THE NEW CENTURY THEATRE.
Like the Independent Theatre, of which it may be regarded as an offshoot, the New Century Theatre has a name without a local habitation. For the present its quarters are at the Strand Theatre, where yesterday it gave a matinée performance of Ibsens latest play, John Gabriel Borkman. The professed aim of the New Century Theatre is «to enact from time to time plays of intrinsic interest which find no place on the stage in the ordinary way of theatrical business.» At the same time it disclaims any intention of going in search of the esoteric, the eccentric, or the mystic. What its practice may be as contrasted with its intentions time alone will show. It is difficult to appreciate the «intrinsic merit» of a play which cannot be trusted in the ordinary way of business to pay its expenses, and one wonders why a society should not be formed for the exploitation of books or pictures or even chairs and tables of a sort for which there is no public demand. However, the New Century Theatre has been constituted on the supposition that there is an «intelligent public» as distinguished from the ordinary public, and that the former prefer a description of dramatic entertainment which the professional but unenlightened manager would not care to offer.
Of yesterdays performance there is certainly this to be said that no manager relying upon public patronage would have cared to be identified with it. In the entire range of the Ibsen drama, nothing gloomier or more depressing than John Gabriel Borkman could well be found. From first to last the action passes on a darkened stage, and the sentiments of the dramatis personæ are, for the most part, in keeping with the mise-en-scène. The title character is a fraudulent bank manager who has served a term of penal servitude. The time that has elapsed since his discharge he has spent in brooding over his lost opportunities and in indulging hopes of his ultimate rehabilitation. He lives on the upper floor of his house, where day after day and year after year he paces to and fro like a caged hyæna. His wife, who regards him as socially dead, lives on the lower floor. They hardly meet, and then only to indulge in mutual recrimination. They have a son, Erhart Borkman, upon whom Mrs. Borkman secretly counts for the vindication of the family honour. This delusion John Gabriel, as he is familiarly called, does not share. He trusts in his own particular star. In the end both prove mistaken; for the young man, disgusted with the oppressive atmosphere of his home, elects to live a life of pleasure in the society of a grass widow of doubtful reputation, while the broken-down financier dies a miserable death before the smallest of his hopes is realized. To the inherent gloom of the Borkman household a twin sister of Mrs. Borkmans contributes her quota. She, too, has built vague hopes of the future of Erhart, and, in view of this young mans unexpected independence of character, the two sisters, long at enmity with each other, mingle their tears. The whole atmosphere of the play is that of a tomb, where never a wholesome breath of air circulates, and it is with an inexpressible sense of relief that one sees the curtain fall. John Gabriel Borkman is, in short, a nightmare of a play, which would give the horrors to a healthy-minded pit and gallery. Ibsens exposition of his subject in the first act is interesting enough, but the continued oppressiveness, the hopeless pessimism of the story, which is as unlike real life as the wildest romance, ends by shaking the strongest nerves. If this is to mark a new era in theatrical affairs, as the title of the society would imply, then amusement or entertainment in association with the stage is a vain word. Only to a small extent does the action of the play appear to be symbolical. In the last act the ex-convict is engaged in climbing a hill, but in the middle of his task he breaks down and breathes his last. Mr. W. H. Vernon appears as Borkman, Miss Genevieve Ward as his wife, Miss Elizabeth Robins as the twin sister, Mrs. Tree as the frivolous widow, and Mr. Martin Harvey as the recalcitrant youth. An episodical character, that of a meek and subdued Government employé, who has written a tragedy and thinks himself a poet, is played by Mr. James Welch. As regards its acting capabilities, the play cannot be assigned a high rank. The several characters are written in an unvarying key. On the part of the actors no versatility is possible. Four more performances of the play are announced.