BABIL AND BIJOU.
THEY are a pair of lovers, and they undergo numerous adventures in fairyland,—admirably represented by-the great stage of Covent Garden Theatre, —in the course of which the elements, the animal and vegetable world, the mineral king- dom, and the traditional literature of magic are called to their assistance. They all come in such gorgeous and ever- changing array, with sheen of satin and sparkling of spangles, floating gossamer and glitter of gold lace, fantastic masks, and wonderfully executed pantomimic costumes, plumes and jewels, feathers and flowers, flashing weapons of mimic war, and count- less indescribable and beautiful adjuncts of adornment, as make up a scene most brilliant and bewildering. That one begins by experiencing a great difficulty in finding out what it is all about, which is a difficulty greater at the conclusion than at the beginning, is almost beside the question. The projectors of this gigantic enter- tainment can never have seriously intended it to be understood. One buys the book entitled "The Argument," and one reads it between the acts, or, as they would be more fitly called, the tableaux, but the result is stupefaction. One abandons the vain attempt, and looks at the stage with all one's might, under the impression, during the first act, that something very fine and deep in the political-satire line, unusually well dressed, is intended. There is a soupcon of the Dead Heart in the hurrying crowd armed with the prettiest pikes, and in Mrs. Billington as Hydra, in a sweet costume of red satin embroidered with grenades, and an idealised cap of liberty ; and there is just a dash of Rabagas in the very best bits of dialogue, and in the character of Typocompos, an idol worshipped by the people, the father of Hydra. During this first act the dialogue is brisk, and full of a-propos to the misfortunes and faults of our neighbours. Dethroned monarchs are quizzed, dethroning peoples are compli- mented and quizzed. Some very good hits are made at the Press and at the caprices of public opinion, and the characters of the opposing idols, Typocompos (Mr. Wainwright) and Auricomus, an idol worshipped by the Court (Mr. Lionel Brough), are admir- ably sustained. Mr. Maas as Phassalis, Prince of Lutetia, sings very fine music in very beautiful style, is as easy-going a prince as his Highness of Monaco, and has precisely similar ideas of a coup d'itat when his subjects make themselves unpleasant. "Ales malles," says the tyrant denounced by Rabagas, and away to Paris with the fair Republican Misses Blounth. A forest hut, or a roaming life with the foundling Bijou, says Phassalis, and the forester's garb in which she knows me as her own Babil. It sounds like "the young, the slim, the low-voiced, her own Belfilaire ;" but it is really pretty, and only as ridiculous as it ought to be in an abdication scene in the palace of Zanzoozee. The delicious melody in which it is proclaimed that a king is wanted immedi- ately, that he must produce testimonials from his last place, that the wages are good, and that "no Irish need apply," merits the enthusiastic applause with which it is greeted. But, with the first act, all traces of such meaning disappear, and unless the whole thing is to be regarded as a superbly cynical
exposition of the tastes, fashions, speculations, and general extravagance of the period, gotten up so utterly regardless of expense that the ignorant and alarmed spectator cannot believe it could pay, if all the play-goers in London and from the provinces were to be forced at the point of the bayonet to the orchestra stalls at seven shillings each, it is simply the biggest, gaudiest, most confused extravaganza ever put on a stage. We amuse ourselves grandiloquently here, as in the old days when Astley's suddenly became situated close to all the parks, and Kit and Barbara would have had to take Little Jacob's tickets for the "Auditorium ;" and so there is not a prologue, but a " Proloquial Scene," which the Argument informs us is to be interpreted as follows :—" This scene is intended to shadow forth the revolutionary changes that are taking place in Poetry and Art. Our aspiring meditative spirit [Melusina] has descended from the world of art to the world of business. The purer spirit is dethroned, and Fact [Pragma], with her son Investigation [Skepsis], are the reigning influences in our minds. The working- classes of Thought are thus displacing the higher powers of Imagi- nation." This is very pretty, and if the inventors of Babil and BUou can persuade any section of the play-going public that they are doing a course of metaphysical philosophy, salted with satire and peppered with politics, so much the better. Mrs. Jarley told the schoolmistresses that waxwork was calm and classical, and they brought their pupils to the show. It really does not matter. There is an elaborate key to " Gulliver's Travels," but the person who reads about Lilliput and Houllynhyms, and is guilty of using that literary implement, though the head of the horse family is a little prosy, must be a born fogey, one who would read the "Family Shakespeare," in the stalls, to the accompaniment of Mr. Fechter's Hamlet. The sooner one recognises that in Babil and Bijou there is an incredible quantity to be seen, and nothing at all to be understood, the more one will be able to give one's mind to such a splendour of spectacle, such a medley of music and grouping, of scenery and motion.
With a general idea that Bijou is a fairy, whose mother, having lost her royal robes, crown, and sceptre, is imprisoned in the depths of the earth until she can recover them from the sea, the earth, the air, and the moon, and that Babil and Bijou are about to visit each, one gets on wonderfully well, and if one is conscientious the Argument may be studied at home. The jokes are quite extravagantly good for an extravaganza. It is wasteful for a sprite to remark upon the monotony of being everlasting ; and when the potato declares, in an accent exquisitely imitated from Mr. Boucicault's in Myles na Coppaleen, that "it's dirt an' poverty that's bringin' the disaze upon him," one would like to transfer him to the cartoon-sheet of Punch, if any Irish might apply there in any guise than that of a gorilla. Mr. Lionel Brough's part, though decidedly beneath his powers, is one which keeps him constantly before the audience, except when the stage is filled with gorgeous crowds, who whirl about to delightful music, and instead of dialogue all is gas and gaiters, or at least the elegant substitute of high-heeled buskins with laces and tassels of gold. Whenever he speaks he says a good thing,—that is to the credit of the play ; and he says it well,—that is to his own ; and his by-play is quite delightful. When Babil and Bijou arrive at the palace of King Octopus—a wonderful aquarium, where the sea-change is indeed rich and strange beyond belief— and the huge and silvery turtle pronounces for the foreign visitor, nothing more exquisitely ludicrous can be conceived than the flirtation, as conducted by Mr. Lionel Brough, with furtive asides relating to cold punch and lemons. No less admirable is his acting in the wonderful scene at the Silver City in the Moon, where men are, in popular phrase, nowhere, and "gallant lunatics who go for woman's rights" find all their work done for them. It is quite distracting to have to watch him, though he has hardly any- thing to say, while the Amazon princess is making arrangements to marry Babil On the spot, poor Bijou standing by, and at the same time to avoid losing any of the gorgeous effects of the scene. His amazement, incredulity, disgust, horror, and keen sense that he may get into an unpleasant scrape if he gives expression to any one of these sentiments, are told in looks, gestures, and movements unsurpassably humorous. If Babil and Bijou were conducted on a modification of the Chinese system, and played by instalments for a week, it might be less satisfactory to the public, but it would be decidedly easier to describe. Each succeeding act eclipses its predecessor. One cannot remember the dazzling costumes of Tableau 3, in the blaze and splendour of the costumes of Tableau 4. All the vast crowd of performers change their dresses, like the people in The Arabian Nights, and wear twice as many jewels ; but they make much more noise, and the scenery
and decoration change in proportion to the costumes. Human memory will not carry the entire load without staggering and conflation, but two of the scenes cannot fail to impress themselves upon it. One is the fifteenth, where Babil and Bijou, accompanied by Auricomus, ascend to the Moon, in a gondola with golden wings. The stage is empty, the light is subdued, the music to which the voyage is performed, especially that sung by Mrs. Howard Paul as Mistigris the Air Spirit, is most beautiful, and .the effect of the rolling sea of cloud, above and below the graceful golden boat, is so fine, that it can hardly have been surpassed in the history of theatrical things. The other is the Autumn scene in the "Grand Ballet." This may truly be called magical, for one cannot distinguish the working of the machinery, by which the fruits upon the garden walls, the corn in the yellow fields, the leather upon the distant hills, the rich grapes in the vineyards, flush from the promise of the smiling summer into the gorgeous perfection of autumn. The light deepens, the clouds lighten, the burning sun of autumn flings a golden glow over the scene, and the corn is reaped and stacked, the purple grapes weigh down the vines, and hang in clusters from the trellis-roof beneath which the dancers throng. And the dancers I How many are there? The stage-is always thronged, and yet the groups are ever varying. The changes of costume are beyond number, and they quite surpass de- ecription. It is a shifting shower of gold and silver, of colour and form, wildly fantastic, audacious, elegant, and splendid. They come in endless succession, and every detail of their dress is perfect in taste and richness. The messenger from the Moon who greets the arrival of the gondola showers silver spray from her extended arms, and a shimmering bow of silver gleams above her head. The lithe water-nymph who bears the greeting from the sea is clothed in mauve satin, and girt about with glittering fringes of sea-shells. The costumes of the insect world are perhaps the most curiously rich and beautiful of all, and that of the Amazon prin- cess is exquisite and superb beyond all comparison. It is nobly worn, too, for the Princess is every inch a queen, and she towers above her guards, "a daughter of the gods, divinely tall, and most divinely fair." Her free step, her majestic little head, with its light, elegant, shining helmet, and rain of golden plumes, her statue-like arms, with gold snake bracelets twining to the elbow, ber supple figure moving so easily under the golden links of that dainty jewelled armour, her clear ringing voice, steady eyes, really reviewing her admirably drilled troops, her firm hand, in which the toy, half-mace, half - sceptre, a beautiful bit of jeweller's work, seemed to be no bauble at all, but a true symbol of command, combined to make the tableau of "The Silver City of Atalantis " perfect. The audience seemed perfectly content to discover that "the Man in the Moon is a Woman." A chorus sung by children, dressed in Watteau gardening -costumes reminding one of the lesser Trianon, is an exceed- ingly pretty interlude ; the sweet young voices render the charming music delightfully. All the music is admirable, but the Amazon March impresses itself most, amid the pro- lusion, when all is heard for the first time. The effect of its martial, spirit-stirring, yet sweet strains, to which the Amazon regiments defile before the Princess, leaving her standing under an arch formed by the golden spears of her body-guard, was quite electric. The ballet representing the Four Seasons, and which introduces French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian dances, is a marvellous performance. There is too much of it,—the effect is a good deal injured by the carrying-about of flower-pots and benches to serve as pedestals, and the principal danseuses perform many feats of strength rather than grace, —but it is beautiful for all that ; and in the Autumn scene Mademoiselle Does dancing was truly dramatic. She realised the wild, unfettered glee of the Bacchante, and as she floated, swam, bounded over the stage, grape-crowned, her golden wine-cup tossed aloft, or held out to the imaginary attendant, while the fauns and satyrs, the nymphs and dryads, crouched, silent and still, as she put the joy of the earth into this poetry of motion, she took the audience back awhile to the days of the great god Pan.