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First Night Review from The Times
Monday, March 29, 1875

Trial by Jury, the joint production of Messrs. W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, is a pleasant addition to the bill of fare at Madame Selina Dolaro’s pretty theatre in Soho. Its success on Thursday night, when Mr. Sullivan himself directed the orchestra, and both he and his colleague were summoned at the descent of the curtain, was thoroughly genuine. None could feel surprise at such a result. Trial by Jury has the qualities necessary to win acceptance for what professes to be no more than a humorous bagatelle. Its first and not least valuable recommendation is brevity – the whole occupying less than an hour in performance; and this, coupled with the popularity attaching to the names of the authors, is likely to keep a large majority of the audience to the end, although two pieces, one of them La Périchole, with Madame Dolaro as the heroine, precede it in the order of the entertainment.

Many, doubtless, were curious to know what kind of impression a brief extravaganza, the united effort of two Englishmen, would create immediately after one of the productions, so much in vogue, of M. Offenbach and his literary coadjutors. To judge by the unceasing and almost boisterous hilarity which formed a sort of running commentary on the part of the audience, Trial by Jury suffered nothing whatever from so dangerous a juxtaposition. On the contrary, it may fairly be said to have borne away the palm. Two more expert practitioners than Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan could hardly, it is true, have been invited to combine in the manufacture of so odd a piece of work – the designation of which, by the way, as “a novel and original dramatic cantata,” is as strange as anything else belonging to it. About the ingenuity with which Mr. Gilbert can turn to excellent purpose whatever may suggest itself to his quaintly individual fancy those who have perused the Bab Ballads need not be reminded. On the other hand, Cox and Box and the Contrabandista, in the concoction of which Mr. Sullivan was associated with Mr. Burnand, proved his ability to cope with the most admired French composers of burlesque, while, at the same time, better provided in a strictly musical sense than any of them.

A description of Mr. Gilbert’s piece would answer little purpose, inasmuch as it defies analysis. It is a harmless “skit” upon the adjudiacture of a case for “breach of promise,” in the course of which the twelve members of the Jury and the enlightened Judge himself become so fascinated with the personal attractions of the Plaintiff Angelina that all chance for the Defendant is gone at the very instant the fair deceived one makes her appearance. The upshot is that, at a crisis when the jury are unable to come to an understanding, the Judge, impatient, suddenly descending from the bench, to cut the matter short, embraces Plaintiff (Angelina nothing loth) and declares he will marry her himself.

The music of Mr. Sullivan, without reference to purely artistic merits which can hardly fail to strike connoisseurs, is precisely what, under the circumstances, it should be. Composed of slighter material than that of Cox and Box, and more particularly of the Contrabandista, it is, in its way, just as good and just as effective as either. No situation has been overlooked in which the music can be made comically subservient to the dramatic purport of Mr. [Gilbert. Mr.] Sullivan, in fact, has accomplished his part in the extravaganza so happily that – to ascend some steps higher towards the Empyrean – it seems, as in the great Wagnerian operas, as though poem and music had proceeded simultaneously from one and the same brain. There is genuine humour – as, for instance, in the unison chorus of the jury-men, and the clever parody on one of the most renowned finales of modern Italian opera; and there is also melody, both fluent and catching, here and there, moreover, set off by little touches in the orchestral accompaniments which reveal the experienced hand.

The performance of Trial by Jury, if exhibiting occasional shortcomings which closer familiarity may help to set right, is generally good. The orchestra, though numerically limited, is for the most part efficient; while the chief characters on the stage are carefully represented. Miss Nelly Bromley is a Plaintiff engaging enough to account for the predilection of Judge and Jury in her favour; Mr. F. Sullivan’s impersonation of the learned and impressionable Judge deserves a special word of praise for its quiet and natural humour; Messrs. W. Fisher, Hollingsworth, and Pepper doing their best as Defendant, Plaintiff’s Counsellor, and Usher of the Jury. It should be added that the various costumes are exact, without caricature, and that – the appearance of the Plaintiff with a troop of bridesmaids, in bridesmaids’ attire, excepted – everything is precisely what might be witnessed on such an occasion in the court at Westminster.

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