Clement Scott

Ghosts ved Independent Theatre anmeldt av Clement Scott i The Daily Telegraph i London 14. mars 1891 (No. 11,176).


«Ghosts» has been talked about; «Ghosts» has been advertised; «Ghosts» has been trumpeted into unnecessary and spurious notoriety; and at last «Ghosts» has been acted. The «Independent Theatre,» as it is called, though it depends for its existence on the guineas of the faithful and the charitable mercy of the Lord Chamberlain, has been duly inaugurated by a special performance. The Ibsenites have attended in full force, full of enthusiasm, full of fervour, and tyrannical enough to cough or hush down any one prepared to laugh at the dramatic impotence and ludicrous amateurishness of the «master.» It was a great night. Here were gathered together the faithful and the sceptical; the cynical and the curious. The audience was mainly composed of the rougher sex, who were supposed to know something of the theme that had been selected for dramatic illustration, and were entitled to discuss the licentiousness of Chamberlain Alving, his curious adventure in the dining-room with the attractive parlour-maid, and the echo of his amorous enterprise as repeated in his «worm-eaten» son. But, strange to say, women were present in goodly numbers; women of education, women of refinement, no doubt women of curiosity, who will take away to afternoon teas and social gatherings, the news of the sensation play that deals with subjects that hitherto have been to most men horrible and to all pure women loathsome. Possibly, nay probably, they were all disappointed. They expected to find something indescribably shocking, and only met that which was deplorably dull. There was very little to offend the ear directly. On the Ibsen stage their nastiness is inferential, not actual. They call a spade a spade in a roundabout and circumlocutory fashion. Those who, actuated by curiosity, expected to find a frankness and direct exposition of fact only equalled by the sensation trials by judge and jury at the Cider Cellars in the days of Baron Nicholson, only found a dull, undramatic, verbose, tedious, and utterly uninteresting play.

But in one respect the ground was completely cut from under the feet of the Ibsenite faction, who will applaud everything in the world that is unconventional, even to a scene played in the dark, merely because the humble and prosaic gas had gone out. It was open to the worthy admirers of the «master» to lay the whole blame on the actors. This is an old dodge. Supposing that the play were found dull, undramatic, and inconsequent, as it ever must be, and the playing had been incomplete, we can see the Ibsenites shrugging their shoulders and saying «What could you expect with such acting as that? You have not seen the play. The master has been outraged.» But last night again, as has always occurred before, it was the acting, and the acting alone, that created the whole interest that existed. A «Dolls House» was remarkably well acted. It was the acting that gave it even a temporary success. «The Pillars of Society» has more than once been very cleverly acted. «Rosmersholm» the other day was very fairly acted indeed. But having seen all these plays, we can recall no part in any of them that was played with such distinction, such tact, such taste, and such high comedy finish as was the part of Mrs. Alving by Mrs. Theodore Wright last night. The lady is unknown to us. It is rumoured that she has played as an amateur some say occasionally as a professional but we defy any connoisseur of acting not to have been struck by the delicacy, the thoughtfulness, and the humanity of this very remarkable performance. Possibly Mrs. Theodore Wright may be an Ibsenite enthusiast; we know not. It is within the bounds of probability that the ardour of her faith may have inspired her to represent Mrs. Alving as few more experienced artists might have done. But we defy Ibsen and all his disciples to get a better Mrs. Alving than this lady, who, quite apart from her Ibsenite profession of faith, even if it exists, acted with that peculiar breadth, womanliness, and tenderness which must have reminded many of our own Mrs. Stirling in her sunniest days of comedy. And here we come to our great point, and it is this that it is only the human scenes of Ibsen that are worth a brass button. There was scarcely a spark of interest in the play of «Ghosts,» last night, except when Mrs. Alving was on the scene. Why? Because Mrs. Alving is a human creature, and because Mrs. Theodore Wright touched everyone with her infinite womanliness. Who in their hearts cared for this «worm-eaten» prig of a boy, moaning and whining and blubbering about his fate, and heartlessly saying to his mother, «Of course I know how fond you are of me, and I cant but be grateful to you and you can be so useful to me now that I am ill»? Oswald is a conceited, sensual, and unnatural cub. But the «one touch of nature» comes out in the character of Mrs. Alving, and it was struck hard and with melodious results by Mrs. Theodore Wright.

It is a wretched, deplorable, loathsome history, as all must admit. It might have been a tragedy had it been treated by a man of genius. Handled by an egotist and a bungler, it is only a deplorably dull play. There are ideas in «Ghosts» that would have inspired a tragic poet. They are vulgarised and debased by the suburban Ibsen. You want a Shakespeare, or a Byron, or a Browning to attack the subject-matter of «Ghosts» as it ought to be attacked. It might be a noble theme. Here it is a nasty and a vulgar one.

But out of all this mass of vulgarity, egotism, coarseness and absurdity we can at least select one character, if not for our sympathy, at least for our pity. Mrs. Alving stands out from the rest because she is human. This is the one conventional character in the play. We are attracted to her because she is not an egotist, because she is not always whining about herself, because she suffers nobly in silence and with dignity. Ibsen makes an attempt to convert Mrs. Alving to Ibsenism, but he soon gives it up. There is a wild idea of making her a mouthpiece of freethinking, but the master thinks better of it. The others preach; Mrs. Alving acts.

What human being can fail to pity this wretched and heroic woman? She has married a bad man and done her duty by a bad man. What she swore to do, that she did. She has caught him taking liberties with her servant and overlooked the insult. She has humoured him up in the study with curious conversation. She has adopted his illegitimate child; and sooner than split upon him when he is dead or destroy his reputation as a «good fellow,» she has erected an orphanage to his memory after his decease. This Mrs. Alving does, and what noble woman could do more? She is rewarded for her unselfishness and self-sacrifice by being told by her cub of a son, whom she adores, that he would sooner be nursed by his sister, whom he incestuously adores, than by her mother, because she will have to die and leave the unnatural little monster.

It was Mrs. Alving, and Mrs. Alving alone, who held the audience last night, because she was a bit of human nature, and not a monstrosity. The story of her life was told by Mrs. Theodore Wright with exquisite simplicity and truth. There was no posing, no egotism; it was true and natural. The misery of the womans life had been locked up in her own heart, and when the overcharged heart was unlocked it was done simply, deliberately, without effort, and like a woman. Hateful as the play is as a whole, we can recall few scenes made so impressive by an artist as that one scene where Mrs. Alving, so delightfully and naturally rendered by Mrs. Theodore Wright, tells the story of her life to the worldly and Scripture-wise Pastor Manders. But one scene and one human touch of character does not make a play, nor is even Mrs. Alving exploited with any dramatic skill. They all preach, and lecture, and proclaim their views with wearisome iteration. There was a time when brilliant French dramatists such as Dumas and Augier were considered too argumentative and blamed as being talky-talky. But, ye gods! only hear Ibsen talk. He never leaves off. It is one incessant stream of talk, and not very good talk either. Suddenly he discovers that he must bring down the curtain, which he does on some ludicrous anti-climax, as with the silly remark, «And uninsured, too!» that closes the second act. But, for the most part, it is all dull, undramatic, uninteresting verbosity formless, objectless, pointless. It is an essay on heredity and contagious disease, and probable incest, cut into lengths not a play at all. Acting of a very remarkable character alone saved it from speedy condemnation, which, even as matters stood, it would have received at the hands of an «independent» audience.

The next best-played part to that of Mrs. Alving was the Pastor Manders of Mr. Leonard Outram a most conscientious, well-observed, and admirable study of puritanical egotism. It may be that Norwegian pastors are like our English parsons, but many must have recognised an English friend in the argumentative and suave Manders. Mr. Outram and Mrs. Wright held many a scene which otherwise would have been wearisome and intolerable. But, indeed, we fail to see what fault could be found with the acting. Mr. Sydney Howard as Jacob Engstrand and Miss Edith Kenward as the selfish Regina were equally admirable, and Mr. Frank Lindo could do little more than make Oswald Alving a mean, contemptible, and loathsome cad. If he is «worm eaten» in his body, he certainly is in his «manners,» and far worse than his heredited disease from the father who once «made him sick» is the sublimated egotism, exaggerated selfishness, and pestilent pessimism that makes a healthy audience equally sick.

When the much-vaunted play had at last dragged its slow length along, and the curtain had fallen on a very mixed verdict, indeed, notwithstanding the presence of the shrine worshippers, Mr. J. T. Grein, the founder and sole manager of the Independent Theatre in London, came forward and, fairly inoculated with the true spirit of Ibsen egotism, took the British drama under his gracious patronage. He naturally asked for support from the faithful to secure the independence of his establishment, delightfully oblivious of the Act of Parliament that can only be strained to admit of the Independent Theatre at all. But Mr. Grein, an estimable foreigner, who has taken the British drama under his sheltering wing, seems to be labouring under the impression, not only that England has no drama of its own, but never had one. Such names as Shakespeare and Sheridan could not possibly be household words to this educated Dutchman, but, passing over the disputed period of Sheridan Knowles, Boucicault, Westland Marston, and Robertson, the egotistical Ibsen faith, would not permit the founder and sole manager of the Independent Theatre to recognise such humble and insignificant individuals as Pinero, Wills, Gilbert, Grundy, and H. A. Jones. The tenour of the speech of Mr. Grein was that the Continental stage was far ahead of our own in literary production. We imagined that exactly the contrary was the fact. We suppose there never was a time in the memory of man when literary production of England was so prolific as compared to other countries than it is now. Why, scarcely a day passes that we do not hear of English plays being acted on stages that, apart from Shakespeare, never heard of the English drama before. And this is the time, forsooth, to tell us that our literary drama is making no progress, and wants an «Independent Theatre» and an Ibsen to foster it into growth! God forbid! «If there be any young dramatist here present,» virtually contended Mr. Grein, with sublime assurance, «let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned minister of the Ibsen religion, and we will turn his erring footsteps into the right paths.» We advise him to do nothing of the kind if he would study his fortune or his fame. The last state of that man would be worse than the first. Our literary drama may be as bare as Mother Hubbards cupboard. But we would sooner have none than any feeble imitation of «Ghosts,» under the direction of the founder, manager, and combined fellows of the Independent Theatre.
Publisert 21. mars 2018 14:04 - Sist endret 21. mars 2018 14:04