" SETTLING DAY."
HERE is no more truly dramatic, and no more truly modern, T subject for the stage than the uneasy relations between the commercial spirit of modern society and the higher sentiments which every day come into closer connection with it. Not only does the spirit of commerce extend itself over many fields of mere amusement which it never reached before,—as, for example, in the practice of sending to market all the game shot on preserved estates,—but also, as one of the characters in Settling Day observes, the gambling which used to be limited to games of chance or use- less skill now enters into seeming affiance with the far-sighted prudence of legitimate trade, and prefers time bargains ' on. the Stock Exchange to rouge-et-noir or unlimited Loo. Then, again, women are beginning to feel that they ought not to be excluded from the world of business which takes up so much of their fathers', husbands', and brothers' lives, and are con- tributing the purer or coarser sentiments (as the case may be) which they feel and excite to complicate still more the motives of commercial transactions. And oddly enough the most puri- tanic forms of religious feeling have made to themselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, and excepted the most worldly of worldly passions from the ban under which they have placed every confessed form of human pleasure. As a general result there certainly never was a time when commercial interests included so many points of contact with the finer intelligence, the lighter sentiments, and the deeper affections of men and women. The world of business, instead of being a sort of dull clay penin- sula half insulated from the deeper feelings and beauties of life, now embraces a network of cultivated ambitions, eager passions, and various sentiment, all closely interlaced with the vulgar appetite for mere wealth.
It was evidently to illustrate some general idea of this kind that Mr. Tom Taylor has written his well-conceived and well- executed play called Settling Day, which Mr. Horace Wigan has produced at the Olympic with a success we have seldom seen equalled on the English stage. The main idea of the play is to try the depth and courage of a wife's love under the strain not only of unexpected commercial failure and disgrace, but even of real dishonour. On that idea, however, are engrafted several subsidiary ideas proper to the subject. The irresistible current which is drifting women into closer relations with the world of business is reflected in two or three of the characters,— not only in that of the wife who so eagerly desires to share her hus- band's_ anxieties, but in that of her more independent and practical sister, who acts while others only offer sympathy; and again in that of the elderly, sentimental, "strong-minded" widow who "purrs " over the beauty she envies and dislikes, but divides her real life between ill-natured gossip and the interest of her stockbroker's operations on her behalf. Then the conflict between upright com- mercial instincts and a passionate desire to save his wife from ruin and disgrace is delineated in the mind of the better bank partner,— while the amalgam between thorough unscrupulousness, intellectual daring, and presence of mind lackered over with a superficial wash of religious hypocrisy, is given in the other. The subsidiary characters bear upon the same subject. The " promoter " of bub- ble companies,—a character which from the desire to amuse the gallery Mr. Taylor has a little overdrawn, and which would have been better, we think, had the schemes he recommends been rather gr.i.ver sarcasms on the folly and greediness of the pseudo-com- mercial world,—represents the light-headed and windy ambitious- ness which the vast gains of legitimate commerce have engendered in those half-knaves, half-fools, who trade on the ignorance and avarice of the public. Finally the young gentleman who is so much shocked with the girl he is in love with because she wishes to have some influence in the management of her own fortune, represents the natural prejudice of the masculine mind against any alliance between woman and business. The story, which we are not going to tell, is admirably worked out,—every act being full to over- flowing of closely-linked incident, so that not a word could well be spared without diminishing the effect. Its only faults are that the natural and (for the purposes of the play) essential sentiment between the newly-married husband and wife in the very opening of the first act is expressed in language some- what too common-place and undistinctive, while " the midnight winding-up scene on the river terrace at the conclusion of the last act becomes, after the impending catastrophe is averted, theatrical and melodramatic. The assembling of almost all the dramatis persona in a moonlit garden by the Thames to discuss a bank crisis and a fraudulent disposition of banking securities, while dancing is still going on in the house in the absence of every
member of the host's and hostess's family, is a sort of inci- dent by no means uncommon in our modern drama, but not in keeping with the strong sense, lively humour, and consistent real- ism of Mr. Taylor's play. The appearance of the banker's clerk Scratchell at the ball is also, we think, a little filmiest and out of place. Comedy so good does not need farce to lighten it.
Not only is the play good and thoroughly modern, bat the acting is such as we have rarely seen equalled in an English theatre. More remarkable actors—Mr. Fechter and Mr. Sothern, for instance—may be seen elsewhere,—though certainly not. among English actresses any so remarkable as Miss Kate Terry, —but nowhere is there to be seen a company who. act together with co-operation so nearly perfect, and with the capacity to bring out the meaning not only of their own parts, but of each other's. Indeed in this respect they are more like a company of French than English comedians. There is but one among them 'who is really unequal to her part—a subordinate, but in the idea of the play very important one—that of the sister whose vigilance and energy save the bank at the sacrifice of her• own fortune. It is essential to the idea of the piece that she should be refined and thoughtful, as well as ready and disinterested. Mies Foote's impersonation is thoroughly bad,—prim, self-con- scions, and low-bred.
But this is the only blot on the acting of the piece, otherwise admirable. The slightest characters, however subordinate,—as, for example, the two, stockbroker partners, who only appear for a moment or two, but in that moment or two almost persuade us we are in the presence of real stockbrokers, are almost as well acted as the principal parte. The "fast " young rascal, nephew of the evangelical swindler (Mr. G. Vincent), who boasts that his profession, like Louis Napoleon's, is to be " the nephew of my imele," is acted with admirable coarseness and metallic showiness. When he tells the young wife (Miss Terry) that as she is in the City " on the sly " he will certainly not betray her,—on his own con- ditions, however,—the jarring familiarity of his manner is a perfect and most effective foil to the refined but imperious repulse which he receives. (The incident, however, of the invitation to the ball which he dictates and Obliges her to sign as the price of his silence, is an unnatural one. There is fax too little motive even in the _young wife's own mind to force her into so humiliating a position.) Mrs. Vernon, again, the purring and speculating matron with claws beneath her velvet touch, is well represented by Mrs. Leigh Murray. She manages her mouth so that you are always uncertain whether she intends to kiss or to bite, and are inclined to prefer the latter alternative; and yet she is quite the woman of the world, and though far from refined, also far from conventionally vulgar. Per- haps the most stagey performer in the piece except Miss Foote is Mr. Maclean, who does the highly respectable old family attorney with the conventional trot of age and nervousness. Mr. Souter, wha acts the " promoter" of bubble companies, expresses the knavish and light-headed impudence of a disseminator of humbug very naturally. He reminds you somehow of fluffy dandelion seed floating about in the air, and sowing ugly weeds in every garden and field. Yet there is a pathos about his' manner when begging for his starving wife and children which greatly enhances the naturalness of his professional knavery. Mr. Coghlan, who is a thoroughly easy actor, has a part somewhat beneath his power and scarcely adapted to his peculiar character in the somewhat dull, sulky, and sheepish lover, but he does what he has to do simply and well. Mr. Neville is perfectly simple and natural as the young husband and bewildered banker, but in the scenes of passion there is not enough play and variety in his manner. His emotion has a touch of the conventional suffocation.
The two great characters of the piece are, however, those .of the fraudulent and evangelical banker—of the Sir John Dean Paul class—acted by Mr. Horace Wigan, and the young wife's, by Miss Kate Terry. It is difficult to bestow too much praise on either impersonation,—impossible on the latter. Mr. Wigan acts with an ease and play that we have never seen surpassed in English comedy, unless by his brother. He has caught the true shade of hypocrisy which distinguishes a hypocrite who knows the world from one who does not, and never like Mr. Pecksniff caricatures the cant. Nothing can be better than the half-dropped voice, the parenthetic manner, the complete subor- dination to knowledge of the world, with which he gives his cant. When on his first entrance he notes the fineness of the day and drops the remark that " we should be very thankful," instead of emphasizing the cant as a dramatic point, he slides it off in a way that says as plainly as words can speak that professions of piety will tell better if they are not too ostentatious. Then, in spite of his hypocrisy and cunning, he is not vulgar, but has the
ease of a man of the world. He is more emphatic in his piety to inferiors than equals, and never so Pecksaiffian as to his clerk Scratchell, who is a simple fellow likely to take it in. Even' then, when anxious to throw dust in his eyes, he relies more on the hint of the handsome douceur at Christmas' than on the complimentary rewards that he is to find in his own heart and in the world above. The hard, cold, unmodulated voice, the slight but calculated action of his fingers (as when upbraiding his nephew),—all the minor de- ments of the part are quite beyond the criticism of a critic study- ing the character for the first time.
But Miss Katel erry's acting is even more than this: She not only satisfies every critical demand we can bring to her part, but in some parts greatly enlarges our conception, and teaches. the critic how many shades of natural thought and feeling it would have been impossible for him to suggest if she did not teach him what to ask for. She plays the happy wife in the first act with infinite' grace and playfulness. We think Mr. Taylor would have done well to suggest in this scene rather more, not only of her depth. of love (which is sufficiently expressed by her craving to show what she might do for her husband in adversity), but of her force of character. This is developed within twelve hours' in a manner we are scarcely prepared for by the somewhat child- like gaiety of the first act,—not that there is anything in the least inconsistent in it, but only a slight want of artistic fore- shadowing. Afterwards, as the shadow of anxiety deepens upon her,—from fear of her husband's embarrassments to fear of his ruin,—from fear of his ruin to fear of his dishonour, —the traits of the character come out gradually with exquisite clearness, like a photograph in process of " development " at the touch of the developing acid. The absolute naturalness, the exquisite lightness, and freedom from all theatric emphasis of her ex- pressive touches, the tenderness to her sister and husband, the absence of even the slightest exaggeration in her assumed gaiety, the effect of the sharp prick of terror in brightening her eye and quickening her voice and movements without giving the slightest tone of high pressure, indeed adding only a hectic colouring of manner to her natural grace, and above all, the perfect ana sincere simplicity of the few words of religious trust she speaks to her husband in his despair, all mark this impersonation of Miss Terry's as the effort of a truly fine, nay, very likely of one who may prove a really great, actress. Cer- tainly it is the parts requiring most power and most play in which she is at her best. Her taste in dress, too, is. perfect, such as we have never before seen in any actress on the English stage.
One word of criticism only on the scenery, which in every act is admirable. Would it not be possible to give the effect of the shadows of the dancers crossing the illuminated windows of the Putney house in the moonlit-terrace scene ? As it is., it looks like a house illuminated and than abandoned.