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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Cups and Saucers
Written and composed by GEORGE GROSSMITH
(taken from La Ceramique)


From The Times, Thursday, August 15, 1878.

THE THEATRES
(excerpt)

The performance of the clever nautical opera H.M.S. Pinafore; or, the Lass that Loved a Sailor, at the Opera Comique, is now preceded by a satirical musical sketch written by Mr. George Grossmith, and followed by a drawing room entertainment in which the same versatile comedian, by his own unaided efforts, keeps the audience amused for 20 minutes.

Mr. Grossmith’s lever de rideau is called Cups and Saucers. It contains as cynical a treatment of the china-mania as could well be imagined. Mrs. Nankeen Worcester, a gushing widow, played by Miss Emily Cross, loves General Deelah because she believes him to be the owner of a fine collection of old Chelsea. General Deelah is enamoured of an antique cup worth £10,000, which he imagines Mrs. Worcester to possess. When the cup is produced and is found by the mark to be a forgery, the General is ready to repent of his promise of marriage; and the lady is equally reluctant to be wedded on discovering that the General has no old china, but condescends to the vulgar occupation of making modern pottery for Japan, those islands being stripped bare of cups and saucers by the great demand for Oriental ware in Europe. However, the lady and gentleman, after an interval, ascertain that they still have some sparks of regard for each other, although before giving way to their affection they carefully inquire the particulars of each other’s fortune. The worldly position of each being satisfactory, the aspirations of each for Sèvres and Dresden are not permitted to stand in the way, and a quaint duet announces that, to use the appropriate metaphor, their union will be cemented.

The adieu scene, before this conclusion is reached, is the most entertaining. Mr. Richard Temple, as General Deelah, bids his love good-bye in lines successively borrowed from all the many romantic songs of which the motive or burden is “Farewell!” The effect is like that produced when a singer tries over, one after another, the specimens of ballads given in advertisement sheets, where two or three bars and half-a-dozen words are quoted from each. The complete difference in style between Mr. Grossmith’s dry humour and the half-poetical extravagance of Messrs. Sullivan and Gilbert’s travestie of life on board a man-of-war makes it possible for three comic performances to succeed each other without the least suspicion of monotony or sameness.

The drawing-room entertainment with which Mr. George Grossmith retains the greater part of the audience after the piece of the evening has finished is called the Five Hamlets, and depicts the confusion of mind into which a country gentleman was plunged who came to town and found Hamlet being played at five theatres. Even experienced playgoers might, we imagine, be astonished at such an occurrence. But Mr. Grossmith’s hero was led by ignorance, or constitutional indecision, to adopt the fatal course of attempting to see one act of each.

It happened that the first Hamlet was an opera at Covent-garden, the second a tragedy at the Lyceum; another was a tragedy by amateurs at St. George’s-hall; the fourth was a farce; and the fifth a burlesque at the Strand. Mr. Grossmith introduces us to each of these in turn. The fun which is made by imitating the Italian opera is poor; but Mr. Irving at the Lyceum is mimicked with much skill in dumb-show, and in the burlesque the well-known mannerisms of Mr. John Clarke (supposed to repeat Ophelia’s speeches in his deep bass tones) and of Mr. Toole are admirably reproduced. We may be sure the actor does not spare the amateurs at St. George’s-hall. They began the second act at 11.30 p.m., and intrusted the part of the Prince of Denmark to a gentleman who had long red whiskers, and would not shave for the part.

The comic song of “The Careful Man” concludes the entertainment. It is an excellent song, and deserves its popularity; but it has nothing whatever to do with the story of the Five Hamlets, and does not make an artistic finale.


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