THE STAGE. MR. GILBERT'S SATIRE. The Academy 1881 April 30 New series 19(469): 326-327 [unsigned review]


WE confine ourselves, in this column, to noticing, from a dramatic and literary point of view, the new skit on the best-abused people in London the professional aesthetes omitting any comment on Mr. Arthur Sullivan's charming music. And, from the point of view from which we consider it, Patience is a distinct success. Everything that is possible has now been done; and when Patience and The Colonel have had their run the subject will be left in peace, and the heroes of it forgotten. With every appreciation of Mr. Burnand's Colonel, we take leave to think that the venial errors and pleasant vices of the would-be aesthetes the mere imitators, after all, of artists and critics of culturs and attainments are better suited for such satire as may be applied to them lightly in comic verse and melodious music than for the satire that is applied through the medium of comedy. Mr. Gilbert's instinct guided him well when he elected to write, not a comedy, but the libretto of a comic opera. Some things are still sacred for comedy; nothing is sacred for a comic opera. No one can reasonably take even the slightest umbrage at the fun that is here made; if the joke is a small one, pretty music and a patter song may be trusted to carry it off successfully; and the pleasure of the eye is assured by a parade of damsels, first in the hues of Morris, Helbronner, and Liberty, and then in the garments of Mdme. Louise. In a word, all the material for effective comic opera is here, and it is skilfully used. We have the two aesthetic poets the one of them permanently an aesthete; the other eventually altered from "this melancholy literary man" to that perhaps not very obviously higher type of humanity, "a threepenny 'bus young man"

"A steady and stolid-y jolly Bank-holiday
Every-day young man."
We have a company of dragoons who in despair of otherwise winning the attentions of their loves endeavour in vain to follow in the fashions of aestheticism. We have the pretty milkmaid who gives her name to the piece, and who naturally becomes the love of a poet whose songs are of pastoral puerility, and whose art is that of a Marcus Ward Christmas-card quite excellent in its way, but hardly an adequate substitute for Michelangelo and Velasquez. We have, lastly, the twenty damsels themselves, who being not "very" but "supremely" happy, somehow "never seem quite well," but who eventually pass from under the melancholy dominion of the poetaster to a world of commonplace activity, in which they appear as "prettily pattering, cheerily chattering, Madame Louise young girls."
    The story by the aid of which these changes come about is, if anything, a little too ingenious for the requirements of a comic opera. It is an elaborate adaptation of the ballad about the two "mild" curates in the Bab Ballads. Mr. Gilbert has planned his story skilfully and has conducted its various scenes with bright and generally healthy humour. The dialogue is full of entertaining things, and the sharp clatter of the songs is Mr. Gilbert's own. For our own part we have only two complaints to make to him. He might suppress all mention of the particular remedy culled from the British Pharmacopoeia which is to cure "the woes" of the transcendental; and, in his next piece, he might perhaps altogether dispense with the assistanse of that frowsy middle-aged character, between whom and the youthful beauties he is so fond of instituting distasteful if ludicrous comparisons. We do not care to hear again the vulgar utterance of the middle-aged spinster, "I am ripe, Reginald, and already I am decaying."
    As regards the acting, it is undertaken by acknowledged experts in comic opera: Miss Leonora Braham, Miss Alice Barnett, Mr. Rutland Barrington, and Mr. George Grossmith. The piece provides the public with the certainty of a merry and exhilarating hour. Thus far, if as we opine it is the aesthetic people who have had the beauty, it is undoubtedly the Philistines who have had the wit. And the Philistines must consider themselves fortunate in having both Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Burnand upon their side. They are but too well represented.
 
 

 

transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 13 November 2000