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Footlight Notes Collection Picture Archive - request for use of images

no. 400

Saturday, 16 May 2005

a play by Savile Row and Bolton Rowe,
adapted from Vitorien Sardou's Dora,
Wyndham's Theatre, London, 23 March 1913

Diplomacy, Wyndham's, 1913

Sir Squire Bancroft (seated, center) with the cast of Diplomacy, Wyndham's, London, 23 1913,
(seated, left to right), Owen Nares, Gladys Cooper, Lady Tree, Norman Forbes, and
(standing, left to right), Donald Calthrop, ?, Annie Schletter,
Gerald Du Maurier, Ellis Jeffreys, Arthur Wontner, Malise Sheridan, and A.E. Matthews

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1913)

Squire Bancroft and his wife (née Marie Wilton) starred in B.C. Stephenson and Clement Scott's adaptation of Sardou's play, Dora, when it was first produced at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, London, on 12 January 1878. The Bancrofts' revival of the play was staged at the Garrick, London, on 18 February 1893.

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DIPLOMACY The History of the Play,
By Frank Desprez

'In 1877, when Sardou produced his play Dora at the Paris Vaudeville, the English stage largely subsisted upon adaptations from the French. A version of Les Danicheffs was running at the St. James's, and the Pink Dominos (Les Dominos Rouges) was about to draw crowded houses at the Criterion. Besides these avowed adaptations, there were many unacknowledged borrowings from across the Channel.
'The public of that day was much less critical than the most prominent portion of the present-day public. To the playgoers of 1877 Sardou appealed without reserve. The whole art of the dramatist is based on allowances. "Let it be granted" is the prayer of the playwright which he asks shall be agreed to before he starts to amuse us. Realism, after all, is only a question of degree. We plume ourselves on having done away with the convention of soliloquy; but the division of the play into acts, the condensed dialogue, the "arranged" exits and entrances, the pictorial plotting out of the stage - all are conventions. That is why, though every tyro nowadays can point out the defects in a piece like Diplomacy (Dora), it bears revival not so badly. Sardou's answer to his hostile critics would have been: "The whole business is artificial, and the amount of artifice is settled by what the public will stand without being disillusioned."
'And the public in 1877-78 simply did not notice the defects in Diplomacy. Their idea of a play included the very things which present-day criticism derides - effective situations, stage trickery, skilled workmanship. They roared at the shallowest jokes, they wept over the cheapest pathos, provided always that there was an interesting story and exciting scenes, giving scope for passionate, vigorous acting.
'It is a mistake, I believe, to consider that the bulk of the play-going public differs greatly from the play-going public in 1877. There is always a new generation growing up, and only a small proportion of it is sophisticated. We are misled by the noise made by a comparatively small clique of advanced critics and culturists. The mass of the public likes pretty much the same sort of entertainment as it did in the seventies; when it does not get it, it does not write essays or articles - it simply goes motoring or passes over to the music-halls.
'In 1877 the English playgoing public was below, not above, the most popular of French dramatists; and it was necessary to put his work into the hands of certain experienced play-alterers, men who knew by experience and observation just what the English audiences liked, and what they would stand. Dora was turned over to two skilled surgeons of this class - Mr. B.C. Stephenson, a librettist, and Mr. Clement Scott, the critic of the Daily Telegraph.

Diplomacy, 1913

Julian: "Whisper to me once 'I love you.'"
Dora: "I love you."

A scene from Diplomacy, Wyndham's Theatre, London, 23 March 1913,
with Gladys Cooper as Dora, Owen Nares as Julian Beauclerc, and Ellis Jeffreys as Countess Zicka.

(photos: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1913)

'In fitting a French piece for an English audience, the differences of mental attitude have to be considered. French people derive much pleasure from the contemplation of character, and the mere depiction of moral action and soul-development. English audiences, at any rate in the seventies - and, as I say, I believe they are the same at bottom now - do not stand outside the people on the stage. They are partisans, hating or loving the puppets on the boards, espousing the cause of the hero and heroine, and wanting to throw bricks at the villain, instead of studying his idiosyncrasies. English audiences are easily bored by analysis, and demand sustained action and incident-interest. The first thing which a skilled play-surgeon did in 1877 was to cut away and intellectual or philosophic matter from the French play. We may think that there was not much of this in Dora; yet, after the production of Dipolomacy, Sardou wrote complaining that the Britishers had "denaturalised" his piece. What Scott and Stephenson actually did was to knock the two first acts of the original into one, to make Henry Beauclerc and Julian Beauclerc brothers, to exchange the Eastern question, then "always with us," for Versailles politics and French domestic squabbles; and to introduce a comic character and some funny dialogue suitable for English consumption. Still, the story of Diplomacy is in all essentials that of Dora. It develops the always pathetic situation of the innocent young girl, struggling to behave properly, and win happiness, in spite of "shady" connections and surroundings. In 1877 Russia was England's bête noire - we could believe anything of the Russians. Dora is the harassed young heroine. Julian Beauclerc, a young English officer, is in love with her, and Countess Zicka, a Russian adventuress and spy, is in love with Julian. Dora's mother, the Marquise de Rio-Zarès, is impecunious, and has by no means a character above suspicion; and Zicka has no difficulty, after playing some treacherous trick, in diverting suspicion to the Marquise and her daughter. Count Orloff, a young Russian, is a friend of Dora's, and the Russian police want his portrait - and him. Before leaving for Russia, he comes to say good-bye to Dora, and leaves his photograph with her. Zicka steals it; and, urged on by an old diplomatist, Baron Stein, plans to purloin a certain tracing of important Constantinople fortifications which Julian has in his keeping, and to let Dora bear the blame of the theft. For the machinery by which this is arranged I must refer you to the play - which see.
'Now comes the conflagration of the fat in the theatrical fire. Orloff, who things Dora has betrayed him to the Russian police, by whom he has been captured and imprisoned, comes back from Russia, and denounces her and her mother to Julian, who by this time has marred Dora. The scene between Orloff and the brothers Beauclerc is very cleverly contrived to give the effect of impending catastrophe, and used to be famous under the title of the "three men scene." By some artfully-contrived circumstantial evidence, it is made almost impossible for Julian to believe in his wife's innocence, and Dora is in passionate distress.
'How is the Gordian knot to be cut - the dênouement effected? With Sardouesque simplicity. Zicka uses a peculiar scent. Beaulcerc detects it amongst the papers she has handled, and, once put on the track, "bluffs" and outwits Zicka so as to make her confess her guilt.
'Such is the story of Diplomacy; and, baring a few stilted phrases, and one or two elderly touches of technique, I believe that, if it were an entirely new play and were as well acted as it was at the Princes of Wales's in 1878, it would be a great London success. As it is, the story and characters are so old as to be almost new; and the acting at Wyndham's, if it lacks some of the qualities of the 1878 cast, has many excellences of its own.'
(The Playgoer and Society Illustrated, London, April 1913, pp.2 and 3)

Diplomacy, 1913

Orloff warns Julian against Dora, not knowing that she is Julian's wife.

Orloff: "Surely you have not forgotten those two women, the Marquise
and her daughter, Marquise de Rio-Zarès and the charming Dora."

A scene from Diplomacy, Wyndham's Theatre, London, 23 March 1913,
with Arthur Wontner as Count Orloff, Owen Nares as Julian Beauclerc and Gerald Du Maurier as Henry Beauclerc.

(photos: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1913)

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