Savoy Theatre (Review of Jane Annie)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
It is, no doubt, a healthy sign when a departure is made from a tradition that has become a mere convention through constant observance, but it remains to be seen whether success can be attained by so abrupt a change from the established vogue as is exhibited in the new comic opera produced on Saturday evening. In the Gilbert and Sullivan series, and in most of the later productions at the Savoy Theatre, the situations were often extravagantly absurd, but each before it passed yielded its full compliment of quips and wayward misapplications of ordinary speech; the music, too, conformed as strictly as the younger composers could make it to the pattern set by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the originator of the style never scrupled to copy his own work with the rest. In Jane Annie; or, The Good-Conduct Prize, Messrs. J.M. Barrie and A. Conan Doyle, the joint authors of the libretto, have been hampered by no considerations of probability, and in so far their plot is worthy of the traditions of the house. It lacks, however, the continual play of brilliant dialogue which is found in the best examples of the class, and many opportunities given by some of the most improbable situations seem to have been wasted. Mr. Ernest Ford's music, too, is, in its most prominent numbers, markedly different from that of his predecessors, and, if he has struck out no new line of his own, he has not slavishly followed any of the styles already existing, the consequence being, of course, that his work is open to the reproach of lacking unity.
The action of the piece takes place in a ladies' school near a University obviously meant for Oxford. The problem of introducing male characters in any numbers is solved by inventing a class of "Press students" reading for honours in the school of the "New Journalism," who obtain entrance anywhere and in any circumstances. Their special prey, for the purpose of "interviewing," is the proctor of the University, who, with his bulldogs, pays a visit to the schoolmistress, an old flame of his own. The model girl of the school, on whom is bestowed the good-conduct prize at the end of the first act, is the villain of the piece; she possesses mesmeric power, and uses it to upset the morale of the establishment, ultimately eloping, under the mistress's eye, together with Bab, the "bad girl" of the school, and two eligible young men, both of whom are Bab's admirers. One of them, a handsome officer, is converted into Jane Annie's lover by the power already mentioned. Many numbers in Mr. Ford's score attain a very high level of excellence, and there is also a good supply of the catching tunes that are required in this class of entertainment. The very graceful overture, a pretty opening chorus, "Good-night"; a charmingly melodious duet between the schoolmistress and the proctor; another number, also for two voices, in which Bab bids farewell to her undergraduate sweetheart, and in which a remarkable degree of sustained beauty and dramatic power is displayed; and a wonderfully clever finale, in which the incidence of the prize-giving suggests a covert reference to the finale of Die Meistersinger, are the chief points of musical interest in the first act; in the second, a bright "golfing chorus" for the girls, a very pathetic expressive solo for the schoolmistress, a capital and really original military chorus, and a somewhat elaborate chorus, in which the girls receive the addresses first of the undergraduates and then of their military admirers, are the most valuable sections.
If the practice of naming certain types of characters from the singers who "created" the first examples of them were adopted from the French opera, the title-part of the new piece would be commonly described as a "Jessie-Bond" part; and it is the highest praise that can be given to Miss Dorothy Vane that she occasionally reminded the audience of her predecessor in the company. She is sufficiently sly and demure in the first scene, and wildly naughty in the second, and if her singing is a little deficient in charm, she at least does her part correctly and with considerable brightness. Miss Decima Moore sings and acts with her usual refinement and naivete as Bab; her "patter duet" with the proctor was doubly encored, and the second repetition hardly avoided. Miss Rosina Brandram is excellently suited as the schoolmistress, and her artistic singing gives full value to the charming music she has to sing; her solo in the second act received one of the heartiest rounds of applause bestowed during Saturday's performance. Mr. Rutland Barrington makes of the proctor one of those clerical types in which he is at his best; there is little to remark about the impersonation except that it is as successful as usual, and that his songs obtain the usual amount of encores. Mr. Charles Kenningham's well-managed voice is of good service in the part of the student lover, and Mr. Scott Fishe, as the officer, proves himself a most valuable acquisition to the company. He has a fine presence, is a very capable actor, and sings as well as need be, giving full effect to the solo in the military chorus before mentioned. Messrs. L. Gridley and W. Passmore, as the proctor's bulldogs, are not very diverting, and there is a suspicion of the music-hall element in their performances which is decidedly out of place. Last, and least, though not least in importance, comes the surprising performance of Master Harry Rignold as a very small page-boy, who bears on his tiny shoulders a considerable part of the comic interest of the opera. His gestures, as he orders the schoolgirls about, or expresses a hopeless attachment to Jane Annie, are simply perfect; and it is clear that the boy is a born actor and has a real and keen sense of humour of his part. It is certainly a new idea, but scarcely one of unquestionable advantage, to insert in the book of words copious annotations of the libretto, supposed to be the composition of this page-boy. The remarks are not always very funny, and unless read between the acts they are apt to distract the attention. In his own song (which, by the way, Master Rignold sings capitally), he observes, "Mine is a very difficult part, and what I want the critics to say about it is that it would be nothing in less experienced hands."
It is superfluous to say that the two scenes, representing respectively the elaborate staircases and passages of the school and the golf-links attached to it, are as excellently arranged as usual; the mounting and stage management are as perfect as they always are at the Savoy, and the performance, under the composer's direction, was extremely good. The piece was received with unqualified demonstrations of favour, and it may be expected to run until the ladies of the chorus shall have learnt to hold their golf-clubs a little less like walking-sticks, and until the college caps of the students shall have lost their very unrealistic condition of preternatural neatness.