13 MAY 1882, Page 12


WE have already briefly referred to the representation of the Antigone of Sophocles, as given in the Convocation Hall of University College, Toronto, with Mendelssohn's music, 'on April 11th and 12th, but we think our readers may like to have some fuller account of a somewhat noteworthy performance. Preparations of every kind had been made for rather more than three months beforehand; nevertheless, the astonishing success of the play surprised the actors themselves. To the public of Toronto, it was little less than a revelation. Many who had tickets did not come on the first night; many more, old Gradu- ates of the College, now Judges and leading lawyers, came with ill-concealed anxiety ; a few strangers, perhaps to scoff. Wallin a very few minutes the success of the play was assured, -and on the following night there was a rush for seats, and many who wanted tickets were unable to get them. If we add that among the best pleased of the audience were two who had seen the Agamemnon at Oxford, and that in their opinion the Toronto Antigone could well bear a comparison with the Oxford play, it is not from any wish to minimise -the success of Oxford (the impulse, in fact, which pro- duced the Antigone came almost wholly from Oxford, three out of the four promoters being young Oxford Graduates), but simply because it is necessary to use the strongest terms consistent with the truth to impress on our readers the paradox 'that the best Greek play ever acted in the Empire should have been produced in Upper Canada, in a mushroom university. With the Calipus Rex at Harvard we cannot compare it. Mr. Riddle (who acted Edipus) was prevented at the last moment from seeing the Antigone, and we have found no one who witnessed the Harvard play. From the fact, however, that the expenses at Harvard (£'2,000) more than quadrupled the expenses -of the Antigone, we imagine that whatever money could do was better done in Boston.

The brilliant success of the play was largely due to Mendels- sohn's music, which was well rendered by an orchestra of forty instruments. The only instrument lacking was a harp ; its place was supplied by a piano, which was useful in sustaining the unaccompanied quartets to Eros. The quartet which sang the antistrophe of this chorus was noticeably superior to that which sang the strophe, otherwise the two Choruses were fairly balanced. A supplemental chorus of forty voices, which sang both strophes and antistrophes, and was concealed from the audience, was useful in strengthening the Choruses on the stage, but was apt, especially when the tragedy drew to a climax, to lose the time by watching the actors. Mendelssohn's music, which was written for Donner's German translation, has never before been sung to the Greek ; the adaptation of it was due to Professor Ramsay Wright, the difficulty of the task being greatly lightened by the faithfulness of Donner to the original metres. Half-a-dozen alterations in the Greek text, and these only in the third and fourth numbers, and all immaterial, were found sufficient.

The acting was excellent, and strikingly even. It would be hard to say what was the weak spot in the play. The most serious misadventure happened on the first night of the play, and was amusing ; the first Messenger inadvertently appeared upon the stage before he had removed some over-shoes, drawn for the sake of warmth over his sandals ; the mistake escaped the notice of the unclassical, and therefore, of the greater part of the audience, and most fortunately of the perpetrator himself. This Messenger was, perhaps, the most beautiful figure of the -play, and wore the most beautifully harmonised colours. His

acting also was very good, and the gestures with which he told his story, in particular when he rehearsed Creon's lamentation (" My prophetic heart divined aright "), and when he described Haemon peering savagely at his father from the interior of the tomb, were singularly artistic. The Bacchic chorus—during which the singers moved round the thymele, each as it was, and threw incense upon it—was naturally the most popular scene ; in our opinion, however, this interview of the Queen and Messenger was the best. The Queen was beautifully dressed, as well as handsome, and looked and acted like a Queen ; and two maid-servants in the background, who turned to each other now and then during the story with looks of mute distress, added the finishing touch, by their delicate by-play, to a charming picture. A third maid-servant, who appeared in the last scene, was also a strikingly handsonie figure, handsomer even than the Queen and Antigone. The Guards, again, were admirably selected and dressed, and the second Messenger possessed personal advantages only inferior to the first ; whilst, of all the supernumeraries, the boy who guided Teiresias, and sat on the palace steps during the prophet's speeches, was the favourite. His appearance, and the spice of by-play, such as was permissible in his little part, could not have been better.

We have dwelt thus upon the minor characters not because the chief were not good, but because the excellence of the supernumeraries—so rare a feature in amateur, or, for the matter of that, professional acting—was so striking, and con- duced so largely to the chorus of praise with which the play was greeted.

Of the principal actors, Creon was the best, perhaps. In voice, bearing, and appearance, he was admirably suited for his part ; even a conspicuous trick of clutching his throat did not seem out of place—especially in the last scene—as such mannerisms often do ; his despair in this last scene was ex- ceptionally well rendered, and few, we think, could detect the amateur. In the dialogue with Teiresias, his transition from contempt to fear was too sudden and violent ; but this was due to the absence of violence on the part of Teiresias. The prophet, for some reason not easy to understand, modified the rendering of this part of his role, which had delighted his fellow-actors during the rehearsals—a wild shriek, accompanied by uplifted hands—and substituted a more sober and less startling de- nunciation; and Creon's sudden fear became, thereby, less natural. The beard which the King had worn at some of the rehearsals was most wisely discarded ; the working of the lower part of his face was most expressive, and could ill have been spared. On the vexed question of Creon's character, Mr. Armour—if the impression produced upon the audience can be taken as evid- ence—took a view unfavourable to the King, the predominant expression until the last scene being cruelty.

Haemon acted his somewhat colourless part well, his com- parative calmness, which is exchanged for fury only at Creon's last threat, forming an effective contrast to his father's passion. His dark hair and complexion fitted him to be the son of Creon and Eurydice, both of whom were dark, whilst it formed a strong contrast to the two blonde princesses, his cousins.

The skill and ingenuity with which all obstacles were com- bated were nowhere more conspicuous than in the success of Antigone herself. A woman who stands five feet eleven—even with the advantage of very sloping shoulders—runs a great risk of appearing gigantic. Yet we doubt whether any of the audience guessed that Antigone was so tall. The device of an unusually sloping stage, at the front of which the princess always took care to stand, the complete dress of black from head to foot falling only to the ancles, the introduction behind her on the higher part of the stage of two gigantic guards in white, each over six feet, dwarfed her height to that of a tall woman. Apart from her height, there was no other fault to find with her appearance, which was singularly womanly, and left nothing to be desired. In her acting she was too masculine, at least in the first two scenes ; in particular, it was amusing to see an involuntary look of boredom and embarrassment over- spread her face, when Ismene, in the second scene, flung her arms round her neck. This rendering of the scene, by the way, was, we think, judicious, and true to the Greek. Professor Campbell, whose translation was in the hands of this audience, does not sanction it ; but we believe the spirit of the decisive line (line 551), on which the controversy hinges, is better rendered by Professor Plumptre, and has, moreover, the authority of Schneidewin. Taking this

view of the passage, Antigone and Ismene leave the stage to- gether reconciled. The last scene, where Antigone takes her farewell of the Chorus and life, was the beat ; her lamentations are a little prolix, and there is some danger of tiring an audience unacquainted, for the most part, with Greek. The Toronto Antigone, however, by judicious changes of tone and manner, now turning with scorn and anger to Creon, now with entreaties, upbraiding or pathetic, to the Chorus, stirred the audience to an unflagging interest, and even, here and there, to a few tears ; a creditable feat, considering that the actor could -only touch his audience by face, and tone, and manner, and not by the actual words uttered, and that there was, therefore, some excuse for a cynic's asking what Antigone was to Toronto, or Toronto to Antigone, that they should weep for her. The want of womanliness in Antigone did not extend to Ismene. Mr. Raultain, who played Ismene, was above everything womanly, and was, therefore, an unqualified success. We should rank his acting as the most successful of the women's. His height also and complexion qualified him admirably to be a younger and gentler sister of the heroine.

. The Watchman's part was said by some persons to have been over-acted by Mr. Haddow ; we do not think it was. He was, no doubt, impudent, of course, and something of a buffoon ; but we believe that Sophocles intended him to be so. The knocking of the knees when Creon turns on him, the piously-uplifted eyes when he thanks the Gods for his dismissal, the embarrassment into which he is plunged by his desire not to harm Antigone, and his determination not to harm himself, were all comically, but not extravagantly, rendered. His accent, it is true, was palpably Irish ; but this defect was, to an English ear, not more serious than the Canadian intonation of some of the other actors, or the Yankee twang of the chorus leader in the edipue Rex at New York. It seems impossible to produce a Greek play on the American continent without some blot of this kind.

The Chorus were not prepossessing in appearance, with a few exceptions, having striven apparently to portray some of the infirmities of age with unnecessary fidelity. They did their part well, however. The Chorus leader was conspicuously the tallest and whitest of the Chorus in which he sang, as well as the best actor. The blending of colours in the chorus was especially artistic. The materials of their dresses were cashmere and .flannel.

The unstinted praise which the play called forth was in part due to Professor Lewis Campbell's excellent translation, which was reprinted for the guidance of the audience; in part also to the surprise, and consequent revulsion of feeling, when it was discovered by the incredulous people of Toronto that a Greek play, well acted and mounted by a stage manager who was beyond praise, could be supremely interesting. Never- theless, the enthusiastic verdict of the moment will not be .substantially altered by sober reflection. Had the Antigone been acted in London, Oxford, or Cambridge, it would have been praised less indiscriminately indeed, but even more cordially. That there were so few among the audience acquainted with Greek plays—a score or so of Oxford and Cambridge men, and -a hundred or two of Toronto graduates—was the only misfor- tune which attended the actors, in other respects no less lucky than judicious and painstaking. The littdrateurs of the future may say of Canada that it was, in the judgment of all, incapable of such a triumph, had it not achieved it.