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Our Stage and Its Critics By "E.F.S." of "The Westminster Gazette"   By: (1860-1932)

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OUR STAGE AND ITS CRITICS

BY

"E.F.S."

OF "THE WESTMINSTER GAZETTE"

1910

PREFACE

Whilst reading the proof sheets of these articles I have been oppressed by the thought that they give a gloomy idea about the state of our Stage. Yet I am naturally sanguine. Indeed, no one taking a deep interest in our drama could have written for a score or so of years about it unless of a naturally sanguine temperament. There has been great progress during my time, yet we still are far from possessing a modern national drama creditable to us. Some imagine that the British have no inborn genius for writing drama, or acting it, and look upon those dramatists and players whose greatness cannot be denied as mere exceptions to a rule. Without alleging that at the moment we have a Shakespeare, a Garrick or a Siddons, I assert confidently that we own dramatists and players able, if rightly used, to make our theatre worthy of our country and also that the misuse of them is appalling. For very many years the history of the English stage has been chiefly a record of waste, of gross commercialism and of honest efforts ruined by adherence to mischievous traditions: the Scottish and Irish stage have been mere reflections of our own.

At the moment Ireland is making a brave and remarkably successful effort at emancipation, and during the last few years has laid the foundations of a National Theatre and built a good deal upon them. Scotland lags a little, yet the energy and enthusiasm of Mr Alfred Wareing and the citizens of Glasgow have enabled them to create an institution not unlikely to serve as the home of a real Scots drama. They offer to the native playwright an opportunity of showing that a national drama not a drama merely echoing the drama of other lands lies inherent in the race. Who knows that they may not induce that wayward man of genius, J.M. Barrie, to become the parent of Scots drama by honestly and sincerely using his rare gifts as dramatist in an effort to express the pathos and the humour, the courage and the shyness, the shrewdness and the imagination, and also the less agreeable qualities and characteristics of our brothers across the border.

And England? I have little first hand knowledge of the provinces, but with such as I possess, and the aid of the Era Annual and the Stage Year Book , can state unhesitatingly that the position is very unsatisfactory. Admirable, valuable work is being done bravely by Miss Horniman at Manchester; Mr F.R. Benson and his company devotedly carry the banner of Shakespeare through the land; but in the main the playhouses of the provinces and great cities of England offer little more than echoes of the London theatres, and such original works as are produced in them generally are mere experiments made on the dog before a piece is presented in London. In this respect, the suburbs resemble the provinces, although Mr J.B. Mulholland courageously makes efforts to give Hammersmith something new and good. The Coronet has seen some valuable ventures perhaps Notting Hill is not a suburb and at the moment is devoted to the production of real novelties.

In the West End theatres of London the position at first sight seems desperate. During the last twenty years, in consequence of the intervention of middlemen, rents have risen 100 per cent.; owing to the folly of managers the salaries of the company have increased to a similar extent; whilst the cost of scenery, costumes and the like also has grown enormously. Indeed, it is probably an under statement to allege that the money spent in running a theatre on the customary commercial lines is twice as great as it was in 1890. Yet the price of seats has not been raised. Consequently theatre management has become a huge gamble, in which there are few prizes, and the amount of money lost annually is great. Naturally, under such circumstances the principal, almost the only, aim of the ordinary manager is to please the masses. Many concessions are made to the wishes of the crowd, and by way of excuse the phrase "the drama's laws the drama's patrons give" is quoted... Continue reading book >>




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