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"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
noble lines to pieces, to allow of some mad tomfoolery which he described technically as business" (although I am certain it had no business whatever to be in the piece), I was told that the next rehearsal would be held on the following morning. I was on the point of leaving the theatre, when McGuilp called out to me, "Here, Snooks, my boy"-McGuilp always called me his boy, confound him ; "here, Snooks, my boy, come and have a look at the scenery." And so, accordingly, we wended our steps up a stone stair-case into the painting-room. This apartment was situated immediately above the boards we had just left. The canvas that had to be painted by McGuilp was pulled up by ropes, and here and there I found a small reproduction of the stage below, fitted up with pasteboard models of the principal scenes of my pantomime. Cans of paint were ranged about the place in the most admired disorder. Here was a machine for grinding down the colour; there, leaning against a chair, was a sketch of one of McGuilp's greatest glories. My friend was exceedingly communicative, he showed me how everything was done, explained this, and revealed the mysteries of that, until I became too confused to comprehend a word that he was saying.
After much lucid explanation, McGuilp, who was exceedingly hospitable, asked me into his private room, and set before me a banquet composed chiefly of tea, muffins, and the odour of oil paint. While we were revelling over the luscious meal, a knock came to the door, which produced from McGuilp the customary cry of "Come in." A moment later (as they say in "London Journal" storics), and there entered the dismaller of the two dismal low comedians.
"I hope I'm not intruding," said the actor, in a tone of the deepest melancholy.
"Not a bit, my boy," answered McGuilp cheerily.
Mr. Tomber, the dismal low comedian, then explained the object of his visit. He had heard that I was "the author," and he wished to ask my advice about his "reading" of the comic song.
"You see, Mr. Snooks," said Mr. Tomber, gloomily, "as Lord Dunderhead—if I catch your meaning-I suppose I should be all life and activity. Thus I believe the song ought to be sung as follows. Perhaps you'll kindly consent for the moment to represent King Gooseboard."
My assent secured, the face of Mr. Tomber suddenly underwent a most extraordinary change. Smiles wreathed his mouth, a hideous. leer lighted up his eyes, and his nose completely lost its normal
condition. He began chanting with great rapidity and much gesticulation the following words :
[Here he struck me on the chest, and sent me flying into an armchair. He continued dancing about the room :]
"Jing, jing, jing,
Bang, bang, bang,
Ting, tang, tong."
He stopped in an attitude of the most frightful idiotcy, and exclaimed, gloomily, "There, sir, I think I've caught your meaning!"
The remainder of the rehearsals gave me tolerable satisfaction. On my last visit I assisted at the "comic business" rehearsal; not that it was my place to superintend it (no, that was the duty of its inventor, the harlequin), but merely because I was curious to see how the clown and columbine looked in their every-day clothes and by sunlight. Amiable reader, picture to yourself a man with a grave face and a shabby coat knocking this over, kicking that down, throwing a doll here, and pretending to eat a canvas goose (technically known as
a "property") over there, and you see the clown before you. Self-torturing reader, conjure upin your imagination a young man toddling about with a thick stick, falling down and being picked up by the ends of his coat tails, kissing the ladies of the ballet, and squaring up to small boys, and you have the pantaloon. Lastly, well-beloved reader, evoke out of your inner consciousness a miserably dowdy-looking woman in an
old bonnet, a tattered shawl, with one of her children at the wing and her husband playing a fiddle in the orchestra, imagine this middleaged lady dancing clumsily about in a dirty linen skirt and a pair of old shoes, and you have the columbine. After I had assisted at the comic "business" for a little while, my friend McGuilp carried me off in triumph to tea and instruction, and we went to see the "big heads" made. I found an old man beating up some heavy-looking earth with a stick at the door of the room, or manufactory; a little way from him stood another old fellow grinning hideously into a looking-glass, and reproducing in the clay before him his own distorted features. The moment I entered, he stopped and stared at me in a most unpleasant manner.
"Pardon me, sir," he exclaimed, "but you've just got the face or a demon o' Ignorance."