By J. ASHBY-STERRY.
SOME years ago, I gave what I was pleased to denominate an “Entertainment.” Rude people said the audience looked up-on it in an-other light. But no matter.
I had a good deal more time on my hands than I have now-a-days, and I derived the keenest amusement from the whole affair, from beginning to end. If it was not, an entertainment to my audience, it was a source of intense diversion to myself. It was formed on the lines of Albert Smith’s famous Mont Blanc lectures. There was music, and there were patter-songs, and there were dioramic views. The trouble I had over the latter and the arrangement of a portable proscenium, I shall never forget. I was my own stage-carpenter and scene-painter, though I had many valuable hints from an amusing old gentleman, one Muffmothy, who had been connected with the property-room at Covent Garden, who used to come of an evening, do a deal of hammering, tell many theatrical anecdotes, and imbibe much brandy and water.
I called the show, “Autumn Leaves from a Tourist’s Note-Book,” and it was, as you may imagine, a merry chronicle of a holiday trip through France, Switzerland, and Italy; with sketches of character; and considerable fun made out of the travelling English. There were plenty of songs, which were set to popular tunes, and there was lots of music excellently played by a dear old friend of mine, who presided at the piano. I do not think I made much money out of the affair, as, by way of getting the thing well started, I gave it for the benefit of the funds of several country literary institutions. Though I did not make much money by the project, I had no end of fun. I think I never had such a merry time in my life, and in those days one generally managed to get two shillings worth of enjoyment out of sixpence. The ancient, decaying, mildewed literary institutions, with their solemn committees, would make a chapter of themselves.
The entertainment itself was in two parts and I was warned by an old literary friend to
be sure and make my second part the strongest. Said he, “Let the affair be like a squib,
brilliant throughout, but let it finish with abang. Let people be anxiously wishing for
more, and then let them find to their surprisethat your entertainment is finished. You
must have no dying away or tailing off. Beware of all things of an anti-climax.” I
had a rehearsal before leaving London, but I am bound to say the thing went very badly.
The scenery did not work well, the jokes were not appreciated. Then there was something wrong about the lighting. The songs did not seem to take. My friends shook their heads a good deal, and they tendered all sorts of advice at great length — which I did not take — and predicted a terrible failure.
But I was announced for the 17th of February at the Chunkleton Literary Institution, and there was no backing out of it.It was with dismal forebodings that I arrived at the town, and I was in the lowest of spirits when I was superintending the erection of my proscenium at the hall of the society. Never was the actor’s proverb,”It’ll be all right at night,” more fully realized. The thing went off with a bang.It was a success from beginning to end, the laughter was continuous, and the applause terrific.
Things went on swimmingly till I reached Titterton. Now, at Titterton I counted on my greatest success, as I have many influential friends there and thereabouts. They had canvassed the neighbourhood; crafty anticipatory paragraphs had been inserted in the Titterton Times, the fame of the entertainment had been judiciously noised abroad, and I was delighted to see that “Autumn Leaves” was placarded all over the town,and small hand-bills with regard to the same might be seen in every shop-window. I was staying at Daynton Hall, in the neighbourhood. There was a large dinner-party the night before, and every one told me that everybody was going to the show, and that there was not a place to be had for love or money. Late at night I had a telegram from Muffmothy, saying that he was taken ill, and could not come down to work the scenery.This was unfortunate, but Dick Daynton kindly volunteered to fill his place. Dick was a capital hand at theatricals, and he thoroughly entered into the fun of his first appearance as scene-shifter.
Titterton Town Hall was crammed; the reserved seats were full. There was the Mayor of Titterton in all his glory ; there was the Daynton Hall party occupying two rows : there was Lord Tennis court and the Misses Racquets; there was old Colonel Crackerdoom; there was Sir Benjamin Bunnidge, the member for the county; there were the Asper Ewshalls; there was that ancient and amusing dowager Lady Moocow and graceful Miss Claravere, the prettiest girl within fifty miles : in short, there were all the best people in and about Titterton. The two-shilling seats were crammed,and there was not standing room in the shilling gallery at the end of the hall. It was the largest audience I ever had, and the most enthusiastic. I felt their pulse, so to speak, and they seemed to be with me directly I started.
How they applauded the song “Going Across,” which detailed the miseries of the Channel passage; how the description of the visitors at Lucerne seemed to fetch them; and did they not welcome my picture of sunset on the Lago Maggiore, with all its chrome and vermilion, as it had never been welcomed before? When I introduced a few sly hits at a certain “right of way” case that had recently been agitating the township, there was a roar of laughter ; and when I described the peaks, passes, and glaciers, and view generally from the Rigi Kulm, in a song to the tune of the “Cork.Leg,” the applause was terrific. This brought me safely to the conclusion of the first part, and I retired for ten minutes for refreshment and talk with Dick Daynton behind the scenes.
“Capital! old man. You’ve fetched them like a snipe,” said Dick — who was always somewhat confused in his metaphors — as, in the middle of a whirlwind of applause, I retired from public gaze. “You must be pretty well done, I should think ? What’s it to be?” he added, flourishing a corkscrew a ta perfect buffet of bottles that he had arranged for my refreshment.
“Guinness, by all that’s sustaining!” I answer.
And in two minutes there was a popping of corks, and a couple of silver tankards were foaming to the brim.
“I can now understand,” said Daynton, “how it is that stage carpenters are always in a chronic state of thirst. It’s precious hot,and dry, and anxious work looking after your coulisses, I can tell you.”
All this time Willy Grame was filling up the interval with most delightful music, excellently played. Under my special instructions,he was to eschew the classical, and keep strictly to the popular. The result was that feet were steadily beating time, and every head was nodding to the tune throughout the room. I often used to think that Grame’s portion was by far the best part of the entertainment. On this occasion he was better than usual. He wandered from one popular tune to another, and at last he struck men-ily into the “Burlesque Galop.” This was too much for Dick. He seized his tankard, and away he went,
O rumty-dumty day!
It was too much for me; my coat was off in
a minute, and away I went, with my
And rumty-dumty d-a-a- !
Daynton was an excellent dancer; he had been two years in Paris, and he was a very Brididi at the can-can. We flung our legs about a la Yokes, and thoroughly entered into the spirit of the absurdity. After one of Dick’s wildest pas, I sank exhausted on a chair, and roared with laughter. Then we heard a most terrific round of applause. I looked up, and, to my horror, found that from the shilling gallery at the end of the room they could see right over my proscenium, and that the occupants had a full view of the extraordinary and outrageous gambols of my friend and myself. I could see that every face was a grin, and that they had apparently been enjoying the whole performance tremendously.
I looked at my watch; the ten minutes was just up. The music ceased for a moment. Willy Grame then played a few bars of “Beautiful Venice,” and I re-entered to relate my Venetian experiences. As I said before, my second part was much the strongest; but, strange to say, it fell flat.My imitation of the gondolieri, accompanied by a patois song, which nobody ever under-stood, but which was, therefore, generally a great hit, met with little encouragement ; my humorous remarks anent the “pigeons of Venice,” albeit intermixed with some sly hits at the “pigeons of Titterton,” scarcely raised a laugh. My pet picture of the Piazetta by moonlight, with a practicable moon and practicable gas-lights all along the quay,and a lamp-lit gondola with a red curtain,which generally drove country audiences frantic with delight, was but faintly welcomed.My patter song, “Sterry-o-scopic Views,” which was a rapid summary of my tour, introducing most of the popular airs of the day, and songs in French, German, and Italian, was but moderately applauded; and I made my bow and disappeared, quite convinced that the latter part of my entertainment was a ghastly failure.
As I was retiring, I heard, amid the faint applause, some one in the gallery shout, “Dance! dance! why don’t he give us the dance?” It then struck me the reason of the coldness. In the whole of my second part, strong though I thought it to be, there was nothing so amusing and so uproariously comic as the frantic pas de deux, in which Dick Daynton and myself had indulged in behind the scenes. The gallery had probably looked upon this as a rehearsal, and were disappointed that it was not eventually included in the programme. I had quite unwittingly converted the whole of my second part into an anti-climax.
I was telling this circumstance to Muffmothy on my return to town, and he said, “Jest what I told you, sir. If you’d have given’em the Lancashire clog-dance, in character,
between the parts, why you’d have made a terrific success everywhere!”