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derive from munificent expenditure and the cooperation of highly endowed artists. He could justly claim a finer artistic sentiment and a higher histrionic capacity than Charles Kean possessed. Yet Irving announced not long before his death that he lost on his Shakespearean productions a hundred thousand pounds. Sir Henry added:
The enormous cost of a Shakespearean production on the liberal and elaborate scale which the public is now accustomed to expect makes it almost impossible for any manager-I don't care who it is -to pursue a continuous policy of Shakespeare for many years with any hope of profit in the long run.
In face of this authoritative pronouncement, it must be conceded that the spectacular system has been given, within recent memory, every chance of succeeding, and, as far as recorded testimony is available, has been, from the commercial point of view, a failure.
Meanwhile, during and since the period when Sir Henry Irving filled the supreme place among producers of Shakespeare on the stage, the simple method of Shakespearean production has been given no serious chance. The anticipation of its pecuniary failure has not been put in satisfactory conditions to any practical test. The last time that it was put to a sound practical test it did not fail. While Irving was a boy, Phelps at Sadler's Wells Theatre gave, in well-considered conditions, the simple method a trial. Phelps's playhouse was situated in the unfashionable neighbourhood of Islington. But the prophets of evil, who were no greater strangers to Phelps's generation than they are to our own, were themselves confuted by his experience.
PHELPS AT SADLER'S WELLS
On the 27th of May, 1844, Phelps, a most intelligent actor and a serious student of Shakespeare, opened the long-disused Sadler's Wells Theatre in partnership with Mrs. Warner, a capable actress, whose rendering of Imogen went near perfection. Their design was inspired by "the hope," they wrote in an unassuming address, "of eventually rendering Sadler's Wells what a theatre ought to be, a place for justly representing the works of our great dramatic poets." This hope they went far to realise. The first play that they produced was Macbeth.
Phelps continued to control Sadler's Wells Theatre for more than eighteen years. During that period he produced, together with many other English plays of classical repute, no fewer than thirty-one of the thirty-seven great dramas which came from Shakespeare's pen. In his first season, besides Macbeth he set forth Hamlet, King John, Henry VIII., The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Richard III. To these he added in the course of his second season Julius Cæsar, King Lear, and The Winter's Tale. Henry IV., part I., Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest followed in his third season; As You Like It, Cymbeline, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night, in his fourth. Each succeeding season saw further additions to the Shakespearean repertory, until only six Shakespearean dramas were left unrepresented, viz.-Richard II., the three parts of Henry VI., Troilus and Cressida, and Titus Andronicus. Of these, one alone, Richard II., is really actable.
The leading principles, to which Phelps strictly
adhered throughout his career of management, call for most careful consideration. He gathered round him a company of actors and actresses, whom he zealously trained to interpret Shakespeare's language. He accustomed his colleagues to act harmoniously together, and to sacrifice to the welfare of the whole enterprise pretensions to individual prominence. No long continuous run of any one piece was permitted by the rules of the playhouse. The programme was constantly changed. The scenic appliances were simple, adequate, and inexpensive. The supernumerary staff was restricted to the smallest practicable number. The general expenses were consequently kept within narrow limits. For every thousand pounds that Charles Kean laid out at the Princess's Theatre on scenery and other expenses of production, Phelps in his most ornate revivals spent less than a fourth of that sum. For the pounds spent by managers on more recent revivals, Phelps would have spent only as many shillings. In the result, Phelps reaped from the profits of his efforts a handsome unencumbered income. During the same period Charles Kean grew more and more deeply involved in oppressive debt, and at a later date Sir Henry Irving made over to the public a hundred thousand pounds above his receipts.
Why, then, should not Phelps's encouraging experiment be made again?1
1 It is just to notice, among endeavours of the late years of the past century, to which I confine my remarks here, the efforts to produce Shakespearean drama worthily which were made by
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE ACTOR 13
Before anyone may commit himself to an affirmative reply, it is needful for him to realise fully the precise demands which a system like that of Phelps makes, when rightly interpreted, on the character, ability, and energy of the actors and actresses. If scenery in Shakespearean productions be relegated' to its proper place in the background of the stage, it is necessary that the acting, from top to bottom of the cast, shall be more efficient and better harmonised than that which is commonly associated ' with spectacular representations. The simple method of producing Shakespeare focusses the interest of the audience on the actor and actress; it gives them a dignity and importance which are unknown 1 to the complex method. Under the latter system, the attention of the spectator is largely absorbed by the triumphs of the scene-painter and machinist, of the costumier and the musicians. The actor and actress often elude notice altogether.
Charles Alexander Calvert at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester, between 1864 and 1874. Calvert, who was a warm admirer of Phelps, attempted to blend Phelps's method with Charles Kean's, and bestowed great scenic elaboration on the production of at least eight plays of Shakespeare. Financially the speculation saw every vicissitude, and Calvert's experience may be quoted in support of the view that a return to Phelps's method is financially safer than a return to Charles Kean's. More recently the Elizabethan Stage Society endeavoured to produce, with a simplicity which erred on the side of severity, many plays of Shakespeare and other literary dramas. No scenery was employed, and the performers were dressed in Elizabethan costume. The Society's work was done privately, and did not invite any genuine test of publicity. The representation by the Society on November 11, 1899, in the Lecture Theatre at Burlington House, of Richard II., in which Mr Granville Barker played the King with great charm and judgment, showed the fascination that a competent rendering of Shakespeare's text exerts, even in the total absence of scenery, over a large audience of suitable temper.
Macready, whose theatrical career was anterior to the modern spectacular period of Shakespearean representation, has left on record a deliberate opinion of Charles Kean's elaborate methods at the Princess's Theatre in their relation to drama and the histrionic art. Macready's verdict has an universal application. "The production of the Shakespearean plays at the Princess's Theatre," the great actor wrote to Lady Pollock on the 1st of May, 1859, rendered the spoken text "more like a running commentary on the spectacles exhibited than the scenic arrangements an illustration of the text." No criticism. could define more convincingly the humiliation to which the author's words are exposed by spectacle, or, what is more pertinent to the immediate argument, the evil which is worked by spectacle on the actor.
Acting can be, and commonly tends to be, the most mechanical of physical exercises. The actor is often a mere automaton who repeats night after night the same unimpressive trick of voice, eye, and gesture. His defects of understanding may be comparatively unobtrusive in a spectacular display, where he is liable to escape censure by escaping observation, or at best to be regarded as a showman. Furthermore, the long runs which scenic excess brings in its train accentuate the mechanical actor's imperfections and diminish his opportunities of remedying them. On the other hand, acting can rise in opposite conditions into the noblest of the arts. The great actor relies for genuine success on no mere gesticulatory mechanism. Imaginative insight, passion, the gift of oratory, grace and dignity of movement and bearing, perfect command of the