|Sullivan > Major Works > The Foresters > Review from The Times
The verdict to be passed upon The Foresters, which was last night brought to the test of a stage representation at Daly’s Theatre, is that it is rather a pastoral poem than a play – a poem prettily set and nicely delivered – but lacking in the qualities distinctively belonging to the work of the born dramatist – namely, movement, clearness of characterization, and grip. As the literary merits of this, the last work of the late Lord Tennyson are already sufficiently known, there is no need to treat The Foresters from the poetic point of view, further than to say that its ballads and choruses, so daintily set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, would in all circumstances command attention and possibly insure the future of a much inferior play.
Dramatically, it is a less ambitious achievement than Becket. The author has written strongly, though perhaps unconsciously, under the influence of As You Like It – the parts of Maid Marian and Kate recalling at once Rosalind and Celia, and Robin Hood, Orlando – but he has been possessed by the purely pastoral elements of the scene, and has presented little more than silhouettes of his dramatis personæ. To what extent this is true will be gathered from the changes which Mr. Daly has effected in the original version of the play in fitting it to the stage, with the sanction of the late Laureate. In addition to such excisions and transpositions as are usually made by an intelligent manager in the work of an inexperienced dramatist, the dream scene with its vision of fairies is bodily transferred from Robin to Marian. It was pointed out that a vision of fairies was hardly likely to disturb the slumbers of the bold outlaw, and the poet, it would seem, admitted the validity of the objection. With a few verbal alterations the whole of Robin’s long soliloquy as slumber steals over him in the fairy glade is now spoken by his bride, in whose mouth it is undoubtedly more appropriate, and the spirit of the change is carried through the remarks of Titania and her elfin companions as they hover over the prostrate mortal.
That such a transference of dialogue from one character to another should be not only a possibility in the play but an improvement speaks volumes for the author’s inattention to the shaping of character, which is always the dramatist’s first consideration. Nor is this the only alteration of the kind. A love passage between Marian and Robin in the forest bower, where Marian repels an attempted caress in the following lines –
is now assigned to Kate and Little John, and it is also Kate, instead of Marian, who sings the delightful “buzzing” song, one of the gems of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s score –
Various other portions of the dialogue between Robin and Marian are treated as interchangeable. For instance, it is Marian who now delivers Robin’s speech:–
Here the change can hardly be said to assist the characterization. While it is well, no doubt, to relieve Robin of the depressing reflections of the text, their transference to Marian adds an unwelcome complexity to the heroine’s character. Curiously enough, after the passage above quoted, the continuation of the speech in a similar strain is taken up by its original owner.
Most of all is this feebleness of dramatic conception apparent in the character which ought to form the backbone to the play. The bold outlaw becomes i5 September, 2011 gentleman, much given to meditation and to an occasional lapse into melancholy after the manner of Hamlet, as when he muses upon
That he answers in any degree to the popular notion of the bold outlaw of Sherwood Forest cannot be said. In his dainty attire he would more readily be taken for a scented dandy of the Restoration, and, indeed, one of his most successful achievements is to “tread a measure” with Marian at his birthday feast.
A greater consistency marks the heroine’s character, as embodied by Miss Ada Rehan, though here the poet goes to the opposite extreme. Marian is cast in a stately and heroic mould, appropriate enough to the period, but destitute of the more tender and womanly qualities which could move the heart of an audience. The Amazon-like Marian has little of the feminine charm of Rosalind, though like her she seeks out her lover in the forest in a disguise of doublet and hose, or, to be exact, in the habit of a Knight of the Red Cross. One could wish that the exquisite womanliness which Miss Rehan knows so well how to display found a more congenial medium of expression.
Little John and Kate are a pair of lovers of a familiar low comedy stamp, and Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, and others of the merry band, like the sheriff of Nottingham and the villainous Prince John, owe what individuality they possess to the players. As an example of actor-made character, Mr. George Clarke’s Richard Cœur de Lion, although the merest sketch, is very fine.
The aspects of the play that might, did space permit, be dwelt upon with entire appreciation are the pictorial, due to the plastic hand of Mr. Daly, who has lavished upon The Foresters all the scenic resource available. Incongruous though it may be in the action, the fairy scene, in which the electric light is ingeniously employed to tip the wands of the elves, is the prettiest and likely to prove the most attractive in the play. The performance was followed last night with all becoming respect, .and as a spectacle and an acted poem is assured of a certain measure of popularity.
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