THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE," BY SIR ARTHUR PINERO, AT THE DUKE OF YORK'S THEATRE.
I BELONG to a generation which is not familiar at first hand with Sir Arthur Pinero's work, but we have imbibed the tradition of him, and it was, therefore, with feelings of respect that I sat waiting for the curtain to go up upon his new "fable in three acts."
Sir Arthur is, I had gathered, a master of the stage and a wonderful writer of dialogue.; to reach emotional and intel- lectual depths he did not as a rule attempt, but his technical ability was said to be unmatched. Several critics opined that in The Enchanted Cottage he had surpassed himself. After seeing the play, all I can say is, either the standard of drama in England has been raised 100 per cent., or that Sir Arthur has much fallen off. For it difficult to find words to describe the badness of the greater part of The Enchanted Cottage, and, curiously enough, the badness does not lie in the idea of the play, which is delightful (one of those terrific truisms that cannot be too often repeated), but in the construction, the characterization and the dialogue.
This is, very shortly, the story. Oliver Bashforth (Mr. Owen Nares: very good indeed) has been very badly damaged in body and nerve in the War. He takes refuge from an exasperating family in a remote cottage (you know the usual size of those stage cottages, but I have never seen one so vast as this). Here he is looked after by an eerie housekeeper. His parents track him down, and, worse than that, set the rector and his wife at him, saying that he must have cheerful company and be looked after. In an agony of nerves and despair, caused by the intru- sion of these four, Bashforth asks Laura Pennington (Miss Laura Cowie: excellent), a sympathetic young woman who comes to see him sometimes, if she will marry him. She is very plain and very poor. He has just enough money to live on, but is a nervous wreck. They are both lonely, and why shouldn't they join forces 1 However, he tells her frankly that he suggests this plan chiefly because, if he is married, his family will be bound to leave him alone. They are married. Enter shadows, witches, cherubs, imps, electric lights which wink in and out, and the glow of the embers on the hearth. There ensues a scene which is a mixture between the witches in Macbeth, with actual quotations, and the last scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The charm is wound up.
In the next act Major Hillgrove (Mr. Nicholas Hannen not nearly as good as usual), a man blinded in the War, has come at their special request to visit them. They have been out and enter to him all muffled up. They are, they say, under an enchant- ment; not only are they deep in love, they have both become strong, beautiful 'turd happy, but they are a little uneasy at the position. What will their friends say? Major Hillgrove cannot see them, but he clearly has his doubts about the trans- formation. However, the young people are sure of it. That very afternoon the rector and Ba,shforth's people are to come and get the surprise of their lives, and, indeed, Miss Cowie and Mr. Nares do look something more than the conventional "beautiful pair." The rest can be imagined. The party assembles, the " miracle " is broken to them by the blind mae, but when Laura and Oliver at last appear there is no change in them at all. The play ends on their bewilderment, which, however, their new-found love survives. They realize that they are more than ever necessary to one another, and there is the promise of a child (this was originally shown in a vision, which has been cut out).
The central idea, then, is a charming and simple version of one of the great and blessed mysteries. But, alas ! for the comic characters who are treated at length. Not a ray of understanding or of illumination is allowed to play upon the poor rector and his wife, who have seven children and are expecting an eighth. We are not shown for one moment that these are, though perhaps misguided, nevertheless heroic little people ; they are made fools of and held up to ridicule from the beginning of the play to the end, and not a word of the many that could be said in their defence is uttered. The treatment of them is of a mediaeval brutality. The comic mother and stepfather are always sparring and are given a catchword, to whose constant repetition is entrusted the task of producing laughs. They would not be tolerated in an ordinary revue. I heard a disgusted neighbour complain, "If he isn't going to make human beings of them, he might at least let them sit on their hats I " and that seems to me the truth about this sort of comedy. The highbrow drama has got to be very good because the absence of simplicity—typified by sitting on a hat—has got to be atoned for. In the portrayal of these characters we are not given simple pleasures, therefore we ought to be given subtle pleasures. This point is well illustrated within the limits of this very play. In the second act Mrs. Bashforth has a dream, and in the dream all the cha- racteristics of the comic characters are exaggerated. Bash- f orth's sister has a nose a foot long ; the rector's children are there in procession, and he has become an inadequate sort of bishop ; the stepfather carries the chickens that his motor has slain. The effect is as funny and delightful as that of the excellent farce Dandy Dick must have been. Why cannot Sir Arthur Pinero see that in the non-dream part of the play when he takes off his characters' bokos, he must give us something instead : wit, satire, or, better still, a dissertation on human nature ? I speak thus harshly because I feel sure the play will have a long run, and the most humane of us is free to speak his