The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, November 1904

The Essay

Training for the Play

Mr. Bernard Shaw says that every one ought to train for a fortnight before going to the theatre.

THE most obvious ideas are generally the slowest to filter through into the spongecake-like brain of the public. People never can see what is just in front of their noses. It took me years to convince them that I was a superior author to Shakespeare. Even now one or two still struggle against the idea. In the same way, only a very small section of the public has as yet realised the importance of being in condition for the theatre. Hitherto only dwellers in far-off suburbs have trained when they wished to see a play. Let us hope that all that will he changed now. If the British Drama is to live, we must have more of the spirit of the dramatic critic who, before witnessing ‘The Darling of the Gods,’ went through a course of Jiu-Jitsu with an eminent Japanese athlete. Naturally, when the first night arrived, he was one of the very few who were able to wrestle with it. Many of his brother critics were completely floored.

In these days of the Decadent Drama it is essential that the playgoer should be fit. It is not that fitness may be of use. It must be. How is a man to win through to the front row of the pit or gallery if his muscles are flabby? I knew a man who lost his place solely through being out of training. He had waited two hours outside the gallery of the Gaiety, and when the doors were opened a female of no great physique clinched with him and threw him heavily against the doorpost, with the result that the crowd swept past him, and he only just managed to secure a seat in the last row. If he had been in condition this could not have happened. Another friend of mine went to see ‘Mrs Warren’s Profession.’ I had warned him that it was not a piece you could tackle lightly, but he was not to be convinced. He omitted his morning dumb-bells, and only ran two miles a day instead of the five which, I pointed out, were necessary. And the result? In the hour of trial he found his stomach was not strong enough to stand the piece.

Some hints as to training methods may be found useful. Broadly speaking, it is enough, for the average play, to take plenty of fresh air, walk half a dozen miles a day, put the gloves on for twenty minutes with a first-class professional, and avoid pastry. But for special cases special methods are necessary. It would be reckless, for instance, to go to Mr. Pinero’s new drama without having spent a few days practising with one’s children’s toys. Nobody should go to ‘The Tempest’ until he has crossed the Channel once or twice in choppy weather. A trip on a Thames barge will put you into condition for seeing Mr. W. W. Jacobs’ farce at the New Theatre. In some cases, too, a special diet is essential. A stiff chloroform-and-soda, or some other anæsthetic, must be taken before ‘The Earl and the Girl.’ In the case of ‘Merely Mary Anne,’ the playgoer must feed for a fortnight exclusively on unmixed treacle. He will thus become used to it, and should escape the otherwise inevitable nausea.



Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.