6 MARCH 1880, Page 11


THE managers of the Theatre in Westminster have shown a worthy desire to do good work. They have been honour- ably distinguished by a steady discouragement of the art of adaptation, at once the backbone and the bane of our most

fashionable theatres, where "the play" is secondary to the decorations before and behind the curtain, and honest breadth of acting sacrificed to the subtleties of modern stage-manage- ment, which demands smallness of everything but the furni- ture; and claiming to have done many mysterious things for "art," identifies it apparently with the art of the upholsterer. The Imperial Theatre, now avowedly dedicated to afternoon per- formances, which will be a great attraction to a large class, has produced good English plays, old and new, but has made its chief name by the former. And now, after preluding with Sheridan and Goldsmith, the management has sunk a new shaft in the anexhausted mine of Shakespeare. The first per- formance of the series, if we may hope for one, seems to us of sin- gular promise and charm, and well deserving of record; as much so in its way as Mr. Irving's scholarly and artistic work on other lines of the same road. As You Like It, at the Imperial, is a worthy pendant to The Merchant of Venice, at the Lyceum ; though we hope that its success may not hinder Mr. Irving from some day giving us what should, from him, be a dramatic revelation,—his reading of the strange and, as we cannot help thinking, yet unread character of the arch-humbug Jaques.

If Hamlet is of all the plays of Shakespeare the most human, and therefore the most eternally attractive ; if King Lear is the most colossal, Othello the most dramatic, Romeo and Juliet the most passionate, A Midsummer Night's Dream, perhaps, the most poetical, As You Like It is, to our mind, the most fairylike; more so than the play last named, for Bottom and his fellows are of the most realistic type of humanity ; while in As You Like It there is not a character but lives, and moves, and has its being in the very atmo- sphere of fairyland. The Banished Duke without a patro- nymic, the fantastic princess playing at a boy, the passionate boy-lover joining in the game, and the quaint courtier in motley, jingling his bells through the fairy forest, which echoes to the sweet strains of the foresters in the mid-day beat,—all these are indeed "such stuff as dreams are made of," the very creations of a poet musing on a Madame d'Arilnoy. What pleases us most in the presenta- tion of the play at the Imperial is that this fairy-strain, with its dying fall, is, perhaps for the first time, so carefully sustained, with but one or two jarring notes, inevitable save in perfection,

audible here and there in the minor key. The first act is played as a prelude at the court, and from that moment the constant and tiresome changes of scene are artistically avoided, and the tale is told in but two dreamy landscapes, which struck us, the first especially, as of a high order of stage-painting. Monotony is avoided by some ingenious varying of the effects of light, and no scene of importance is missing except that in which Oliver is "turned out-of-doors," the omission of which leaves his pre- sence in the forest unaccounted for. This oversight might, no doubt, be remedied. The dresses are happily married to the scenery. They, too, are tastefully designed in true fairy-fashion, and do great credit to Mr. Forbes Robertson, a young and rising artist in a double sense. As an actor, he achieved a marked success last summer in an original leading character, which should have gained him a secure position. Un- luckily, in the curious absence of system which is one of our chief dramatic difficulties, he has since then been given nothing to do much worth the doing. As a painter, Mr. Robert- son has pleased many, if not all, by a striking portrait of Phelps as Cardinal Wolsey, recently added to the interesting gallery of the Garrick Club; and is now looking for laurels in a new place, where he seems likely to find them. The dresses of the new As You Like It are very harmonious in form and colour, and in the case of Rosalind's boy-dress especially note- worthy. The disappearance of the terrible ballet-costume, the infinitesimal waist, silk tights, and little boots with French heels, with which our modern Rosalinds have been wont to en- counter the mud of the Forest of Arden, will be much honoured in the breach. With her hat slung at her back, the broad belt round her well-dissembled waist, and the stout gaiters which seem made for work, Miss Litton looks every inch a boy, and, what is more, acts it. What the Times, with the curious felicity for saying the wrong thing which, not in dramatic matters only, seems recently to have distinguished it, meant by sug- gesting that the dresses were "overdone," only the Times knows. But, indeed, all its remarks upon the play were oddly inadequate and out of place.

We have left the acting to the last, like many a modern manager of the South Kensington school. But we are bound to say that Miss Litton has not. Without giving prominence to any one, even to herself—and it is not of many Rosalinds we could say the same—she has been careful to secure so good a cast all round, that we thankfully wavered in our belief that the delivery of blank-verse is a lost art. The blank-verse was throughout spoken very well indeed. Mr. Vezin, of course, speaks it well, though we think he might have seen in the char- acter of Jaques more of the sham which so clearly belongs to it. Some of the marked power of humour which he has more than once shown—for instance, as the attache in the Danieheff, and in the old curiosity-hunter in Byron's comedy of Married in Haste—might have been well imported here. But Mr. Vezin spoke well, and like a well-graced actor ; and ignored, as he always does, the poses at his audience known to the Stage as "points," which being interpreted mean, "Here applaud." By our Jaques stands our young Orlando, very frankly the best we have ever seen, or wish to see. If Mr. Kyrie Bellew has not the thews and sinews which our imagination was wont to connect with the youth who over- threw the "bony prizer," all we can say is that he has corrected our imagination. His is the truer Orlando. Slight and small, but lissom and manly, he conveyed from the first, in his wrestling with Charles, the idea of skill and courage too strong for force. And in the forest he was the fairy-prince of our dreams, alike in face and voice, in manner and action. The good-natured banter of his mock love-making with the boy Ganymede was as true as new, and obviously the result of thoughtful study between himself and Miss Litton, whose Rosalind matched him well. Both were easy and quiet, and gave the pleasant sense of repose which study and practice only give the actor the power to convey. The Times called Mr. Bellew restless, which is just what his Orlando is not. Restless- ness used to be his fault, but he has taken it resolutely and success- fully in hand, and it is, therefore, the last fault that should be found with him. Whatever may be the pleasure of finding fault, we have no word of depreciation for Mr. Bellew's Orlando, and gladly welcome a new poetic actor whose name is worthily associated, through his father, with some of our best memories of Fechter. We have no space to run through the cast further, but must make acknowledgment of the pleasure given by Mr. Gerard Coventry's rendering of the ditties in which Arne

caught the spirit of the dream so well. His pure and trained tenor, and the unaffected manliness of his bearing, made his Amiens a pleasant thing to hear and see.

We reserve our last word for our Rosalind, excusing by want of space our neglect of others. That, too, must be our excuse for giving no detailed criticism on a performance which deserves it, which we might better give on further hearing. Miss Litton is an artist whose chief fault has been a rare one, mistrust of herself; and we hope her genuine success in her first Shake- spearean part will help to cure her. The text of her reading is a good one, the Princess and the boy, always dignified in her brightness, never vulgar in her banter, treading fearlessly on ground which is only dangerous when the spiritual nature of the conception is misunderstood. By this means, all possible offence is avoided in the mock love-scenes, which on her side are a heart's reality. There is, to our minds, no touch of tenderness wanting, where the situation allows it. Like Mr. Vezin, she plays for the scene. "Dear me !" said an old actress behind us, "she misses all the points !" with which high commenda- tion we leave her, lingering with her Orlando upon our minds, as the two should, the central figures and moving spirits of the wonderful pastoral.