Marie George (1877-1975)
"THE WHITE CAT"
A Pantomime by Artheur Collins.
Produced at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Reviewed in "The Echo" - 27th December, 1904.
A Gorgeous Pantomime
HARRY RANDALL IN GREAT FORM
An old story with new faces. Such is this year's Drury Lane pantomime. Deprived of its two principal 'stars,' the question of providing the usual feast of fun and frolic was no easy one, as Mr. Arthur Collins is able to vouch for, and he must be congratulated upon the measure of success he has achieved. A pantomime without rollickng fun is like a plum pudding without plums, too stodgy, and we simply can't stand stodginess. "The White Cat" is, however, far removed from such a complaint, though the new men have scarcely got together yet. Perhaps the great test of a pantomime is, Does it make you laugh? Certainly I have laughed more, but there was more than enough laughter to justify the producion of the story.
Now, if the story was unfamiliar, it was quite worth doing. Here is a story at least 220 years of age, and one that has not been done at the Lane for at least 25 years. King Ivory of Oddland is not very popular with his subjects, and he is given several useful hints that abdication would be acceptable.
Who Shall Be King?
Following these comes a triangular debate between Aristo, Delicia, and Populo as to who shall be King. Be it said that the chief ground of complaint against King Ivory is his extravagance, one phase of which being his craze for the collection of curios, and things reached a climax when he introduced a wonderful specimen of the Simian race, upon whom he was experimenting with some patent food. Now, this King had three sons, Prince Peerless, Prince Patter, and Prince Plump. The first was beautiful, the second was the choice of the people, whilst the latter was supported by the nobility. The King really wanted to discard the idea of an hereditary monarchy and elect his protege Simeon right off, but the people were not agreed as to the extent of human development necessary to carry out the duties and dignities of a State, so the King, on reflection, decided that his three sons should search for a golden net, large enough to embrace the whole world, but so small as to be drawn through a wedding ring, and he who found it should be the next King.
Whilst all the preparations for a prolonged tour are undertaken, the imagination is captured by the story of a fairy Princess some 18 years of age, who at her birth had been foolishly bartered away by her queen-mother to the fairies. She was as beautiful as the dawn, but she was afflicted with the feminine disease of curiosity. Constantly did she inquire of her guardian, Fairy Asbestos, why she was not allowed to do as the other young ladies of this nameless land. Bet Hecate, the Queen of Darkness, who appears to have some claim upon the lovely Aurora, desires, yea commands, that she marry her repulsive, dwarfish son Migonnet.
Fairy Asbestos interposes, but her magic being scarcely up to par, and her incantations devoid of power owing to having been kept in a damp place, the helplessness of her spell is patent. Just at the crucial moment Cupid arrives and shoots one of his arrows into the heart of Aurora, thus intimating the power of love, and also exhibiting her superiority to the powers of Darkness. Enraged beyond control, Hecate gives the Princess a year and a day to recover from her love sickness, and that if she at the end of that period still refused to accept Migonnet, she would change her into a White Cat.
Cupid Casts His Spell
Cupid, aided by this respite, now seeks a husband for Princess Aurora, and fortunately arrives in the Market of Ollapod just as the rival Princes turn up in search of the golden net. Cupid soon casts his spell over Prince Peerless, and, whilst his two brothers were drinking love potions at an American bar, Cupid informs the Prince that Aurora was in love with him, and that love was really the golden net which embraced the world and could be drawn through a wedding ring.
This seemed an easy solution to Peerless, but how could he find Aurora? Aided by Cupid, Peerless penetrated the Fairy Orchard, and with a golden key set the Princess free. Having seen, Peerless soon loved, whilst it was clear the Princess was satisfied with the affection advanced by the Prince. Meanwhile, both Patter and Plump, of the Royal household, are enamoured of Fairy Asbestos, but on trying to follow her home are defeated by that strange device fairies so often adopt of disappearing through a chink. Their adventures were highly diverting. Finally King Ivory, his three sons, and the Missing Kink all arrive at Phantasia, where the competition for Kingship is again entered upon, and the King finally decides that the son able to secure the most beautiful woman in the world should also secure the throne. Here, of course, Peerless looked like scoring easily, but at the moment Aurora could not be found; in fact, she was a prisoner again. After many days journey, Peerless, Patter, and Plump, which sounds rather like the name of a Cify firm, accompanied by Patter's clever donkey, without which he never went anywhere, arrived at an inn on the shore of the sea where Peerless was convinced the Desert Isle, in which his love was imprisoned, was situated.
Evidently the hostelry was something more than an inn, for it turned out to be managed by the Fairy Asbestos, who having come to grief as a palmist and globe-gazer at the West End of Phantasia, had started as an inn-keeker, doing a little bit of fortune-telling in tho back parlour. Fortunately Asbestos is able to divine the spot where Aurora might be found. There she was on her island home, surrounded by Hecate and her minions. Still refusing to marry the ugly Mignone, Hecate turns Aurora into a White Cat. Cupid now arrives to comfort, and finally the joy of success and love crowns the efforts of both Peerless and Aurora. So much for the story.
Colour in Excelsis
Lovers of the purely spectacular can find no fault with Mr. Arthur Collins this year, for in beauty of tinting, in excellence of grouping, and in charm of design he has left nothing to be desired! Particularly is this true of "The Triumph of Hymen," which comes at the close of Act II. Here the dresses are simply indescribably gorgeous, and they represent love's conquests and susceptibilty in all countries and amongst all peoples. It is a triumph of the costumiers art. Colour in excelcis. Every gradational tint is present, and present with such delightful emphasis that even the inartistic mind must be attracted by the moving force of the entire colour scheme. It is an appeal climax this scene.
As national costume appears a strain from some national air locates it for you, whilst at the same moment your ear catches the sound of water cascading at will. In effect and harmony this scene is simply impressively grand. As to the wit and humour of the "panto," many of the gags are reminiscent; this is also true of the music, but it is none-the-less tuneful or effective. True, there are a few witty remarks interspersed, and one of the best is made by the King quite early in the "panto," who, in replying to Populo's question as to who would prevent over-crowding at the theatres if the Council were dissolved, said: "Oh, the author of the piece generally does that."
The second part is by far the happiest, for the scene in Ollapod Market in the first part is deadly uninteresting, and far too long. In Scene 7, however, things materially brighten up, and in Asbestos Home some really funny byplay takes place. Prince Patter's shadow-graph and the comic juggler with his skit on the muscle-producing craze of the age are abnormally funny. In this act Fairy Asbestos is also funny. She goes in for crystal gazing. Let me reproduce a sample:
Fairy: I wish you wouldn't interrupt! You've broken my dream! Now I must begin all over again - I see - I see - a little cloud - it is like a poached egg - and it grows and grows and grows - the yoke is yellow - and it swells and swells - until it bursts - and there pour out of it flocks of wild lobsters and jugged hares.
Peerless (aside): I wonder if the old lady had all that for supper last night?
Fairy: They darken the very air - and their shrieks are deafening - until - suddenly - there is a great silence and the scene changes to a garden full of beautiful flowers, and then the cats come from everywhere - cats! cats! cats! and they dig up the flowers and are happy - and they sing - oh! how they sing - then there is a crash of hundreds of windows opening, and again the air darkens with language and the cats disappear, all but one beautiful white cat - and you - you wreathe her with orange blossom - and - that's all!
The acting honours must go to Miss Marie George and Mr. Harry Randall. If the play goes at all well it will depend almost entirely upon these two clever performers. Mr. Randall is genuinely funny and a treat to watch; he is clever without being coarse, and humorous without leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. Miss Marie George is a perfect gem. Come one, come all them, and feast eyes and ears, for Drury Lane and Mr. Collins have provided a goodly repast for you.
W. F. B.