February 8, 2013

Mdlle. Lillian (fl. late 1860s/early 1870s), equestrienne and actress
(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, circa 1869)

Mdlle. Lillian and ‘Beauty’ star in a touring production of Mazeppa, Prince of Wales’s Theatre, Glasgow, week beginning Monday, 25 September 1871
‘The pieces performed in this theatre last night were Mazeppa and the Taming of a Shrew [sic] – in other words, Mdlle. Lillian, or rather Mdlle. Lillian’s “highly-trained steed,” divided the honours of the night with Shakespeare! Of course, the place of honour was accorded to the noble quadruped – “Katharine and Petruchio” coming on at the fag-end of the performances. As to Mazeppa, which the playbills inform us is in a “Grand Equestrian Drama,” it is not easy to write with calmness, and we should not have noticed it were it not that our silence might be construed into approval. Glasgow playgoers, unfortunately, are no strangers to Mazeppa. The “fiery, untamed steed,” with its half-nude burden, has appeared on our local boards more than once, and it would be needed to dissect the piece, although we may caution such of our readers as have not see in that it bears not the slightest resemblance to Byron’s poem, on which it is advertised as founded. From beginning to end it is one farrago of nonsense, and would be hissed off the stage were it not for the sensational appearance of a “real live horse,” bearing on its back a scantily clothed woman. That such things should attract delighted “houses” when Shakespeare means bankruptcy, is not a pleasant sign of the age. Last night this travesty of all this is noble and artistic in the legitimate drama was rendered more than usually ridiculous by the meanness of the mis-en-scene and the unsatisfactory character of the acting. The “Castle Laurenski,” to which were are introduced in Scene I., is made to do service for almost every succeeding landscape from a garden terrace to gigantic passes and a “wild retreat amid the mountains;” so that Mazeppa, having started on his furious ride from the Castle, is made to reappear on his dying steed at the very spot from which he set out, and is supposed to be countless miles distant. Indeed, the ride generally was, although not meant to be, burlesque run mad, and we shall not soon forget the ludicrous figure cut by the two unfortunate wolves, whose heads were seen bobbing frantically above the surface of the river in pursuit of the runaway horse. We may be wrong, but they looked remarkably like the two crocodiles which did service in an extravaganza on a former occasion. Almost as rich in its way was the “desperate conflict of Mazeppa and Premislaus,” which was “desperate” in the sense of being desperately funny. From the play to the payers is from the frying pan into the fire. The leading rôle of the “wild horse” was taken by “Beauty,” the “highly-trained steed,” whose name ought really to flourish in the bills in large letters. The “fiery and untamed” Tartar seemed hardly to have attained a true conception of the character, to judge from the complacent and leisurely manner in which he walked the gallop. In the scene also where the “exhausted steed” is discovered – so exhausted as to be actually dead – his sudden resurrection to life and vigour was in direct violation of the Byronic text. But Beauty at least got through his part, which is more than can be said of all the other performers, and secured for his rider a call before the curtain. Mazeppa was, of course, Mdlle. Lillian, whose various poses were effective, but whose action and delivery were so mediocre that they would never have attracted attention in full dress. Neither Miss Brennan nor Mr Chippendale was suited to the rolês of Olinska and the Castellan. The former’s style is painfully laboured and precise – too stiff for comedy and not intense enough for tragedy, reminding one of the recitations of a clever school girl. Mr Cooke’s Abder Khan was transpontine to a degree, and the rest of the actors were, in sporting parlance, “nowhere,” except, perhaps, Miss Garland, who showed some little archness. Mazeppa, as we have said, was followed by the Taming of a Shrew [sic], but, after what we had seen, we had no heart for Shakespeare.’
(The Glasgow Herald, Glasgow, Tuesday, 26 September 1871, p. 4d)


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