ROMEO AND JULIET AT DRURY LANE. STUPID AUDIENCES MARE BAD
A SINGLE pair of arms, however adroit and powerful, cannot pro- pel a boat in the way it should go, if the rest of the crew either make no efforts, or none that are properly directed. It would be uncandid to disparage the powers of that pair of arms, upon such an experiment, even though the boat were ultimately found at the point remotest from the place of its destination. A company of actors is somewhat in the. situation of a boat's crew. The mate- rials to be acted oh are indeed different, being in the one case of wood, and in the other of flesh ; but as the unaided efforts of one oar are unable to send the boat across the lake, so it is not in the power of a single actor to maintain his audience at the elevation desired ;— much less can either the rower pull, or the player act with efficacy, when his exertions are counteracted bythe awkwardness of the rest of the company or crew. That the fall of the curtain should, the other night, have left people in a mood to scorn themselves for pay- ing to sit three mortal hours on the rack, is not enough to convict the representative of Juliet of utter incompetency for the part she undertook. We talk of the rack, since to witness a performance like the one in question, is to submit; to a mental torture; for there is not a more disagreeable sensation than what is created in some breasts by the sight of unsuccessful attempts of such a nature as to involve the party who makes them in ridicule. When the efforts of the company round the supposed death-bed of Juliet, to express grief and consternation, excited a titter among those who are quick to find " rises materiam ad omnes occursus hominum," they made certain chords to jar very unpleasantly in the breasts of the more sensitive and lugubrious. To imagine, as this generation seems to do, that a single " star" can create and support the due degree of interest in the 'house, is a mistake no less absurd than to suppose that one fiddle makes a concert. The object of the theatre is to beget within the spectator a quasi delusion ; and if his imagination be reasonably active, and his feelings not blunted beyond the power of fictitious scenes to move them, a play tolerably well performed is a source of much legitimate entertainment. The pleasure, however, is the result of a combination of efforts to the production of one effect; and no im- perfection can be visible in a performer, whatever be his part, without contributing to mar that 'effect, any more than a single violin can be out of tune without detriment to the harmony of the orchestra. If a servant do but deliver a message in a constrained or unnatural voice, or accompany the delivery of it with constrained or unnatural movements of his limbs, the imagination, which is with difficulty sustained at the proper elevation, sinks like a bal- loon on an escape of gas. The French appear to be sensible that able co-operation on the part of every individual performer is ne- cessary to the purposes of the stage ; and will not tolerate in even the humblest actors any obvious want of capacity or dere- liction of discipline. This has bred in the profession a proper de- gree of zeal and industry ; and the performer is as reluctant to present himself before his discerning audience, ere he is perfect in his part, as a schoolboy is to offer an unfinished, disorder- ly exercise to the eye of his master. Of this laudable pains- taking in the members of the histrionic corps, KEMBLE, who was himself a memorable example of professional assiduity, met with a curious instance in an humble retainer of the Condi:lie Fran- false, at Paris. Happening to be behind the scenes along with TALMA, he observed an individual conning his part with great attention, rehearsing it with different tones and actions ; and ap- pearing altogether so sedulous, that KEMBLE concluded he had some most important part to perform. TALMA informed him, that the actor had only to say five words—" Madam, the coach is ready." The observations of KEMBLE himself on this subject, as reported by Sir W. SCOTT, are so much to the purpose of our pre- sent complaint, that we will adduce them here, in the hope that a voice from a great man's grave will be listened to by this erring and feeble generation.
" Our theatres, said John, were like eastern regions, where all are half -deified sultans, viziers, and bashaws, or depressed and sullen slaves. In England, the actor who plays 1,(!rytes or Horatio is considering himself
all the while as a degraded man, because he is not the Hamlet of the even- ing. In France, on the other hand, there is a race of actors who either never aspire to more than secondary parts, or if they have any hope of so aspiring, endeavour to recommend themselves by the superior manner in which they discharge the subordinate characters intrusted to them ; whereas the Englishman too often acts carelessly, and sometimes malig- nantly neglects to support by due exertion the interest of the scene, with a rival whom he thinks unjustly preferred to himself."
Had KEMBLE proceeded to speculate on the cause of this na- tional difference, he would doubtless have detected it in the differ- ence that exists between a French and en English audience. The latter never think it worth their while to commend any but notorious stars—never appear even to see the sparkles of merit which are occasionally manifested by a minor performer, An Horatio or a Laertes, whether praiseworthy or otherwise, goes through his part alike unnoticed, and has no human motive whatever to take any more pains than are necessary to secure him from the laughter that would follow any palpable misdemeanour. The more discri- minating Parisian audience espies merit wherever it appears, and with equal justice awards the applauses which it deserves. The result of this is, that whether the company be stronger than ordi- nary or weaker than ordinary, the French theatre is always capa- ble of furnishing an adequate portion of amusement to those who frequent it ; whereas the English theatre is a place whither men repair to do penance for past sins, or to commit fresh ones. The authority of Sir WALTER SCOTT is sovereign over the drama, as well as over most other branches of the fine arts ; and we shall take the liberty of enforcing our argument with his opinion.
" The Parisian theatre presents a company so completely drilled to work together, each doing his best to support the rest, that the whole enter- tainment is more illusive and more captivating than if one or two stars, as they are called, had shown themselves amidst a general darkness of ignorance, carelessness, and ill-humour. There is also this convenience in the French mode—ono-raja re8 parry erescunt—by uniform and habi- tual co-operation, a company even of ordinary powers may at any time make a better amusement out of a well cast comedy suited to their differ- ent talents, than when a single part is performed with excellence, and the rest walked through or hurried over."
It is reported that Mr. PRICE is about to engage a Romeo ca- pable of justifying the passion of Juliet, and of showing Miss PHILLIPS to advantage. We shallbe glad to find in Mr. KEAN, jun. the Romeo wanted at Drury ; but this will be only one chasm —the principal one we grant—filled up : the houses of Capuiet and Montague still remain to be furnished. If the Transatlantic manager would introduce a reform in the subordinate ranks of the theatre, and for once get up a play creditably sustained in every part, we would willingly confess that the day-spring of the drama at least had risen in the West, and that the Old World was in- debted to the New for the revival of one of the noblest of the arts.