The Onlooker, November 1, 1902


If Mr. Malcolm Watson and his colleague, Mr. Murray Carson, will take our advice—which, by the way, is not exclusively ours, for we notice that certain of our daily contemporaries recommend the same thing—they will devote a thoughtful hour or two to the fourth act of “Captain Kettle.” It wants more action in it and less conversation. Let it be like its three predecessors, and all will be well. Up to the end of the third act the play went with a snap and a rattle, and if at times one was apt to lose the thread of the story a little that was a small matter. But, with the exception of a knife-fight between Kettle and the villain, Captain Valdez, there is little in the fourth act to call for notice.

The audience at a melodrama does not demand that the probabilities shall be respected or that there should be a great deal of character action. What it looks for is incident, and of incident, in the first three acts, there is plenty. The authors have shown no small skill in weaving into a single plot (and a very good plot, too) the main incidents of Mr. Cutcliffe Hyne’s short stories. One welcomes with delight such old friends as the speaking-tube, through which an unseen Irishman suggested deeds unspeakable to Captain Owen Kettle, married, of Sunderland. We always wondered what sort of a man that Irishman really was, and now we know, for in the person of Mr. Terence Magrath he plays an important part in the story.

A curious point about “Captain Kettle” is that the authors have apparently not quite made up their minds as to whether they are writing melodrama or burlesque. That Mr. Malcolm Watson is one of the collaborators is a suspicious circumstance. Mr. Watson has a bad reputation. He has written burlesque. Aided by an accomplice he wrote “Sheerluck Jones.” Perhaps even now he is hard at work writing “Captain Scuttle.” We can imagine heated discussions between the two authors on the subject of certain passages in the play. The result is that all through, with the exception of some serious dialogues, the authors appear to be laughing at themselves, and this, we think, is a mistake. The Captain Kettle of Mr. Cutcliffe Hyne is a man who is in deadly earnest in everything he does, and there is not a spark of humour in his composition. The Kettle of the Adelphi can quip with the best of them. Some of his repartees are exceedingly clever—which criticism applies to much of the other dialogue. Some wonderfully smart things are said in the course of the evening; Cortolvin’s remark on the advantage of being nothing else but a gentleman, that it is the least crowded of the professions, is quite Anthony Hopeful. Mrs. Kettle’s letter to her husband is another gem. We do not intend to reveal the plot in its entirety, but we advise Adelphi-goers to watch the second scene of the third act carefully. It will be useful to them if they ever wish to escape from prison, though whether all prisons are conducted on the happy-go-lucky, rollicking, slap-dash principles which obtained in the prison of San Lazarre is a thing to be doubted. The genial bonhomie of the sentries and the magnificent tact of the governor in always absenting himself when he was not welcome are, however, models of what should be.

A feature of the piece was the lighting of it. If anything more beautiful than the gradual change from evening to night, lovely tropical night, in the yacht scene has ever been put on the stage we, at any rate, have never been lucky enough to behold it. The other effects were all excellent. It has been pointed out by the observant that, though revolvers are perpetually being levelled, no shot is fired throughout. Why should this be considered a merit? If we are to have melodrama, give us full measure. A few revolver shots please everybody, and do nobody any harm—certainly not the man they are aimed at, if he be the hero.

From so many actors, all of whom were entirely satisfactory, it is hard to make a selection. Place aux dames. There were only three ladies in the piece, and they were all capital. Miss Esme Beringer was an ideal Donna Clotilde. Miss Ethel Warwick acted nicely as Kate Carnegie, and, it may be remarked incidentally, looked perfectly charming in her yachting dress in Act II. Miss Ruth Benson, admirably made up, was a great success as the coloured and impetuous Angelica.

As Captain Owen Kettle, Mr. Murray Carson scored a distinct success. The piece is not, like “Sherlock Holmes,” a one-man play, but Captain Kettle’s is by far the most important part. Mr. Carson was the Captain to the life. Mr. Aubrey Smith, as Cortolvin, was wonderfully good, and Captain Pedro Valdez was as wonderfully bad as all Mr. Abingdon’s villains are (we refer to the Captain’s very shaky moral code, not to Mr. Abingdon’s artistic acting). Among the minor characters may be mentioned Mr. Kinghorne as McTodd, Mr. Sydney Brough as Terence Mcgrath, and Mr. Faber as Eugene Claire. But the best of them all, in our opinion, was the delightful missionary of Mr. Nye Chart.

To return to Mr. Carson, in spite of being slightly more bulky than the little skipper, he did wonders with the aid of a red torpedo beard and a white twill suit, and on the whole looked as if he had been drawn by Mr. Stanley Wood.

With “Monsieur Beaucaire” the luck of the Comedy Theatre appears to have turned. The play was received with great favour on the first night, and there is every prospect of a long run. Much of its success is due to the fine acting of Mr. Lewis Waller, but Miss Grace Lane, as Lady Mary Carlyle, and Mr. Thomas Kingston and Mr. Charles Allan also contribute their share. The piece, it may be said, has benefited very greatly by its trial trip in the provinces.

The aim of the authors, Messrs. Booth Tarkington and E. G. Sutherland, has been to write a straightforward, romantic play, relying for success more on situations than subtlety of dialogue, and they have succeeded. The hero, “Monsieur Beaucaire,” is the Duke of Orleans, who came to England in the disguise of a barber. He falls foul of Beau Nash and his supporters, and is called upon perpetually to circumvent villainy and pass through parlous adventures. In the end he wins Lady Mary Carlyle, and all ends happily. The play is full of action.

There are several dramatic situations. Beaucaire is publicly expelled from the Bath Pump-room by Beau Nash, and subsequently catches a hated rival cheating at cards, and as the price of silence demands an introduction to Society as a French duke. There are duels, and finally the real identity of the supposed barber is disclosed, much to the mortification of his enemies, in the very place where formerly he had been disgraced. All this gives Mr. Waller a fine opportunity, of which he takes the utmost advantage.


Published anonymously in The Onlooker; Wodehouse recorded “Stage and Stalls” in Money Received for Literary Work for Onlooker in November 1902.

See the notes for “The Wisdom of Folly” for background on the Onlooker and Wodehouse’s reviews for it.