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The Athenaeum no. 2305 (Dec. 30, 1871), p. 893


“THESPIS” was never selected as the title-part of a play, until Mr. W.S. Gilbert, last Tuesday night, introduced him in the person of Mr. Toole, associated with a secondary name, ‘The God’s Grown Old.’ [sic]  An author named Kelly, who produced a comedy, ‘Word to the Wise,’ at Drury Lane Theatre in 1770, published a poem entitled ‘Thespis’ in 1766, which was a scurrilous attack on the Drury Lane troupe of that year, and he followed it up by a second part of ‘Thespis,’ in 1767, paying the Covent Garden company compliments equally as gross and personal.  We need scarcely add that Kelly had to go down on his knees to beg the pardon of the artists he had vilified, before his play was acted.  We have Horace’s authority for the doings of Thespis:–

Ignotum tragicae genus invenisse Camenae
Dicitur et plaustris vexisse poëmata Thespis,
Quae canerent agerentque peruncti faecibus ora.

Mr. John Hollingshead scorns to supply Thespis with travelling vans, movable stages, and hanging scenery, but he puts the pencil of Mr. Gordon in requisition, who has depicted the ruined Temple of the Gods on Mount Olympus, in one act, while in the next part we have the Temple restored.  Then the wandering Thespians, who indulge in a picnic on Mount Olympus, with lobster salad and champagne, and who in gorgeous dresses afford no notion of the race of strolling-players, do not precisely realize the notions of Solon.  According to Plutarch, Solon disapproved of the lies of Thespis although uttered in joke, as he contended these were “poison in jest,” calculated to corrupt society.  There is not the slightest danger to be apprehended from the dialogue of Mr. W.S. Gilbert, for it is innocent and innoxious; those who expected a smart interchange of wit, satire, irony, and repartee in the conferences between the heathen gods and the Thespians, when the agreement is made that the former senile rulers are to superseded by the artists who are to govern the world for a year, were disappointed.  There were but few points made, for the actors and actresses seem to have imbibed the senility and puerility of the gods and goddesses. 

What movement there is in this “original grotesque opera,” must be found in the quicksilver action of Miss E. Farren as Mercury.  Mr. Toole is no more Thespis than he was Michael Garner in Mr. Byron’s piece, which preceded the mythological extravaganza – he is what he always is, Mr. Toole pur et simple; full of fun, which never fails to be infectious, but he has no power of creating a character.  It is possible that Mr. Toole spoke more from impulse than from Mr. W.S. Gilbert’s text; but even if we allow for this drawback, the dialogue was, on the whole, dull and dreary, and not even the mild joke of Bacchus, who, as a wine-grower, converts the grapes into ginger-beer, could rouse the temperament of the audience.  The cleverest hits of Mr. W.S. Gilbert are in the Patter Songs assigned to Mr. Toole and Miss E. Farren, and both were encored

The music, arranged and composed by Mr. A.S. Sullivan (the first verb was not in the bills as it ought to have been), shows that this very clever young musician is right in taking to the composition of comic opera.  His music is thoroughly tuneful, and his orchestral undercurrent is skilful and piquant.  Mr. Sullivan can more than hold his own against his “Gaiety” predecessors, M. Offenbach, M. Hervé, and M. Ėmile Jonas, for his vivacious strains do not descend to extravagance. 

His singers, Mdlle. Clary, Miss Constance Loseby, and Miss Annie Tremaine, did their best, and, if their intonation had been more sure and safe, they would have left little to desire as regards expression.  Having no copy of the words, which the vocalists (except Miss Farren and Mr. Toole) pronounced so indistinctly, we cannot cite any numbers, except the one sung by Mdlle. Clary, in the second act, a duet between her and Miss Loseby, and one between the latter and Miss A. Tremaine, and a very well written song given by Mr. J.G. Taylor.  It will be readily guessed from our notice, that ‘Thespis’ will have the ordinary run of a Christmas piece, but is not likely to hold a place in the permanent répertoire.

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