OUR CAPTIOUS CRITIC.
"THE COLLEEN BAWN" AT THE ADELPHI.
An article which appeared in this paper a few weeks back dealt with some dramatic discrepancies. It might be fitly supplemented by one treating of some dramatic injustices. The popular conception of many historical personages is derived almost entirely from the portraits of them presented in fiction and notably in the drama. Yet how false and unjust these portraits too often are. Shakespeare, it is hardly necessary to say, is a wholesale offender in this respect. He has represented Achilles as a cowardly bully and Joan of Arc as--well, no better than she should be. Thanks to his misapplied skill in portraiture and the circumstance of his living under a 'Tudor dispensation,' it would be about as easy for a man to shake the Nelson column as the deeply-rooted opinion that the last Plantagent sovereign was nothing but a hunchbacked hypocrite and not one of the ablest captains, most stalwart soldiers, and skilful rulers of his day; erring, perhaps, a little in the exercise of that unscrupulousness which in a successful man is readily pardoned. I, personally, incline to the opinion that Hamlet's uncle was an amiable and estimable monarch, whose patience was sorely tried by the absurd vagaries of his nephew; Macbeth, a high-spirited and energetic potentate, with quite as good a title to the crown of Scotland as the majority of his compeers; Lear, a fit subject from the very outset for a commission de lunatico inquirendo, Shylock, a standing example of the atrocious chicanery of the law, and Caliban, a landed proprietor, most abominably swindled out of his ancestral inheritance.
As to the disciples of our greatest dramatist, their name is necessarily Legion. Some have elected to hold up to execration innocent and even estimable individuals. Others, on the contrary, have chosen to make heroes of criminals. It is not so very long ago, for instance, that we had Mr. Irving expiring amidst the tombstones in the character of Eugene Aram; and our old friend Jack Sheppard has reappeared during the past week on transpontine boards, the Lord Chamberlain's desire to the contrary notwithstanding. Mr. Dion Boucicault, with his accustomed versatility, has managed to some extent to combine these two methods of treatment in his Great Irish Domestic Drama in Three Acts, entitled The Colleen Bawn; or, the Brides of' Garryowen, just revived at the Adelphi Theatre. Whilst applying the whitewash brush pretty freely to some of his characters, he has at the same time painted his hero a little blacker than nature. I use the term "hero" advisedly, for in my eyes it is Danny Mann who occupies that position in The Colleen Bawn, even as Satan does in "Paradise Lost." Hardress Cregan is surely too insignificant a being for such a position, and even the claims of Myles-na-Coppaleen pale before those of the hunchbacked boatman.
It is of this identical physical load placed upon Danny Mann's shoulders that I must complain at the outset, as a marked example of the injustice in dramatic portraiture spoken of at the commencement of this article. True, it was first placed there by the late Mr. Gerald Griffin, from the filtered medium of whose oft alluded to but little read novel, "The Collegians," Mr. Boucicault derived the dramatis personæ of The Colleen Bawn. Nevertheless, contemporary record speaks of Shaun Sullivan as he stood in the dock at Limerick sixty-five years ago charged with the murder of Ellen Hanly on the River Shannon as "a well-looking man of good size, apparently thirty-two years of age." So, villain though he was, it is rather unfair to represent him as the tempter and not the tempted. It was Mr. John Scanlan who, in his own words, "put him up to it," and who not only bought a boat to compass the murder, but had an iron chain and ring made by a blacksmith to fasten round the neck of the intended victim and so sink her to the bottom of the stream. In his confession Sullivan tells how, when they started on what was meant to be the fatal cruise from Carrig Island, and he looked at the "innocent face" of the girl, his "heart shuddered," and he could not nerve himself to accomplish the crime; how when his employer returned and found her unharmed, he gave him "many sour looks," and was "mad" with him because he had not murdered her; how the following day Scanlan, after priming him with whiskey, "settled the rope, and spliced a loop to it, and put it round a stone," so that his accomplice "should lose no time," and "left everything ready in the boat "; how once again they set out, and how, when the boat was in the midst of the stream, he caught up a musket, blindly rained down a shower of blows with the butt until he had slain her, and fastening the stone to her body, cast it into the faithless waters. There was no Myles-na-Coppaleen to administer immediate and poetical justice, but Mr. Shaun Sullivan expiated his crime on the gallows, whither his employer, Mr. John Scanlan, had already preceded him. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, it must be admitted that whilst Danny Mann represents Sullivan, plus several strokes of the tar brush, Hardress Cregan, weak and contemptible though he be, is a very shiner as a model of virtue compared to Mr. John Scanlan. And as to Eily O'Connor herself, she is certainly far more akin to the angels than that precocious young woman, Ellen Hanly, who not only eloped at the age of fifteen, dispensing with even the services of a hedge priest, but furthermore took with her a hundred pounds in notes and twelve guineas, the savings of a too confiding uncle.
I fear me this present notice is erring a little on the score of reminiscences of the past, but, after all, is there much save reminiscence to be written upon such a subject as The Colleen Bawn? I am tempted even to continue in the same tone, and to recall the deep sensation created a quarter of a century ago on the first production of the piece. How all London flocked to witness the "sensation header" in the water cave scene, and how ladies during the ensuing winter took their walks abroad in scarlet cloaks modelled on those worn by the heroine. Irish domestic drama could hardly be said to be quite unknown to us, but this development of it came upon us as a revelation. Experience has shown that Mr. Boucicault has a certain number of stock Irish characters, including the loving peasant girl, the humoursome yet heroic "boy," the old woman, and the pettifogging lawyer, and these he has since served up to us in several other plays. But then they were all new, and who can forget the charm and grace of Mrs. Dion Boucicault, the life and soul of the piece, as Eily, and the artistic merit with which the author invested the part of Myles. I think Mrs. Mellon made a good Anne Chute, but, if I remember aright, Mr. Edmund Falconer failed to impress his audience as Danny Mann to the extent achieved by some of his successors in the part and was certainly eclipsed by Mr. John Clarke who, in the burlesque produced at the Strand Theatre, showed a wonderful blending of the grotesque and the dramatic.
But it is really time to drop such reminiscences, and to devote a few lines to those taking part in the present revival. Physically Miss Mary Rorke is an admirable representative of Eily, who is contemporaneously described as having been "a very pretty girl and a good size." Whilst her plastic attractions fully justify the passion of Hardress Cregan, her sweet and winning ways throughout ought of themselves to have been enough to rivet his wavering affections. In the more emotional passages of the part, she showed unexpected power, but also developed a tendency to Mary-Andersonian attitudinising which even the symmetry of her arms does not justify. She has a very excellent foil if not dangerous rival in Miss Millward, who acts Anne Chute with a native dash and spirit admirably fitted to the part. Experienced actress as is Mrs. H. Leigh, the somewhat thankless part of Mrs. Cregan seems to fit her with the stiffness of a gauntlet rather than the suppleness of a glove; but Mrs. J. Carter is an in every way efficient representative of Sheelah.
That enterprising emigration agent, 'Danny Mann,' is conscientiously played by Mr. J. D. Beveridge, but the actor himself seems to realise that he has "a hard row to hoe," and whilst evidently doing his best, fails to grip his audience. Mr. Charles Sullivan is in every way satisfactory as Myles-na-Coppaleen. The part of Hardress Cregan is per se an objectionable one, and Mr. Percy Lyndal is most careful to abstain from doing anything likely to make it less so. The same may be said of Mr. J. S. Chamberlain as Mr. Corrigan. Mr. J. R. Crauford, however, does well as Kyrle Daly, and though Time has laid his hand upon Mr. C. H. Stephenson since he created the character of Father Tom, he invests the part with its old geniality and force.
A certain flourish has marked the announcements of new scenery by Mr. Bruce Smith. There is an attempt at stern realism in the somewhat harsh and gloomy delineation of the interior of the water cave, and the dull, lowering sky is perhaps ominously appropriate to the deeds enacted. Yet somehow the old blue moonlight was more effective, if less accurate.
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|Copyright © 1988, 1992, 2013 by Alfred L. Nelson, Gilbert B. Cross, Joseph Donohue.|
|Originally published by Greenwood Press as The Sans Pareil Theatre 1806-1819, Adelphi Theatre 1819-1850: An Index to Authors, Titles, Performers, 1988, and The Adelphi Theatre 1850-1900: An Index to Authors, Titles, Performers and Management, 1992.|
|The Adelphi Theatre Calendar revised, reconstructed and amplified. Copyright © 2013, by Alfred L. Nelson, Gilbert B. Cross, Joseph Donohue. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License, with the exception of graphics from The Clip Art Book, edited by Gerard Quinn and published by Crescent in 1990. These images are reproduced in accord with the publisher’s note, which states "The Clip Art Book is a new compilation of illustrations that are in the public domain. The individual illustrations are copyright free and may be reproduced without permission or payment. However, the selection of illustrations and their layout is the copyright of the publisher, so that one page or more may not be photocopied or reproduced without first contacting the publishers."|