences, insisted on that fearful style I do not pretend to know. It must be quite as exasperating to uneducated listeners as it is to the listeners who have some culture. It is quite unnecessary, too. The costumes, alone, immediately transport us to the period in which the action of the piece is laid. All that need have been done was to write simply and gracefully, and to avoid modern slang and colloquialisms. Would that have been a more difficult undertaking than the Wardour Street style? Perhaps. But I cannot help thinking that Mr. Carr and Mr. Pinero would have been wiser had they attempted it. I am sure that the indisputable dullness of their " Beauty Stone" comes, mainly, from their pseudo-archaic manner. Their primary idea for the play is rather charming. The idea of beauty as the root of all evil is not new, no doubt, nor very profound. But it is a rather charming idea, and Mr. Pinero and Mr. Carr seem to me to have found a good dramatic scheme for its exposition. The story of the play is pretty and simple. The scenes are nicely ordered and constructed. The crowds are well drilled and well dressed. Some of the backgrounds are quite beautiful, yet the whole thing bores one.
But I suppose there are good reasons, apart from the false literary pretensions of the libretto, for one's boredom. Like Sir Willoughby Pasterne, Mr. Pinero is "not a poet." Nor is Mr. Carr. And poems written by gentlemen who are not poets are always rather depressing. Lyrics written by gentlemen who have had no experience in the difficult art of writing words for music, and sung in a theatre which one associates with Mr. W. S. Gilbert, are not likely to charm the most amenable audience. The audience suffers, in much the same degree as the composer and the singers suffer, from such lyrics. Had Mr. Adrian Ross been called into collaboration in the usual way, the "Beauty Stone" would be infinitely better than it is. It would be infinitely worse than it is if its gifted authors had insisted on writing their own music. Yet, really, they are quite as well qualified to write their own music as to write their own lyrics, and I hope that next time they will write neither. But is there any other reason for one's boredom? Yes, there is one very obvious reason. The libretto is deadly dull — there is not one passable joke in it. Of course, in a "romantic musical drama" one does not expect so much fun as in a "comic opera." Both Mr. Carr and Mr. Pinero are known to possess great powers of humour, and if they had kept humour entirely out of their play, one could but have concluded that they regarded humour as inconsistent with the dignity of "romantic musical drama." But in "The Beauty Stone" there are many moments when laughter is wilfully courted, and at these moments one can but wonder whether Mr. Pinero really wrote the exquisite farces attributed to him, and whence Mr. Carr derives the delightful mots and repartees for which he is famous. Anything more dreary than the part of comic Devil, assigned to Mr. Passmore, is almost inconceivable. Have we not had just about enough of the Devil on the stage? The part played by him is always quite inessential to the action of a piece. As a novelty, he has terribly declined: whether he be presented in a tragic light, as by the adaptors of Miss Corelli's most famous novel, or in a merely grotesque and "thank-you-I-don't-feel-the-heat " light, as by Mr. Pinero and Mr. Carr, he is insufferably tedious and futile.
I am sorry that I have not found much to praise in "The Beauty Stone." I should like it to have a long run though I would rather not be invited to the hundredth night. I should like to see the Savoy, that charming little theatre, really popular again. In that they have not attempted to reproduce the form of the Gilbertian triumphs, but have tried a new form of their own, Mr. Pinero and Mr. Carr have done wisely. I think that their new form may, in the future, worked by other hands, produce a new crop of successes for Mr. D'Oyly Carte. I should be rather glad to see the public leaving musical farcical-comedy in the lurch, for musical farcical-comedy destroyed both comic opera and burlesque, two forms in which I delighted. But, in the meantime, I shall continue my visits to the Gaiety and the Shaftesbury, where the shows are good of their kind, giving the Savoy my best wishes and my widest berth.
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