« PredošláPokračovať »
natural model or standard can be found for such parts as I am writing of. Now the actor of the last generation did strive to fill out the ideal of the author. He did not always succeed, maybe. There were good and bad actors then, as now. But he strove for the ideal! The actor of to-day is only too prone to drag the ideal down to the level of his own modern personality, and then search for hidden meanings, undreamt of by the author, and isolated lines to account for effects which, in some cases, amount to vandalism. Thus we are liable to get a whole round of Shakespearean parts, running nearly the entire gamut of human emotions, filtered through the same individuality with a slight change of make-up,' which is often the only difference observable.
The cant phrase that 'an audience only wants to be amused' is a libel on the great heart of the public. A very large section of paying theatrical audiences wants, and always has wanted, to be movedto be lifted, temporarily, out of the atmosphere of everyday humdrum surroundings. Failing this, they will often take and pay for what is simply amusing, but few artists or plays have been known to stir their emotions and make their hearts beat faster in vain. Few of them assembled in a theatre are analytically critical. Perhaps it is well they are not. They see a gorgeous production; a superb pageant, with acting, alas! not on a par with the spectacle ; their pulses are not quickened, their emotions are not stirred, and they pass a dull evening. Result : they say it must be a bad play.' And they are saying this around us every day about several fine plays. Thus it is quite possible for a theatre to receive any amount of inexperienced adulation as the home of the Shakespearean drama, whereas it is in fact the mausoleum of the Shakespearean drama, where, to slightly alter the “immortal one's' own line,' the carcases of many a fine play lie buried, only to rise again into paying popularity when a generation of playgoers have forgotten their performance or a new generation has grown up.
The third reason which makes me disposed to agree with the old playgoer is one of scarcely less importance, as I think. It is the positively absurd ignoring of tradition in the performance of the great playwrights' works. If one had a son who showed talent and a desire to become a painter, and one wished to further his ambition, one would, presumably, have him taught drawing correctly. Then, if means were available, one would send him abroad to do a round of the great picture galleries to study the old masters, as well as those of modern days, for colouring &c., &c., hoping that he would in time succeed in welding some of their fine effects to his own innate ability, and so become a great artist himself. And yet, the moment you suggest a similar line of action in our more difficult art—more difficult because our effects are transient and beyond recall, and therefore should be more carefully studied before they are put before the public -you are to-day almost invariably met with the expression, ‘Oh,
that is traditional' or 'that is conventional.' What arrant egoism! Did the great ones who went before us know nothing ? Had they no brains? Is it 'infra dig.' for an actor of to-day to consider the result of their mentality and practice? Why, the Shakespearean and poetic drama teems with effects produced by the Kembles, the Keans, the Siddons, the Ristoris of the past-effects which have thrilled our fathers and mothers and even our elder brothers and sisters, and, if you withdraw from an audience what has moved them to deep emotion or excited them to boundless laughter-and in either case compelled their admiration-and do nothing in its place, it is no wonder that playgoers with memories say “ Acting is not what it used to be.'
At the Théâtre Français all these effects are duly tabulated and reproduced when the old plays are performed, and although I should not counsel going to the rigid lengths they do, I most emphatically say, consider—in the interests of your audiences, consider—these effects !
The Drama's laws the Drama's patrons give,
For they who live to please, must please to live ; and as a faithful servant of the public, in whom I recognise my only judge and master--and to whom I have never wavered in my allegiance, I would be steeped in tradition to the lips, and clothed in convention from head to foot, rather than give the anæmic, invertebrate performances I see from time to time, or become a pall-bearer at the obsequies of a masterpiece of the greatest dramatist of all time and every country-the English actor's glory and proudest heritage !
Will anyone have the effrontery to say that the last decade has shown us any performances to excite our admiration such, for instance, as Adelaide Neilson's Juliet, Ristori's Queen Elizabeth and Marie Stuart; Phelps' Malvolio, Bottom the Weaver, Richelieu, Falstaff and Sir Pertinax Macsycophant; Booth’s Bertuccio ; Salvini's Othello; Dion Boucicault's admirable Irish characters, or Lady Bancroft's Polly Eccles, &c. &c. ? Where, among the young actresses of today can be found the Madge Robertsons and the Bernhardts? And, if natural acting be the watchword, where is the rising light comedian with a semblance of the art or a tithe of the naturalness of the incomparable Charles Mathews ? With nearly all of these I have played again and again, in a leading capacity, so I write with some positive knowledge on this point. They belonged to a period in the drama's history--and were trained in an atmosphere--when the ideal of the author was the coveted goal and tradition a familiar and much frequented road thereto.
Finally, does anyone with a memory really believe that some of the Shakespearean performances seen in London in recent years would have been tolerated twenty-five or thirty years ago, either in London or any of the big provincial theatres where good stock companies were to be found 2
The several foregoing questions are addressed respectfully and with some confidence to the playgoers whose experiences cover a similar period to my own. I ask them, am I right or wrong? My ideas may not appeal to those who know only one phase of the question (i.e. the purely modern). I hold no brief for either school! I have no 'axe to grind'! I merely state facts as I see them.
Stage managers, too, win their spurs very easily to-day, and reputations in this direction are cheaply earned. Men with the most limited knowledge and little ideas are called 'great' and lauded to the skies. Where would they be beside such past-masters of stage craft as Charles Calvert (with his glorious Manchester revivals, glorious in acting, as well as production), Dion Boucicault, Mr. and Mrs. Chute (of Bristol), and Mrs. R. H. Wyndham of Edinburgh ? Great artists these! who knew and could, and did, teach earnest students all things great and small of our difficult art.
I now come to the last point I desire to touch upon in these notes, which is perhaps of more general interest. I allude to the present free list of London theatres. It is almost unbelievable (except to those whose business it is) the number and class of people who expect to go to the theatre without payment. I submit two facts within my own recent experience which serve to prove the truth of what I write. Only a few months ago I was talking to the manager of a West End theatre, just by his box-office, when a perfectly splendid carriage drove up-pair of horses, coachman and footman, and all the apparent trappings of wealth. Out stepped an elderly lady and gentleman and two younger ladies. The gentleman walked up to the boxoffice, tendered his card, and asked for free seats. The box-office keeper referred to my friend, the manager, with the result that they were passed in. When that had taken place I ventured to ask who they were, and was told they were friends of a gentleman who was one of the Syndicate that had once ' backed' the theatre! The other fact is also instructive in this direction. A luncheon party of four, at which my three companions were all theatre managers. The conversation turned on the merits and value of various London acting or business managers, and it was conceded by all three of my friends that one particular gentleman was, easily, the most useful and desirable. And why, forsooth? Because he had the best free list in London and could fill a theatre with a well-dressed non-paying audience more quickly and better than any of his rivals! It is very far from my intention to suggest to any manager how to conduct his business. My inclination is, at all times, to mind my own, but obviously actors and actresses can only live, eventually, by money paid for admission to the theatre, and it is a well-authenticated fact that people who have once received ' orders' rarely pay again! They wait for a repetition of the favour! Another incontrovertible fact is that a non-paying audience is the most apathetic that the actor ever plays to, and in view of these conditions I submit to the managers and an ever-generous public that a re-consideration of this whole matter would be to the monetary advantage of our painfully overstocked calling, and add dignity to those who are amused by our exercise of it.
Of course, when an actor, to quote the late Maurice Barrymore, 'believes in God and the centre of the stage,' and is in a position to dictate, he does not like to play to empty benches, and the temptation is very great to secure a good house,' even though it be, as another facetious American actor said, 'cut up for snow in the morning.' But the present system is rapidly reducing London to a 'city of dead. heads and is ' most tolerable and not to be endured.'
As a sign of the times it may be noted that only this last summer one of the most successful of the younger provincial stars brought his company into London for four weeks, changed his bill every week, got all the cachet of a London season and a whole mass of
press sideration, and cleared out in a blaze of success. Why? Oh, wise young judge!' His takings would aggregate, in the four weeks, almost as much as if he had played twice as long, and the 'noble army of dead-heads' had no time to marshal their forces' to his discomfiture. Thus he successfully treated London on the same business basis as he would Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, or Dublin !
Here ends my homily! It is written in all sincerity, with a view to bringing before the notice of those interested—among the public as well as the profession-certain matters worthy (as I hope and believe) of their consideration. If I dare flatter myself it is not in vain, I shall have much additional reason to be
Their faithful servant,
J. H. BARNES.
A VINDICATION OF MODERNISM
SO-CALLED 'Modernism ' has a twofold aspect, destructive and constructive. In Canon Moyes' article the first of these aspects is emphasised to the exclusion of the other. Yet its final aim is rather to build up than to destroy, and to destroy only in the sense of pointing out the weakness of the foundations in order that the basis of the structure of faith may be made more secure.
It is, in fact, an attempt to reconcile the Catholic faith with criticism and the scientific method.
One of the first principles of criticism, historical and textual, is that all theological prepossessions must be set aside if such criticism is to have any objective value. In this field both agnostic and believer must stand on exactly the same footing; must aim at regarding facts, texts, and even ideas in the same dry scientific light. From this point of view the Man Christ Jesus must be treated as an historical phenomenon, and, as such, be subjected to the ordinary psychological and historical criteria. Hence the distinction becomes inevitable between Jesus as an historical personage and the conceptions of His inner life and relations to Deity which supervened ; the difference between the Man in His human aspect only and what was thought and taught about Him by His immediate or remoter disciples. To make this distinction is not to deny the divinity of Christ, but to do a work which is really necessary for the spheres both of science and religion; to separate them as far as possible, so that the implications of the one may not, as hitherto, interfere with those of the other.
It is not to deny the truth, the value, the meaning, of the Nicene Creed, but to insist that the life of Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, can be viewed through the medium of the homo-ousion, not for critical, but only for devotional and moral purposes, and that Christological dogma, generally, represents the eternal, the ideal Christ, the Christ of
These two spheres must steadily be kept apart in the mind of the believing critic. In reading the New Testament, not for devotional purposes, but for that of determining the exact meaning and mentality of the writers, the connexion of their ideas with their historical environment, the probable authors and dates of the writings attributed