George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 35
Mrs. Warren and the Censor

PRIOR TO FORBES-ROBERTSON'S PRODUCTION OF The Devil's Disciple, THERE HAD been several single performances of Shaw's plays, mostly by the London Stage Society, and a short run of You Never Can Tell at the Strand Theatre, London. There were also bogus performances for copyright purposes, some of which nevertheless had distinguished casts: for instance on Wednesday, March 15, 1899, at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Cæsar and Cleopatra, Shaw's "historical drama in five acts" as it was called on the playbill, was performed, for the first time on any stage, for copyright purposes. This play was written in 1898; the performance in question was that of Mrs. Patrick Campbell and her London company.1 At that time, the other plays in the repertory of this extraordinary stage enchantress were Sudermann's Magda, and Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith. On the playbill of Cæsar and Cleopatra, it was stated that this was the sole performance of the play in England prior to its production in London by Forbes-Robertson. This London production, Shaw once wrote me, was delayed by the difficulty of securing the necessary funds--at least £6,000--to mount a play by an author so little believed in by theatrical speculators in the metropolis, until the partnership between Forbes-Robertson and Mrs. Patrick Campbell was dissolved.

On November 24, 1899, You Never Can Tell was produced by the London Stage Society at the Royalty Theatre, London. This was the first of Shaw's plays to be produced by the Society. Beginning on May 2, 1900, You Never Can Tell was produced in a two weeks' series of six matinées by James Welch and Yorke Stephens, both conspicuously successful in earlier Shaw rôles, at the Strand Theatre, London. In speaking of the matinée he witnessed at this time, Archer records that in this production there was nothing esoteric in the play, and that the enjoyment of the audience was very hearty. On the whole, the play seems to have proved a financial failure at this time; Norman Hapgood has stated that the play drew only about two hundred dollars at each performance. Grein predicted, and gave his reasons for, the failure of the piece--a prediction forestalled by Shaw's own protest against

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1
The cast in this single production of Cæsar and Cleopatra included Nutcombe Gould ( Julius Cæsar); Mrs. Patrick Campbell (Cleopatra); Courtenay Thorpe (Rufio); Bromley Davenport (Britannus); Granville-Barker (Lucius Septimus); Berte Thomas (Apollodorus); Robert Farquharson (Ptolemy XIV); Albert Gran (Pothinus); and Frances Ivor (Ftatateeta). A very amusing scene in this performance, that in which appeared a Syrian, a Nabatæan, a Rhodian, and a Cretan, was afterwards cut out, and does not appear in the printed play.

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