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(The Daily Mail [London, UK] - 24th January, 1898)
ANXIOUS DAYS AT HER MAJESTY'S
How "Julius Caesar" was Produced
Julius Caesar / Mr. Tadema explains his view
It is at Her Majesty's Theatre. The scene is the vast stage and its purlieus, the time, the hour for rehearsal; the action, the murder of Julius Caesar. The avenues and corridors are crowded with all sorts and conditions of men and women. There are leading actors and actresses, supers, dancers, musicians, engineers, scene-shifters, carpenters, limelight men, tailors, and inumerable others, all waiting their call.
For as yet the chaos on the stage itself is even worse. It resembles nothing so much as a place gutted by a fire, or an abode looted by a mob, with it's bare scaffolding and half finished scenes threateniing to tumble at any minute. With such a birthplace it seems imposible that anything approaching shape or form, much less a beautiful or impressive spectacle, could ever be encouraged into existence.
But the call is given, and immediately the stage becomes a scene of bustling life. There is a shrill whistle from the assistant manager, accompanied by a final scream from the band - for the band is rehearsing too - and Mr. Tree is on the stage. With him are Mr. Alma Tadema and Mr. Louis Calvert, second in command, and Mrs. Tree, the spirited aide-de-campe and adviser.
The rehearsal commences, and soon the players are plunged into a sea of what to the outsider look very much like trivialities, but which in reality are of the utmost importance if complete success is to be achieved. For instance, the imposing scene in the Senate, culminating in the assassination of Julius Ceasar, is soon reached. But it is not the real Rome, not the real Senate. The aim is to re-produce Rome as it lived at that epoch. The very pulse of the senators, the conspirators, the Romans, must be felt beating; it must be felt by the audience. Deep is the dive into the annals of history, painstaking the research into the minutest details.
The toga of Mr. Tree sits well. His drapery falls gracefully. But is it really draped in the manner Antony wore it? Again and again the garment is adjusted. Now the draping seems correct. Mr. Tree has studied the subject, Mr. Alma Tadema knows it, and both are at length satisfied. And so, on to the conspirators.
They are bending, prostrating themselves, before Ceasar enthroned. The ensemble produced leaves apparently nothing to be desired. The eye of the spectator may actually feed on the splendid picture of gorgeous robes, flowing togas, and glittering swords. But "festina lento"; not the eye of the actor-manager. "Where are the swords of Metellus and Decius and Trebonius? Their swords do not show?" he is heard shouting.
Mr. Tadema adjusts Caesar's toga / Mr. Tree rehearsing from the stalls
Up the conspirators rise. Three only have been mentioned; all feel there is something not quite as it ought to be. They adjust their garments; then they go down once more. The swords show this time - to greater advantage. Their position is obviously more natural.
The scene unfolds. Metellus brings forth his plaint. Casca supports it. Only to be rejected by Ceasar. The action is lively. Emotion runs high. Obviously the actors can feel the parts they are playing. At length Casca strikes the blow. The conspirators follow his example. It is a beautiful melee of hatred and passion, and it seems a thousand pities to disturb the scene so rapidly nearing its climax.
But "Stop! stop!" is heard above the tumult. Mr. Tree does not quite approve of the assassination, and forthwith he gives his weighty reasons. The melee is too much crowded. The senators who are not conspirators are too much or too little terror-struck by the sudden tragedy.
Then Caesar glides from his throne, whereas he should stumble. Brutus, too, is too far off for Caesar to naturally rise from his half fall and receive from his bosom friend the death stroke. A man with twenty deadly gashes in his body does not usually walk a dozen and more steps.
"Back to your former positions," therefore. And back the conspirators go, and once more they enact the assassination scene, this time with more artistic restraint and with more telling effect. And so the rehearsal proceeds, one stumbling block after another being met, grappled with, and eventually overcome.
It has been seen what it means to drape one toga; thero aro sixty-two in the piece. The difficulty of arranging the swords has been explained; and hundreds are worn. Then there are 400 dresses, which, being Roman, naturally require a good deal of adjusting before a satisfactory "hang" is reached.
And apart from all this, the conditions are not the very best for rehearsing, for while the play proceeds carpenters, scene-shifters, and property men are everywhere, to the right, to the left, up aloft, and down below, creating an awful din, while in the depths of the orchestra fiddlers and drummers venture upon the practice of a few bars of "storm" music. Yet above the din there occasionally rises the prompter's shrill tones, reminding a player of a few lines that have slipped his memory.
It was such efforts, maintained from eleven o'clock one morning till two the next, day after day, that gave us "Julius Caesar" on Saturday night.
(The Westminster Budget [UK weekly] - 28th January, 1898)
"JULIUS CAESAR" AT HER MAJESTY'S
The manager who has the holiness to produce a work by Shakespeare finds himself in a very difficult position. He is between those who look upon Shakespeare's plays, merely as opportunities for splendid scenic display and star-acting and are willing to have the pieces mangled to any extent, and those who have a reverence for one great dramatist that causes them to demand that even the weakest of his plays shall be treated with a punctilious awe which is not shown to the greatest effort of any other playwright. Some will abuse him for cutting too much, and others for not cutting enough. In respect of "JuliusCaesar" - which so far as reading is concerned is of prodigious popularity, yet, although frequently produced, apparently has never enjoyed great favour on the stage - the manager's difficulty is immense.
Cassius (Mr. Frank McLeay) and Brutus (Mr. Lewis Waller)
Simple regard for the taste of the ordinary playgoer would induce him to end it with Antony's speech, possibly by causing the excited citizens there and then to massacre the conspirators en bloc. Such drastic treatment, of course, would never do. A manager might plead that Brutus and Cassius, as well as Antony, are only interesting in relation to Caesar so far as the stage is concerned, and not to one another; that the battle scene is the most difficult in the whole range of all impossible battle scenes; and that the absence of Caesar, Portia, and Calpurnia reduces the human interest of the last two acts to an unreasonable extent. The world nowadays will not accept such excuses. Consequently, Mr. Tree, in departing from the supposititious traditions of the actor-manager, and producing the starless play, has found himself in a dilemma, and has sought safety by compromise.
Is the compromise well founded? I think so, though I speak without great confidence, for it is difficult to feel sure of anything concerning a performance which lasted four hours, and must be reduced by forty minutes or so. Possibly the last scene of all will go well when the actors are not alarmed by the obvious impatience of a rapidly-diminishing audience. l am asked to announce that in future the piece will begin a quarter of an hour earlier, and be acted so much faster as to bring itself within reasonable limits.
Everybody knows that Mr. Tree has divided the piece, commonly deemed to have five acts, into three. The first ends with the death of Caesar, and is a very long, yet powerful, swiftly-moving tragedy. The second is merely the oration of Brutus and the magnificent speech of Antony; it is quite a whirlwind act, and must catch and carry away even the most sluggish of playgoers. The third act is in two scenes, and gives the vital parts of the fourth and fifth acts of the ordinary version. The first scene, the quarrel and reconciliation of Brutus and Cassius and the dream of Brutus, is impressive, though certainly it comes as an anti-climax; the second, I fear, falls flat. The opening passage, which consists of what one may call a "slanging match" between the leaders of the two armies, has an unfortunately comic effect, and leads up poorly to the death of Cassius and the "noblest Roman of them all.'' Yet even this tame and ineffectual ending cannot destroy the impression caused by a drama so great in many of its qualities. One may forget the superb mounting, forget consciously to think of the admirable acting, and yet be deeply stirred by the marvellous picture of great human beings in strenuous times. Perhaps the "great" is not wholly true; one is disposed to think easily that a Brutus or a Caesar, to say nothing of a Cassius, is not likely to favour this world again. Yet probably Nature is not so inexhaustible in her moulds but that she has repeated them and will again.
When Mr. Beerbohm Tree secured the services of Mr. Alma Tadema for "Hypatia" the result was not altogether satisfactory, yet he was wise to apply to him again, for his treatment of Rome and the Romans gives us one of the most interesting and delightful collections of stage pictures that I at least can remember. Classic plays, as a rule, in their mounting seem to suggest that no human beings have ever lived in the interiors or moved and breathed in the streets, and that the only population has been the lifeless puppets of the stage. In "Julius Caesar" we get some glimpses of what Rome must have been when the Republic had sunk into kind of luxurious plutocracy, when the old virtues had become regarded as antique vices. We see real creatures in the streets embellished by buildings superb in the architecture that Rome founded upon Greece and Etruria; there is a sense of warmth, gaiety, and boisterous life. The crowd seems to belong to the city, and the picturesque effects are enhanced by the varying colour schemes that come from the costumes of the proud Romans.
The scenic skill - in which alone, alas! our stage is pre-eminent - is finely shown in the striking pictures of the buildings that look solid yet crumble away during a few moments of darkness, to be replaced when the light comes again by others that simulate stone astoundingly. I am told that the crowd, so important in this play, is not so brilliantly handled as by the Drury Lane troupe of Germans in 1881, and not so lifelike as the crowd in the Corbett play, gathered haphazard in the purlieus of Drury Lane, which deceived one of the critics into the belief that it had long been trained for its work. It must be remembered, however, that the Meiningen Company did not give us a real first night, and to compare the "supers" of a first night of Her Majesty's with those who had played the piece often would be most unjust.
By the bye, I notice in the history of the piece that upon several occasions the parts of the citizens were presented by actors of standing. It is only fair to say that the crowd is very cleverly managed, and that during Antony's speech it was capitally individualised and exceedingly effective.
Mr. Tree has not chosen for himself either of the parts generally deemed the most effective, but the treatment of the oration scene as one act makes the Antony appear more important than otherwise would be the case. In the scene after Caesar's death, when Antony is admitted to the body, Mr. Tree was perhaps a little excessive in his expression of emotion, yet one notes how striking was his look of horror and passion when Cassius hastily stepped over the body - a very clever stroke of business. Certainly, in this act, his dignity, touch of pathos, and suggestion of suppressed anger were very ably presented. In the oration scene, though his voice clearly was out of order, he played superbly, if unevenly. It was easy to see that, delivered by such an orator, the great speech moved the people tremendously. Every permissible device of the demagogue; was adroitly adopted by him - so adroitly as to leave one wondering how far Antony was urged by feelings of revenge or selfish statesmanship. Mr. Tree is to be congratulated upon a really brilliant piece of acting, as well as a most noteworthy production.
Mr. Lewis Waller, the Brutus, was not altogether at his best, for he did not seem to convey the idea of the philosopher and thought-lover so much as of a naturally taciturn, hard man, lofty in idea and conduct, but not tender. Even in the beautiful scene with Portia he seemed somewhat cold. He was dignified and powerful throughout, and I must admit that in the tent scene he warmed up and gave some passages of beauty. The Cassius of Mr. McLeay was a surprise to those who admired his Nero and were somewhat disappointed by his Iago. As Cassius he seemed to have caught the colour of the play more completely than any of the others, and to be more distinctly individual. No doubt he is open to some charge of exaggeration, particularly in the tent scene, which yet he played admirably. To an actor of such great promise one may make the suggestion that he has a trick of beginning words with a kind of sibillant explosion which should be avoided. The audience was quite enthusiastic about his work, and he quite deserved the enthusiasm.
Caesar (Mr. Charles Fulton) / Marcus Antonius (Mr. Tree)
It is commonly admitted by students of Shakespeare that the character of Julius Caesar is well-nigh impossible for the actor, who has to suggest a character of extraordinary greatness with little assistance from the poet, for, as we know, the Caesar of the play, does nothing, and what he says is classified even by Hazlitt as "vapouring and rather pedantic speeches.'' Indeed, the piece shows no clear idea of Shakespeare's concept of the character, and Mr. Charles Fulton is not to be blamed, because he made no great effect in it; his appearance was very striking and his elocution exceedingly good. One of the most effective pieces of work was the cleverly presented Casca of Mr. Louis Calvert. The Portia of Miss Evelyn Millard was so excellent in style and full of charm as to make one regret there is but little of the part - much the same may be said of Miss Lily Hanbury as Calpurnia. Undoubtedly some valuable work was done by other members of the numerous company; it is, however, very difficult to remember clearly the individuality of the players in the minor parts.
It would be unfair not to mention that Mr. Joseph Marker and Mr. Walter Hann are the two artists who, under the supervision of Mr. Alma Tadema, have painted and contrived the superb series of pictures of ancient Rome. The circumstances of a first night make it difficult to form an opinion of the music written by Mr. Raymond Roze for the new production; so far as I could judge, it is clever and decidedly characteristic.
Mrs. Tree sang Sullivan's setting of "Orpheus with his Lute" very prettily; in other respects the part of Lucius gave her absolutely no opportunity. Although the piece began a little late and ended very late, and there was one very serious unintentional pause, the audience was so moved by the quality of the production as to remain, on the whole, enthusiastic to the end. The reception of the scenes, of course, varied; all enjoyed some favour, and at a quarter past twelve on Sunday morning the hearty cheers of the house compelled Mr. Tree to make a speech.
E. F. S.
THE DRESSES AT JULIUS CAESAR - (FROM A CORRESPONDENT.)
A play of the classic period does not allow for the variety in dresses which to the truly feminine is so attractive a feature in modern drama. But few, surely, could lament this variety as they watched "Julius Caesar" at Her Majesty's on Saturday night. The whole of the dresses and scenes have been arranged under the direction of Mr. Alma Tadema, and are full worthy of that artist, though if we wished to be critical we should say the robes of the actors lose a little in grace by being draped up in too much of a mass instead of being left to hang in flowing lines.
The play opens in a public place around Pompey's statue, where, beneath the vivid blue Italian sky, are grouped the excited multitudes, awaiting the return of Caesar from the game. The whole scene is a beautiful picture, the subdued colouring of the garments worn by the mob making a background that throws into high relief the white tunics and togas of the senators, with their broad crimson stripe of office. Caesar (Mr. Charles Fulton) is arrayed in the Imperial purple. Marcus Antonius (Mr. Tree) wears a goatskin over his short white tunic. Portia (Miss Evelyn Millard) is in soft white, which becomes her well, her hair arranged in classic fashion, with a narrow white fillet. Calpurnia (Miss Lily Hanbury) is robed in a brilliant green palla over a long yellow tunic; while Mrs. Tree makes a charming page in short white garments, her hair waving in curls round her head.
In Scene III. we are transported to a room in Caesar's house, which is magnificent in the colouring of its painted walls, which need no hangings to relieve them. Here we have the scene between Caesar and Calpurnia, the latter arrayed in most artistic robes of pale green silk, with a darker blue brocade for the palla, the loose hanging sleeves being lined with yellow. Passing over the scenes in "A Public Street" and in "The Senate House," for description of which we have no space, we come to the grand second act in the Forum. Marcus Antonius stands in the rostrum in his white robes. Behind him is the temple of Concordia, and on his right, veiled in soft haze, is that of Jupiter, while the pillars of the temple of Saturn are visible on our left.
Very picturesque is the opening of Act III. Here is Brutus's tent of blue cloth, striped with crimson. This is the grand scene of the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius. Through an open door we have a glimpse of the peaceful valleys lying "beyond. Night comes on; Brutus is left to his sorrowful thoughts. Lucius half sits, half lies on a rug singing to his lyre, while opposite lie two soldiers asleep on the floor. In the last scene of all, we are on the plains of Philippi. Huge rocks stand on either side of the road. These are crowded with soldiers of either faction. Mr. Tree, in all the gorgeous array of a general, with scarlet toga above his steel lorica, a steel helmet with white plume, looks every inch a Roman. Lucius, with a crimson cloak over his white robes attends Brutus to the last; and the curtain goes down on a brilliant though melancholy picture, Antony, gazing with sorrowful eyes on the dead Brutus, whilst behind stand rows upon rows of soldiers in glistening armour over their yellow or blue tunics, with spears lowered in token of respect to the dead.