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Review from The Times
Tuesday, March 30, 1869.
ROYAL GALLERY OF ILLUSTRATION
The entertainments provided last night at the Gallery of Illustration consisted of two new pieces, combined with the first appearance of Mr. Arthur Cecil, a gentleman who, under another name, has for some time enjoyed considerable celebrity as an amateur singer and actor. There was a crowded attendance, and we may say at once that both the new pieces and the new comer were very favourably received.
The first piece, entitled No Cards, from the facile pen of Mr. W. S. Gilbert, the well-known author of the Bab Ballads, and written throughout with admirable point and neatness, we may have occasion to refer on a future occasion. At present we can merely say that Mrs. Pennythorne (Mrs. German Reed), “a lady of unhappy matrimonial experiences,” has a niece, Miss Annabella Penrose (Mdlle. Rosa d’Erina), who is also a rich heiress; that Miss Annabella has two suitors – Mr. Ellis Dee (Mr. German Reed), a wealthy old bachelor, who only seeks her hand on account of the dowry that will accompany it, and Mr. Churchmouse (Mr. Arthur Cecil), a poor young bachelor, who loves her for herself; that these gentlemen intrigue, each after his fashion, to win the heiress; that Mrs. Pennythorne, smarting under her own conjugal grievances, determines that her niece shall wed the one most likely to make her happy; that, outwitting both by means of a stratagem of her own invention, this exemplary lady wins the game; and that she ultimately joins the hands of Miss Annabella and her poorer suitor, Mr. Churchmouse, a “Tag” announcing that the wedding will be solemnized but with “No Cards” – the slight peg upon which the title of the comedietta hangs.
The music (by Mr. German Reed) is of the lightest, but contains a pretty Irish ballad, “Thady O’Flinn,” having nothing to do with the plot, but nicely sung by Mdlle. Rosa d’Erina, who accompanies herself on the pianoforte. The piece was well acted, Mrs. German Reed being especially good as Mrs. Pennythorne, Mr. Reed more than usually careful as the old bachelor, and Mr. Arthur Cecil showing unmistakable ability, which even occasional nervousness could not conceal, as the young one. At the close the curtain was raised by general desire.
The important event of the evening, however, was the performance for the first time avowedly in public of the operatic farce of Cox and Box, or the Long lost Brothers (“a new Triumveretta in ten tableaux”), the joint production of Messrs. F. C. Burnand and Arthur S. Sullivan. It was a bold idea to use Mr. Maddison Morton’s “screaming farce” of Box and Cox as a vehicle for music, although the precise meaning of inverting the title is perhaps too subtle for the comprehension of any but professional humorists. However, as was said on the occasion of its one performance at the Adelphi Theatre, for the benefit of the family of the late Mr. C. H. Bennett (May 11, 1867), so racy and good a thing of its kind would be welcome under any circumstances.
Mr. Burnand was never happier than when manufacturing this burlesque out of a burlesque, nor in the means by which he carried out his design. The only way to make Box and Cox still funnier was to make certain portions of it lyrical. Nothing can be better than Box’s sentimental apostrophe to the rasher of bacon; or than the serenade, accompanied by Box on the gridiron and by Cox on his hat – as though one was playing the guitar, the other the concertina; or than Box’s narration of his amour (“Three years ago it was my fate to captivate a widow”), or than that of his pretended attempt to commit suicide: all these are conceived in a vein of mock earnestness which materially enhances their effect. It was, moreover, a good notion to substitute, for the original female housekeeper, a landlord, Mr. Bouncer, who, being a retired Volunteer, incessantly, and as Mr. Burnand has contrived it, at all sorts of irrelevant moments, breaks out into a spontaneous “Rataplan! Rataplan!” The whole, in short, is excellent of its class.
In Mr. Arthur Sullivan Mr. Burnand was lucky enough to find not only a ready and skilful musician, but one quite able to understand and enter into the humour of the burlesque. While a less ambitious effort than the Contrabandista, produced about six months later, Cox and Box is just as complete, just as carefully worked out. The music improves on more intimate acquaintance. It has the genuine comic ring, is full of sparkling melody, and, farcical as is the libretto to which it is allied, essentially dramatic.
The part of Cox (the hatter) was undertaken by Mr. German Reed, who invested it with all that peculiar humour for which he is noted; that of Sergeant Bouncer fell to Mr. F. Seymour, a gentleman who, if he had something like a voice, might shine more conspicuously; and that of Box (the printer) to Mr. Arthur Cecil, who, if we remember well, played Sergeant Bouncer at the amateur performance already referred to. The whole went off with the utmost spirit, and every piece was more or less applauded; but the marked success was for Mr. Arthur Cecil, who created a far greater impression in this than in the opening piece. He gave the serenade, “Hushed is the bacon,” with real vocal expression, and the narrative of the pretended suicide with admirable mock seriousness, displaying in this last a natural talent no less for acting than for singing. That Mr. Cecil had many friends in the house was clear; but their repeated applause seemed merely to have the healthy effect of stimulating him to increased exertion, and he improved as he progressed.
That the general performance of Cox and Box lost much by the substitution of a pianoforte and harmonium (behind the scenes) for the original orchestral accompaniments may be easily believed; but the artistic merits of the work could not be hidden, even under these circumstances, any more than its facile melody or its genuine comic vein. The curtain fell amid loud and general applause and a call for the performers.
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