31 May 1883
A second performance of The Tale of Troy on the miniature stage of Cromwell-house last night confirmed the favourable impression of the first, both with regard to the literary taste of Professor Watt's adaptation of the Homeric narrative and the beautiful setting designed for it by Sir Frederick Leighton, Mr. Poynter, and others. The Greek text being employed on this occasion, a slight re-adjusting of the cast was rendered necessary in order that full justice might be done to the post's hexameters. Miss Elinor Ritchie assumed the part of Andromache, Mrs. Beerbohm Tree becoming Helen, and Miss E. Guest, Miss Eugenie Sellers, and Miss Jane E. Harrison, appeared as Hecuba, Cassandra, and Penelope, respectively, while Mr. J.K. Stephen and Mr. Lionel Tennyson took their places as Hector and Ulysses. Mr. W.A. Gill, played, as before, Alcinous. The formidable array of dramatis personŠ in other respects remained unchanged, though the number of ladies taking part in the choruses it must have been beyond the resources of Girton to produce. Mr. Gladstone was present as a deeply-interested spectator of what must be considered the first successful attempt to bring the living characters of Homer upon the stage. It is impossible to conceive how this could be done with a more scrupulous regard to the spirit of the poem or with a more sympathetic or more refined appreciation of the beauty of Greek art. Costume, scenery, grouping, music, the product of many minds, were blended into a whole, and impressed the spectator no less with their admirable harmony than with their severely classical correctness.
Every stage picture here shown, whether technically to be described as a "tableau" or a "scene," is strikingly beautiful. The opening tableau represents Aphrodite redeeming her pledge by bringing Paris to the fairest of women. Helen is seated musing, while Peitho (Persuasion) whispers in her ear. Aphrodite, unseen by her, is drawing aside her veil and showing her to Paris, who gazes at her with admiration, while Eros (Love) stands by. In the first scene of the play proper we are shown the plain of Troy, as seen from the Hill of Hissarlik. In the distance are the Hellespont and the isles of Imbros and Samothrace. The war-huts of the Greeks appear on the plain, and their ships are drawn up on the shore beyond. On the left is the ScŠan Gate, adorned with rudely-carved lions; on the right, a shrine, containing a primitive statue of the goddess, Pallas Athene, whom the city had chosen as its guardian. It is here that the women (whose part it was to pray while the men fought) supplicate Athene in vain; here that Helen deplores her guilt before Priam, and that Hector, the champion of Troy, takes leave of Andromache, his wife, and goes to battle. The interior of Achilles' hut where Priam ransoms his son's body is simple and calls for no remark. Again, however, we are brought back to the ScŠan Gate, and now the beauty of that scene already described is enhanced by an effective grouping of the various characters round Hector's bier-Andromache, Hecuba, Helen, and Cassandra, in costumes of varied hues and a chorus of Trojan ladies in white, while the senses are lulled by a dirge of singular simplicity and impressiveness. This scene closes the story of the "Iliad." The rest of the play is devoted to the fortunes of Ulysses. The tableau of "Ulysses in the Palace of Circe" represents, first, Circe preparing the wine; then Ulysses receiving it from her hands; and, lastly, the surrender of Circe, who pledges her oath to restore his comrades. She is accompanied by four handmaids. Passing over the hero's adventures in the Isle of Ogygia with Calypso and her nymphs-a part of the story represented by tableaux-we arrive at the Court of Alcinous, and finally are brought to the hearth of Ulysses, upon which the curtain falls. In all of these scenes-notably that of Nausicaa and her maidens-the resources of the cast for grouping are employed with much effect. The final tableau furnishes an impressive and worthy denouement in the shape of a group representing Ulysses bow in hand and Telemachus triumphant over the suitors of Penelope, while near them stands the goddess in whose protection they had confided. The performance from beginning to end was received with unstinted applause.