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Ibsen meant, and I have said so in the criticisms I have already written upon the performance. Each time that I have written I have studied the performance again-indeed, I have seen it now four times-and each study has only strengthened my conviction that Miss Robins' Hedda Gabler is not Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. But my studies have also shown me that it is indeed a very remarkable, very powerful, very picturesque piece of acting, and have also, I think, shown me that, if Miss Robins does not play Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, she does not do so, not from artistic incapacity either to understand or to create the character, but of deliberate, and, as I think, most regrettable purpose. It seems to me as if Miss Robins had recognized the difficulty that always must exist in presenting an Ibsen play to the English public, had rightly estimated the hostility that the attempt must encounter, and had played for success by lowering the artistic level of the play. The result is that her Hedda Gabler is a very melodramatic, highly effective creation, ingeniously calculated to interest, even to appeal to the sympathies of London audiences, but far too obvious, too harsh, too showy for the super-subtle "White Devil" of Ibsen's drama. To carry out her purpose, Miss Robins has defied Ibsen's stage directions, and supplemented Ibsen's text. She ends the situation in the first act about General Gabler's pistols with a peal of laughter, where Ibsen insists that Hedda goes coldly out. It is possible, if not probable, that if Miss Robins had not laughed, the oddity of her words might have amused the audience, and made them laugh. Miss Robins ingeniously avoided a difficulty; but to avoid difficulties by defying the directions of your author is not to interpret him correctly. If Ibsen is worth playing at all, he is worth playing in his own way. Again, in the beginning of the third act, where Hedda tells the despairing Thea that Ejlert Lövborg is sitting at the judge's house with vine-leaves in his hair, and reading aloud, Miss Robins inserts the words "reading his wonderful book," and says the words in a way which suggests a contempt for the book which of a surety she does not feel. These may be small points, but they are significant in helping to support my argument, that Miss Robins intended rather to be effective in Hedda Gabler than to represent the Hedda Gabler that Ibsen has given. But, taking Miss Robins' Hedda Gabler on her own terms as it were, it must be recognized as a very remarkable piece of acting. I think if I had never read "Hedda Gabler," and knew nothing about Ibsen, I should have been carried away by the general enthusiasm. But amicus Plato-the proverb is somewhat musty-I had read "Hedda Gabler," and I could not accept Miss Robins' very clever, but over-coloured, over-emphasised performance
I believe that Miss
as a correct and satisfactory study of Hedda. Robins has very remarkable ability, and may do great things in her art; I know that she has raised her reputation, and, again taking her Hedda on her own terms, deservedly raised her reputation, but I wish that she had played Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, and not her own.
Miss Marion Lea underplayed Thea Elvsted, made her too feeble, too helpless, too hopelessly limp. This too may have been of set purpose. There was something pathetically appealing in the pretty weakness of Thea Elvsted as interpreted by Miss Marion Lea, which was undoubtedly attractive and addressed itself directly to the soft hearts of the beholders. But there was a strength of purpose, an obstinacy, even an element of power in Thea Elvsted, of which Miss Marion Lea gives no hint. She is all weakness, almost incredible weakness in any woman, quite incredible in the woman who has been able, somehow or other, to inspire, to reform, almost to regenerate Ejlert Lövborg.
The most satisfactory study in the whole cast, to the serious student of Ibsen, was the Judge Brack of Mr. Sugden. This is far and away the best thing Mr. Sugden has done; it is one of the best pieces of acting that what I suppose may be called the Ibsen movement has created. Every time that I have seen the play I have watched Mr. Sugden's acting with ever-increased interest and everincreased admiration. He is the man to the very life-selfish, sensual, stupid, corrupt with the second-rate corruption of a small town, a kind of suburban Tigellinus, quite unscrupulous, quite lustful, quite commonplace. The secret of Mr. Sugden's conspicuous success is to be found in the actor's readiness to accept his author, in his willingness to place all his ability at his author's service, instead of endeavouring to force some novel conception of his own into the words and action of his text. He is so quiet, so self-possessed, so unforced and unconventional, that it would be worth seeing "Hedda Gabler" many times for the sake of so very remarkable a piece of acting.
The other men are good, but nothing like so good. Mr. Buist gives a clever but slightly caricatured representation of the kindhearted noodle and pedant, Jörgen Tesman, and Mr. Elwood makes a dignified but somewhat too solemn Ejlert Lövborg. He began excellently in his first meeting with Hedda. Nothing could be better than the way in which, when the others have drawn apart, he addresses her by her name, by the old name that was so dear to him, "Hedda-Hedda Gabler." If it had gone on as well as it had begun it would have been a great success. But it did not.
There were no vine-leaves in that Lövborg's hair. There were no signs about him of a wild past; this Ejlert had never outwatched the stars with riot, or heard the chimes at midnight, or praised the painted face of Miss Diana. This Ejlert is certainly a gentleman and might well be a scholar, but he is not a reveller, and it is hard to imagine that he could be the life and soul of a lively supper-party. All the graver side of Ejlert Lövborg's character Mr. Elwood appreciated; but he failed to give the Bacchanalian touch which is essential. A man who has "gloried and drunk deep" to such a degree that a single glass can defeat his reformation and destroy his self-respect would never be quite so respectable as the Vaudeville Lövborg.
"Hedda Gabler," whatever its defects, was an interesting, an artistic experiment. But so much cannot be said of another Ibsen performance, "The Lady from the Sea," at Terry's Theatre. A good colloquial expression says of people who harp too much upon any one theme that they have "made old shoes" of the subject. It is just a question whether in the dramatic world just now people have not "made old shoes" of Ibsen, and the whole Ibsen business. Those alike who are for Ibsen, and those who are against him, have sinned in this regard. Were Ibsen more than prophet, or less than archangel ruined, we do not want to hear of him only. His merits and defects have been so extolled, so execrated, that it is possible to feel some sympathy for those who involuntarily shiver at the mention of the Norwegian name. Very soon, if conversation is to be endurable, we shall learn to take a hint from the revolutionary friends of Rabagas, and impose a pecuniary fine for every mention of that Norwegian name. But this penalty must not come into force for a few weeks yet, for there is an Ibsen play ahead which will inevitably provoke discussion, and compel criticism. In a few weeks Miss Norreys will give her performance of Nora Helmer in "A Doll's House." In the meantime "Hedda Gabler" has been promoted from the morning to the evening bill in the place of "Money," and the curious and incredulous will watch its fortunes with interest. Terry's Theatre has been the scene of a series of matinées of the penultimate Ibsen play, "The Lady from the Sea." Under these conditions, Ibsen, as a subject for conversation and for criticism, must inevitably be stretched out a little longer on the rack of this rough world.
"The Lady from the Sea" is certainly a very odd play, and one which presents exceptional perils to the enterprising players. Unless it is well-nigh faultlessly interpreted, there are several situations which, thanks to Ibsen's strange lack of a sense of the ludicrous, may produce
a very different effect from the effect intended.
Ellida Wangel, the
"Lady from the Sea," is the wife of a Doctor Wangel who has been married before, and who has a family by his first marriage. Ellida before her marriage with the excellent doctor had had a very remarkable love experience. She had plighted her troth to a mysterious mariner, a Finn. This Finn has murdered his captain and fled the country, but his memory still haunts Ellida, who is a child of the sea herself. This haunting memory, which has had the most surprising physical effect upon Ellida as a mother, becomes a haunting reality, for the Finn turns up at a time when the relations between the doctor and his wife are eccentrically strained, and insists upon her keeping her troth and coming with him. Whenever the Finn fixes his eyes upon Ellida they have an invincible effect which may recall to the frivolous the eyes of Belvawney in Mr. Gilbert's "Engaged." Under the influence of those eyes Ellida is well-nigh won over by her Finn, when Dr. Wangel interposes and suggests his preference that Ellida should remain where she was. Ellida is far too emancipated to renounce her Finn merely at the bidding of her husband, and her husband, appreciating the delicate independence of her nature, plays a part which is magnanimous or ridiculous according to the spirit in which you receive it. He gives up all right to control Ellida she shall choose between her husband and her lover of her own free will. Thus uncontrolled, Ellida does decide for her legitimate lord; the Finn leaps over the hedge, and husband and wife fall into each other's arms. Such, in a rough sketch, is the story of an amazing play. There are other characters and other events, but this is the mainspring of the action.
If ever therefore an Ibsen play required to be especially well played, "The Lady from the Sea" is that play. Adequately rendered the poetry of the conception might be preserved, the mystery of Ellida's haunting passion for the sea made to appear possible. But in the hands of the players at Terry's Theatre the whole play fell to pieces. Mr. Leonard Outram did show that he appreciated Ibsen, and Mr. Dalton was an impressive if overbuccaneering "stranger"; but, as for the rest-well, the rest is silence. It is really very hard upon Ibsen and upon those in this country who honestly admire him, to see him so recklessly treated by people wholly incompetent to interpret his work, and who appear to think that because Ibsen is much discussed at this moment, any representation of him is bound to be successful. I have very great hopes indeed of Miss Norreys' impersonation of Nora in "A Doll's House." She ought to be the ideal Nora, and if only she is well
supported the performance should be memorable. But after that I trust that there may be a pause in the performing of Ibsen's plays. It is no crime, as I have often pleaded, to like Ibsen; it is no crime, as I most cordially admit, not to like Ibsen; but it is an artistic crime to play him badly, and certain Ibsen performances have been very badly played indeed.
"Our Daughters" at the Strand was not a success, though it had the advantage of introducing Miss Alice Atherton again to the stage after a long absence, due to illness. Mr. Wilson Barrett appeared as Belphegor in a new version of the old "Paillasse," but even Mr. Barrett's ability could not carry the queer, old-fashioned, lumbering piece to a long run. A matinée at the Criterion gave two clever young authors-Mr. J. M. Barrie and Mr. Marriott Watson-the opportunity of showing what they thought dramatic in the career of Richard Savage, and gave Mr. Bernard Gould the opportunity of adding another to his successes. There was much of good in the piece and one excellent dramatic situation. Revivalism still rages, for "Wild Oats," with Mr. Wyndham as a delightful Rover, has usurped the throne of "The School for Scandal ;" "The Streets of London has succeeded to "The English Rose" at the Adelphi ; "A Pair of Spectacles" has taken the place of "Lady Bountiful" at the Garrick ; and "The Corsican Brothers" has reappeared upon the Lyceum stage. But a very special interest is attached to this revival. As there was no part in the melodrama for Miss Ellen Terry, Charles Reade's little one-act piece, "Nance Oldfield," was put up for her before "The Corsican Brothers." "Nance Oldfield" is a version the other way round of the David Garrick story, and Miss Ellen Terry makes a most enchanting Nance Oldfield. London gave the warmest of warm welcomes to Mr. Toole on his return from his Australian tour. The Shaftesbury Theatre re-opened under new management with a showy melodrama of an old-fashioned type, "Handfast," by Mark Quinton and Henry Hamilton, which had originally been produced at a morning performance in 1887. The delicate beauty of Miss Winifred Emery's acting and of her appearance gave life and grace to an impossible part, and Mr. Cyril Maude won a true artistic triumph by his study of weak-minded, weak-hearted villainy. "The Late Lamented," Mr. Horner's adaptation of Bisson's "Feu Toupinel," is making the Court audiences laugh consumedly; and to make men laugh, in these sombre days, is to accomplish much. JUSTIN HUNTLY MCCARTHY.