Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

MISS ANDERSON'S JULIET.

A Few days before the date at which I write this, I went one evening with a party of friends to witness the performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Lyceum Theatre. Perhaps I should rather say, that what we went to see was Miss Anderson's acting in the part of Juliet; for I think we had no curiosity about any other part of the performance.

Nor, even as to this part of it, was our curiosity either strong or pleasurable. In my own case, curiosity had been to some extent discounted by the opinions of the press,' and their drawingroom echoes, which unanimously assured us that we should find in Miss Anderson's Juliet, nothing but a perfectly passionless, commonplace, stagey, and more or less vulgar, piece of acting. I am a man of little faith in the opinions of the press,' be they political or literary ; but on this occasion I was led to infer the probable justice of their verdict, not so much from the unanimity and confidence of its expressions as from certain recollections of my own, which sternly discouraged all sanguine expectations. It had been my privilege, or penalty, on various previous occasions of the kind, to be cordially invited by distinguished English actors (men of high aim and considerable ability) to attend their performance of Shakespearian parts. Of those performances I had afterwards read, in the daily and weekly journals, the most enthusiastic and unqualified praises. I had noticed that the critical press was unanimous in its description of them as subtle, profound, original, delightful, suggestive, instructive, grand. I had heard the genius of Shakespeare seriously congratulated upon the masterly interpretations of it reserved for the histrionic art of his countrymen in this improving age ; and yet, owing to the unimprovable character of my own taste, these masterpieces of modern acting, notwithstanding a strong predisposition to admire and enjoy them, had excited in me only the uncomfortable sensations of blank, bewildered, inarticulate, stupid dismay. I felt that such sensations were sorry requitals of the hospitality I had received; and thus, between my personal liking for the performers and my mental incapacity to like their performances, my embarrassment would have been extreme, but for the merciful intervention of the critical press, which enabled me to congratulate the objects of its eulogiums upon an immense and indisputable success ; a success so comprehensive

and conspicuous that my own poor praises of this or that particular feature of the performance could have added nothing to the general recognition of its excellence.

This experience had bequeathed to me a pleasant notion of the habitual relations between actors and critics. After all,' I said to myself, 'these critics are the best-natured people in the world when they yield to the natural disposition of their own kind hearts. It must be entirely the fault of authors (a notoriously irritabile genus, full of small vanities and pretensions) if they get on no better with their critics than dogs do with cats. Actors are jolly fellows. The habits of their profession are social. Instead of assuming towards journalism a morose, surly, supercilious, hands-off attitude, they invite it to supper, pat it on its big good-humoured back, take it behind their scenes, and explain how matters stand there: open their hearts to it, in short, and appeal to its own. And see how well it behaves to them! If its theatrical criticism will not quite stand, it falls, at least, as bread and butter always falls, on the good side, the buttered side. And this is as it should be. For reason and justice (let alone generosity) demand that we should always endeavour to judge the act in relation to the intention. If you want to improve others, you must not be always scolding them and throwing cold water on their best endeavours. Praise is the greatest incentive, as censure is the surest check, to worthy effort; and what histrionic effort can be worthier of encouragement than an actor's effort to restore to a stage which has lost the traditions of it the worthy performance of the Shakespearean drama ? In criticising such an effort, all that is well meant should be heartily recognised, and all that is not well done pointed out in no carping spirit. In such a case, even exaggerated praise might possibly be wise as well as generous, whilst exaggerated censure would certainly be stupid as well as spiteful. Obviously our dramatic critics now go upon these maxims; and, whatever else may be said of their criticism, it is not ill-natured.'

When, therefore, I reflected that over the performance I was about to witness the daily and weekly fountains of criticism had been spouting next to nothing but disapproval, I could not but attribute so unwonted a phenomenon to some inadequacy in the performance itself, transcending even the all but inexhaustible amiability of the dramatic critics.

According to the critic of the Times, the only noticeable characteristic of Miss Anderson's Juliet was 'the gushing but empty rapture of a schoolgirl who has dabbled in poetry, and inspired herself with the secondhand sentiment of the circulating library;' and of those scenes in which the earnestness of the woman's nature is thoroughly aroused ’ her rendering was 'false and forced.' Mi. Terriss's Romeo, on the contrary, was, according to the same authority, 'a faultless reading of the part, full of passion and vigour.'

The critic of the Standard had assured us that in witnessing this performance we should more than ever feel the inability of the American actress to portray passion,' that the compass of her art is narrow,' that in the stronger scenes the actress is always weakest,' and that in the serious business of her part she is left quite behind.' Why Miss Anderson's nationality should have been specially mentioned by this critic in connection with her alleged inability to portray passion it was not easy to understand. But, whether the critic meant thereby to express his surprise that, in spite of being American, the actress was unable to portray passion, or to imply, with a delicately indirect compliment to his own countrywomen, that her inability to portray passion was sufficiently accounted for by the fact of her not being English, the statement of his impressions was certainly calculated to have a most chilling effect upon our expectations. After a still sterner condemnation of this lady's failure to give to her delivery of blank verse all the musical rhythm' attained without loss of natural utterance' by the keen poetic sense, the subtle intonation, and sensitively accurate ear of our own English actors and actresses, the same critic, faithful to the laudably gentle spirit of modern dramatic criticism, had relieved his pent-up impulse to praise wherever praise is possible, by bestowing unstinted encomiums upon all the other performers. In Mr. Terriss's Romeo he recognised “a more than adequate representation,' which always gave significance to the text. Mr. Terriss, he assured us, we should find picturesque, easy, and natural,' even in the wild rushes which the actor who supports Miss Anderson is called on to accomplish.' It was comforting, moreover, to learn from so discriminating and severely impartial a critic that this young actor was full of warmth in his passion' with Juliet, and dignity in his stern purpose with the Apothecary; that Mr. Kemble's Peter was replete with 'unobtrusive humour;' and that Mr. Stirling's Friar Lawrence was a remarkably sound and well-considered study,' specially noticeable for its. admirable balance and judgment' and its “fatherly tenderness and sympathy.'

The Saturday Review's remarks had been equally condemnatory of the American actress, and almost equally laudatory of her English partners in the performance. Whether intelligence to realise, or power to express, be defective, the result '--we had been told by this authority—“is the appearance of a young lady preposterously unlike Juliet.' Mr. Terriss, on the other hand, bad come nearer to Romeo than Miss Anderson to Juliet ;' and, whilst her Juliet's awakening in the vault was commonplace,' and her death scene quite devoid of tragic power,' her Romeo's bursts of rage' were replete with genuine passion.' Mr. Stirling's Friar Lawrence, moreover, was, we were again assured, 'not merely dignified.' No, the peculiar merit of “this Friar' was that he made it plain why Romeo was apt to seek

1

and conspicuous that my own poor praises of this or that particular feature of the performance could have added nothing to the general recognition of its excellence.

This experience had bequeathed to me a pleasant notion of the habitual relations between actors and critics. After all,' I said to myself, 'these critics are the best-natured people in the world when they yield to the natural disposition of their own kind hearts. It must be entirely the fault of authors (a notoriously irritabile genus, full of small vanities and pretensions) if they get on no better with their critics than dogs do with cats. Actors are jolly fellows. The habits of their profession are social. Instead of assuming towards journalism a morose, surly, supercilious, hands-off attitude, they invite it to supper, pat it on its big good-humoured back, take it behind their scenes, and explain how matters stand there: open their hearts to it, in short, and appeal to its own. And see how well it behaves to them! If its theatrical criticism will not quite stand, it falls, at least, as bread and butter always falls, on the good side, the buttered side. And this is as it should be. For reason and justice (let alone generosity) demand that we should always endeavour to judge the act in relation to the intention. If you want to improve others, you must not be always scolding them and throwing cold water on their best endeavours. Praise is the greatest incentive, as censure is the surest check, to worthy effort ; and what histrionic effort can be worthier of encouragement than an actor's effort to restore to a stage which has lost the traditions of it the worthy performance of the Shakespearean drama ? In criticising such an effort, all that is well meant should be heartily recognised, and all that is not well done pointed out in no carping spirit. In such a case, even exaggerated praise might possibly be wise as well as generous, whilst exaggerated censure would certainly be stupid as well as spiteful

. Obviously our dramatic critics now go upon these maxims; and, whatever else may be said of their criticism, it is not ill-natured.

When, therefore, I reflected that over the performance I was about to witness the daily and weekly fountains of criticism had been spouting next to nothing but disapproval, I could not but attribute so unwonted a phenomenon to some inadequacy in the performance itself, transcending even the all but inexhaustible amisbility of the dramatic critics.

According to the critic of the Times, the only noticeable charac teristic of Miss Anderson's Juliet was the gushing but empty rapture of a schoolgirl who has dabbled in poetry, and inspired herself with the secondhand sentiment of the circulating library;' and of those scenes in which the earnestness of the woman's nature is thoroughly aroused 'her rendering was false and forced.' Mr. Terriss’s Romeo, on the contrary, was, according to the same authority, 'a faultless reading of the part, full of passion and vigour.'

[merged small][ocr errors]

The critic of the Standard had assured us that in witnessing this performance we should more than ever feel the inability of the American actress to portray passion, that the compass of her art is Darrow,' that in the stronger scenes the actress is always weakest,' and that in the serious business of her part she is left quite behind.' Why Miss Anderson's nationality should bave been specially mentioned by this critic in connection with her alleged inability to portray passion it was not easy to understand. But, whether the critic meant thereby to express his surprise that, in spite of being American, the actress was unable to portray passion, or to imply, with a delicately indirect compliment to his own countrywomen, that her inability to portray passion was sufficiently accounted for by the fact of her not being English, the statement of his impressions was certainly calculated to have a most chilling effect upon our expectations. After a still sterner condemnation of this lady's failure to give to her delivery of blank verse all the musical rhythm' attained withont loss of natural utterance' by the keen poetic sense, the subtle intonation, and sensitively accurate ear of our own English actors and actresses, the same critic, faithful to the laudably gentle spirit of modern dramatic criticism, bad relieved his pent-up impulse to praise wherever praise is possible, by bestowing unstinted encomiums upon all the other performers. In Mr. Terriss's Romeo he recognised 'a more than adequate representation, which always gave significance to the text.' Mr. Terriss, he assured us, we should find picturesque, easy, and natural, even in the wild rushes which the actor who supports Miss Anderson is called on to accomplish.' It was comforting, moreover, to learn from so discriminating and severely impartial a critic that this young actor was full of warmth in his passion' with Juliet, and dignity in his stern purpose' with the Apothecary; that Mr. Kemble's Peter was replete with 'unobtrusive humour;' and that Mr. Stirling's Friar Lawrence was a remarkably sound and well-considered study, specially noticeable for its admirable balance and judgment' and its fatherly tenderness and sympathy.'

The Saturday Review's remarks had been equally condemnatory of the American actress, and almost equally laudatory of her English partners in the performance. Whether intelligence to realise, or power to express, be defective, the result '—we had been told by this authority—is the appearance of a young lady preposterously unlike Juliet. Mr. Terriss, on the other hand, bad • come nearer to Romeo than Miss Anderson to Juliet ; ' and, whilst her Juliet's awakening in the vault was commonplace,' and her death scene quite devoid of tragic power,' her Romeo's bursts of rage' were replete with genuine passion.' Mr. Stirling's Friar Lawrence, moreover, was, we were again assured, 'not merely dignified.' No, the peculiar merit of “this Friar' was that he made it plain why Romeo was apt to seek

« ZurückWeiter »