Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

careful study of this diet and its results, I venture to think that here also we have too much of a good thing. The sugar-biscuit play fairly raged round the London theatres last Christmas, and when the last school train had carried the latest of my small friends back to Winchester, Westgate, Eton, and Brighton, and I sat down to consider its after-taste, I did not like it.

The Drury Lane pantomime is a national institution, like Westminster Abbey or the Lord Mayor, and I would no more dare to criticise one than the other even if I understood them, which with regard to the pantomime is very far from being the case. As a rule, I know more or less—it is a poor merit, but mine own—what a child likes and why the creature likes it. They laugh at my jokes and I laugh at theirs; we talk together happily and reasonably for unlimited hours ; and they come with me to the spectacles of London, Paris, or the sea-side with kindly placid faith that if I have proRounced a certain fairy-play, fête, or nigger to be amusing, the odds are that they also will find it so. But inside the walls of Drury Lane Theatre I am utterly at sea. The little folk all—or nearly alllaugh delightedly, thrill with excitement, open wide eyes of wonder and admiration; I sit bewildered, uncomprehending, ready to die of boredom if it were not that the children were laughing so blissfully. What they see and hear I cannot conceive. What I see are monotonously gorgeous ballet girls dancing and grouping themselves endlessly; what I hear is a plotless farce, whose sole notion of humour is that all the principal men should be dressed as women, and the women as men, interspersed with scenes of irrelevant laborious joking which almost reduce me to tears. I give up the problem of the Drury Lane pantomime. I defer humbly to the popular verdict on it, and will take two more parties of children

there this year.

The Garrick, Vaudeville, New Theatre, and Adelphi all produced Christmas plays last winter, designed to amuse children in their early teens; and the Court Theatre another fairy story appealing very successfully to the junior portion of the nursery. The management of the Garrick Theatre strive so resolutely, and as a rule with such complete success, to please their Christmas clientèle that one is reluctant to disparage any of their productions ; but in truth the Water Babies was not a very brilliant work. There was no one alive in it; there was not a 'thrill' in the play except when the chimneysweep, Tom, comes down the chimney; and its spasmodic efforts at kumour were lamentable failures. Kingsley's book is unknown to modern youth, and the idea of dramatising it was absurd. However, a manager who has produced such gems of pathos and gaiety as The Man who Stole the Castle and Shock-headed Peter may make an occasional lapse into dulness without very severe criticism ; and, judging by popular report, Mr. Bourchier has found in his present Christmas play, Little Black Sambo and Little White Barbara, another brilliant bit of work.

The touching faith of theatrical managers in Lewis Carroll as an unfailing delight to modern youth shows no sign of diminution, and year after year, with an occasional exception such as the present winter, sees a new elaborate production of one of those unspeakably dreary and out-of-date dramas, Alice in Wonderland or Alice through the Looking Glass. The English fashion of keeping certain ancient literary idols locked up in cupboards, never seeing, touching, or noticing them, but fiercely resenting any criticism of their now glaring demerits, is a very pretty one, but has been extremely costly to various publishers and theatrical managers in the past. Lewis Carroll, who was a highly sentimental lover of a very limited class of children—(he disliked all boys, for instance)—had none of the qualities or attributes of a successful playwright, unless some ill-natured critic may like to believe that his inordinate vanity was such an attribute. His books had a certain vogue in days when writers for the young might be counted on the fingers of one hand; though I am, and shall always remain, profoundly sceptical about the children having liked them. There rests always in my mind the answer of that little maid who was asked by the author which she liked best, Alice in Wonderland or Alice thorugh the Looking Glass, and who answered, after deep thought : 'I think Alice through the Looking Glass is stupider than Alice in Wonderland.' But to suppose that modern children, surrounded by the exquisite stories of Mrs. Ewing, the fairy books of Mr. Andrew Lang, and the splendid adventure tales of Mr. Henty, Mr. Rider Haggard, and Mr. Anthony Hope, ever bother their heads about ‘Alice,' is equivalent to believing that modern women have the doings of Clarissa' at their fingers' ends. And when such songs as the Walrus and the Carpenter are sung on a stage, where their old-fashioned pointlessness is trebly apparent, nine children out of ten turn to you with sighs of boredom to ask what on earth it all means. Yet, considering how it was hampered by its title, and by the necessity for furnishing some excuse for this title, the entertainment provided by Mr. John Donald at the New Theatre last Christmas was one of the best in London. As befits Mr. Toole's old manager, Mr. Donald has a fine sense of humour. When he and Mr. Bourchier can free themselves from their superstitious reverence for those idols in the cupboard, they will capture this young world, body and soul.

But better work than the Water Babies or Alice through the Looking Glass is wanted to do this; better work, more carefully thought out, and much better acted. Your English child is notyet-a born natural critic, like its French contemporary who knows at the age of ten that Roxane is a blot on Cyrano de Bergerac, and years earlier would laugh M. Mounet-Sully to scorn for a weak passage in Hernani; but it is capable to some extent of appreciating good work and is getting yearly less tolerant of bad. I have taken a good many juvenile visitors to a good many theatres in the course of the past few years, more especially, of course, at Christmas time, and the only generalisation which one can make about their tastes is, as I say, that they are delighted with good work and bored with bad. The young world is, of course, dominated by fashion to a large extent, and one comic little result of this is that every big school has, a certain theatre or actor which is a popular idol. Eton, for instance, seems to be at present unanimous in its admiration of His Majesty's; for a year past every Eton boy in town for a holiday has asked to be taken to Mr. Tree's latest production ; while another school of my acquaintance votes solidly for the Vaudeville. Latterly popular favour in many schools has settled upon Beauty and the Barge, which promises to come only second in their affections to the greatest triumph ever witnessed in this school world, Mr. Gillette's performance of Sherlock Holmes; and The Taming of the Shrew at the Adelphi is also having a great vogue in the school world. Its sound, highspirited fun 'catches on’ most successfully; one sees children in the theatre literally shouting with laughter; and the play meets many conditions for an excellent youthful Christmas amusement.

The two plays which won by far the warmest approval in my portion of the audience last Christmas were Monsieur Beaucaire and The Cherry Girl. Every small person to whom I offered the choice of a visit to a new play or a second visit to one of these, chose the second visit unhesitatingly, and their delight while at the theatre was unbounded. It may be said with some reason that nobody is going to produce a costly, gorgeously-dressed drama, with a firstclass cast, for the benefit of holiday children ; but the answer to this is obvious.

First-class work is a world-wide delight. Men, women, and children all cheer together when Monsieur Beaucaire brings the Countess of Greenbury down to supper; they laugh together joyfully when Miss Ellaline Terriss dresses up in the Cherry Girl's clothes. Here, in fact, were two great human comedies, written and presented by masters of their craft, with all the aid that money and skilled management could give; and there was not a child of my acquaintance in London who was not in love with them, nor a man or woman who was not more than willing to bring children to see either play two or three times. Surely from a business point of view this merits consideration.

The question confronting the Christmas playwright who wants to put good work before his audience, and yet please their eyes with the

grace and colour of fairy drama, is solved by a costume play of any picturesque period. Certain difficulties of explanation which might arise if a complicated plot had to be presented to a young audience are easily overcome by taking a familiar historical story for the plot.

[ocr errors]

The idea of disguise, or of two people changing rôles on the stagea dressing-up within a dressing-up-which is seen in The Cherry Girl and Monsieur Beaucaire, as well as in other highly-popular plays such as If I were King, has a very special fascination for

young folk.

Here is the mouth of a gold-mine indicated without charge. I trust that the successful explorer will allow me to give at least six children's parties at his theatre next year at his expense.

EDWARD H. COOPER.

[blocks in formation]

It is generally accepted that the aborigines of Australia are a race very low in the intellectual scale of humanity. This belief has remained uncontradicted for a century; but I submit that such an estimate is erroneous, and that it first arose from the fact that the early inhabitants of the colony were themselves not of a high order of intellect, and being unable to understand the language of the natives, whose mode of life was so different from that of Europeans and, when estimated by such a standard, so deficient in comfort, they judged accordingly.

With few exceptions the mental calibre of the officials of the early settlement was not very high ; in fact, it is hardly questionable that in mere intellectual force many of the convict prisoners were superior

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

to their guardians.

taneously.

The blacks, moreover, naturally associated most intimately with the lowest whites, readily learning their vices and language simul

Words so learnt were, consequently, their only means of communicating their thoughts to even the most cultivated of the officers, who formed an estimate of their intelligence on the evidence thus available.

Is it a wonder that under such circumstances the natives were believed to be but little above the brute creation ?

From time to time individual Australian blacks have been brought up and educated on similar lines to white children, when they have been able to fully hold their own with their schoolfellows.

The inquiries of various observers go to bear out the opinions of the authorities who have highly estimated the mental capacity of

Tace, notably Dr. Walter Roth, now the official Protector of the aborigines of North Queensland, and Messrs. Baldwin, Spencer, and Gillen, whose researches as to the beliefs and customs of those of Central Australia have already given rise to much thought, and whose account of their recent further ethnological expedition, shortly to be published, is awaited with great interest.

the

« ZurückWeiter »