TITLE "Iolanthe" and the Savoy
YEAR 1901
MONTH/DAY December 26
PAGE/COLUMN 4, col. 7
What the Musical Playgoers Want
Authors and Composers of the Stamp
of Gilbert and Sullivan.


     I have no particular love for the music that is described as "classic" and "severe" - in these matters it is best to be candid. Yet I take comfort in the thought that ninety people out of a hundred labour under a similar disadvantage, if it can be called a disadvantage, a point which is open to argument.
     When we of the partially educated ninety per cent. go to a musical play we look for humour in patter and dialogue, sweet melodies in thye love songs - such melodies as we can remember and hum sentimentally to ourselves as we cab it homewards - and stirring harmonies when the chorus gets into full blast. Perhaps in this we are asking too much - at any rate, we very rarely get it nowadays.
     " 'Iolanthe' is doing good business," say the agencies. "Not a seat in the house,"politely smiles the face at the box-office. Exactly. Gilbert and Sullivan is the ideal of the partially educated ninety per cent., and has been since the early eighties.
     We should like the Savoy to be set aside as a temple until fate sends to our distracted comic-opera stage a similarly gifted pair. We desire it to be preserved as our Bayreuth, where we can seek sanctuary in the days to come, when the voice of the American is still louder in the land, and we are driven to desperation by the obvious inanities that stand for jokes, the vulgarities of horse play that do duty for humour, and the blatancies of teh inevitable "rag time" cake walk.

Our Comic Operas. 

     To call our own comic-opera stage distracted is perhaps a sweeping assertion. There have been many catchy tunes at the Gaiety and Daly's - tunes that sound admirably when applied to the piano-organ. Mr. Adrian Ross has a delightful vein of sarcastic humour, and the words of his lyrics are always worth following.
     But for the rest the authors seem to rely more on the beauty of the "show" ladies and the personality of the leading comic man than on the jokes or songs they give them. They are well aware that for Teddy Paine to appear as a toreador or a fireman or a messenger boy is enough to send the Gaiety into fits of laughter. With Huntly Wright at Daly's it is the same; so it is with Arthur Roberts or Willie Edouin. But the personal popularity of the actor is presumed upon by the authors - or so it seems. For without his gags and grimaces the modern comic opera would be a poor business.
     "What a thing of pleasure "Iolanthe" is! It pleases the eye, it charms the ear, it tickles the humour. We laugh over the topsy-turvydom of the plot just as we chuckle over the gentle satire that lies in the stories of Brer Rabbit or in the famous trial of teh Knave of HEarts. What can be more delightful than Lord Tolloller's appeal:-

Spurn not the nobly born
     With love affected,
Nor treat with virtuous scorn
     The well connected.
High rank involves no shame -
We boast an equal claim
With him of humble name
     To be respected!
          *    *    *    *    *
Hearts just as pure and fair
May beat in Belgrave-square
As in the lowly air
     Of seven Dials!
A Point of Law.

     What situation could be more humorous than that in which the Lord Chancellor is placed when endeavouring to convince himself that legally he is a suitable person to whom he may marry his ward? 
     "Victory! Victory! Success has crowned my efforts, and I may consider myself engaged to Phyllis! At first I wouldn't hear of it - it was out of the question. But I took heart. I pointed out to myself that I was no stranger to myself ; that, in point of fact, I had been personally acquainted with myself for some years. This had its effect. I admitted that I had watched my professional advancement with considerable interest, and I handsomely added that I yielded to no one in admiration for my private and professional virtues. This was a great point gained. I then endeavoured to work upon my feelings. Conceive my joy when I distinctly perceived a tear glistening in my own eye! Eventually, after a severe struggle with myself, i reluctantly - most reluctantly - consented."
     Or, perhaps, best of all is the defence of the House of Lords intrusted to Lord Mountararat:-

When Britain really ruled the waves - 
     (In good Queen Bess's time)
The House of Peers made no pretence
To intellectual eminence,
     Or scholarship sublime:
Yet Britain won her proudest bays 
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!

And while the House of Peers withholds
     Its legislative hand,
And noble statesmen do not itch
To interfere in matters which 
     They do not understand,
As bright will shine Great Britain's rays
As in King George's glorious days!

Sweet Music.

     As for the music, most of us know it by heart, and like it all the more for that. What memories of teh past it revives! Those far-off flower-shows at the Temple, when we sat in our dusty chambers while the notes of teh Coldstreams came floating throug hthe open window; those country race meetings, where the dainty measures of Phyllis and Strephon were massacred by the brasses of perspiring Volunteers; those minstrels at Henley, and pierrots on the beach.
     It is long years ago since we first heard "Good morrow, good mother!" or "Oh foolish fay"; but we sit and rejoice over them as much to-day as we did nigh on twenty years ago.
     Another point that must strike us. The authors of comic opera to-day hope to find laughs in the smartest slang, the latest catchword. In five years' time their productions would have to be re-written - if anyone could be found who would think it worth his while to do so.
     But with the exception of "Patience," the Savoy operas are made to endure. There is scarcely a jest in "Iolanthe" that is not as fresh and poignant as on the day it was written.
     Until the House of Lords is abolished and the peerage thrown open to competitive examination - which, I take it, must be a matter of time - until there is law reform of a sweeping kind, there need be no changes in the play. Captain Shaw, of the Fire Brigade, no longer directs his hoses, and the half-fairy Strephon introduces a topical touch in the remark that one of his human Radical legs is a pro-Boer. But these are minor matters.
     The play is in good hands. Miss Isabel Jay is as pretty as she is clever, and sings most sweetly. We all lose our hearts to her as a shepherdess - in truth, she looks as if she had skipped out of a cabinet of old Sèvres. Mr. Henry Lytton, Mr. Passmore, Mr. Crompton, and the rest are worthy successors of those who figured on the old playbill dated November 25, 1882 - George Grossmith, Rutland Barrington, Jessie Bond, Miss Fortescue, and Leonora Braham.

B. F. R.


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