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from The Times, 27 December 1871


This theatre enjoyed a share of public patronage which was not to be measured by the actual numbers present, for the fortunate seat-holders who had engaged their places before hand met, as they mounted the stairs on their entrance, a descending crowd, hardly less numerous, composed of the disappointed, for whom there was not even standing room in any part of the house. The performances commenced with the drama Dearer than Life from the pen of Mr. H. J. Byron – a piece which enjoys deserved popularity, though it has not been played in London for the last three years. The cast was very effective, and the principal performers in the course of the three acts were more than once honoured with a call before the curtain. Mr. J. L. Toole, like his predecessor Robson, is associated in the minds of the general public mainly with parts provoking to uproarious laughter; but it may fairly be questioned whether, like his predecessor in this also, his heart does not lie with, and he himself is not seen to more advantage in, the telling sketches from everyday life to which, for want of a better, we give the name of domestic drama. Anything more lifelike than the intensity of cold and hunger from which he may be almost said to suffer, in the garret-scene, as Michael Garner it would be difficult to conceive.

The after piece – Christmas piece, or pantomime, would be a word hardly in keeping with the stand-point of the Gaiety Theatre – is what in Paris would be known as an Opera Bouffe, which in English may be freely rendered as an opera grotesque. The name Thespis, or the Gods grown old, reveals its character. The plot turns upon the decay of veneration for the old heathen deities, and the incongruities attendant upon a restoration, even for stage purposes, of the Temple of Olympus. The dialogue throughout is superior in ability and point to that with which ordinary burlesque and extravaganzas have familiarized us; so much so, in fact, that it was a daring experiment to produce such a piece on such a night. It met, however, with an excellent reception, and on any other occasion than Boxing-night the numerous merits of the piece cannot fail to secure for it in public estimation a high place among the novelties of the season. The opera, for which the merit of entire originality is claimed, has been written by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, and the music composed by Mr. Arthur Sullivan. In honour of the occasion, Mr. Sullivan conducted the orchestra in person, and was warmly applauded on taking his seat for that purpose.

The curtain rises upon Mount Olympus, or rather upon a fog on Mount Olympus, from the midst of which Diana (Mrs H. Leigh) and her attendant train emerging are heard loud in complaint of the hardship of their lot in keeping nightly watch in such unseasonable weather. Apollo (Mr. F. Sullivan), an elderly dandy, in his turn laments the necessity of exertion, and declares his intention of “not going out at all that day.” Jupiter (Mr. J. Maclean) and Mars (Mr. Wood), regular club notables of a bygone age, similarly shirk from trouble of any kind, and lament the degeneracy of the age; but all with a well-bred languid air, as if of feeling bored by the continued discharge of duties to which mankind no longer attached their former significance. Mercury alone (Miss E. Farren) retains vivacity enough for all Olympus, and humorously bewails the unkind fate which credits others with the performance of work in reality accomplished by the Olympian drudge herself.

The conclave is interrupted by the arrival of a band of pedestrians who have actually selected the sacred Mount as the site for a pic-nic, and unaffrighted by the nods and frowns, and even the thunderings of mighty Jove himself, proceed to take possession. These are members of the travelling theatrical company of Thespis (Mr. Toole), who, being invited, as he himself describes it, to “confer with a brother manager” gravely suggests that his party and the gods should change places, and the latter should visit earth for a year, and see with their own eyes how matters there are going on. It will be hardly necessary to suggest how, in the interval, things run riot; though Mr. Toole, on the return of the Deities, labours hard to convince them that everything and everybody is going on just as usual – “except the Tichborne trial, which has got a fortnight.”

The Thespian company includes every shade of character – Bacchus, who takes the pledge – the substitute Diana, who won’t go out at night without an escort – two agile members of the Payne family as Preposteros and Stupidas, and numberless fair members who dance and sing, make love and quarrel in most celestial fashion, though not in all cases in strict accordance with Lempriere. The dresses, as usual at this theatre, are brilliant and becoming, and the music, to which only a passing reference can now be made, was animated and full of airs to be remembered. The ballet in the second act seemed a little out of place, and the finale somewhat wanting in the spirit which marked the remainder of the piece; but these, doubtless, were matters incident to a first reproduction. The piece, as a whole, deserves high praise.

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