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A.E. Matthews and Irene Vanburgh in Alice Sit-by-the-Fire

December 26, 2012

This real photograph postcard, no. 588 H, published in 1905 in London by J. Beagles & Co, features a scene from J.M. Barrie’s play, Alice Sit-by-the-Fire: A Page from a Daughter’s Diary, with A.E. Matthews as Cosmo Grey and Irene Vanbrugh as Amy Grey, which was produced at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, on 5 April 1905. (photo: Alfred Ellis & Walery, London, 1905)

‘London, April 8 [1905]. ‘Barrie’s new play, produced at the Duke of York’s last Wednesday, drew a most distinguished audience, which included many prominent and respected American citizens. The play was called by another of Barrie’s peculiar titles – namely, Alice, Sit by the Fire. This time the title was the least inappropriate that the brilliant little native of Thrums has yet vouchsafed. Alice is a middle-aged, but still merry and charming mother, who until the play opens has had to live in India with her colonel-husband, and to send all her babies, one by one, home to England to be reared. The family thus brought up thousands of miles away from her includes a daughter just on the verge of young womanhood; a son, some years younger, but fancying himself too much a man to suffer any kind of parental care, and a baby who is only old enough, when seeing a friendly hand, to “wrestle with it,” as the Luck of Roaring Camp did in dear old Bret Harte’s memorable and lovable story.

‘When Momma Alice arrives in England with her martial but sympathetic husband, she is staggered to find that her gown-up “chicks” regard her with mixed feelings. They have never seen her since they could “take notice,” as fond mammas say. The son shuns her, because of her demonstrative affection to him “before people.” The growing daughter, with her silly head full of five consecutive nights play going, and seeing her mother display some feeling and affection to a young Anglo-Indian male friend of her husband, jumps to the conclusion that the said mother is “in the power” of this young man, as wives so often are in modern plays.

‘The girl, therefore, egged on by a girl friend, who is even more sentimentally silly, goes alone to the young man’s rooms in order to demand the return of the “incriminating letters” which she feels sure her mother must have written “as they always do in plays.” The daughter’s secret visit, of course, involves herself in the supposed mystery. The mother arriving at the “man’s rooms,” presently with her husband detects that her daughter is hiding in a cupboard, and adopts all sort of subterfuges in order to smuggle the girl away before her father is driven to the supposition that his daughter is keeping an “assignation” with the male friend.

‘Confusion becomes still worse confounded before the quaint mystery is cleared up and the curtain finally falls on Mommer Alice resolving to give up all globe-trotting and giddiness and to sit by the fire at home for evermore.

‘The one fault in this otherwise charming and delightful play – at least on the first night – was that Barrie has put in too much dialogue, bright and crisp as that dialogue was. Ellen Terry, whose performance of the perplexed mother was too perfect for words, had such a lot to say after the play had virtually finished that an anticlimax set in. But the piece is (as it deserves to be) a great success. In addition to Ellen Terry’s glorious performance, splendid acting was put in by Irene Vanbrugh as the foolish daughter and Aubrey Smith as the common sense husband.’ (Gawain, The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, Saturday, 22 April 1905, p.7a/b)

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