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THE GAIETY THEATRE.
A specimen from a mine hitherto unworked by the wideranging British playwright was exhibited at this house on Wednesday afternoon in the shape of a version of a piece from the pen of Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian dramatist, Englished by Mr. William Archer under the title of Quicksands; or, the Pillars of Society. The author is of great repute in his own country, but this particular work is not, as we have been informed, recognized by competent judges as a masterpiece; nor from this opinion shall we venture to dissent, though, from a combination of causes which will be understood by all frequenters of the morning performances at this theatre, it would be manifestly unfair to build our estimate of the authors talent on this single specimen.
The ground plan of the play is after a tolerably familiar pattern. A man, standing well with his neighbours and the world generally, has an evil secret which he is anxious at all hazards to preserve. In his youth he has committed a baseness and a crime, and has supplemented these by the treachery of permitting another to bear the shame. Karsten Bernick is the mans name, the consul of some small Norwegian port; and the scape-goat, Johan Hessel, his wifes brother. Years ago, Johan, a rover by disposition, and something of a scapegrace among his plodding neighbours, passed over seas to America at the very nick of time to take upon his unsuspecting shoulders the burden of his brother-in-laws disgrace. Johan has thriven in America, and, as the play opens, has returned on a short visit to his native town with his half-sister, Iona, an outspoken lady, who is believed to conceal a kindly heart under a somewhat forbidding exterior. Johan knows Karstens crime, but knows not that he himself is popularly regarded as the culprit. One other, too, knows it, Iona to wit, to whom Johan has imparted it in the solitude of American backwoods. Karsten is naturally little pleased with the visit. A speculation in which he is largely interested, and which promises to succeed by virtue of his good name and position, is fast drawing to a head, and a disclosure of the fatal secret would mean instant and complete ruin. He can hardly expect Johan to submit voluntarily to the disgrace he has laid upon him, and yet he has received significant warnings that his good and very pious neighbours are not inclined to forget the past and hold out hands of welcome to the returned prodigal. All that he foresees comes to pass; but Johan, learning what exposure will bring to his treacherous brother-in-law, consents to keep silence for a while. On the morrow he purposes to leave again for America; after one month he will return, and on his return his good name must be established. This gives breathing space but not security to Karsten; but, as luck will have it, a safer plan presents itself. Two ships are about to sail on the morrow for America one an honest, seaworthy vessel, the other, known as the Florida, a rotten craft, repaired in haste, and dangerous even on a Midsummer sea. It is in the latter that Johan proposes to sail, and Karsten, though warned of its insecurity, and though the warning is heightened by a rising wind and a falling glass, gives orders for its papers to be made out for instant departure. His second treachery goes near to prove doubly fatal to him. Johan does not sail in the Florida, but Karstens young son, who has received a laughing invitation from his uncle to accompany him to America, does. Before, however, the ship has cleared the harbour the boy is reclaimed by his mother, who has missed him, and guessed, with a mothers instinct, where to find him. Struck with remorse at this merciful interposition of Providence, the father resolves on a full confession. The arrival of a complimentary deputation from the townsfolk affords the opportunity. He makes the confession, and with the announcement that he intends to gather together his household goods and gods and depart for some other place where he is unknown, and where he may live cleanly and purge himself of his misdemeanours, the play ends.
What the literary value of the work in its original shape may be it is difficult to guess from a translation; but, assuming Mr. Archer to have performed his task with fidelity, it would appear that the author is somewhat lavish in his dialogue and somewhat trite in his sentiments. Yet there are unquestionably some impressive scenes, and the evolution of the plot is not unskilful. As generally happens when the present action of a play turns upon the incidents of the past, an undue proportion of time is spent on explanations. Almost every one concerned has his particular version of the story, and some are not inclined to be content with a single hearing. Moreover, though the general outline of the secret is revealed at a tolerably early period, to get a correct knowledge of the details requires a stretch of attention which some of the forms of revelation render difficult, and at times even painful. Save in the names of the characters and the locality, there is no particular nationality about the play in its English shape. There are, however, sundry allusions to the superior honesty and virtue of the Norwegian as opposed to members of other and more splendid communities, which would doubtless have a finer effect on the national stage than in the theatres of London; and in particular it is to be gathered that in the authors native land Mr. Plimsoll would be likely to find his chivalrous occupation gone. On the whole the play conveys the impression of being the work of a man of talent and experience; and it is conceivable that in their native shape and to a native audience Henrik Ibsens plays deserve their reputation. This particular work is not certainly of a very entertaining order, nor is its moral as effective as it might be, partly from the number of times it has already done duty on the stage and elsewhere, and partly from the fact that the author himself shows us how lightly we can afford to disregard it. Truth and justice, we are informed, not surely for the first time, are the true pillars of society, but Karsten Bernick, who systematically outrages both, apparently escapes scot free at the end.
The play has been produced under the direction of Mr. Vernon, who himself plays the principal part. It may be gathered that Mr. Vernon has found many difficulties in the way of collecting an efficient company of actors, and has not overcome them. He himself is a skilled performer, and has the advantage of always conveying to the spectator a distinct impression of his earnestness. Mrs. Billington gives a certain degree of point to the outspoken honesty of Iona Hessel, but fails to recommend the lady as an agreeable companion. Johan Hessel is given a rude, but not inapposite, sort of chivalry by Mr. Dacre; and Miss Grahame, though somewhat lack-a-daisical as Dina Dorf a young lady of mysterious parentage, connected in some not very explicit way with Bernicks guilt is an agreeable contrast to her female surroundings. But the rest, possibly in their anxiety to adapt themselves to an unfamiliar nationality, hardly realize even those modest anticipations which the wise man takes with him into an English theatre of an afternoon.