20 DECEMBER 1845, Page 11


The French Plays continue to keep the even tenour of success; and as the engagement of M. Lafont draws to a close, the attraction of his perform- ances and those of Mademoiselle St. Marc increases. On Monday night, the classical comedy and modern vaudeville of the French stage met on the neutral ground of the St. James's Theatre; and the contrast between the brilliant and finished, though somewhat cold style of the one, with the vivacity and force of the other, might be remarked. The comedy was Les Femmes Savantes of Moliere, its first representation here; the vaude- ville, Le Chevalier de St. Georges, in which M. Lafont played his famous part for the first time this season.

The production of Les Femmes Savantes is acceptable as the first taste of the treats in store against the spring; when Plessy and Rachel, the repre- sentatives of French classical tragedy and comedy, are to appear in succes- sion. This comedy, perhaps more than any other of Moliere's, is a satire in dialogue: plot, character, and incident, are all subservient to the witty poet's design of satirizing a blue-stocking clique, whose buzzing pertinacity and gnatly sting must have annoyed Moliere not a little, since he took such nein' s to crush the venomous insects. Thanks to the folly for the sake of the castigation; for never have affectation and impertinence been more wittily ridiculed. The pedantic Vadius, the bel esprit Trissotin, the cold calculating Armande, the vain Belise, and the overbearing, ignorant Phila- rainte, are each discriminated with delicate and masterly strokes of hu- morous painting. The native common sense of the servant, Martine— an impersonation of Moliere's traditionary " old woman "—stands out in strong relief against the absurdities of these conceited creatures of con- vention. And such is the charm of Moliere, that one listens without weari- ness to five (short) acts of ridicule of a bygone coterie, though there is little to interest and less to surprise.

The cast of the comedy brought the company to a trying test, that they bore pretty well. The ladies, especially Mesdames Croset and Martelleur and Mademoiselle St. Mare, were the best; but Cartigny was admirable as usual, for the intelligence, vigour, and breadth of his acting. Monsieur Rhozevil, who appeared for the first time this season in the vaudeville, did not give the comedy the benefit of his easy, polished style, and beautiful enunciation; which was to be regretted.

Of Lafont's acting as the Chevalier de St. Georges, the chef d'oeuvre of his art, nothing needs now be said. Yet one cannot help remarking the skilful way in which the actor lets the character develop itself, as it were; by never hinting at the chevalier being anything more than a fascinating and accomplished gentleman of colour, whose elegant manners and per- sonal adroitness render him more conspicuous than even his tawny skin. This makes his subsequent outburst of passionate tenderness and burning indignation the more affecting, in contrast with his calm self-possession and playful levity in the earlier scenes. It is this grasp of character and artistic gradation of effects that render the French school of acting so supe- rior to our own. That superiority is partly attributable also to the finesse Of French character, and the appreciation of the finer traits of histrionic art by the audiences who " assist " at Parisian representations. But, if English actors had more respect for their art, they would oftener act up to the standard of the judicious few than down to the vulgar perceptions of the many; and thus gradually elevate themselves and the stage to the in- tellectual level of their brethren beyond the Channel.