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Penny Illustrated Paper, vol. 22 no. 537, Jan. 6, 1872, p. 15.

“Thespis; or, The Gods Grown Old.”

Mr. Gilbert’s Gaiety extravaganza grows in public favour, and deservedly so, for “Thespis” is smartly written, tunefully set to music by Mr. Arthur Sullivan, capitally enacted, and superbly mounted by Mr. John Hollingshead.  The plot is interesting enough.  According to the whim of Mr. Gilbert, the gods in Olympus have grown old and enfeebled.  They are tottering old fellows, and past their work.  Jupiter hobbles about in scarlet, bent double like the Cardinal in Mr. Orchardson’s last Academy picture.  Apollo is dyed, and made up like Mr. Hare in the comedy of “School.”  Mars is a greybeard.  Diana is sour and vixenish.  The lovely Venus herself is painted, overwieldy with fat, and altogether a ludicrous spectacle.  In Mercury alone is preserved the exquisite vivacity, and the consequence is that the willing boy is worked off his legs, and, according to his own story, is nothing but an Olympian drudge.  Something, it is clear, must be done to enable the gods to keep pace with the world down below, and to enable the universe to work harmoniously.  A picnic, given by Thespis, the manager of a travelling company, to his friends and servants, who wander to the top of the Olympian mount, affords an opportunity for a welcome introduction.  Thespis, an active, business-like fellow, is taken into the confidence of Jupiter, and he has, of course, a notion cut and dried.  He suggests that Jupiter and his worn-out old folks should go down below, mix with the mortals, and see what is going on, while the showman remains in Olympus to rule the world with his theatrical company.  Mercury is left at home to be consulted, if necessary.  The first act terminates with a dance of joy, consequent on this happy notion and expressive of mutual satisfaction.  The immortals hobble down the mountain, while the mortals, delighted at the run, give them a parting cheer.

It turns out that Thespis is the best-natured fellow in the world, and, on assuming office, he instructs his company emphatically on two points.  They are to take it as easily as possible, and to encourage any new ideas of policy which may strike them while pursuing their Olympian occupations.  The first instruction is not very strictly obeyed; for Sparkeion, a fascinating Thespian, who, when on earth, was loved by Daphne and Nicemis, finds matters much worse now that he is Apollo and the ladies are Diana and Venus.  [sic]  In fact, there are great difficulties with the family and with the original editions of Lemprière.  For a whole year Thespis has ruled on Olympus on these easy principles, and at the end of that time he hears, to his horror, from the artful Mercury that the day of reckoning is at hand.  It is the rule in Olympus to postpone all the petitions sent up from earth for a whole year, and now is the time for the truth to be told.  The petitions disclose a frightful state of things.  Time has been playing tricks with the week, omitting Saturdays altogether, and making the world groan under an infliction of wet Fridays.  The crops have grown upside down; and Bacchus, who has turned teetotaler, and taken the pledge, has actually dared to fill all the grapes in the world with ginger-beer.  It is quite clear that this state of things cannot go on any longer.  If it were persisted in chaos would come again.  So Jupiter, Apollo, and Mars sneak back to Olympus masked, and pass themselves off as representatives of the Athenian press.  They listen in horror to the reading of the petitions from earth, and, having declared themselves, banish Thespis and his company to earth, first inflicting the presumptive mortal with this terrible curse.

Away to earth, contemptible comedians You shall all live as eminent tragedians. [sic]

A merry dance before the mortals depart brings the fun to an end.  Now surely this rough sketch suggests a funny play, and presents us with a notion happier than many of those used for the lighter entertainments of the day.  A stanza or two from a lilting song, sung with admirable effect by Miss Farren, descriptive of some of the blunders of the Thespian company, will show us as well as anything how neat and polished is Mr. Gilbert’s versification and how sly his humour: –

Then Pluto, in kindhearted tenderness erring,
  Can't make up his mind to let anyone die –
The Times has a paragraph ever recurring,
  “Remarkable incidence of longevity.”
On some it has some as a serious onus,
  To others it’s quite an advantage – in short,
While ev’ry Life Office declares a big bonus,
  The poor undertakers are all in the court!
Then Cupid, the rascal, forgetting his trade is
  To make men and women impartially smart,
Will only shoot at pretty young ladies,
  And never takes aim at a bachelor's heart.
The results of this freak – or whatever you term it –
  Should cover the wicked young scamp with disgrace;
While ev’ry young man is as shy as a hermit,
  Young ladies are popping all over the place!
This wouldn't much matter – for bashful and shy men,
  When skillfully handled, are certain to fall;
But, alas! that determined young bachelor Hymen
  Refuses to wed anybody at all.
He swears that Love's flame is the vilest of arsons,
  And looks upon marriage as quite a mistake;
Now what in the world's to become of the parsons,
  And what of the artist who sugars the cake?
In short, you will see from the facts that I'm showing,
  The state of the case is exceedingly sad;
If Thespis’s people go on as they're going,
  Olympus will certainly go to the bad!
From Jupiter downward there isn't a dab in it,
  All of ’em quibble, and shuffle, and shirk;
A Premier in Downing-street forming a cabinet,
  Couldn't find people up to their work. [sic]

With Mr. Toole and the Messrs. Payne in their most exquisite fooling; with Mdlle. Clary, Miss Constance Loseby, and Miss Tremaine to sing; with Miss Farren to bring with her familiar sprightliness and fun as Mercury; with Miss L. Wilson and Miss Rose Behrend to fascinate the susceptible portion of the audience; and with such clever supports as Mr. MacLean, Mr. J.G. Taylor, and Mr. Robert Soutar, “Thespis” ought surely to grow much older before he withdraws for ever from the stage.

[This is an abridged and slightly revised version of the review which had appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 27 December 1871.]

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