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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 466

updated
Saturday, 19 August 2006

Comrades,
a new and original comedy in three acts by
Brandon Thomas and B.C. Stephenson,
with John Clayton, Charles Coghlan, Marion Terry and Carlotta Addison,
Court Theatre, London, 16 December 1882

Court Theatre programme cover, 1882

Court Theatre programme cover for
Brandon Thomas and B.C. Stephenson's comedy,
Comrades, produced on 16 December 1882

(printed and published by
Walter Dyer, 5 Northumberland Street, Strand, London, 1882)

'The advance in the character of stage entertainments which recent days have witnessed is accompanied by no commensurate progress in the drama, although some improvement in the nature of the pieces supplied is visible. While in the case of theatrical art we can point to actual and remarkable accomplishment, the most that can be said of the modern English drama is that its state is encouraging. No amount of clever adaptation justifies the claim to the possession of a drama. Of pieces of purely domestic growth, meanwhile, there are singularly few which show high dramatic quality. In behalf of the new play by Messrs. Brandon Thomas and B.C. Stephenson it may be urged that it supplies some striking situations, the full force of which is brought out by a signally competent interpretation. Its plot is, however, thin, the motive to heroic action being inadequate. So pitiful is the conduct of one of the principal characters, the sacrifice made in his behalf is sacredly sympathetic. A man who, to save the honour of his father, to secure the happiness of the woman he loves, or for any other adequate reason, allows the taint of bastardy to rest on his name, and forgoes everything that makes life tolerable, wins our heartiest admiration. Something more, however, than the cowardice of a father who, having contracted a second marriage, dares not tell is wife of the first, is requisite to justify such chivalry as is displayed by the hero of Comrades. While, moreover, the son loses by the disproportion between the forfeit and the claim upon him, the father who accepts the sacrifice becomes dishonoured. Looking upon his conduct in the most favourable light, he is guilty of a fraud upon a gallant youth who has been kept out of his rights and in ignorance that he possesses any. It is but just, however, to say that when this state of things is accepted much ingenuity is shown in the disposition of the play. A keen interest is stirred and the dangerous element of surprise is employed with admirable effect. In the present state of our drama Comrades must accordingly be accepted as a good play. Its prospects of enduring success are bright as they can be. A storm of approval attended the close, and no sign of weariness, discontent, or inattention was perceptible during its progress. This result is principally attributable to the acting. The entire performance had the ensemble the reconquest of which is the most satisfactory among the signs of a theatrical renaissance, and individual impersonations were excellent. In the portrayal of suppressed emotion Mr. [Charles] Coghlan has always been seen at his best. With increasing observation and experience he has obtained a method such as few Englishmen can boast. His capacity to present passion at once ardent and active cannot yet be judged. The slumbering heat of the furnace is indicated, its explosive power can scarcely be guessed. Mr. Coghlan's performance of Capt. Darleigh came near perfection. In the manner in which he manifested and then curbed his love, and in the solemnity, almost majestic, of his surrender to the wishes of his father, whom he spared all avowal of baseness, an effect as strong as ordinarily attends the display of fierce passion was obtained. All that can be urged against this fine presentation is that the costume worm in the first act was ineffective, and that Mr. Coghlan's accents in his quieter moods seemed at times wanting in cultivation.

John Clayton

John Clayton (1843-1888), English actor

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, late 1870s)

'Mr. John Clayton imparted distinct individuality to the difficult character of General Dexter, the father of the heroine, and showed finely the weakness of a man of action. In the scene between father and son which forms the chief strength of the drama. Mr. Clayton could not have been better. Though a little too loud in utterance, Mr. [William] Mackintosh played admirably as a retired sergeant, rendering the character equally natural and sympathetic. Miss Marion Terry played with considerable tenderness and pathos as the heroine, and shared with Mr. Coghlan the honours won in some trying situations. Miss Carlotta Addison created a strong effect as a weak and rather vapourish lady. Comic business of dubious merit was made the most of by Mr. Arthur Cecil and Miss Erskine; and Mr [Henry] Kemble and Mr. D.G. Boucicault left nothing to be desired in two subsidiary rôles.'
(The Athenæum, London, Saturday, 23 December 1882, p.857b/c)

Marion Terry

Marion Terry (1852-1930), English actress

(photo: The St. James's Photographic Co, London, 1882)

'COURT THEATRE.
'Comrades, a new and original comedy, by Messrs. Brandon Thomas and B.C. Stephenson, was produced last Saturday evening at this theatre, with very decided success. The whole tone of the play is thoroughly English and healthy, and the interest throughout well sustained. This, of course, is partly due to the splendid acting of Messrs. Coghlan, John Clayton, and W. Mackintosh, in whom the greatest interest centres. The plot is, briefly, this, - General Sir George Dexter, K.C.B. (Mr. John Clayton), has formed an early and secret attachment abroad, resulting in a marriage and a son, who only knows Sir George as his friend and benefactor. Years elapse, and we find the General with a second wife and son, both of whom are in ignorance that there was a former marriage, though why this was concealed there seems no sufficient reason to show. Both sons are in the army, and in the same regiment, and a great attachment exists between them. Arthur Dexter, the younger son (Mr. D.G. Boucicault), has brought Captain Darleigh, the elder son (Mr. Coghlan), to stay at his father's house, and the result is that suspicions are aroused as to his relationship to Sir George, and a most powerful scene takes place between father and son, which, for naturalness and intensity, we have rarely seen equalled. Mr. Coghlan's forcible yet quiet acting is admirable, as also is that of Mr. Clayton. The result of the interview, in Darleigh's mind, is that he is the illegitimate son of Sir George, and he therefore considers it his duty to tell Lady Constance Birklands (Miss Marion Terry) that their engagement, only just made and recognised, must terminate. A touching scene ensues between them, in which Miss Terry pleads with much tenderness for an explanation, which Darleigh finds it impossible to give. The two brothers are ordered off to active service, but previous to their departure Darleigh learns from an old servant of Sir George (Tom Stirrup, who took charge of him when his mother died), that she really was married to Sir George. Tom is disconsolate at having betrayed his master's confidence, and makes Darleigh promise not to reveal what he has said. In the third act, Miss Addison's opportunity comes. She plays the part of Lady Dexter, who is supposed to be a childish, but very loving woman, quite governed by her elder sister, Miss Grant (Miss Erskine). She, however, asserts herself as mistress of her house and the situation, and, having learnt the truth from Sir George's own lips, during an attack of brain fever, she sends for Darleigh, and, in gratitude for his having saved her Arthur's life on the battle-field, publicly announces that he is her husband's eldest son and heir. Constance and Darleigh are soon reconciled, and Arthur, who himself wished to marry Constance, but finding that she loves his brother, gracefully relinquishes his claim to her hand, and the curtain falls amid general satisfaction.
'Mr. Arthur Cecil, as the Hon. Penley Chivers, makes the most of a not very important part by his clever delineation of an absent-minded young man, who loses his chances of marrying the wealthy Miss Grant by accidentally shooting her pet dog. From first to last the impersonation of Tom Stirrup by Mr. Mackintosh is good, and he causes much amusement by his Irish brogue, and his dislike to feminine interference. Mater Phillips plays the part of a rustic boy with decided ability. "Mirtley Covert" is an excellent scene, both as to painting and setting.
'Praise and thanks are due to Mr. Carl Ambruster for the superior musical programme he invariably arranges at this theatre.'
(The Entr'acte, London, Saturday, 23 December 1882, p.11a)

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