22 JANUARY 1921, Page 15



[It is a tiresome peculiarity in theatrical decor and costume artists always to share a striking name with somebody perfectly inappropriate. Mr. Norman Wilkinson has to be distinguished as " of Fouroaks "—I wonder which Mr. Lovat Fraser feels the more insulted by the usual confusion ? This note is to explain. that the Mr. Lovat Fraser who here bears witness to the long and noble descent of stage elaboration is the one who designed the scenic part of Mr. Playfair's productions of " As You Like It " and " The Beggar's Opera."—T Aux.]

" THE. Scene was the Mountain Atlas, who had his top ending. in the Figure of an old Man, his Head and Beard all Hoary, and Frost, as if his Shoulders were covered with Snow ; the rest Wood and Rock A Grove of Ivey at his feet ; out of which, to a , wild Musick of Cymbals, Flutes, and Tabers, is brought forth Comus."

Such was the opening scene that greeted the eyes of King James when Ben Jonson presented his Masque of Pleasure Reconciled to Vertue at the Court of Whitehall in the year 1619. Ten minutes later and doubtless to the accompaniment of a delighted murmur from the audience, " the whole Grove vanished, and the whole Musick was discovered, sitting at the Foot of the Mountain, with Pleasure and Vertuo seated above them." Nor• must it be imagined that the Laureate was unduly optimistic in his stage directions when it is considered that for the designer of his scenery, costumes, and " machines " he had none other than Inigo Jones, one of the greatest artiste of the theatre that England has produced. Even without Jones' aid the exacting poet managed to do pretty well. In 1608, for instance, whilst Inigo Jones was still on the Continent, and merely with the help, of " the King's Master Carpenter," Jonson was able to demand that " this Throne (as the whole Island mov'd forward on the Water) had a Circular motion of its own, imitating that which we call Motu;n Mundi, from the East to the West, or the Right to the Left side. . . . The steps whereon the Cupids satabad a motion contrary, with analogy ad Motum Planetarum, from the West to the East : both which turned with their several Lights. And with these three varied motions, at once, the whole scene- shot itself to the Land. Above which, the Moon —," but as the King's Master Carpenter has still some twenty more lines of Herculean labours to fulfil, we can safely assume that whatever crudity may have satisfied the audiences of the Globe, Whitehall itself was not unacquainted with the mechanism of stage scenery.

It must be conceded that the scenery employed in the Court Masques of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was not in use on the popular stage, which, probably through reasons of economy rather than for any aesthetic purpose, was forced to adopt the handier and more austere method of the bare platform. Aa, however, in England the popular theatre was many years behind the Continent in its development, and as it was eventually to reach maturity along the lines of the Court Masque, it would be as well to consider the origin of inspiration that served as a model to Inigo Jones and to the King's Master Carpentei.

When the wave of the Renaissance finally reached England, France had robbed it of none of its Italian influence. Italy was the fashion. Renaissance Classicism showed itself not only in our literature with Sidney, Spenser, and Lyly, but in every phase of national taste, including Architecture, and as Tnigo Jones had also, in addition to his architectural duties, to stage the Court Masques, so was our first stage scenery Italianate. In Italy the drama was old-established. Palladio had achieved, as the culmination of stage work, his Teatro Olympico at Vicenza (opened in 1584), constructed on the Greek model and with a permanent scene made of solid stone, where, through three arches, could be seen actual streets of miniature palaces built in perspective. Massive architecture was deemed the only scenery fit for the staging, of plays. The scene• did not change, but was considered. of permanent dramatic value, whatever action might take place within it. Probably Inigo Jones employed plaster and wood for his Court Masques so as to facilitate the clearing away of the structure at the termination of the entertainment. This would be a step undoubtedly in the wrong direction, yet that they were noble works and worthy of the great poetry that was spoken in. them is recorded in Inigo Jones' sketches that he has bequeathed to a wondering posterity. This was the brief Golden Age of English stage production, where the finest minds in Literature, Architecture, and Music were knit together in creating a work of dramatic art that was Complete and splendid in every detail. Here were three masters working in unity to a common end. We may yet judge how good were their individual results in the printed pages of Jonson, the drawings for scene and costume by Inigo Jones and the finest creative age of English music. Unfortunately, the Silver Age was never destined to appear, and the fall from grace was abrupt. Jonson quarrelled with Jones, the land was torn up by the Civil Wars, and the Commonwealth, suppressing the theatre, found no use for Court Masques. At the Restoration the theatre reopened, but it was not the theatre of twenty years before. The influence of the Court was French. Great tragedy and the keen humour of the old Comedy were ousted In favour of the glittering social wit of the new Comedy. D'Avenant is accredited with introducing the painted " Back- cloth " on to the English boards, and scenery became with but little change the artificial affair of canvas and paint that still strives to imitate the colours and forms of Nature. Thus died the scene that had been handed down to us from the Greeks as a dramatic essential and, with the scene, died the great English School of dramatic writing. By the end of the first quarter of the eighteenth century the Restoration comedy had disappeared, and, despite the brilliant exceptions of Gold- smith, Sheridan, and one or two isolated comedies, it has kept pretty dead ever since. Drama became a sterile wanderer in the desert of Romanticism, a sojourner in Wardour Street, and utterly divorced from national life. Into this empty carcass crept the spirit of realism, and through the mouth of the theatre we have heard, ever since Ibsen, the sermons of the Propagandist and the diatribes of the Faddist. This is all very well, and the Propagandist and the Faddist are surely honour- able men, but they are also trespassers in the theatre and they are keeping Drama out of her rightful home.

And what is Drama ? It is certainly not great poetry, nor is it great music, nor even fine scenery, yet it must contain all these and add its own spirit to them. It would be easier to analyze a handful of sand. Can you remember the thrill that you experienced when, as a child, the last notes of the overture had died away in the darkened theatre and the curtain was rising on the first scene ? Rudimentarily, that is Drama. It is also Drama when Oedipus rushes blinded through the gates of the palace. It is Drama when Bottom appears in the midsummer forest with the ass's head on his shoulders. Drama is, in effect, a mood and an atmosphere treated so perfectly by author, designer, actor, and musician that one forgets them all, and is only aware that here is an art that is composite and yet perfect and is wholly of the theatre. No- where else can it be found, and to achieve it there must be no missing note. The eyes and ears must communicate it in the same flash to the brain. It is born of perfect co-operation and unity of effort. That Ben Jonson realized this is shown in his minute stage directions and the great care he lavished upon every detail. That we as a nation do not realize it is demon- strated but too plainly by the haphazard mediocrity and slip- shod carelessness that we tolerate in the theatre of to-day.