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no. 306

Saturday, 26 July 2003

The Second Mrs Tanqueray,
an original play in four acts by Arthur W. Pinero,
first produced at the St. James's Theatre, London, Saturday, 27 May 1893

Mrs Patrick Campbell and George Alexander

Mrs Patrick Campbell and George Alexander
in a scene from Act I. of the first production of The Second Mrs Tanqueray.

'If we promise each other to forget to forget we are bound to be happy.'

(photo: Alfred Ellis, London, 1893)

Pinero's celebrated play, The Second Mrs Tanqueray was first staged by George Alexander at the St. James's Theatre, London, on 27 May 1893. The cast was as follows:

Aubrey Tanqueray George Alexander
Sir George Orreyed Bt Adolphus Vane-Tempest
Captain Hugh Ardale Ben Webster
Cayley Drummie Cyril Maude
Frank Misquith, Q.C. M.P Nutcombe Gould
Dr Gordon Jayne Murray Hathorn
Morse Alfred Holles
Lady Orreyed Edith Chester
Mrs Cortelyon Amy Roselle
Paula Mrs Patrick Campbell
Ellean Maude Millett

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'With his new play, Mr. Pinero has at one blow accomplished a revolution. The methods of the playwright are familiar. His pen, let us say, is in demand. A drama is expected of him. What does he do? He puts on his considering cap, and goes forth into the highways and hedges, and collects his characters, much as an entomologist conducts a beetle-hunt. Having pocketed his specimens, he takes them home, and in the seclusion of his study works his petty way upon them. He tones down their ugliness and rounds off their angularities that they may shape well in the glare of the footlights. Then he robes them in a kind of wedding garment to avoid incurring the public's frown, and puts them through an emotional measure sometimes stately, sometimes rollicking and free and there is his play. The method is neither so deep as well nor so broad as a church door; but, like Mercutio's wound, it serves. Time and again it has served even Mr. Pinero the Mr. Pinero of The Squire, Sweet Lavender, and all those brilliant fantasies unjustly belittled (by their author himself) by the appellation "farce." Now it serves him no longer. With Lady Bountiful he began to leave the beaten track. In The Times he almost completed his emancipation. With The Second Mrs. Tanqueray he becomes purely and simply a (Stevensonian) Lantern-bearer. There is no question this time of his wandering a-field and driving his people into a pen, whither we are bidden to observe their huddled antics. The process now partakes of the solemnity and dignity of tragedy. With finger upon lip he leads us forth, out of the sunshine into the dark. He beckons us on and on, from smooth ways to rough, from pleasant levels of cheeriness and ease, down declivities of sadness, till we stand in the valley of the shadow of death, and then he uncovers the face of his lantern and throws its light upon a woman's form. There is nothing theatrical about the exhibition. She smells neither of patchouli nor midnight oil. There she is, just as God (and devilish man) made her the good and evil in her inextricably blent a woman who has passed through heaven knows what defiling orgies and who yet preserves something of the heart of a child. The type is not a new one. Since the Magdalen crouched at her Saviour's feet and bathed them with her tears, two thousand years ago, Paulas innumerable have stumbled pathetically through the world, but the transfiguring light of genius has not been shed upon a single one of the tearful band till now. How or why Paula fell is open to conjecture. Perhaps like Olive Schreiner's Lyndal she doffed her maiden robe and dived into foul waters from simple curiosity. Perhaps her fate was Regina's there was "a devil in her blood that commonly rebels." But fall she did, and became "anybody's, everybody's property." One man at length she met, a noble-hearted man, who loved her temperately, pityingly. He saw the good in her striving to be free, and after weighing well their chances of burying her past he married her. But that hideous past declined to suffer sepulture. It preferred to stalk abroad in its unclean grave-clothes and grinningly confront them at every turn. The Tomlinson philosophy was everywhere shouted in her ears "For the sin that ye do by two and two, ye must pay for one by one." The past stamped itself in Paula's face and frightened the pure soul of her conventual step-daughter, "Saint" Ellean. It poisoned the intercourse between Aubrey, her husband, and herself. It cut her off from the consolations of society and lopped away his friends. It threw up great barriers of revolting memories between this loyal, loving, ineffably patient man, and his poor, tortured, hungry-hearted wife. Finally it brought them, as "Saint" Ellean's first love, a young hero who in his wild oats' days had lived with Paula. Then the house of cards builded with such pains, collapses at a touch. Love makes Ellean wise beyond her experience and her years. She reads the riddle aright and shrinks from her father's wife with loathing. And Aubrey and Paula, face to face with the ruin of their own and Ellean's happiness, look out upon the dreary waste of hopelessness before them. Paula can do but one thing in love and pity for her victims, and in cutting herself adrift from life the wild old life of infamous success and the piteous new life of tragic failure she sets them free. Before the naked reality of the figures in this enthralling tragedy, this haunting picture of a soul upon the rack of this tough world stretched to its doom, the critic is almost dumb. The horror and the pity of it hold him in a vice. And even when the spectator is not under the spell of the players, the dramatist still has him in his grip. At one point alone is one conscious of the playwright when Captain Ardale, Paula's half-forgotten lover, enters on the scene. Here indeed there is a hint of management, of ingenuity, making itself seen and felt. Bu the feeling endures for but one instant. In a flash the situation establishes its mastery, and the brilliant contriver is lost in the still more brilliant dramatist. After the creator come his interpreters, and here again there is next to no room for aught but admiration. Mrs. Patrick Campbell's study of Paula is worthy of the play and part. In one sense perhaps it scarcely reaches the tragic level. That is to say, the element of grandeur is wanting. But in another sense its tragedy is heightened by this very fact. And as a faithful portrait of one of the great unclassed, nothing could surpass it in vividness and truth. One hardly knows whether it were truer to call it fascinating or repellent, exquisite or terrible. But this is certain, that it is the most unforgettable piece of acting seen for years on the English stage, and that it stamps Mrs. Campbell as a genius. Mr. Alexander merits praise as warm and as emphatic. Aubrey Tanqueray is a fine part; but only for a very sensitive and subtle actor. The part gives him no help. Pitfalls beset him on every hand. And the value to the play of Mr. Alexander's grave solicitude, chivalrous restraint, and winning gentleness, of his hinds of silent suffering and stedfast [sic] love, was inestimable. Miss Millett as the cold and virginal Ellean showed welcome delicacy of touch, and gave once or twice a glimpse of real power. Mr. Webster, in one terribly difficult scene, as trying perhaps as any that an actor could be called upon to play, rose to the occasion with a burst of passion and held a dangerous position gallantly. Mr. Cyril Maude as a cheery man of the world, not overburdened with sentiment, but having a heart somewhere about him, provided some very clever comedy relief. And the rest sustained the reputation of the St. James's for unassailable ensemble. The play produced a profound impression. Any other result would have been at once amazing and degrading. For Paula is Mr. Pinero's highest achievement. More, she ranks with the most comprehensive and uncompromising studies of womanhood in all drama. His play is great the greatest of modern times. But this portrait of a woman is Shaksperean. To find, indeed, the equal in dramatic force and ethical enlightenment to this revelation of a fallen woman, one must go back to that wondrous scene where another sinner was "set in their midst," and the mild gaze of another Master of the human heart was turned compassionately upon her. But for this, Mr. Pinero's tragedy, in simplicity, nobility, and solemn pathos, would stand alone in literature.'
(The Theatre, London, 1 July 1893, pp.41-43)

Cynthia Brooke

Cynthia Brooke as Paula
in the first touring production of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, 1894/95.

(photo: Lafayette, London and Dublin, 1894)

The Second Mrs Tanqueray has been reproduced many times since its initial performances at the St. James's in 1893. An early realization of the character of Paula was Mrs Kendal's, playing opposite her husband's Aubrey Tanqueray, when first given to the English provinces at the Opera House, Leicester, on 30 August 1893; this also became the first of many American productions when it opened at the Star Theatre, New York on 9 October 1893. Contemporary critics were fascinated by the two Paulas: Mrs Patrick Campbell's 'creature of hopelessly conflicting moods,' and Mrs Kendal's more subtle reading. Cynthia Brooke (above) appeared successfully as Paula in an English tour of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray during the 1894/95 season; and for the brief St. James's revival of the play in June 1895, Evelyn Millard played Paula. Mrs Patrick Campbell herself revived Paula several times, first at the Royalty, London, on 7 September 1901, when George S. Titheradge (Tanqueray), George Arliss (Drummle), Gerald du Maurier (Ardale), and Winifred Fraser (Ellean) were in the cast.

* * * * * * * *

Mr and Mrs Kendall in The Second Mrs Tanqueray
Royal Opera House, Leicester, Thursday, 30 August 1893.

Aubrey Tanqueray W.H. Kendal
Sir George Orreyed G.P. Huntley
Captain Hugh Ardale Oscar Adye
Cayley Drummie J.E. Dodson
Frank Misquith, QC, MP James East
Dr Gordon Jayne George Gray
Morse H. Deane
Lady Orreyed Miss N. Campbell
Mrs Cortelyon Miss Talbot
Ellean Annie Irish
Paula Madge Kendal

'What short memories people have! At the first mention of Mrs. Kendal's resolve to play Paula the Unclassed the compact majority shoots a forest of arms into the air, and keeps them there quivering with mingled horror and amazement, for all the world like Satan's host on the Lyceum Brocken. Why? Because someone rashly has affirmed that this will be Mrs. Kendal's first plunge into the glittering waters of stage vice! Has no one then a remembrance of certainly shady society females in [Pinero's comedy] Mayfair [St. James's Theatre, London, 31 October 1885] and Antoinette Rigaud [in a comedy of the same name by Ernest Warren after the original French by Raymond Deslandee, St. James's, 13 February 1886]? Does no one recall a very, very dubious person, by name Coralie [in G.W. Godfrey's adaptation of Albert Delpit's Le Fils de Coralie (St. James's, 28 May 1881)]? She was French and of uncertain age; further, she was penitent and crowned with venerable white hair; but her shameful past was undeniable, and so far as my memory serves me she was emphatically not one of the hateful myriad "more sinned against than sinning." The plain fact is that Mrs. Kendal has often, with a bold hand, torn the veil from seamy-sided women, and the effects she has got at these times should have fully prepared one for her effort at the Opera House, Leicester, where she appeared as Paula with a success that not even a fanatical adherent of the Clan Campbell could for one moment have presumed to question. When all is said, Mrs. Kendal is still a grand actress. She may have [been] forgotten out in Choctawville and other centres of Transatlantic culture the motto, "Summa Ars Artem Celare," or be perversely moved to so mis-read it that the hidden art is hidden with such thoroughness that it lies beyond anyone's power to find it. But the art at her command when she chooses to employ it, is still supreme. And as Paula she does so choose. The conscious rolling of the r's, ceaseless and distracting as Niagara, the one-sided, hooked-up smile, and a dozen other tricks of movement and expression do undoubtedly detract from the naturalness of her work, but behind all this surface-staginess lie an unerring perception, a wonderful insight, which carry her triumphantly to her goal, through countless barriers she is always busy setting up against herself. One has only to recall Mrs. Patrick Campbell's very startling, infinitely touching picture of Paula to realise the immense cleverness of Mrs. Kendal. The character is the same, the tragedy is the same, but the woman herself is a totally different being. Gone are the childishness, the pettish passion, the utter irresponsibility which at the St. James's exercised a fascination and impelled compassion. Mrs. Kendal's Paula is a woman always, with strong reasoning powers, strong feelings, and always a reason for her feelings. And whereas the original Paula exacted pity because her plight was so terrible and sad, her successor compels sympathy because the battle for respectability is so stern and her face is kept to the foe with such desperate determination. One striking difference Mrs. Kendal makes. Unlike Mrs. Campbell, she shows Paula as a common woman only in the first scene, and from that point on refines and refines until in the last act she wears a fine nobility and distinction. The growth of mind and soul, through companionship with Aubrey and Ellean, appears not alone in words, but is disclosed in bearing, manner, voice, and look, This is a notable subtlety worthy of remark. It suggest a Paula over whom her coarse associates and wretched life have merely had power to form a crust of vulgarity and viciousness a Paula who reverts under genial influences to inherent refinement and purity. And this new reading lends the woman a humanity and a charm which go some way towards excusing, if not explaining, Aubrey's course of action. Mrs. Campbell's Paula was torn every way at once a creature of hopelessly conflicting moods and passions, the sport of destiny. Mrs. Kendal, on the other hand, never permits one to lose sight of the woman of heart and reason struggling to free herself from the fetters of habit and outlawry, the woman who is purely the victim of her own folly and sin. Mrs. Campbell fought against fate. Mrs. Kendal struggles against her evil self and the consequences of her own acts. A deeper note is struck with this conception, and in consequence the tragedy was more profound at Leicester than in London. Not, however, with the Paula did the distinction of this new rendering end. Mr. Kendal, an actor who grows in stage stature, in weight and dignity, each week that flies, proved a very sincere and impressive Tanqueray, his later scenes being full of power. Miss Annie Irish, too, was an interesting and not too cold and cloistral "Saint" Ellean, and Mr. Dodson bared the very heart of Cayley Drummle, improving even upon Mr. Cyril Maude's popular performance. Several of the minor players, grotesquely unlike the gentlemen they were set to represent, were however quite unworthy to stand in the presence of their leaders.'
(The Theatre, London, Sunday, 1 October 1893, pp.221 and 222)

* * * * * * * *

Sir George Alexander in the 1916 film version of
The Second Mrs Tanqueray

Sir George Alexander

Sir George Alexander as Aubrey Tanqueray
in the first film version of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, 1916.

(photo: Ideal Films Ltd, UK, film still, 1916)

The first film version of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, made in the UK in 1916, featured Sir George Alexander as Aubrey, the part he had originated in 1893 playing opposite Mrs Patrick Campbell's Paula. In the film, Paula was played by Hilda Moore and Ellean by Marie Hemingway. For further details, see the Internet Movie Database.

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