EESE 3/99
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Feb. 28, 1874


     So runs the description in the bill, of the new historical play which was produced at the Princess's on Monday night. Whether Mr. Wills's powers, either as a dramatist or a poet, are of the highest may be questioned, notwithstanding the felicities of phrase whichabound in Charles I., Medea, and probably in Eugene Aram; but despite his besetting lugubriousness he is a thorough artist, and every bit of work which he turns out deserves to be tested by a high standard. It is explained that "in all natural respects the author has followed history, especially in the character of the chief persons - Knox has himself reported his interview with the young queen, and with fulness and naïve complacency, and in some passages the author fancied he could read between the lines a certain growing weakness amply compensated for by the increased rigour of his pulpit philippics." The author says further. "Although the dialogue is entirely original, he still hopes that the spirit of the interview has been fairly represented."
     Whether or not - as has been suggested - Mr. Wills dug out "some lying chronicle" the foundation of the story which he has told, for the most part, in agreeable verse, we cannot say: he declares that he has "followed history in all natural respects," and we are bound to believe him. But if his touch as a painter of history be truthful, how grievously some of his predecessors in the craft must have belied their sitters! John Knox, the iron-natured fanatic, is a familiar figure in one's reading; but John Knox playing the part of a mild Merlin to Queen Mary's Vivien, is a new figure in history, however much he be at home in the romance of tradition, or in enlivening the pages of those "lying chronicles" before mentioned. Since the Lord Chamberlain saw nothing that called for expurgation or toning down in the theological passages-at-arms with which the play is sprinkled, we may assume that they are by no means out of place. We should conceive that rigid Presbyterians of the John Knox type are not in the habit of patronising the theatre to an overwhelming extent, and as all the pretty rebukes of fanatical intolerance are placed in the mouth of of the beautiful Queen, there is little occasion, it may be, to apprehend a serious revivial, or even an amusing imitation, of the Gordon riots in consequence of the production of the Queen o' Scots.
     We learn in the first act of the five, which is laid in France in the early days of marie Stuart, that Chastelard loves the Queen, and are led on to infer that his love is returned. This string is played on with capricious variations throughout the entire piece. In the second act John Knox stalks into notice. The people, with the Lord Provost and other civic dignitaries at their head, are waiting to welcome the Queen as she enters the gates of Edinburgh. John Knox attempts to bar the way, he fiercely denounces her, bids her put away her crucifix, - "Lo! the mark o' Babylon - yer canna pass" - when Chastelard, unable to control his rage, interferes. This affords Her Majesty an opening for diplomacy of which she instantly avails herself. She exclaims "No French subject shall ever dare dictate to my good Scotsmen," and leaving her palfrey outside (it always is a palfrey) she enters the city on foot. In the third act we are entertained with a stormy interview between John Knox and the Queen, and in the next act she has a really pretty scene with Chastelard, which is followed by the rush of the mob into the Queen's private chapel, with John Knox at the head ofthe malcontents. They cry out for Chastelard, when to save the life of the man she loves, she puts in force all her powers of fascination, and we have a representation of what is described as "John Knox's Temptation and Weakness." Knox yields, and the life of Chastelard is spared, but he must quit Scotland. Hampered by his infatuation, the lover lingers in the palace, and (in the final act) is discovered by Lord James Murray, John Knox, and the Guard in the apartment of the Queen. She pleads in vain for him, John Knox joining in her entreaties; but Lord Murray is inexorable. After a passionate farewell Chastelard is taken out and shot beneath the window of her chamber; in her despair she throws herself on the ground, but at teh sound of Knox's voice she rises and confronts him. Elsewhere than in the presence "of that," he informs her, at the same time pointing to the crucifix - he could pray for her. She clasps the crucifix ecstatically, it is "her only comfort," and the play ends with a really impressive tableau.
     Mrs. Rousby looked, in her gorgeous dresses (changed in every act) of pale sea-green silk, and purple velvet, and crimson velvet, and so forth, charming enough for anybody's ideal of Marie Stuart. Her impersonation ofthe character, however, was, if satisfactory as fas as it went, cold as a whole, and sketchy. In the lighter love passages with Chastelard, as the woman rather than the queen, she displayed true art, but only once, it seemed to us, when she threatened Murray, did she show any depth of passion. Mr. Rousby's 'John Knox' was steadily, consistently dull. It never flashed in the least. Any negative satisfaction which might have been derived from a matter-of-fact realisation of the part was intermittently marred by his lapses into lachrymose humour, and his by no means intermittent accent. Since it was Mr. Wills' pleasure to flavour his play with copious doses of dialect, Mr. Rousby might at least have taken a few lessons in what, to him, is palpably an unknown tongue. A modification of the same objection applies to Mr. Calhaem, whose 'Provost' was otherwise a creditable performance. Mr. Harcourt made a handsome Chastelard, rather over-boisterous perhaps, but he will tone down, and Mr. Darley a fairly satisfactory 'Rizzio.' 'Lord James Murray' lost nothing of his historcal ferocity in the hands of Mr. Fenton, and the little part of 'Jeannie' found an earnest representative in Miss Kemp. The picturesque and spectacular features of the play are of a high order, and should alone secure for it a long lease of popularity, apart from the fact of the story being an interesting one, and the skill that has been shown in the telling. Every credit should be given the management for their liberality, which by the way is shown conspicuously in the second scene of the second act. Mrs. Rousby's entrance on horseback, amid the pealing of bells and the cheers of of populace, forms a most striking stage-picture. If Mary Queen o' Scots is not a tour de force, it is a work of solid excellence, that ought after a few more representations to ripen into an attractive play. In justice to Mr. and Mrs. Rousby, and Mr. Harcourt, it should be mentioned that they were several times called before the curtain. In response to the cry of the "author," Mr. Rousby stated that Mr. Wills was not in the theatrte, but the congratulations of the audience should be conveyed to him.