The PHANTOM Theatre.

By ROBERT REECE.
-o-

THE time having, in my opinion, at length arrived, when the most impressiverobert-reece
experience of my life should be revealed, I will endeavour to place it on record frankly and simply  unimpeded by digression, unembellished by comment; leaving the consideration of my narrative to the thoughtful readers of these pages, and (preliminarily) scorning the inevitable jests of the sceptical and frivolous.

My name is Sparkle de Witt.  I am a barrister and author of some standing; eking out the precarious subsistence derivable from my legal practice, by dramatic efforts, which have gained for me more reputation than pecuniary importance. My temperament is sanguine, and my imagination fervid; but I possess a logical brain, and am neither affected by sentiment, nor misled by credulity. These initiatory remarks being necessary to indicate that I am the last man in the world to be betrayed by simple hallucination, cannot fairly be regarded as episodical.

Some two years since (the precise date is of no importance to the reader), I was sitting in my writing-room, wearied with work,worried by stoimy and unsatisfactory rehearsals, and regretting, from the bottom of my soul, that Fate had selected me for the line of life I follow. The hour was late, the moderator lamp burnt feebly, and had twice resented my winding it up by angry grunts and choking snorts; the decanter of toast-and-water (I would call attention to the beverage I invariably indulge in of an evening) was empty. I was gloomy, sorrowful,and alone.

I had, in a desperate fit ofmoodiness, at last resolved to see if there were any more toast in the cupboard, whenthe roll of carriage-wheels swiftly approaching my house, distracted me for a moment. I ran to the window; to my surprise, thecarriage had stopped at my gate; and almost immediately afterwards a ring at the bellcompelled me to descend to the hall, and open the front door. I naturally concludedthat some mistake as to the address had
occurred, when a gentleman of undeniable manner, and irreproachably dressed in evening costume, presented himself with a graceful bow, and said, tentatively: —

“I have the distinguished privilege of speaking to Mr. Sparkle de Witt, the famous dramatist?”

What could I answer to this flattering inquiry? I was obliged to murmur “Yes.”

“I am profoundly concerned to havethus disturbed you at an inconvenient hour,”
pursued the stranger, “but I am the bearer of a note which could not possibly have been brought a minute sooner to you. It is from Mr. Maecenas Foster, Manager of the Utopian Theatre. He only arrived from Ayr by this night’s mail, and desired me to present it at once!”

I bowed at the name of “manager”; but my face, no doubt, betrayed my perplexity.

“The name of Mr. Maecenas Foster,” smiled the stranger, “is probably unknown to you; but your talents are held in his highest esteem, and he is desirous (as his note will doubtless explain) of enlisting those talents into his service, if wholly convenient and agreeable to yourself. I will ask you to be so obliging as to read his note.”

I hastily looked at the missive. The paper was like vellum; it emitted the odours of Arabia and Bond Street; its edges were golden, and dainty arabesques of deliciously-painted flowers embellished its margin. I dare not here repeat the charming phraseology of that epistle— its flattering appeal.

“I will be at Mr. Foster’s service,” I faltered, “at twelve o’clock to-morrow morning.”

“You are goodness itself,” replied the stranger. “I will convey the happy intelligence to Mr. Foster at once! Again accept my apologies for disturbing you! Good-night!”

“Will you not step in for a few —” I had begun, when the stranger, with a modest air, said:

“Mr. Foster would regard it as a liberty on my part, as, indeed, it would be! I — I am only his valet! Good-night, sir! Mr.Foster’s own brougham will be here at 11.45, to convey you to the theatre. Not a step, I pray!” and the stranger leapt into the pretty little coupe, and, in a moment, it and its flashing lamps were lost to sight.

I tottered upstairs. I re-wound the groaning moderator. I re-read that delightful note Mr, Foster had sent, and the roses of Sharon had scented. At last I had a chance! Somebody believed in me, after all. Fame, glory, wealth, would be no longer visions. I had out the toast and made some toast-and-water. I again read the letter.

“Strange! “said I to myself, “Very strange! I thought I knew the name of every manager in the United Kingdom — but Mr. Maecenas Foster? Evidently a wealthy and discriminative man. Dear me! Maecenas Foster! Now, who the devil is Maecenas Foster? ”

No sooner had I uttered these words,than the lamp expired suddenly, and I heard a gust of wind pass by the casement with a low roar, as from an evil spirit striving to enter and seize a soul within, but baffled by a praying saint. I shuddered; and hastily finding the matches, lighted a candle, and retired precipitately to bed.

Any record of my nocturnal sentiments would be digressive, I omit them altogether,

* * *  *

Punctually at a quarter to twelve (I had been up since seven a.m., sleeplessly anxious),the most perfectly appointed brougham I ever saw pulled up at my door. I instantly descended the steps and made for it; a dapper little tiger, in blue and silver livery,had the brougham door open in a “jiffey.”I entered; there was a speck of dust on my left boot; the tiger swept it off with a cambric handkerchief, and, touching his hat to me, closed the door.

In a moment we were off. If the exterior of the carriage were charming, what can be said of the appointments of its inner self? I am afraid of being episodical, and will not comment; but from the daily papers,printed on rich satin, to the self-lighting cigars (I never smoked such), all was luxuriously perfect. There was a review of Tomkins’s piece at the Olympic, which absorbed me for a few minutes, for it was the chronicle of a failure, and in those few minutes I lost the exact route we were following. Suddenly the brougham stopped at a palatial residence, adjoining the grandest theatre I ever looked upon. Odd to say I had no recollection of having seen either house or theatre before that moment; but, really, they build so quickly now-a-days, that the marvels of Aladdin’s palace cease to be regarded as anything more than a smartly carried out contract.

The tiger had the brougham door open in a moment. I descended, and was met on the threshold of the noble residence by —no! not by a powdered footman — by Mr. Maecenas Foster himself — self-introduced! I have had some extended experience of managers, and I cannot forget this incident.

“My dear sir!” purred Mr. Foster; “this is indeed good of you! To take all this trouble to oblige me. But, I trust, you will not have occasion to regret your condescension. Pray let me assist you! Cyril! Beaumont! Anstruther! Pray attend to Mr. De Witt.”

I was in a perfect whirl of confusion, as a cohort of silent, stealthy valets (amongst whom I recognized my strange visitor of the previous night, but obtained no recognition from him), relieved me of hat, stick, and gloves, and then disappeared, whilst Mr.Foster ushered me, with a thousand charming welcomes, into his “little sanctum.”

I have mixed in society at once aristocratic and artistic. I have enjoyed the hospitality of virtuosi, and am not unacquainted with the lavishly-appointed boudoirs of some of our most popular actresses; but all these experiences paled and faded, as I contemplated the tasteful glories of Mr. Foster’s “sanctum.”Everything that art, prompted by consummate refinement, and stimulated by boundless riches, could accomplish, was present in that fairy like apartment. I presume that bewilderment was strongly marked in my hasty glances from one article of vertu to another — from the marvellous parquetrie of the floor, to the chefs d’oeuvre of Meissonier, Greuze, Reynolds, and De Neuville, which adorned the walls, where priceless tapestry did not glow. No doubt I looked confused and abashed, for Mr. Foster,with a smile, said, pleasantly : —

“I see you approve of my little den. Itis my fancy to have my own chamber respectably appointed, and fit for the inspection ofany one who may, as in your case, honourme by a visit.”

I could only stammer out a few rapturous words.

“Before I trouble you,”proceeded Mr. Maecenas Foster, “with the dry details of business, I must offer you some slight refreshment,”and, ignoring my feeble opposition, the manager pressed a golden button in the wall, and a silvery bell was heard to tinkle below; almost simultaneously, a low strain of sweet music stole into the quiet room, and a small table of ivory and gold, embossed with jewels, rose like an exhalation from some under-floor. The table was laid with exquisite dainties, and was surmounted by the very Parnassus of epergnes, loaded with the choicest flowers.

I uttered a cry of delight.

“My chief machinist, and stage-engineer, is an ingenious fellow,” explained Mr. Foster,
with a laugh. “This is his device. It saves trouble, you see. He was — is still, for all I know — Professor at Leyden. Allow me!” and he busied himself in the vocation of host.

I never tasted such champagne.

“And now, most revered sir,” said Mr. Foster, “I will briefly explain why I have taken the liberty of asking you here. I want you — if entirely agreeable to yourself, of course — to honour me, and assist me, by writing a comedy for my theatre.”

I answered with becoming modesty, that I “would do my best.”

“That is all I should expect, my dear sir,”responded the manager. “Your best will always be good enough for me. Here is a list of my present company; but, pray, do not let that be an absolute guide. Cut out whom you please, engage whom you prefer.”

I glanced at the company; it comprehended every great name in the theatrical world.

“It will be no light task to fit such a distinguished company as this,” I faltered. “Why, Irving, alone, would…”

“My dear sir,” returned Mr. Foster, “you will experience none of the ordinary difficulties in my theatre. Mr. Irving is my salaried servant, he will do just as you think proper, from carrying on a salver in silence, to — well, any speaking part.”

“Speaking part?” I stammered out.

“The same rule applies to all connected with, and engaged at, my establishment,” replied Mr. Foster, coolly helping me again to the nectar from the gold-crested flagons.

“I permit no class distinctions, or stage rivalries here. When you have “cast” your play, you will find the ladies and gentlemen selected perfectly ready, and ever anxious to do all in their power towards the advancement of the part with which they are respectively entrusted.”

“This is all very wonderful,” I could not help remarking, as I stared at the formidable list. “When should you require the comedy?”

“I desire to consult your convenience entirely, Mr. De Witt,” courteously returned Mr. Foster.

“You have no immediate necessity for…? ”

“Not in the least,” laughed the manager. “It is purely a question of art with me. This evening, will, I think, chronicle the two thousandth night of my present comedy; and, of course, my people may begin to wish for a change in the bill; but I have always a second (not a second-class) company at hand. They are, at present, travelling in Switzerland, I fancy.”

I stared aghast. “Would this day month…?”

“Admirably!” responded Mr. Foster.

“Mrs. Kendal, Ellen Terry, Irving, Hare, and — let me see! — oh! yes! some of our little people, will be returning. I can promise you Toole, Neville, James, Thorne, and Righton; and I’ve got Byron for certain!”

I gasped. I — I!  had to write a comedy — and make jokes for H. J. Byron to speak!”

“And now to come to the more practical matter,” recommenced Mr. Maecenas Foster, cheerfully — “the terms!”

I tried to smile, but I meant to ask a good price; the work and the stake were important.

“Perhaps,” proceeded Mr. Foster, “I had better at once explain that in my theatre I adopt the (I think, just) system of permitting the author to participate in the success of his work, without nailing him down to a term of nights, or other restriction. Of course, I am prepared, and only too pleased, to pay a sum of money down for the actual literary first-fruits; and such and such a further sum per representation. I usually pay a thousand guineas down; in your case, of course, Mr. De Witt, I must increase this— subject, naturally, to your acceptance or rejection of the terms — to fifteen hundred. Will that preliminary sum suit you? If not…”

I murmured that I was quite satisfied.

“Capital!” said the manager. “Now as to the nightly remuneration. I suppose twenty guineas, and a half share of all receipts, would be fair?”

I replied that nothing could be fairer; I was mentally alluding to my prospects.

“There is the agreement, then!” smiled Mr. Foster, pushing a paper to me; “and
there is the cheque!”

I can’t remember which I took first.

“This day month, then?” I got out at last.

“This day month, if convenient!” said Mr. Foster; “but in all things, consider your convenience.” He pressed another gold knob.

My late visitor appeared from behind the tapestry.

“The carriage for Mr. De Witt!”

In another minute I was being whirled to my chambers.

How squalid they seemed! Never mind, I was going to be famous at last; somebody had found out that a dramatic author was absolutely a human creature, who had feeling; sympathies, good intentions, and — ay, intelligence.

* * * *

The month passed only too rapidly.How I did slave at that comedy! The part for Nelly Farren worried me so, that I tore up half-a-dozen pages before I could get a start; then Edward Terry and Hermann Vezin bothered me: it was a trial to have only a gardener’s part, consisting of four lines, to give to the former, and less than “a length “to the latter. Mrs. Stirling was a “speechless” nonentity, and Lionel Brough and Miss Lydia Thompson had really nothing to say or do: the latter was only a guest in a ball-room scene. Then Toole would certainly kick at playing a comic footman, who appeared in only one scene (Act Third), and how to combine the great and opposite talents of George Honey, Mrs. and Mr. Bancroft, Shiel Barry, Miss Adelaide Neilson, Charles Wyndham, and G. W. Anson was a puzzle not easily to be solved.

It could not be urged that I suffered from lack of “talent;” on the contrary, the embarras de richesses was positively overwhelming; and though I had been promised total immunity from any professional objections on the part of the company, I naturally felt highly nervous and diffident.

The comedy was ultimately finished, and the date fixed for me to read it to the ladies and gentlemen concerned in its representation. I was trembling with apprehension when the hour and Mr. Foster’s brougham arrived. The ordeal had to be passed anyhow, so I strung up my failing courage, and announced that I was ready; but I presumed, as twelve o’clock had only that moment struck, a little margin of time was to be permitted to the company.

“Margin! My dear sir,” laughed the manager, “you do not know the Utopian regulations yet! Follow me. No one is ever late here.”

We passed down the lonely corridor, and Mr. Foster opened a side door. I was in the
green room. Imagine a spacious and lofty apartment, half drawing-room, half conservatory, with every luxury in the way of couches, fauteuils, ottomans, etc., panelled with rich mirrors, and hung with satin of the most delicate olive tint. The odour of adjacent flowers floated on the atmosphere, and the plashing of the tiny scent-fountains lent a dreamy influence of repose. Such was the green room of the “Utopian.” But if the apartment was magnificent, the assembled company was even more brilliant. As I shall give the ever-memorable “cast “of my comedy in its proper place, I need not specially refer here to the array of genius before me. I may casually, however, mention that one face which I had not expected to meet,as belonging to a distinguished gentleman for whom I had not provided in the comedy,met mine with a pleasant and frank smile.It was the beaming countenance of Mr.Barry Sullivan. I hastily whispered to Mr.Foster.

“It’s all right, my dear sir,” returned that amazing man. “‘I told him to be handy in case you had need of him for any little-chance part.”

How shall I describe my reading of the comedy? How widely different was its reception by this noble company from what I had expected! How splendidly they took every point! How appreciatively they sighed or smiled, as the subject demanded! How they laughed at the witticisms (Byron was specially delighted)! And how, when I concluded, the whole of the distinguished assembly rose to their feet and tumultuously applauded! It was embarrassing, it was affecting.

“Splendid! superb! brilliant! a masterpiece of construction and dialogue!”

Such were the charming comments, such the overpoweringly-flattering verdict of the artists. Mr. Barry Sullivan, with a glowing smile, seized my hand and said —

“You must not omit me from some participation in this grand work! I implore you to let me appear as one of your guests! only as one of the guests in the last scene!”

I stammered out that I would try to “write in something.”

“What?”said the lofty tragedian; “and probably mar the exquisite harmony of such a work! Never! I will — may I? — be a guest.”

Of course I yielded.

The following was the inimitable disposition of the characters in my comedy. Such were the names that shed lustre upon my dramatic work: —

GLORY!

An Original Comedy, in Three Acts.

By sparkle DE WITT

—————-

Characters.

Lord Brabazon……………………………………………..  Mr. S. Bancroft.

Sir Mungo M’Bean (with a Song and Fling)…………..Mr. Henry Irving.

Phelim (his Irish valet)…………………………………..Mr. Dion Boucicault.

Barney (Phelim’s brother)………………………………Mr. Shiel Barry.

Tapes (a lawyer’s clerk) …………………………………Mr. Hermann Vezin.

Billings (a gardener) …………………………………….Mr. Edward Terry.

Poddle (a livery stableman)…………………………….Mr. H. J. Byron.
(Friends of Lord Brabazon)

{Major Fluker  – Sir Ephraim Pott – Captain Bungay}  Mr. George Honey.
Mr. David James.  Mr. Thomas Thorne.

Twinkle (a Footman) ……………………………………Mr. J. L. Toole.

Masham (a Broker) ……………………………………. Mr. John Hare,

Policeman ………………………………………………  Mr. E. A. Sothern.

(Guests at Lord Brabazon’s by Messrs. H. Neville, W. H. Kendal, Charles Wyndham, Lionel Brough, E. Righton, Charles Warner, and Barry Sullivan.)

Lady Brabazon…………………………………………Mrs. Bancroft.

Lady M’Bean ………………………………………….Mrs. Stirling.

Edith M’Bean (her Daughter)………………………Miss Neilson.

Florence (her Maid, with a Song)………………….Miss Genevieve Ward.

Markham (a Milliner)………………………………..Miss Ellen Terry.

POPSY (a Waif)…………………………………………Miss Nelly Farren.

The Matron of St. James’s House…………………..Mrs. Kendal.

(Visitors, Dressmakers, etc., by Mdlles. Fanny Josephs, Sophy Larkin, Amy Roselle, Nelly Bromley, Lydia Thompson, and AdelinaPatti.)

Stage Manager ……………………………….Mr. Howe.

Acting Manager …………………………….. Mr. John Ryder.

Prompter …………………………………….  Mr. B, Webster.

Manager of the Refreshment Saloon…..   Mr. W. Farren.

Scenic Artist …………………………………  Mr. J. E. Millais.

Musical Director  ……………………………. Mr. Arthur Sullivan

Gas Engineer and Limelight Man ………..  Mr. Edison.

After a delightful chat, and a sumptuous luncheon, I left the ” Utopian.” It had been a day of trial, but it had also been a day of triumph.

The rehearsals were artistic treats. At the very first we had the entire scenery, the full band, and every “property,” and each artist in the comedy was letter-perfect.

I felt that I had done some injustice to Mr. Neville, and gave him an opening speech when the guests entered. The good fellow,with tears in his eyes, urged that Mr. Barry Sullivan should have it. He passed it on. Such was the sublimity of true rivalry. I had had no such experience before, and was consequently affected. It was ultimately spoken by Mr, Creswick, a late addition to the guests.

With the ladies it was just the same. Miss Lydia Thompson gave up her dance to Miss Nelly Farren, and Miss Farren gave up her song to Mrs. Kendal, It was the prettiest contest I ever witnessed. Was it to be wondered at that, aided by such talent, and backed by such perfect management, the comedy was ready for production in less than a week ! The advertisements were novel, elegant, and superabundant. Not a detail which could tend to success was omitted. We should easily begin and end with “Glory,” as Byron wittily said. He and Toole were the life of the piece ; full of fun, but splendidly disdaining the embroidery of “gag.”

At length the night of production arrived.All the Royal Family and Household, theArchbishops of Canterbury and York, thePrelates of London, Durham, etc., theHouses of Lords and Commons, and theentire Bench of Judges were present. Itwas a noble, and a thrilling sight.

******

The curtain rose.

******

The curtain finally fell, amidst vociferous applause.

The comedy, the artists, the scenery, the music, the gas-fittings, and the author were all a success. In a whirl of excitement I was pushed before the satin curtain by Mr. Maecenas Foster, to receive the deafening approbation of artistic and critical London. Remember no more!

******

I have been told that all I have attempted to describe here is an hallucination — that no such theatre ever existed, and that such a management is, and always will be, impracticable in this country.

I only reiterate my statements. Toast-and-water does not produce nightmare. I may have mislaid (I suppose I did), that preliminary cheque, but I know I never cashed it.


1880

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