A Period Theatre Review presented by www.stagebeauty.net
STORY OF THE PLAY
ALL the scandals of Bath are hushed before the terrible disclosure. A barber among the "quality"! A barber gaming with peers - a barber seeking an introduction to a highly placed lady - the toast of the county! And among it all Monsieur Beaucaire, imperturbable and inscrutable, joins the gossips while the authorities are considering the fate of the intrepid hairdresser. To him Major Molyneux, freshly arrived from the Court of France, comes for information on an important but delicate matter.
The young Duke of Orleans having refused to marry a lady provided for him by the King, has been consigned to Vincennes by the irate monarch. But the Duke has not taken kindly to this method of wooing and escapes from his guard, and by the assistance of the Marquis de Mirepoix crosses to England in disguise - in fact as the Ambassador's hairdresser.
This news Major Molyneux imparts in strict confidence to Monsieur Beaucaire. His mission is to watch over the headstrong young prince when he finds him and to see that no harm comes to him. The English Ambassador, he tells Beaucaire, is filled with apprehension at the thought of any unfortunate mishap marring the good relations between the two Courts.
Will Monsieur Beaucaire help to find the Duke, for rightly or wrongly Major Molyneux is sure that the Frenchman knows more than he will tell. The Frenchman, on the other hand, assures Major Molyneux that he never meddles with dangerous secrets and with his information just where it was at the beginning of his interview the gallant young Major is fain to rest content.
The matter dismissed, Monsieur Beaucaire is at liberty to discuss more interesting topics and the newly arrived Beauty of Bath is the subject chosen by the impressionable young foreigner. Was there ever such beauty? Could the most fervid rhapsodies do justice to it? She had but to drop a rose, to offer smiling thanks for its return, and the impetuous young man is enslaved for ever. But in the meantime ominous clouds gather. As Lady Mary enters the pump room with my lord of Winterset, there enters also Beau Nash, in no mood for anything but the most serious business - nothing less, in fact, than the exposure and public expulsion of the masquerading barber. Very pompous is the King of Bath as he calls Captain Badger forward to identify the valet.
Captain Badger came over in the same ship as the Marquis de Mirepoix. The sailors had in idle talk pointed out to him the Ambassador's barber and that man he saw in Bath on his arrival, and found him spoken of as Monsieur Beaucaire, and received by the most exclusive as an equal! What wonder that a thrill of horror runs through that select throng as they learn the true station of their apparently cultured man of fashion. Monsieur Beaucaire is publicly and ignominiously expelled, and there is an end to the degradation of society.
But Molyneux has the missing part to add to his incomplete story, and knows now that the Duke of Orleans is in Bath. To an ordinary man such public scorn and derision would have constituted sufficient reason for a speedy withdrawal from Bath and its surroundings, but Monsieur Beaucaire's is a romantic and adventurous spirit, and moreover, he is chained by love, and very determined to justify the bondage. His wealth and his fairness in play, his recklessness as to stakes bring the gambling spirits of Bath secretly to his rooms. For Monsieur Beaucaire, under the ban of Beau Nash, must not be publicly acknowledged. And among these ever ready to improve his impaired fortunes comes his Grace the Duke of Winterset, a suitor for the hand of Lady Mary Carlisle, and a lover of her broad lands and great wealth.
It has been whispered that my Lord is not a safe opponent at cards, but Monsieur Beaucaire is not deterred by so insignificant a trifle. He has his game to play. Bath shall receive him, Lady Mary shall receive him, and the Duke shall stand sponsor for him among these great people. And so he plays with his Grace, and loses again and again, until with the excitement growing with the increased stakes he plucks a concealed card from the Duke's sleeve, and exposes him to his servants and to Molyneux as a cowardly card cheat. For tricksters are now and then tricked themselves, and with the assistance of the bullying Captain, Winterset seeks other means of ridding himself of his troublesome "confrere."
If he had deceived his friends as to the identity of Chateaurien could he not claim that he also had been deceived by a plausible story of an apparently distinguished foreigner? Winterset does not lightly risk his own person, but by skillfully working upon less cautious spirits he urges upon them the necessity of ridding society of this persistent valet who, having first outwitted them as Beaucaire had now had the intolerable insolence to come among them again as Chateaurien. With assumed humility he apologises for his own unsuspecting part in the disgraceful affair (or which he proposes to make amends by flogging Beaucaire in public and before Lady Mary Carlisle.
But it is not an easy task to flog this expert swordsman, and after an inglorious struggle in which Chateaurien is wounded, Winterset is driven to the more desperate expedient of disclosing the identity of Beaucaire in the nobleman from France. Lady Mary will not at first credit it. If the Duc will but deny she will believe him against all other evidence. Is he Beaucaire the man who was expelled? Did he indeed come with De Mirepoix as a barber? Beaucaire, wounded and faint with loss of blood, has only strength left for a weak affirmative before losing consciousness and as he falls into the arms of Molyneux and his servant Francois, Lady Mary turns proudly and disdainfully away.
Yet one more scene. The Marquis de Mirepoix is expected in Bath and Beaucaire presents himself again in the pump room courageously facing the indignities with which his rashness threatens him. For in the meantime be has learnt that in spite of all the assurances of the Duke of Winterset in spite of his own confirmation of the barber story, the proud beauty has recognised and acknowleged a peer in the mysterious man to whom she has given her love. For all that it would have gone hard with the Duc but for the timely entrance of the Marquis de Mirepoix and with the announcement of the high rank of his prince and the exposure of Winterset and his cowardly double betrayal the story ends.
DRESS AT THE PLAY
How does the phrase go? "Have you seen the play? What are the dresses like?" Alas, poor author! All his immense moments, his rolling periods, his burning phraseology, his passion, his despair, are ignored! The play may be the thing, but to such a fine art has stage millinery attained that the costumes cost far, far more than mere brain work, and represent to many the premier attraction when a visit to the theatre is mooted.
The eighteenth century was a halcyon age for men and women too, so far as dress was concerned. Every day in the week had its smart coat, its embroidered waistcoat, its lace ruffles, its brooches and buckles for the former, while the latter might not only wear costly brocades and satin petticoats as a matter-of-course, but might call in to beauty's aid every possible and artificial preparation; for to look pretty with powdered hair, cheeks must be rose pink, lips rose red, and ladies thought it no shame to powder and rouge, to mark out delicate eyebrows, accentuate the bow of the lip, and to set a black patch in the exact position that would call attention to eyes arch or languishing, a well-moulded chin or kissable mouth. Not only this, but it was permissible to wear the largest or the most coquettish hat at any angle which pleased the wearer most.
So many pretty women flit in and out of the Pump Room (Act I.), that it is rather difficult to note all their charming dresses; yet each one is, in itself, an accurate model of the fashions of the period. The first lady wears a bodice and sacque of lavender brocade, with lace fichu and ruffles, over a flowered petticoat. Her hat is of black velvet with black and white feathers. Her companion wears buff satin trimmed with band of galon, and her underskirt is of pale green brocade. With this costume the hat is black also.
Monsieur Beaucaire cuts a very fine figure in a wide-skirted coat of black and yellow brocade over a black satin waistcoat; cravated and ruffled with fine lace, his stockings are black, and his low-cut shoes have red heels, and when pretty Mistress Lucy Rellerton enters, the charm of the "picture " frock is realised at once. Hers is pearl-grey silk striped with white, simply made, and her fichu and elbow ruffles are of finest muslin from India. Her wide-brimmed straw hat is trimmed and tied with pale pink ribbon.
But Lady Mary Carlisle, the reigning " toast" in the good old city of Bath, draws all eyes when she appears. She wears a handsome gown of white brocade made with small bunched paniers and a Watteau pleat. This gown is lined with pale blue silk. The pointed bodice has a white satin stomacher laced with gold, and round the "square neck" is draped a muslin kerchief, the ends being tucked inside the bodice. On Lady Mary's dainty head rests a cap of fine lace, and over this she wears a large black hat with black and white feathers. Beau Nash, in his brilliant green suit, cannot pass unnoticed, but though crude in tone, the colour has its value among the paler hues. In Act II., as no ladies are seen, the chief sensation is Monsieur Beaucaire's Court coat of yellow watered damask brocade, over a waistcoat and knee-breeches of white flowered satin. The coat is goldbraided down each side of the front, each braid being fastened off with a tassel. Lace ruffles are not wanting to complete the effect, and Monsieur Beaucaire's stockings are yellow. The Duke of Winterset wears a handsome suit of wine-red silk.
In the Ball-room scene there are some beautiful gowns, but though they are of different material, in effect they are much alike. The prevailing mode, then as now, was the ruling style. The square-cut bodice, paniered skirt slightly trained, the always showing and generally handsomely trimmed petticoat being de rigueur, and lace ruffles and fichus always the expensive desiderata. In the bouquet dance, the rich sheen of the satins and brocades give a particular distinction to the scene, and when the couples stand aside to allow Beaucaire and the " old lady of ninety" to supper, the delicate hues serve as an admirable background to the old lady's flowered gown and her cavalier's Court suit already described. Lucy Rellerton has a charming ball dress of palest green silk flowered with tiny pink roses. This is worn over a pink silk petticoat veiled and flounced with cream net. Her fichu and ruffles are of net, and she wears a dainty little lace cap adorned with a pink bow. Lady Mary Carlisle's bodice and train are of white brocade, patterned over with small bouquets of pink roses.
Incomplete - the last page of this issue is missing from my copy.
Scenes from the Play