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The Examiner, issue 3335 (Dec. 30, 1871), p. 1289
Mr. W.S. Gilbert’s “Pygmalion” and “Thespis.”
If burlesques of classical subjects are to be written for the stage, we may be grateful to Mr W.S. Gilbert for cultivating such a refined style of burlesque-writing as appears in his “Pygmalion and Galatea,” which was produced at the Haymarket Theatre three weeks ago, and his “Thespis,” brought out at the Gaiety last Tuesday. The former he calls a “mythological comedy,” and the latter a “grotesque opera”; and perhaps to neither is the term burlesque strictly applicable, as neither of them makes fun of any older and graver play, and both are substantially original compositions. The spirit of caricature, however, is strong in both; and, unlike in most respects, they agree in showing how it is possible to draw fun out of classical subjects without recourse to vulgar and sacrilegious tampering with serious themes. On this account they deserve more praise than, if our modern drama were in a healthier state, they would be entitled to for any positive merits; though in each there is fair evidence of the skill that gives Mr Gilbert a prominent place among the playwrights of the present day. … [paragraph on “Pygmalion and Galatea” omitted]
“Thespis” is of much lighter sort. It differs little, indeed, from an ordinary extravaganza, save in its freedom from puns and the better style of humour that it displays. Most of our contemporaries, we observe, have taken occasion to sneer at it for its lack of wit. Its wit, certainly, is not very great; but what there is, is far above the average of burlesque-writing, and we most heartily wish that it may lead to the production of other burlesques, or “grotesque operas,” or whatever they are to be called, as good. The frolic of the piece – apparently with a thread of serious irony running through it – is in the presentment of the Olympian gods as too old for their work, and deprived of the honour that was formerly conceded to them. Jupiter, Apollo, and Mars hobble about the temple of Olympus, and only Mercury is nimble. During their perplexity they are intruded upon by a company of strolling players – certainly very unlike strolling players – with Thespis at their head, and Thespis suggests that Jupiter and the other gods shall go down to earth to see what chance they have of retrieving their fortunes by adapting themselves to the altered conditions of human life, leaving him and his companions to play at gods and goddesses the while. That is done, and we are entertained by the blunderings of the sham deities, though these appear to have no more effect upon the world than the proceedings of their predecessors. Mr. Gilbert might have worked out his plot more carefully than he has done; but such as it is, it is very good, and deserves a thorough success. It is provided with some pretty music by Mr Arthur Sullivan, and is briskly acted by the Gaiety company, strengthened by Mr Toole, who plays Thespis, and Miss E. Farren, who is quicksilver itself as Mercury. It is a pity that in such an improvement on ordinary burlesques some of the dresses of the actresses should be more than ordinarily indecent.
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