The Stage from the Stalls
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Stage from the Stalls is an article written by E. F. S. ("Monocle") published in The Sketch on 14 march 1906.
The Stage from the Stalls
"BRIGADIER GERARD" — "PARIS AND OENONE" — "THE FRIEND IN THE GARDEN."
SIR CONAN DOYLE is alleged to have said, when speaking of his new piece, "Brigadier Gerard," that his experience as dramatist is not big, and that the Imperial Theatre play is the first "whole-evening play" written by him. According to my recollection he has written, in collaboration with Mr. J. M. Barrie, "Jane Annie," and "Foreign Policy, a comedietta, alone. Both were given in 1893, and "A Story of Waterloo" was produced the next year. Then, in 1899, a comedy called "Halves" was produced at the Garrick, and the authorship ascribed to Conan Doyle, and, whether or no there was a curtain-raiser in the programme, the piece was a full three or four decker. Apparently, "Sherlock Holmes," in collaboration with Mr. William Gillette, was the next venture in the theatres. So one can hardly call the popular Knight quite a tyro, or find in his inexperience an excuse for the style of "Brigadier Gerard." "Excuse" may seem a strong word to apply to what promises to be a successful play. It is, however, difficult not to feel disappointed at finding that when one of our most popular writers — a story-teller, indeed, whose success has even earned him a knighthood — condescends to turn his attention to the stage, he treats it so scornfully. If, taking advantage of our deplorable Copyright Laws, some experienced pirate had laid hands upon one of the "Brigadier Gerard" stories we should have had the sort of thing that is now running at the theatre associated in the memory of the elder playgoers with the name of Marie Litton. In one respect all parties connected with the affair are lucky. This sort of melodrama has been out of fashion so long that there are hosts of playgoers quite new to the tricks in it, and thoroughly amused by them; whilst even the old birds have a kind of friendly feeling towards what seems to them a kind of revival.
Preferable to the success of Sir Conan Doyle is the failure of Mr. Maurice Hewlett in "Pan and the Young Shepherd," except, of course, from the box-office point of view. Perhaps part of the critics' disappointment was due to the attitude of the audience. From time to time we have a wave of optimism, and believe that there is a market, a real paying, popular market, for serious drama, a market which might justify the establishment of a national, or at least a municipal, theatre, with a burden on tax or rate payers; and then come events which show that even such a specialised house as a fashionable first-night audience welcomes a play which, in relation to real drama, stands as a shilling shocker to a novel by one of the comparatively numerous living writers who, if they had lived a hundred years ago, would rank among the immortals.
However, the fact remains that "Brigadier Gerard" is not a bad specimen of its class, and, despite its many absurdities, amused and interested — perhaps even excited — the audience. One may even doubt whether the playgoer would have been as well pleased if it had been treated honestly as a burlesque of romantic comedy. Many were delighted by the panache of the gallant blockhead, and hardly noticed that his triumph was due to mere accident. Mr. Waller certainly gave some hints of humour, but in the main was the romantic, brave fellow that the ladies love; and Miss Evelyn Millard realised the beautiful lady charmingly. Mr. Edward O'Neill as the Talleyrand who has a kind of purgatory in always being shown as a fatuous fool acted very well, and the suggestion made by some that he was rather too melodramatic seems unjust. I think the same may be said of Mr. A. E. George, the latest of the Napoleons — of the stage. Mr. Spiel Barry played skilfully as one of the secret police without whom plays of this class are considered incomplete.
So far as names go the week has been very distinguished, since, in addition to Sir Conan Doyle, two other well-known men of letters presented novelties — Messrs. Laurence Binyon and E. F. Benson. Miss Gertrude Kingston gave a hearing to the two last-named at her matinee, and was not quite adequately rewarded for her courage and devotion to art. "Paris and OEnone" seemed a rather anaemmic treatment of a strong little story of love, resentment, and remorse. A number of pleas-ing terms, such as "classic in feeling," "correct," and the like might be used, but the tragedy was rather stagnant. Vainly did Bliss Kingston attempt with much ability to present the passionate, deserted wife of the faithless Paris, and fruitless, too, were the rather too robust efforts of Mr. Matheson Lang to reincarnate the man who caused the ruin of Troy: we listened with respect, without enthusiasm, and coldly judged the real charm of verse which never quivered with life, never appeared to come from the hearts of the people. Miss Kingston, if a little uncertain in the control of her voice, gave a very able piece of acting, and Miss Roxy Barton looked lovely as the naughty Helen. Still, Mr. Binyon deserved a hearing; he has aimed high, and there is nothing ignominious in the failure of his first attempt to seize the curious secret of the stage.
Mr. Benson's work, "The Friend in the Garden," was another experiment worth making, but not quite successful. Somehow, the idea of Death in form of "The Woman in White" talking with a man in evening dress and persuading him to accept her fatal caress failed to be "shuddery"; and when the Death actually sat on a chair the piece really collapsed; after that the emotion won was only curiosity till the last moment, when a vivid little bit of acting by Miss Irene Rooke, who played very cleverly, stirred the languid house. Mr. Dennis Eadie acted ably, and so too did Miss Wynne-Matthison and Mr. Corbett. The end of an interesting programme was Mr. Shaw's little farce, "How he Lied to Her Husband," already known by Court Theatre patrons — a boisterous, clever piece, somewhat uncertain in humour, with a daring comic central idea of the husband indignant because a poet, fearful of vengeance, denied that he had written amatory verses to his wife, and actually violent because the writer had not paid her the compliment of insulting her. Miss Gertrude Kingston was quite brilliant as the wife; Mr. Granville Barker, with some burlesquing of "Candida," was very amusing; and Mr. Poulton acted the husband's part perfectly.