Scene 1 –
Early Spring 1875 – Royalty Theatre
Trial by Jury (non-dress) rehearsals
(Opens to a song being performed from off-stage, the set is a side-view of the first stalls, podium and a bare stage sits at an angle to the audience and takes up the centre/right hand side of the set.)
Thespis: Little Maid of Arcadee
Little maid of Arcadee
Moments fled as moments will
To her little home she crept,
(During this song Gilb and Sull are seen to enter. Sull is carrying the score, Gilb has a model of the stage and a manuscript. Sull places the score on to the rostrum. Gilb sets the model on a stalls’ seat, takes off a big fur coat and sits beside it. Sull moves to join Gilb in the stalls.)
Gilb Accursed organ-grinders I had to move one away from directly in front of the stage door. They are a dratted blight upon London living with their constant caterwauling!
Sull You sound just like Charles Babbage, the calculating engine designer, he went in to print listing street music offenders in his ‘Observations of Street Nuisances’. He claimed that organ-grinders were responsible for damaging the intellectual endeavours of this city.
Gilb Clearly a very accomplished thinker. They do overwhelm and interfere with any internal appreciation of the timbre and the rhythm when I am writing.
Sull (unseen by Gilb, Sull raises his eyebrows at this) You shall have to follow Babbage’s example and leave your impressive brain for later scientific investigation. Perhaps they might identify the damage done (under his breath) I imagine it will find the faulty part is the one used to control the emotions!
Gilb What was that you said?
Sull (After a moment’s thought) We must apply our heart and soul to the orchestrations.
(Throughout this scene, while no song is being performed, the individual members of the orchestra are heard from time to time playing scales and snippets of the score.)
Gilb So, as you said you might, you have completed the score, in just three weeks! Bravo!
Sull This is because your words are so suggestive for music, your libretti inspire my muse.
Gilb You are far too kind. (Though clearly enjoying it and pulling at his whiskers)
Sull You are fully aware that I have always been most appreciative of your humour.
Gilb (Setting his model of the stage on his lap and moving little pieces of wood representing the actors around on the set) I have commented many times that we do have the same sense of humour. When I tell you a joke you understand it immediately. Of course to be forced to tell a joke twice is fatal. (Pointing at his model) Did I tell you that I have modelled this set upon the Clerkenwell Sessions?
Sull You will recount our introduction by Fred Clay at the ‘Illustration’. It was a performance of your ‘Ages Ago’ with dear old Corney Grain, such a wonderful comedian. I absolutely adored the lines where Lady Maud says, ‘My goodness me, he’s walking!’ and the riposte, ‘Her goodness she, I’m walking!’
Gilb Inspiration for that piece came from a field-day with the Militia when I sojourned in the mists of Caledonia. It provided the German Reeds with 350 performances, their greatest success, I believe? What was it that your contemporaneous piece ‘Cox & Box’ achieved for them?
Sull (looking up from studying the score somewhat in surprise at the jibe) It was perfectly acceptable, a little over 250 performances I believe. (Gilb sweeps an arm suggestive of an ‘I told you so’) I do so share Thomas and Priscilla German Reed’s ambition to provide a fresh form of family entertainment to fill our theatres. They seek to bridge the void between the genteel material of the drawing-room soirée and the bawdy music hall. I do so despise the current regular fare of French opéras bouffes.
Gilb (Looks up from his model suddenly) Take care not to mention that belief in front of Carte or his client, Offenbach, because our companion piece is just that!
Sull Their crime is that they appear to inspire such mediocre music and dance. Offenbach’s music has on occasion been inspirational, but his frou-frou operettas do so dominate today’s theatre.
Gilb It is clear that our ever-expanding middle-class is progressively demanding something new and fresh for its entertainment. They now have the time and the resource to make such demands.
Sull Carte and his fellow theatre managers offer such a wide range of seat prices that even the lower orders of society can afford an occasional night out. But it is just what will emerge to satisfy this demand? The moment could be most opportune for us.
Gilb I believe you were very close with Frederic Clay back when we first met. Back then were you not both involved with the Scott Russell girls?
Sull (Smiles) Your words are more apposite than you might have intended. I was indeed in a long-term relationship with Rachel Scott Russell. It was her mother who considered my prospects as a composer unlikely to prove financially successful. She outright forbade any possible union, though we continued to hope in secret for a number of years. But I assume that your words were selected with your usual care? Because I do confess that towards the end of my involvement with Rachel I did contiguously conduct an affair with her sister!
Gilb I thought it was Clay who was engaged to Alice?
Sull No, not Alice, my relationship was with her elder sister, Louise. But all three relationships ended, both of mine in the face of their parents’ attitude, Fred’s I believe was due to a change of mind on his part.
(The cast begins to arrive on the stage as the conversation proceeds, they strike poses and sing scales)
Gilb (Loudly) At last, here they come, barely on time! (To Sull) Was there not some financial scandal between Scott Russell and the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel?
Sull You are well informed. Brunel believed that Scott Russell’s creditors were going to seize his SS Great Eastern before she was completed. Their father’s company was therefore forced to transfer the project over to that of Brunel’s for it to be completed.
Gilb Perhaps that change of control contributed to that ferrous monster’s unfortunate maiden voyage, its fatal explosion off Hastings?
Sull I know not, but despite all of that Scott Russell’s reputation managed to remain untarnished. You see, he had been responsible for the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations at the Crystal Palace. For this much-lauded work he could lose a legion of businesses and still be favoured in society.
Gilb (Putting down his model) Brunel I believe was appointed to the Palace’s Building Committee, the steam-engine man, Stephenson, too. Yet it was the design provided by the greenhouse-builder Paxton, the gardener at Chatsworth, that was eventually selected. I confess that my last visit there was very disappointing. I met with the Comédie Française to discuss preparing a French version of my ‘Palace of Truth’ but it all came to aught.
Sull (Wistfully) Au contraire pour moi, the Crystal Palace holds so many good memories. As a child I took a coach with my father from Surrey to see the exhibition in Hyde Park, we had no railway in York Town. A few years later I sang at its re-opening at its new location in Sydenham. I was a member of the Chapel Royal choir and we performed before Her Majesty and Prince Albert! A decade later George Grove, as secretary of the Palace, very kindly arranged that my ‘Tempest’ was regularly played there. This above all else helped to establish my reputation as a composer. Sadly none of this moved the Scott Russell’s opinion of my prospects by one iota.
Gilb You should be rightly proud, wasn’t ‘Tempest’ the very first piece from an English composer ever played in the Crystal Palace? (Sull nods modestly) You need to seek some stability my boy, someone like my Mrs. Yes a Kitty would keep you headed on a more steady course. Ah, but then perhaps you might have needed rather more than three weeks to complete the score?
Sull (The two walk towards the stage, Sull stopping at the rostrum) Much of the time required is taken so that I may be sure to avoid the commonplace and seek out originality for the rhythm, because for me it is the rhythm where it all starts and ends. Once I have the rhythm established then and only then can I begin to look at the melodies.
Gilb As you know that is all double-Dutch to me.
Sull I first create a series of sketches, work and rework these until I have in mind the skeleton score. Skeleton because it lacks the accompaniment and the instrumentals, though of course these have to be firmly in my mind while the earlier work is undertaken.
Gilb Such mental juggling. But what of the orchestration itself, surely that takes a great deal of time?
Sull A piece that takes two-minutes to perform on stage can take me much more than a day’s hard work in orchestration.
Gilb (Climbs to the stage) It is for this very reason that I am content to concentrate my efforts upon the libretti!
Sull As a writer you can dictate your words for another to prepare, perhaps a secretary proficient in the latest of Mr Pitman’s techniques. I cannot avail myself of this with orchestration, it must all be written out in my own hand. (Loudly) I see all are assembled, let’s make a start. Let’s begin from the beginning…
(While Sull is conducting the piece, Gilb constantly meddles with and moves the actors around on the stage, then standing behind them, puppeteer-like he makes them strike more theatrical poses.)
Trial by Jury: Hark, the hour of ten is sounding
(Gilb stands beside him and shows a more flamboyant gesture that he expects to be used)
DEFENDANT: (repeats it, though not quite managing Gilb’s gesture)
(Pause then CHORUS decides it is safe to proceed)
CHORUS OF JURYMEN: (shaking their fists).
(Defendant beckons to JURYMEN – they leave the box and gather round him as they sing)
CHORUS OF JURYMEN:
(Note that italicised underlined items are errors introduced by the player, at each such error Gilb fumes until he can take it no longer.)
Gilb No it’s more like this… (he sings it none too well, but with many arm movements)
At last, one morning, I became
(Again a pause before they have the courage to recommence.)
DEFENDANT: (reading from the libretto)
When first my old, old love I knew,
CHORUS OF JURYMEN: (advancing stealthily).
RECITATIVE – USHER: (on Bench).
Sull (Looking pointedly at Gilb) Let us all take a small break (He steps back toward the stalls as the players relax, some light up cigars, others chatter while frequently looking across at Gilb)
Gilb (Walks to Sull and in an aside) These people call themselves acc-tors. While they are able to project their voice they apply such little effort to learning my words – and have such little capability in the skills for acting them. I crave a time when we can select our own players.
Sull (Aside) And, none can sing! I am obliged to restrict my composition within the orbit of what they might be able to achieve! Though, must you harass the actors quite so?
Gilb (Strikes a pose and states loudly and bombastically) But don’t you see, I merely pursue old Tom Robertson’s quest. He allowed me to witness his stagecraft at rehearsals. He was the first who strove for a sense of realism in the theatre. He invented the very art of stage management, he showed how to give life and variety, brought nature to the scene. He embroidered scenes by providing all sorts of little incidents on stage and decorated it with delicate by-plays.
Sull But for today we need to be resolute in our rehearsal of the orchestration.
Gilb Robertson it was who first gained the librettist the right to control the script, to select and then direct the actors. (Sull looks despairing at this) He it was that introduced the notion of royalties from managers for each performance of a play. It was he who pioneered the approaches that we use today. We authors all owe him a major debt.
Sull I appreciate your ambition in these matters, but can’t this wait for the dress rehearsal?
Gilb (Speaking loudly enough for the actors to hear) Don’t you see, it is absolutely essential that this be played with the most perfect earnestness throughout. The players must clearly exhibit that they believe absolutely in the sincerity of their words and their actions, if they show any consciousness of the absurdity of their words then the whole piece will fail.
Sull I do appreciate this, but please try to use some constraint so that we may finish today.
Gilb (He ruminates) Good old Tom, I miss him, he was innovative not just in dramas but as a contributing member of the ‘Fun’ magazine crowd. Between us our satire, parodies and amusing cartoons soon made ‘Punch’ look old, dull and tired.
Sull (Seeking to appease Gilb) This piece certainly displays your wit to advantage, but the humour can become a little strained if the player becomes uncertain of his posture and stage location.
Gilb (Exasperatedly) I rest my case m’lud!
Sull (Still trying to pacify) The piece clearly exhibits that you have a broad experience of the English legal system.
Gilb (Starts out still somewhat bristling. But as he unwittingly creates a rhyming couplet, his face brightens as he realises that this is in fact what he has done) While recent perturbations have in truth assisted, I would elucidate, This libretto is rewritten from the Bab Ballad, produced in sixty eight.
Sull (Smiles in recognition of the rhyme) Pardon me, but I was not referring to last year’s litigation.
Gilb Ah, you refer to my ‘Wicked World’, disparaged by the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ as indecorous because of its references to mortal love – this I just might have accepted. But then to rub salt in to my wounds they published a letter that called it (he sounds out each word as if he has been hit by it) coarse, gross, vulgar, offensive. (Placing his hand across his heart as if mortally wounded) It implied that there were lines in it unfit to be spoken in any theatre. As I have said before, (intones the following as a quotation) if it be a sin to covet honour then I am the most offending soul alive. (Reverts to normal speech) Though the Court did agree that the play was inoffensive, it fell short of awarding me any damages.
Sull No, you still misunderstand me, I was referring to your training and practice as a barrister?
Gilb (Wistfully) Indeed, it was Aunt Schwenk’s bequest that furnished my escape from the baleful office of the Privy Council and transported me to the Inner Temple. There I was schooled in the usage of appropriate words, if not very particularly in the Law. Yet I did faithfully serve my (pauses) five briefs each year. It was in idle contemplation while awaiting the next brief – such an inappropriate term for the waiting time was far from brief – that I found attraction and income in verse, seeking to reveal the absurd in my Bab Ballads.
Sull I assume the term Bab was you tipping your hat towards Mr Dickens and his Boz?
Gilb Not at all, my father, being a William too, led to the family calling me the baby, or Bab. Did you see ‘My Maiden Brief’ at the Cornhill? It faithfully described my very situation. I appeared for an apparent god-fearing woman, heinously and falsely accused of lifting a purse on an omnibus. I was quick to ascertain that this pious lady always carried her hymn-book with her.
Sull Assuredly the perfect client.
Gilb You might credit it so. Issuing challenge to the peeler in the witness box I charged him with revealing just what it was he had found in that woman’s pockets on the occasion under discussion. He joyously replied two further stolen purses, a watch, two silver pencil cases, three handkerchiefs – and the hymn-book of course!
Sull (laughing) How very unfortunate!
Gilb That is precisely what the Court did, they laughed! Condemned to eighteen months’ hard labour by her counsel’s unpropitious inquiry, she promptly stooped, released her boot and despatched it at my head. Fortuitously she missed, but unhappily it found out a reporter in my ‘stead. Naturally his review the next morning did little to further my career. Ah! But once again I have selected an inappropriate word, for career implies a headlong chase, which in Law was certainly not my case!
Sull (Laughing uproariously) Your words do constantly amuse. And yet I recall when you first read me the manuscript for this current piece, at D’Oyly Carte’s bidding, you intoned the libretto, almost in embarrassment it seemed, as if you had a lack of faith in the quality of your opus.
Gilb While you were overwhelmed with mirth! It was not embarrassment but the fact that the Royalty’s lessee was that harridan Henrietta Hodson. I was not sure I wanted anything more to do with her.
Sull I had not realised that this matter was afoot. Yet you still decided to proceed?
Gilb It was your appreciation of the piece that overcame my concerns. ‘Trial by Jury’ was originally a Bab Ballad from back in 1868. I expanded it in ’73, for Carl Rosa’s star-crossed wife to perform, but sadly she died in childbirth before being able to perform it. I later presented it to Carte but he had lost the lease for his theatre. He found it was still in his mind when he needed to support his client Jacques Offenbach. I felt it was overdue to be used, with the music you have added, I know it will be well received.
Sull Like the German Reeds, Carte too talks of creating a family-friendly and perhaps more importantly an English comic opera that would rid us of these bawdy French burlesques.
Gilb I opine that this objective needs to be advanced in tandem with protection by copyright for theatrical opera. I mean ‘opera’ as the more elegant usage of ‘opuses’! My father and I did recently attend a meeting to propose an ‘Association to Protect the Rights of Authors’, to be applied both at home and abroad; I am appointed to its working committee. Without this protection how may we be assured of reaping the fruits of our labours?
Sull (gathers up his papers to head back to the rostrum) It sounds much too business-like for most of my composing colleagues, far too mercenary a subject to be applied in reference to grand opera, anthems or religious choral work.
Gilb My thinking is to for authors to be appreciated as professionals, not tradesmen. In the expectation of respectability for our art we will need to enhance our approach to many aspects. Today our plays are printed on cheap material merely for the convenience of actors, such poor material will never find its way in to a gentleman’s library. I collected a selection of my Bab Ballads and produced successful books from them in ’68 and ’72, now I have approached Messrs Chatto & Windus to prepare a volume of plays that would be presented in a quality binding, using good paper.
Sull (they are both at the podium) I must express myself perfectly content with the income derived from our ‘grotesque opera in two acts’, ‘Thespis’, and our new parlour song ‘Distant Shore’.
Gilb ‘Thespis’ was only grotesque in that we had not rehearsed it sufficiently. .
Sull I cherish the hope that this income we derive will provide me the freedom of time to produce some grand works.
Gilb For your grand friends I assume! Don’t you see that in many ways our first collaboration on ‘Thespis’ is exemplar. Commissioned to produce a simple Christmas extravaganza for the Gaiety, it ran for more than sixty performances, reaching well in to March and outrunning most of its fellow Christmas pieces. It will certainly be capable of many revivals. But, as we never published the musical score, it will never be seen in the provinces, or around the Empire, and can never reach America. So many revenue opportunities squandered, we need to take better care with our works for the future!
Sull However right now we must hear my brother Frederick’s piece. You know he was already working with this company? Like Corney he is a grand comedian, I am confident he will restore your faith in actors.
Gilb Was he not an architect?
Sull Please, I beg you, do not mention that fact to him, I have heard his response far too many times. “…as an actor I am still drawing big houses!” (aloud) Let us rehearse the Judge’s song next. To your positions everyone!
Gilb (Gilb reaches the stage and marches a principal woman to stand by the chorus)
CAlto Why should I stand here? I am not a chorus girl!
Gilb No, Madam, your voice is not strong enough; or no doubt you would be.
(Gilb looks across to see Sull looking daggers at him and moves off to the side of the stage. Through the next song he will on several occasions start to walk in to the set but then control himself. But he still flaps and waves his arms to form the postures he would like the actors to use.)
Trial by Jury: When I, good friends, was called to the bar.
ALL: Hush! hush! He speaks.
(Enter the BRIDESMAIDS.)
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: (MzSopr and CAlto)
(The JUDGE, having taken a great fancy to FIRST BRIDESMAID, sends her a note by USHER, which she reads, kisses rapturously, and places in her bosom.)
(Enter Sopr as PLAINTIFF.)
(The JUDGE having by this time transferred his admiration to PLAINTIFF, directs USHER to take the note from FIRST BRIDESMAID and hand it to PLAINTIFF, who reads it, kisses it rapturously, and places it in her bosom.)
(Carte enters and sits in the stalls beside Gilb’s model)
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS:
THE JURY: (shaking their forefingers at him).
JUDGE: (to JURY).
FOREMAN (after consulting with the JURY).
THE BRIDESMAIDS: (shaking their forefingers at JURY).
Sull Thank you everyone, we will have a short pause. (Turns to Gilb) That was much better thank you. (The players exit the stage)
Carte (Clapping loudly and summoning the two to join him in the stalls) Bravo! Maestro! This dramatic cantata will be the perfect companion piece to ‘La Périchole’.
Gilb (Slapping Sull on the shoulder as he sets off to the stalls) Bravo indeed, your brother is a superb comedian! (He says to Carte) It does prove to be a rather good filler piece. Just what you wanted, a simple curtain-raiser or after-piece for your client’s opéra bouffe? (Gilb pauses to speak to the actors, clearly not wishing to respond too readily to Carte’s summons)
Carte (Looks a little confused at just what the intention is behind this remark – uncertainly says aloud to Gilb) Certainly. May I say how I envy your libretti, I have fully established to my regret that I will never attain your qualities. If I could be an author like you I would certainly not spend my life as a manager. Ho Hum, I therefore have to be content to be merely a tradesman, a purveyor of others’ works of art.
(Sull joins Carte)
Carte (aside to Sull) Of course it is your music that brings the libretto fully alive.
Sull (aside to Carte) I fear that Gilbert sees me also as something of a tradesman. I believe that Offenbach, like many composers, prepares his music and then instructs the librettists as to what he requires them to do.
Carte (aside to Sull) Yet you work so well together. Your combined efforts appear so effortless that they sound as if they come from the same mind.
Sull His words do seem to inspire me more than any other librettist.
(Gilb joins them in the stalls)
Carte I do not wish to interfere with the rehearsals but I wanted to discuss several matters. Here is the front of the programme I have prepared. (He hands this to them) But this will soon be changed for I wish to make it more attractive. I also want it to state my desire to establish in London a permanent abode for English Light Opera.
Gilb I would merely ask that you do not miss this poor librettist from any more posters! (He scans the programme) You see you have me here as W C Gilbert! While I have never been well disposed to my middle name of ‘Schwenk’ it is most assuredly preceded by an S.
Carte (takes it back and looks at the error) I am so sorry, that will of course be remedied. To defray the costs of this quality programme I have reached an agreement with Eugène Rimmel for his House of Rimmel. He will pay a fee for the whole of the back page to advertise his perfumes, toilet vinegar and soaps.
Gilb Sullivan, I am reminded of your Crystal Palace where it first introduced the notion of a public toilets. I am not WC, I have no desire to be confused with a water closet!
Sull (ignores the outburst) I know of him, and his products, I believe he was granted a royal warrant by the Prince of Wales.
Gilb I warrant another of your many fine friends!
Sull As you know full well, I composed my ‘Festival Te Deum’ to celebrate the Prince’s recovery from typhoid. As his father had died from the very same malady just a decade before, the nation was especially delighted when the Prince had recovered. His brother the Prince of Edinburgh commissioned the piece and organised for it to be played at the Crystal Palace.
Gilb (Makes a face at the name dropping)
Carte I believe you were awarded the unusual honour of being permitted to dedicate that piece to Her Majesty the Queen?
Sull (Nods but seeing Gilb’s reaction does not speak further)
Carte (Looks at the pair with concern) I should report that I am being well received in my efforts to raise funds for a revival of a revised and expanded ‘Thespis’. Or perhaps a new work of yours? The music publishers, George Metzler and an associate Frank Chappell are being supportive and I have fond hopes for a piano-maker, Collard Augustus Drake, I have further investment prospects from some rather unexpected sources too.
Gilb (Humphs) I will believe that when it happens, it is astonishing how quickly these capitalists dry up under the magic influence of the words ‘cash down’.
Carte Nonetheless I would be happy if you would outline the terms for such a proposal?
Gilb (Looking to Sullivan for approval) For a revival of ‘Thespis’ we would want perhaps £2 a night with a guarantee of 50 or 60 nights.
Sull Not less than 50 nights, but two guineas per night would be more in keeping.
Carte I will investigate it further on that basis then.
Sull It must be difficult to gain support for English opera when Offenbach remains so popular.
Carte With enough backing I plan to form a Comedy Opera Company and to establish in London a theatre which shall permanently have as its staple entertainment light operas; operas of a legitimate kind, by English authors and composers. This would then permit me to enter into a contract with you both for a series of future collaborations. I am convinced that the theatre yearns for more of your material, all of London will clamour to see your works.
Gilb That will be excellent, provided Sullivan can bear to tear himself away from his royal and landed circle of friends.
Sull You have your friends (he lists them on his finger) – from your ‘Fun’ paper, your bohemian friends at the Arundel and the Beefsteak, your many other associations and soirées – am I not allowed to have my own?
Carte (Seeking to appease) From my experience in the management of artists I believe it healthy that you have your own circle of friends and thus come together only within your professional lives. That will assist your collaborations to have a long and prosperous life. We are all weary of the procession of opéras bouffe, your libretti and composition can help halt their march.
Gilb (Brightening) We can de-compose this French invasion, with our words and orchestration!
Carte (Raises his finger as if receiving inspiration) We three can restore Theatre’s situation, and give it a distinct English reputation.
(They exit and the curtain drops –- Bar as Mr Wells comes to stand in spotlight before the curtain)
The Sorcerer: My name is John Wellington Wells
My name is John Wellington Wells,
If you want a proud foe to “make tracks” –
We’ve a first-class assortment of magic;
For he can prophesy
He has answers oracular,
If any one anything lacks,
He can raise you hosts
He can rack your brains
My name is John Wellington Wells,
And if any one anything lacks,
(Bar takes applause then exits)
(Curtain rises to reveal The Strand 1894 backdrop, Carte and Shaw are promenading, Chorus providing a stream of passers-by)
Carte The success of ‘Trial by Jury’ did permit me to attract the investors and establish a company to develop English comic opera, initially I leased the Opéra Comique to become the de-facto home for these.
Shaw Had you planned that this would be exclusively for the works of Gilbert and Sullivan?
Carte They were always considered important but not exclusive, it was happenstance that other projects failed to materialise and so ‘The Sorcerer’ was our next piece. This was their first full-length two-act collaboration.
Shaw And it was here that Gilbert’s most significant theme emerged, that of elixirs, lozenges and potions that foment his Topsy-Turveydom!
Carte It worked well for Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’! Gilbert had first used the idea the Christmas before in a piece for ‘The Graphic’, his ‘An Elixir of Love’. It was already a much-trod route, though it was to become perhaps the most important cause of friction between him and Sullivan.
Shaw He wrote ‘The Sorcerer’ with Frederic Sullivan in mind to play the title role?
Carte Yes, his death was such a shock to us all, just 39! His absence prompted Gilbert to seek out new talent. He was inveigled into employing Mrs Howard Paul’s protégé, Rutland Barrington, as a principal actor; an experienced actor with little musical ability.
Shaw Gilbert himself often boasts that he knows not a note of music. He once said he knew “two tunes, one is ‘God Save the Queen’ and the other isn’t”.
Carte Of Barrington’s selection he said ‘He’s a staid, solid swine, and that’s what I want!’
Carte Yet we were all surprised when Sullivan proposed and Gilbert agreed to casting George Grossmith as the Sorcerer, he was a drawing-room performer with absolutely no acting experience. He had the nerve to ask me for 18 guineas a week, but I had him settle for 15. When the part for Mrs Henry Paul proved so small, she left and I was able to engage Jessie Bond to join the cast.
Shaw These each became regulars for your Savoy operas, I had presumed that their lack of fame made them usefully inexpensive?
Carte That is true. The Opéra Comique was pretty cramped, for example Grossmith and Barrington had to share a dressing room with Temple and Clifton.
Shaw They would have had no choice but to develop some esprit de corps!
Carte It was ‘The Sorcerer’ that settled the collaborative style between the two authors. Gilbert would provide a general outline, they would then jointly agree on the number of ballads to be used. As Gilbert completed the lyrics for each song this was passed to Sullivan for him to weave his musical magic with them. Gilbert would only then complete the dialogue. Sullivan left the scoring to the very last. It was all so eleventh hour, with Sullivan being left with much still to compose on the morning of the first night.
Shaw As the financier and theatre manager you applied no restrictions on their plans?
Carte Gilbert insisted on full artistic control for all non-musical facets of the works, he designed the set and the costumes, he was an autocratic stage manager. He built a model of the set with little wooden blocks three inches high to represent the men and two-and-one-half inch ones for the women. But he did keep the costs tight by using just a soprano, a contralto, a tenor and bass with two comedy characters; though there were often two minor female parts too.
Shaw So the economics were kept under control?
Carte Yes. Between the two authors we agreed 200 guineas as an advance against royalties of six guineas per performance. My partners agreed that I should receive £15 per week as the manager.
Shaw How many nights did it run?
Carte It ran for 178 performances and this was sufficient for the two to see the benefits of future collaboration. ‘The Sorcerer’ was a very pleasant piece, though it has never been considered as one of their better works. It enjoyed some success in the provinces and unauthorised versions did appear on Broadway and elsewhere around America.
Shaw But they were both engaged in other matters throughout this period?
Carte Very droll, yes Gilbert’s ‘Engaged’ and ‘Ne’er-do-Weel’, Sullivan’s incidental music for ‘Henry VIII’. In fact Sullivan was so short of time that the overture for ‘Sorcerer’ was taken from a piece originally written for ‘Henry VIII’. Later Sullivan’s assistant produced a new overture for the revival.
Shaw If Gilbert was permitted to rework earlier material, then why not Sullivan too?
Carte By this time it was clear that Sullivan’s kidney ailment was beginning to take its toll.
Shaw You have arranged for us to continue this conversation over a lunch at your delightful Savoy Hotel? I would caution you (switches to quotation mode) ‘statistics show that, of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive’.
Carte (Laughs) So where were we, we are about to set sail on ‘Pinafore’.