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I HAD written a pantomime, and I had taken it to the stage-door. Behind the stage-door was the hall, in the hall was the door-keeper's box, and in the door-keeper's box was the keeper of the door. I was very much struck by the
I don't mean
that he assaulted me; on the contrary, he was exceedingly civil to me--for a stage-door keeper; I merely wish to say that his general appearance filled my soul with awe and my mind with misgiving. He was sitting in a sort of signal-box, made completely of panes of glass, squares of wainscoting, and old bills of the play. He was eating a mutton chop as I entered, and
the moment I appeared he put down his knife and fork and glared at me. I nervously backed into the fire-place, which stood just outside the box and just inside the hall. (I may here remark that a roaring fire is kept burning in the hall of most theatres both in summer and winter-I will not insult my reader's comprehension by explaining why, or even wherefore.)
"Well," said he, glaring at me with an expression of the most hideous hatred, Well, and what do you want?"
"You will be good enough to give this parcel to the manager, with my compliments," and I handed in my pantomime.
He looked up from his chop, exclaimed "All right," tossed the precious manuscript into a box filled with parcels strangely resembling my own, and added, "Come on Thursday and you can have it back again. Shut the door after you."
I was discouraged; I stumbled into the street, and was on the eve of addressing (to the lamp-post) an impromptu oration, commencing, "Oh shade of Sheridan !" when I felt my shoulder slapped sharply by a plump and vigorous hand. I turned round and recognized the manager!
"Your name's Snooks, eh ?" said the gentleman in question. "At your service," I replied, with a dignified bow.
"Well, Mr. Snooks, your friend Bill Tompkins, the critic of the 'Morning Thunderbolt,' tells me that you've written a pantomime." We entered the hall together. "Grumps," said the manager, gentleman tells me you've got a parcel for me."
Grumps laid his chop on one side and gathered up a huge bundle of brown-paper parcels. "These are all for you, sir," said he,
with a grin.
“Good heavens, man, you don't think I can look through all these things myself! Here, Mr. Snooks, I say, just find your own particular ton and three-quarters."
I set to work to find my pantomime. I came across tragedies, farces, melodramas, comedies, comedy-dramas, farce-comedies, burlesques, extravaganzas, and "pieces of peculiar construction" by the score, until at last I lighted upon my own particular ton and threequarters," to quote the manager's base and scurrilous vulgarity. I announced the fact to the still laughing idiot.
"Well, Mr. Snooks," said the fool. and we will talk the matter over."
"Come into my private room,
We entered the manager's room. I can't say that I thought very much of it. It was small and plainly furnished. A lookingglass here, a sofa there, a washhand-stand in that corner, and two or three chairs in front of the fire-place, and you nearly have it. Ugly green paper, worn-out carpet and discoloured ceiling, and you quite have it.
"Sit down, Mr. Snooks," said the manager, "and wait a moment until our artist comes down to us. He's got a head on his shoulders, but wants curbing."
"Besides the artist," continued he, "I've asked the carpenter to come to give us a few hints, and-but here they are. Mr. Snooks, Mr. McGuilp; Mr. McGuilp, Mr. Snooks; there, you know one another. Embrace, and bless ye, my children."
The new comers were certainly types of two very different sorts of men. McGuilp was a young fellow of scarcely twenty-five summers; Martin (the carpenter) was a crabbed old man, who had evidently passed his sixtieth year. McGuilp was full of life and spirits, Martin looked as miserable as a clerk in the Savings' Bank Department of the Post Office. McGuilp talked quickly and earnestly, Martin uttered his words slowly and with the most perfect sang froid.
"Mr. Snooks is going to read his pantomime," said the manager; "so I thought you'd better be here to hear it. Now Martin, what's the matter?"
"I told you afore, sir, and I tell you now, no such thing as a panto-mime is possible. I says it can't be done."
"Never mind Martin, Mr. Snooks," interrupted Mr. McGuilp, cutting into the conversation as if he were taking a sort of verbal header, "you just give me a little scenery, that's all I want; and I'll show you something that will make your hair curl. All I ask for is two or three forests, a couple of banqueting halls, a tournament, some moonlight, and, if possible, the ruins of a Gothic abbey. You can easily introduce them if you exercise a little ingenuity. What's the title?"
"Well," I began, with much hesitation and a good deal of blushing; "I wanted to make it instructive as well as amusing, so I thought I would take a page out of English history and call it 'King William the Conqueror; or, Harlequin the Emperor Julius Cæsar and the Capitol of Rome.'"
"What?" roared the manager.
I repeated my words.
"Did you ever hear of such a title ?" yelled the manager. sir, it wouldn't draw half-a-dozen people to the pit, even on BoxingNight. You don't think it would do, Martin, do you ?”
"Do!" said Martin, with supreme contempt; "of course it won't do-the whole thing won't do. It's not a bit a use of me staying 'ere, sir; you'd much better let me go back to my work."
"Well, I don't know," observed McGuilp; "I rather like the title, on my soul I do. The Capitol of Rome-of course, a glorious scene with a grand gladiatorial combat, and a moonlight effect with real gaslamps, and some fireworks. I think I could make a good deal out of it, on my soul I do."
"I've got it," suddenly exclaimed the manager. "I tell you what'Old Mother Hubbard; or, Harlequin Jack Robinson, the Fairy Blue Bottle, and the Nine Little Tailors of Tooley Street!' there, that's the title for you."
"Well, on my soul I think that's better," said McGuilp, basely deserting to the enemy. "You know you'd get a great effect out of the Haunt of the Fairy Blue Bottle. A waterfall with real water, some rocks, the lime light, and a lot of hives with real bees in them, you know. Birds waking up in the morning, daybreak you know. I think I could make something out of that idea-especially the real becs."
"Good heavens!" I cried; "but how can I alter my pantomime to suit the new title ?"
"That's your affair," replied the manager; "but it seems to me that nothing could be easier than to call William the Conqueror Mother Hubbard, change Julius Cæsar into Jack Robinson, and turn Rome into Fairy Land. As for the dialogue, it doesn't matter a bit. No one will ever hear a word of that, as all your principal characters will,
of course, be got up in masks. But wait; just step down here a moment, I want to show you something."
The manager jumped up and led the way to the stage. Arrived there, he led the way to under the stage. A mass of traps, pulleys, ropes, and wheels, met my gaze. I nearly fell down a hole here, and tumbled into an abyss there. The gloomy spot was dimly lighted by wire-guarded oillamps.
"There, that's what we call a screw-crab," said the manager, pointing to a machine apparently constructed for the purpose of lifting, by means of a mysterious wheel and some rusty chains, heavy weights from the depths below. "Remember we've got that. It may give you a notion if you think over it." And then we retraced our steps, and once sanctum.
I will not weary you with an account of the first reading of my pantomime. I will not tell you how I was badgered by the manager, patronized by the scene-painter, and insulted by the carpenter. However, I must repeat the last speeches of my audience, to show you the sort of thing I had to put up with.
"Decidedly bad," said the manager; "as bad a pantomime as ever I've heard. But, hang it all, what on earth does it matter? You don't paint the scenery, Mr. Snooks, do you? Well, then, there's a chance left for us."
"Of course I oughtn't to say a word about it, you know," observed McGuilp, with perfect truthfulness; "but you see, you know, it is awfully bad, now, isn't it?"
"I knowed it couldn't be done," said Martin, in a tone of deep melancholy, "afore this 'ere gent began; and now I knows it all the more-it can't be done." And thus ended the first
The time passed very quickly. I worked away with a will at the alterations that had been suggested by the manager, and soon effected them. On the day appointed for the first rehearsal, I made my way to the stage-door. On this occasion Grumps treated me with something approaching to civility, and allowed me to pass almost without a protest. I walked briskly on to the stage. A very strange sight met my gaze. Have you ever seen a theatre laid up in the day time? I'll answer for you, "No." Imagine, then, the house one mass of brown holland. The Queen's box-brown holland; the stalls-brown holland; the gallery-brown holland. The place seems very cold, and dull, and dreary; in fact, just the locality for would-be suicides.
I turned round and looked at the stage. Behind me, raised some two yards from the foot-lights, was a long gas pipe dotted with about a hundred burners. Beneath this pipe I could just make out the music-stands of the orchestra. Turning round and facing the stage, I found the company included in the cast of my piece, grouped together in most admirable disorder, and beyond them I could see pieces of old scenery and brick walls. I seemed to breathe in an atmosphere of hammerings. Go where I would, I was followed by raps as if I had found my way into the fatherland of Mr. Home the spiritualist. The company engaged in my piece consisted of four lively young ladies, a very dismal low comedian, another even more dismal and still lower comedian, three utility men, a dozen supers, and the corps de ballet.
We began the rehearsal, and I must say it was most trying to my feelings. My best jokes were ruined, my finest lines ill-spoken, my noblest inspirations utterly garbled by the miserable creatures to whom I had entrusted their utterance. We got through it, however, at last. After the officious manager had slashed my