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In giving a few preparatory remarks on the present state of the British Drama, it is not our intention to recur to ages past, but strictly to confine our observations to this our own time, believing it requires little tracing to show the present depressed state of the English stage. It will chiefly be found to arise from the shoals of Foreign importation in dramatic pieces and persons, that the late managers have thought proper to inundate the town with, to the detriment of our own beautiful dramas; considering, we suppose, that the sublime plays of Shakspeare, Massinger, Rowe, Sheridan Knowles, &c. were no longer worthy representation; or if they were only secondary to things of such superior genius as ballets; such at least, must be the enlightened ideas of most of the late lessees of our patents; for it has been the practice for the last few years, to devote their whole souls to the " getting up” of the imported spectacles; and when they have condescended to represent the English drama, it has been in so careless and disgraceful a manner, placing the best characters in such inferior hands, that, to use a common expression, the pieces have been regularly 'murdered, and the works of all our great dramatists and we excel every other nation in this respect) have been completely sacrificed to French dancers, Italian singers, and fine scenery. These are not what should be represented at a patent National Theatre, for the very privilege granted was to insure the representation of the legitimate' only at these establishments. But we constantly hear of these managers prosecuting the “Minors” for performing the very pieces they throw aside for Foreign trumpery. This ought not to be;if the Patents are to be thus privileged, they also ought to be restricted to the legitimate-not permitted to make a Foreign establishment of a National theatre.
From these encroachments and the vast sums that foreigners have had the conscience to ask and managers the stupidity to grant, we may trace the gradual decay of the English Theatre; not that these have been successful speculations-on the contrary, it has always appeared in the end that though the houses may have been or appeared to have been well attended at the
representation of such pieces, that not only the managers but the English performers were “ greatly out of pocket,” the constant custom being to pay the foreigners in full, while the poor native actor had to accept part of his salary only. Under these circumstances what can have induced the managers to act in this way is impossible to elucidate, and their reasons can only be known to themselves.
Another cause of the depressed state of the Drama may be traced to the hitherto high prices of admission, a charge beyond the means of the great patrons of the drama—the middle classes --and we owe something to the late manager of Covent Garden, Mr. Osbaldiston, for the courage with which he at once reduced the heavy prices to moderate charges. Something also might be. said of the engagement this gentleman entered into with several of our first rate actors, and though he in general cast his pieces very indifferently, played a considerable quantity of trash, and got them all up in very mean manner, still such acting as he gave in Julius Cæsar and several other pieces were treats that the London play-goers had not been used to, and the consequence was that the houses, in theatrical phrase, were 'bumpers.' Had the plan always been proceeded upon of representing nothing but the legitimate, and that cast in a powerful manner, not one but all the parts put into hands that could support them properly, congregating a strong phalanx of talent-acting the whole as near to nature as possible, giving all necessary pomp and show, but no more_still leaving nothing wanting, and thus representing dramas of the best class, either from the pen of authors of the present or by-gone days, and with the reduced prices of admission we are convinced that the present low ebb of theatrical affairs would have been avoided, and on this plan only can such theatres expect to succeed.
But of late years it has not only been the practice of neglecting the English Drama, but managers have made a constant cry of "want of talent in the country. This is particularly absurd in the mouths of those who are determined not to seek after talent, nay, not even to give it a chance when offered. Did managers desire it they could with very little trouble find quantities of talent; but it is not their wish: the hands the theatres have lately been in are not anxious for English talent, although it may be purchased at a much lower rate than foreign, and is more profitable; still the everlasting cry is that managers lose thousands—that foreign performances are so much more costly, &c. but we trust that this description of humbug' has nearly, if not quite subsided. One of the Patents at least is in superior hands, and Macready appears to have a good notion of carrying on the establishment, though there are many errors in his management that we may have to recur to when time and space will allow.
At present we proceed to give a very brief analysis of the acting and pieces brought out this season at the two great houses, commencing with
This theatre opened under good auspices; Macready as the lessee having secured a powerful company, and made the prices of admission about what they should be, delighted the Drama
loving public with those beautiful creations of Shakspeare, The Tempest and The Winter's Tale. Čast in a strong and powerful manner as these pieces were, they could not fail in drawing good houses. These were followed by Beaumont and Fletcher's play of The Maid's Tragedy, or The Bridal ; but all Knowles' and Macready's endeavours could not redeem the absurd collection of monstrosities contained in this piece. The part of this management which deserves the highest commendation, and to which the public showed their approval by the well filled houses and astounding applause that attended in the first instance the representation of that most splendid production of our immortal Bard. Macbeth was performed here, cast in a most powerful and masterly manner, and all must have felt the delight of seeing Shakspeare's beautiful realities once more on our stage. Macready's faithful delineation of the workings of ambition in that weak but ambitious character, must be well known and appreciated, though had we space we could not say too much of such a performance : we are sorry it is not in our power to state the same of the actress who represented the all-daring and fearless Lady Macbeth; we think that better hands might be found to undertake the powerful, impassioned and dignified language of this character. Mr. Phelps gave the short but beautiful part of Macduff with true feeling; but he wants refinement, alas ! most sadly. Mr. Warde's Banquo was a goodly representation, and all the other characters were with due attention placed in proper hands, and the piece on the whole performed, arranged and “ got up' in a most surpassing, powerful and delightful manner.
The next in weight about this time, was Werner; and all who have seen must have felt, that Macready is as much at home in Werner as in Macbeth; true to his author, he depicts the unfortunate, desponding man to a tittle. Anderson's Ulric was indeed a good piece of acting, but it wanted that villany of the heart that few actors can give The Gabor of G. Bennett was good and well chosen. The whole was “got up” with the greatest care and attention.
About this time a successful musical novelty was produced, called Amilie, or the Love Test, composed by Mr. Rooke, a native of the sister kingdom. The success of this opera rested solely on the supreme excellence and originality of the music; for the drama, which was written by Mr. I. T. Haines, was the vilest trash possible. Mr. Rooke, in this opera, has succeeded in composing some of the most beautiful melodies we have heard for a long time. The best pieces were--My Boyhood's Home, and What is the Spell?" sung by H. Phillips; Thou art gone, by Miss Shirreff; and of the concerted pieces the most worthy of notice was the hymn, the solo part of which was beautifully sung by Miss Shirreff.
After this, King Lear was produced in a very superior manner, but Macready's Lear is not the thing—it sinks to comparative insignificance after his Macbeth, Werner, and many other characters that his extraordinary talents are so well adapted to; King John, for instance. Why we would ask, does he not treat the public with this play? We suppose it is considered that there is no one to take Faulconbridge since the retirement of C. Kemble; but King Lear was equally deficient, for Bartley's Kent was not the independent, frank, but dignified man that Shakspeare drew—a character, as near as possible, the same as the bold bastard, Faulconbridge; and though his part is not equal to the latter style, he has his good share of acting, if not of speaking; for in his disguise he is ever by the side of Lear-ever on the stage—but Bartley's Kent_was nothing but a common sort of bullying old fellow. Miss Faucit's Cordelia was most decidedly the best performance in the play. Anderson's Edward was bad, and Elton's Edgar, only good in the mad scenes. But we must not forget to mention the part of Miss P. Horton, which deserves the highest commendation; she sung the scraps of poetry with striking beauty and wild simplicity.
The next of Shakspeare's plays produced at this house was Coriolanus, but we fear, like the last, it is a character Macready will never excel in. It was well got up, and that is all we can say in its favour; but still we are surprised Macready does not bring forward some of those plays wherein he shines so pre-eminently beautiful, such as Iago, in Othello; Hotspur, in Henry IV.; Wolsey, in Henry VIII.; Joseph Surface, in The School for Scandal, &c.—innumerable pieces that might have been played with great effect and drawn large houses, instead of putting as a first piece such trash as Joan of Arc, a thing little better than a pantomime, and not fit to be represented at a patent theatre. How a man like Macready, and after commencing so well, should have fallen into so gross an error, it is impossible to imagine.
Since this our great actor has taken his benefit, when, after a long and weary announcement, (which is another by-fault in management), he produced a play, by the finest of poets, Lord Byron, called The Two Foscari, which he adapted himself, for the author's genius, it is well known, did not lay in dramatic writings; and it did Macready as much credit as Werner, though it had not so long a run; but it was, we suppose, too heavy for the playgoing public of the present day. Miss Faucit's representation of Marina was extremely beautiful, and does the greatest honour to that talented young lady, and alone places her as one of the brightest ornaments of her profession; and much we regret that the lessee has not put her more forward throughout the season. She should have played Lady Macbeth ; and many other characters would have been much more ably filled by her than in other hands.
Macready, as the venerable Doge, bore all his misfortunes with the dignity so marked in the words; and his last scene was ex. ceedingly fine and striking; so also was the scene wherein the feelings of the old man's heart are harrowed up by his daughter's (Miss Faucit) description of his son's (Anderson) sufferings; so sternly veiled, that to the world the cold dignity of the judge completely hides all nature's feeling—all the father's love that even his daughter thinks him careless of her husband, his own
Warde did the villain Loredano well, and gave, now and then, the expression of consummate malice; but he did not quite reach the deadly villany of the character, which certainly admits of the finest acting in the play. Of the other characters we need say nothing; the whole piece was got up in the very finest style.
After the tragedy a new operetta, in two acts, called Windsor Castle; or, the Prisoner King, was played for the first (and we regret to say) last time. After such a tragedy the audience were not in the humour to be pleased, even with some delightful and perfectly original music, composed by Mr. J. H Griesbach. The failure of this opera may be attributed to the drama, which was so wretchedly bad, that not even the beautiful music could prevent it being "damned.” However, the beautiful melodies composed for it by Mr. Griesbach, deserved a better fate; and we still trust they will be again brought forth in some form or another. Mr. Wilson and Miss Shirreff did their best; and Mr. Manvers, in a trifling part, sang an exceeding beautiful air, which was encored.
We are rejoiced to state the house was well and fashionably attended, though not enough so, in our opinion, for the benefit of so great an actor.
Soon after this, Miss Faucit took her benefit, and the house could not be too full to show due honour to this lady's merits. Bartley and others have since taken theirs, but we have no space to individualize. The Athenian Captive, by Sergeant Talfourd, that has been so long announced, is unavoidably postponed; and it is a sorry affair that, after half a season's notice, it should be obliged to be put off altogether. A new play, by Sheridan Knowles, called Woman's Wit; or, Love's Disguises, is announced, and will have appeared before we publish. This looks well; and if Macready keeps it up, as he ought to do, with such a company, we do not doubt but that he may yet make a glorious end to the
Of the commencement of the season here we have little to say. Mr. Bunn is still the lessee, and that alone will inform many of our readers how it is carried on; but after keeping the old prices