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The State Of The Theatre
by [?]

We are told that the theatre is in a bad way, that the English Drama is dead, but I suspect that every generation in its turn has been told the same thing. I have been reading some old numbers of the Theatrical Magazine of a hundred years ago. These were the palmy days of the stage, when blank verse flourished, and every serious play had to begin like this:

Scene. A place without. Rinaldo discovered dying. Enter Marco.
Mar. What ho, Rinaldo! Lo, the horned moon
Dims the cold radiance of the westering stars,
Pale sentinels of the approaching dawn. How now, Rinaldo?
Rin. Marco, I am dying, Struck down by Tomasino’s treacherous hand.
Mar. What, Tomasino?
Rin. Tomasino. Ere
The flaming chariot of Phoebus mounts
The vaults of Heaven, Rinaldo will be dead.
Mar. Oh, horror piled on horror!
Lo, the moon—-

And so on. The result was called–and I think rightly–“a tragedy.” The alternative to these tragedies was a farce, in which everybody went to an inn and was mistaken for somebody else (causing great fun and amusement), the heat and burden of the evening resting upon a humorous man-servant called Trickett (or something good like that). And whether the superior people of the day said that English Drama was dead, I do not know; but they may be excused for having thought that, if it wasn’t dead, it ought to have been.

Fortunately we are doing better than that to-day. But we are not doing as well as we should be, and the reason generally given is that we have not enough theatres. No doubt we have many more theatres than we had a hundred years ago, even if you only count those which confine themselves to plays without music, but the mass-effect of all these music-hall-theatres is to make many people think and say that English Drama is (once more) dead.

It is customary to blame the manager for this–the new type of manager, the Mr. Albert de Lauributt who has been evolved by the war. He existed before the war, of course, but he limited his activities to the music-hall. Now he spreads himself over half a dozen theatres, and produces a revue or a musical comedy at each. He does not care for Art, but only for Money. He would be just as proud of a successful production of Kiss Me, Katie, as of Hamlet; and, to do him justice, as proud of a successful production of Hamlet, as of Kiss Me, Katie. But by “successful” he means “financially successful”; no more and no less. He is frankly out for the stuff, and he thinks that it is musical comedy which brings in the stuff.

It seems absurd to single him out for blame, when there are so many thousands of other people in the world who are out for the stuff. Why should Mr. Albert de Lauributt lose two thousand pounds over your or my serious play, when he can make ten thousand over Hug me, Harriet? We do not blame other rich men for being as little quixotic with their money. We do not expect a financier to back a young inventor because he is a genius, in preference to backing some other inventor because he has discovered a saleable, though quite inartistic, breakfast food. So if Mr. de Lauributt produces six versions in his six different theatres of Cuddle Me, Constance, it is only because this happens to be his way of making money. He may even be spending his own evenings secretly at the “Old Vic.” For he runs his theatre, not as an artist, but as a business man; and, as any business man will tell you, “Business is business, my boy.”