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no. 341

Saturday, 27 March 2004

Baby Mine
Criterion Theatre, London, 22 February 1911

Iris Hoey in Baby Mine

Cover of The Play Pictorial issue featuring Baby Mine
with a coloured halftone photograph of Iris Hoey as Zoie

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1911,
coloured by The Play Pictorial)

Margaret Mayo's farce Baby Mine, which was first produced at Daly's Theatre, New York, on 23 August 1910, with Marguerite Clark as Zoie, opened in London at the Criterion on 22 February 1911. Iris Hoey was the Zoie of the piece and other parts were played by Weedon Brossmith, Donald Calthrop, Arthur Leigh, Finch Smiles, Lilias Waldegrave (subsequently replaced by Constance Hyem), Constance Bachner, Drelincourt Odlum and Elspeth Innes-Ker. Baby Mine transferred to the Vaudeville on 15 May 1911 and went to score a run of 342 peformances.

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'One of the characteristic features of the present-day theatre is the disappearance of the old-fashioned farce, and even farce up-to-date is seldom seen at any of our West End playhouses. Why is this? It is a healthy and diverting form of amusement, and provides more thoughtless laughs than any other form of theatrical entertainment. One reason may be that as a body our playwrights have not the genuine instinct for inventing farcical situations, and, secondly, we have not the actors or only a few who understand how to act farce. Give a modern comedy actor a farcical situation which should go like lightning and produce roars of laughter and in nine cases out of ten one finds that he takes it with such measured breath that the fun evaporates while he is slowly delivering speeches that ought by rights to be rattled through without giving the audience pause to reflect on the absurdity of the plot and the ridiculous behaviour of the principal persons concerned.
'Among the survivors of the Old Brigade of the artists who thoroughly understand the requirements of farcical comedy, who know how to treat its humour with breadth, and grapple successfully with its ludicrous situations is Mr. Weedon Grossmith. He is one of the best I think I may say the best actor of farce on the stage of to-day. To be a good farcical actor a man must have imagination, a full sense of humour, a sure eye for detecting the mirth-provoking qualities of a scene which in the manuscript appears twaddle of the most senile description, and the judgment to make the line that distinguishes the ludicrous from the lunatic explosions of a village idiot.
'Those who are acquainted with Mr. Weedon Grossmith's career and can remember some of his early representations, such as Joseph Lebanon in Pinero's Cabinet Minister [Court, London, 23 April 1890], The New Boy in Arthur Law's farce of that name [Terry's, London, 21 February 1894], and can recall the many diverting creations he has given us since those days will, I am sure, agree with the estimate I have formed of his ability in this phase of the actor's art.

a scene from Baby Mine

Zoie: 'Let's see it. Oh, isn't it ugly! Oh Jimmy!'

left to right, Iris Hoey as Zoie, Lilias Waldegrave as Aggie and Weedon Grossmith as Jimmy Jinks
in Baby Mine, Criterion Theatre, London, 22 February 1911

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1911)

'But for him I do not think that Baby Mine would have achieved any pronounced success in this country [England]. In making this assertion I do not wish to disparage the ingenuity displayed by the author, or the skill with which the complications are developed and brought to an amusing and satisfactory conclusion.
'Miss Margaret Mayo has done her work extremely well. She has grasped the first and principal element of a farce-writer's business, and that is, she has based her fragile building on a foundation that shows no dangerous cracks to the casual examiner. Given sound premises and the author can be as wildly imaginative as he will and in the whirlpool of laughter the incongruous behaviour of presumably sound and rational beings will pass without critical question.
'Baby Mine is based on a thoroughly feasible idea. A husbands parts with his young wife, and she knows that a sure way to secure his return is to give him his heart's desire, and that is a child, and as there is no immediate prospect of a child of their own then it seems the next best thing to do is to adopt one and pass it off as their legitimate offspring.
'There is no wild improbability about this; real life has produced its equivalent times out of number, and so we willingly acquiesce in the comparatively speaking harmless effort on the part of the wife to win back the man she loves. It is, however, the small things, the unexpected happenings that send most of our well laid schemes "agley." If Mr. Alfred Hardy [Donald Calthrop] had not been so overjoyed at the prospect of seeing his son and heir he would have waited for the morning express from Newcastle to London and not have chartered a "special." For what was the result?
'The baby from the Home, ordered for the next morning, must now arrive that night. The telephone is set going, the women are frantic with impatience and the possible failure of their plans; poor Jimmy Jinks [Weedon Grossmith] is given no peace and then, to their consternation, the woman who was to have parted with her child finds in the end that her maternal feelings are too strong and refuses to sign the paper relinquishing her flesh and blood to a stranger. Telephone messages are sent to Jimmy with desperate intensity; on no account is he to return without a baby, and in his maddening perplexity he snatches up the woman's child and makes a run for it with the excited mother in hot pursuit.
'This leads up to the most amusing episodes in the farce. But I am not sure that it is fair for me to give the plot away, as surprise counts for so much in pieces of this description. In the illustrations you will observe a foreign-looking woman disclaiming ownership of the infant held in the arms of a bluff-looking British workman. The foreign woman is the mother in search of her child, but what is Michael O'Flarety doing with a baby in his arms in Mrs. Hardy's bedroom in the respectable neighbourhood of West Kensington? It may be assumed that he had a motive for his visit and that the baby and he have some connection with each other. In another of the pictures you will perceive that Maggie O'Flarety excuses the late delivery of the washing on the plea that there are twins in the house. Can Jimmy have - , no, that passes the limit which I have set myself.
'But why is it that poor Jimmy another woman's husband is no intimately concerned with all this pother? A more harmless, inoffensive and ingenuous little man never lived. His initial crime was that of taking Mrs. Alfred Hardy to lunch he had met her outside the Annex restaurant and she had particularly asked herself and the head waiter had informed Mr. hardy the next day that his wife had lunched there with a stranger.
'Nothing could have been more innocent, but his friend Hardy was a quick-tempered, jealous young fellow and had come to regard his wife's word with some degree of doubt, especially when she would declare to him that it was the "real" truth. Had Jimmy Guardian Angel taken him in any other direction that that in which the Annex was situated he would have been spared the cyclonic experiences of that fateful evening and Miss Margaret Mayo would not have written Baby Mine.' (B.W. Findon, The Play Pictorial, no 110, vol XVIII, Baby Mine issue, London, 1911, pp. 98 and 99)

a scene from Baby Mine

Rosa Gatto: 'Ah, that is not my baby!'

left to right, Constance Bachner as Rosa,
Drelincourt Odlum as Michael O'Flarety and Elspeth Innes-Ker as Maggie O'Flarety
in Baby Mine, Criterion Theatre, London, 22 February 1911

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1911)

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John Culme, 2004