Between the Whiffs
Henry Herman (1832-1894) knew Wilkie as stage manager
for the revival of The New Magdalen
in 1875 and then prepared Miss
Gwilt for its first production at the Alexandra Theatre (shown above in
1870) on 9 December 1875. Wilkie wrote to him on 8 November “I can only
leave it to your knowledge and experience – in which I have perfect
confidence – to prepare the piece for production. I hope to attend all the
later rehearsals myself.” Wilkie did so arriving in Liverpool on 6 December
and leaving on 11th.
Herman collected anecdotes from his literary and theatrical life in an exceedingly rare book published towards the end of his life Between the Whiffs.
When Wilkie Collins’s Miss Gwilt
was rehearsed for the first time on any stage, at the Alexandra
Theatre, Liverpool, it contained a part omitted at its production – namely
that of the old gardener, Abraham Sage. The
rôle was allotted to a young man
who was then the second comedian of the theatre, and who has since made a
name for himself both in England and the Colonies. The aspirant for stage
with his part – a very short one – and at one of the final rehearsals he
interlarded his principal speech with a copious admixture of the word “sir.”
When he had got through, Wilkie Collins looked at him over his spectacles
and said sternly: “Young man, I have written the word ‘sir’ four times. You
have used it thirteen times. Please understand that I want my words spoken
as I wrote them.” “I am very
sorry, Mr. Collins,” replied the young comedian;
but, you see, the part’s such a poor one, and I wanted to give it
“Thank you,” Wilkie Collins replied quietly;” I will look into this.”
When the rehearsal of the act was finished, Wilkie Collins turned to Miss
Cavendish’s stage manager, who had charge of the production, and asked him
for a pencil.
think, Mr. --------,” he said “if we put our heads
together, we may do without Abraham Sage,” and in the result every line of
the gardener’s part was struck out of the piece.
When the Alexandra Theatre Company, including Edmund and Robert Lyons. A. W.
Pinero, and others, were engaged for the London production, that young
comedian regretted his inconsiderate speech, and three years elapsed before
he found a London engagement. He has made up for it since.
Henry Herman, Between the Whiffs,
Bristol, , pp. 108-109. Quoted in Broadbent,
Annals of the Liverpool Stage,
1908 p. 313.
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