14 AUGUST 1880, Page 11


THEtwo comedies that have been given at the New Sadler's Wells Theatre, with a success which speaks well for the taste of the unfashionable public, afford great opportunity for contrast and variety in acting, and are the best examples of the style of their respective authors. In She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals there is a curious similarity of motive, with difference of treatment ; in both, the slight, ingenious plot turns on a disguise assumed for the purpose of playing on a weakness. Miss Hardcastle, in the character of a chambermaid, stoops to conquer the shy suitor who says to Hastings, " They may talk of a comet, or a burning mountain, or some such bagatelle ; but to me, a modest woman, dressed out in all her finery, is the most tremendous object of the whole Creation." As Ensign Beverley, Captain Absolute flatters the romantic fancy of the girl who, disdaining the humdrum propriety of a marriage with everybody's consent and ample settlements, aspires to the delights of an elope- ment and poverty ; but whom Sheridan makes much too clever to have been such a fool. Miss Hardcastle has an absurd step-mother ; Miss Lydia Languish has a ridiculous aunt ; Mr. Hardcastle proposes to marry his daughter to a well-recommended stranger ; Sir Anthony Absolute orders his son to propose to a young lady whom he has never seen. The confidants on both sides are as faithful as was Tilburina's, in The Critic, Sheridan's famous caricature of himself and everybody else. Goldsmith's Diggory and Sheridan's David are characters on the same line ; but Diggory is simply humorous, while David is subtly witty. The same distinction applies to Tony Lumpkin and Bob Acres, the most purely comic characters in the respective plays. Granted the impossible oddity of the circumstances, Goldsmith's people are true to their characteristics ; but Sheridan's are too olever by three-quarters. His dialogue is like firing along the line—all gleams and cracks, in long succession—delightful, but so unreal, that there is not a bit of illusion in it ; one never could " throw one's-self into" a play of Sheridan's. The whimsi- eality of The Rivals is of a pleasanter kind than that of The School for Scandal, in which we are literally pelted with epigrams, and it is not spoiled by such a blunder as the conduct of Charles Sur- face in the " screen scene." The absence of real rascality is a, great charm in the play, and the legitimate heroine's being genuinely interesting is another. Maria, in The School for Scandal, is a waspish non-entity ; but Lydia Languish gives a clever actress an excellent opportunity, though not one equal to that which Goldsmith's Miss Hardcastle supplies. Lydia has only her lover to quarrel with, and her aunt to defy ; Miss Hardcastle's scenes with her own father, and with Sir John Marlow., demand what one may call intricately good acting, that of the schemer ; and Miss Hardcastle is the chief

personage throughout. She is not thrown into the shade by the more strongly comic Tony, whereas Lydia is the dupe of the piece, and is nowhere while Bob Acres, " Jack," Sir Anthony, and Sir Lucius fill the scene. The similarity and the difference between the two comedies render an opportunity of seeing them acted in succession very welcome ; and they can seldom have been presented more satisfactorily than at the New Sadler'e Wells Theatre, during the short season which ends this evening.

This occasion derives additional interest from the fact that we are not again to see Mr. Chippendale in the characters with which his name has been for so many years identified. Like his Polonius (in which he has been so sorely missed), his Mr. Hardcastle and Sir Anthony Absolute, are, after to-night, to be traditions only for London play-goers, and, unfortunately, for students of the dramatic art. Are there any among those students who will be able to revive, for the play-goers of the

coming years, the enjoyment with which we of the present and past have witnessed Mr. Chippendale's performances ? There are no signs of their existence, that we have seen ; it seems as reason- able to look for comedies like She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals, as for comedians like the veteran actor who, as Mr. Hardcastle, recoils with inimitable dignity from the familiarity of young Marlow—and as Sir Anthony, gasping with rage, warns his son of the possibility of his putting him in a passion. True alike to the touch of sentiment in the former character, and to the sly-doggishness of the latter, to the frank- ness, which renders Mr. Hardcastle unsuspicious of the tricks of his step-son and the mistakes of his guests, and to the acuteness which makes Sir Anthony promptly suspect his son, and derive quiet enjoyment from the aspersion on Mrs. Malaprop's " parts of speech," Mr. Chippendale has not lost an atom of his finesse, although his vigour has sensibly declined. The play of countenance, the appropriateness of gesture, the conveyance of meaning by a slight movement, the wearing of the costume and the adoption of the air of the period, as to the manner born, are as perfect as ever, in per- formances which it would be an impertinence to praise. It is only when we note how the venerable actor husbands his strength for the famous scene between Sir Anthony and the recalcitrant " Jack," by keeping quite cool and quiet in the first scene, that we realise the necessity for care. Of Mrs. Chippendale's acting as Mrs. Hardcastle and Mrs. Malaprop it is also hardly necessary to say anything. It would be difficult to decide whether she is most delightfully comic when she demands,—while being driven nearly wild by the pranks of Tony :—" Was ever woman so beset with fools on one hand, and thieves on the other ?" or when she modestly reveals herself as the " Delia " of Sir Lucius O'Trigger. A more delicious bit of comedy—so quiet, that there is some risk of its escaping general notice—than the by-play between Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Lucius, while Bob Acres and Absolute are winding-up the last act, we have seldom seen. If Sir Lucius does not make Delia "Lady O'Trigger into the bargain," as the result of the adjournment of the party to the Rooms and the fiddles, it is, at least, plain that such is Mrs. Chippendale's and Mr. R. Lyons' reading of the play.

Happily we have not to apprehend the withdrawal of Mrs. Chippendale from the eminent position which she has attained ; and the performance of She Stoops to Conquer and The Rivals at Sadler's, Wells has afforded proof of the ability of some other actors, hitherto untried, to interpret the old English comedies whose demands, being altogether independent of fashionable upholstery, popular "gag," and the other substitutes for sound acting which audiences now accept with complacency, are doubly onerous, because of that very decadence of taste. Some time ago there was a great deal of talk and some writing about the formation of a School for Actors, but both seem to have died away, and the reign set iu of long "runs," and the conse- quent monotony which, however good for managers, is fatal to actors who are not fixed stars, and would be repudiated by those who are, if they were artists in the true sense. It seems to the present writer that the public is not more sensibly benefited by a management which supplies, as that of Sadler's Wells does, a constant succession of performances of widely-varied kinds, than are students of the drama, who may observe this variety of style, and also note the impressions produced.

The twelve nights of English comedy which have given us, for the last time, the most perfect representation of Gold- smith's Mr. Hardcastle and Sheridan's Sir Anthony Absolute that this generation has seen, have introduced a Miss Hard- castle, a Lydia Languish, a Tony Lumpkin, a Bob Acres, and a Sir Lucius O'Trigger, for whom we anticipate growing success. Miss Virginia Bateman has already made her mark in high comedy, but she has done nothing equal to her Miss Hardcastle. Her supreme gift of humour, that rare delight in the real fun of the thing which laughs out of her eyes and speaks in every tone, her enjoyment of Tony's achievements, her perfect mimicry,— " Did your honour call? Attend the lion there ; pipes and tobacco for the Angel ; the Lamb has been outrageous this half-hour,"--the innumerable touches by which she sustains the character, are entirely charming. And they are never marred by the slightest exaggeration. She is exquisitely saucy, but never for a moment impudent ; her pertness has not a hint of brazenness, her smartness has not a tinge of vulgarity. As Lydia Languish, she comes up to Mr. Wilkie Collins' standard ; his own Magdalen Vanstone could not surpass her in the famous directions to Lucy (very well played by Miss Montague) re- specting the hiding of the tell-tale books from the circulating

library ; and the mingled rage and roguishness of her quarrel with Captain Absolute are delightful. When she is hustled off by Mrs. Malaprop, proclaiming her unalterable devotion to her " Beverley," the niece is worthy of the aunt ; and when she describes her vexation to Julia she is inimitably droll, perfectly sincere in her folly, and yet aware of the humorous side of it. There is a dainty coquetry about Miss Virginia Bateman's acting which seems to us the essence of the intention of Goldsmith and Sheridan in each case. Miss Compton does the best she can for Julia, but it is a hopeless role, only a little less hopeless than that of Falkland, for which it cannot be said that Mr. Strathmore does the best. Mr. Hendrie is admirable as Diggory in She Stoops to Conquer; the story of the grouse in the gun-room, which is never told, could not be more comically rendered than it is by him ; but his David in The Rivals is a little overdone. David's demoralising effect upon Bob Acres loses much of its point if David be made a caricature, and Mr. Hendrie errs in that direc- tion, both in his accent and his make-up. Mr. Somerset is better as young Marlow than as Captain Absolute, except in the famous scene with Mrs. Malaprop. His fit of genuine, almost convulsive laughter at the close of that is infections. The present writer has only seen one Tony Lumpkin to compare with Mr. Edmund Lyons' performance of that character, which must, surely, be. everybody's favourite in the whole range of low-comedy parts. From the moment he utters the sentence which so skill- fully combines humour, human nature, and loutishness :— " As for disappointing them, I should not so much mind,.. but I can't abide to disappoint myself,"—one feels per- fectly easy about Mr. Edmund Lyons; we are about to enjoy a real treat. His Bob Acres is also exceedingly clever, a. striking instance of the actor's versatility ; and the eloquent use of his hands is a point worth watching. Bob Acres is a remarkable instance of Sheridan's impartial bestowal of wit upon everybody, and Mr. Lyons' performance *o£ the part is remarkable for the skill with which he con- ceals this incongruity ; the butt of the whole dramatis persona3 delivers his epigrimmatic speeches with a delight- ful foolishness, and weeps over the image of his mother's bereavement with hearty grief that convulsed the audi- ence with laughter. Mr. Robert Lyons plays Sir Lucius_ admirably, with the needful swagger, but with the gentlemanly tone, for all that, and great drollery. He observes the stage tradition whereby a man of rank and society is made to speak with a brogue which no Irish gentleman would recognise as the accent of his class ; but the brogue is a good one, although in the. wrong place, and perhaps the innovation of leaving it ont would be too startling. One may ask, however, why has it never occurred to any one to make Bob Acres pronounce his words like his ser- vant David ? That would be quite as true to nature as Sir Lucius O'Trigger speaking like a Dublin carman.