By FRANK LASCELLES, ESQ.
A Reading before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto February 10, 1916
Mr. Alan Sullivan introduced the reader and said: MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,-I am at present living in an entirely reflected light; It is quite a delightful experience, and if the Dynasts, as far as I am personally concerned, accomplishes nothing more than to have established such a charming relationship with the person of Mr. Frank Lascelles I should be very grateful and well satisfied, and think that six weeks' work has been well spent.
The Dynasts, which will be put on for the week of February 14th at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, had its inception in a very human and homelike way. Along the northern coast of the British Channel, especially in Dorset, there are still surviving many legends and much folk lore concerning the Napoleonic wars. In counties and villages, stories are still told which have been handed down from father to father since 1815. Mr. Thomas Hardy, the most famous Dorset man, heard these and, realizing their significance and interest, began to weave them into a historical drama. This historical drama gradually enlarged until in its scope it covered some fifteen years of the Napoleonic wars and constituted Mr. Hardy's great literary epic and dramatic offering to his country.
The works of Mr. Thomas Hardy need no comment at this particular time, but it is a peculiar and significant thing that all through the Dynasts runs the note of destiny, that overbrooding, overruling providence that sways the affairs of man. This note characterizes practically all his novels.
In the Dynasts you see groups of men creating circumstances and affairs; you see these circumstances and affairs grow and spread until they embrace not only countries but continents, and, by and by, receive such a terrific impetus and sweep that the men who created them are swept up and carried off by the very creations of their own imagination. It is a powerful Hardy note and is very observable in the Dynasts.
The Dynasts, itself, is a very large book, but what it is proposed to present next week constitutes about twenty-three scenes. These are all spoken and acted. These scenes reflect the humour, the anxiety, the hopes, the fears, the triumphs, the tribulations of our own people just one hundred years ago.
The Dynasts was put on by Mr. Granville Barker in London and ran between four and five months at the Kingsway Theatre. It was immediately recognized as having a very great national significance because it expressed to all those who saw it that which many people must think today, but for which there is no individual expression.
Lady Drummond whose work we all know and admire suggested to Mr. Lascelles that it would be a very good thing if the Dynasts were put on in Canada. Mr. Lascelles came here with very unnecessary letters of introduction, and since he came a great deal has been done.
There are some two hundred people taking part in the Dynasts, and something over one hundred speaking parts. There are twenty-three scenes. These scenes are linked together by the reader, who sits in front of the stage, in Georgian dress and by short read paragraphs, links the various scenes together. On each side of the stage you will find women who contribute the classic characters. These are the strophe and antistrophe or perhaps, more properly speaking, the spirit of the Years, and, together with the Reader they give their particular note which expresses the epic, the tragic character of various parts of the performance.
Our experiences in Toronto have been somewhat varied, although we find as a whole that practically everybody approves of the plan, and is willing and ready to help. For instance, this week we are having a number of rehearsals, and the School Board of Toronto has arranged that the schools may close early in various parts of the city to enable the pupils to attend. One school master called me up yesterday. He had seen a rehearsal that afternoon and said, "Now, I don't want to knock your show, but have you heard any criticisms? " "Not yet; we wait for them." "Well," he went on, " I would like to make two." I said, "Thank you." He went on "The first is, there was such a crowd of children there that they had their hats knocked off in coming out." "Are you aware," I asked, "that the same children knocked the door off the Alexandra Theatre? " Which they did.
Another point was that the children could not hear. I took the liberty of asking why. He said, "On account of the noise." "Is it on account of the noise they were making themselves?" "Yes," and we did not get very much further.
I notice that one of the papers described the production of the Dynasts as a mammoth scene investiture. Gentlemen, it is nothing of the sort. On the stage you will find a very severe and dignified background, formed of tall columns with curtains between suggesting space and height and distance. The platform is bare elsewhere of all theatrical properties; there are no gimcracks.; there are no thousand dollar rugs; nothing of any kind which will in any way interfere with or intercept the magnificent simplicity and grandeur and beauty of Mr. Thomas Hardy's words.
So when you see the Dynasts, as I trust many of you will, I hope that you will consider the stage setting merely as the most suitable background for the expression of the poet's superb fancy and prophesy.
You may think that perhaps the audience has to do a good deal for itself in a case of this kind. You will be quite right. We also think the audience will have a great deal to do. But, gentlemen, we have a great deal to do in other ways; I think you will agree with that.
The object of the Dynasts primarily is to help the Red Cross Funds. And in that connection I would like to bear testimony to the admirable attitude of the authorities of the Alexandra Theatre and also to the attitude of the Historical Productions Company of London, England, who by joint arrangement, bear, the expense and contribute twenty-five percent of the gross proceeds to the Red Cross. I think Mr. President and gentlemen, you will agree with me that is a very excellent arrangement. We have not had to go about in Toronto asking various gentlemen for guarantees. We are free from financial responsibility and there is no question whatever as to the exact proportion which the Red Cross will get. As business men you will understand the somewhat nebulous meaning of the words "net profits." It does not arise in connection with the Dynasts.
Now, gentlemen, behind all this there is something else. The big reason for the Dynasts is, that there is a very high note to be struck. The minds of thinking men must at the present day be full of questions for which there is no individual answer. We must be full of anxieties. We have our hopes, and our fears and also we have our determination. And if we can present to you the picture of our old race fighting a hundred years ago for exactly the same thing that we are fighting for today, for the most beautiful, precious thing in the world,-spiritual and intellectual freedom-and if we can picture to you that race winning through, triumphing on account of those qualities which we make bold to believe we still preserve in our breasts, surely we have a note of encouragement, one which must help the trying hour and one which, I think, must nerve people to additional energy in themselves.
That, gentlemen, is the message of the Dynasts and that is what we expect, as they put it in theatrical parlance, to get across to you.
I think, Mr. President and gentlemen, I have spent more time than I should have but would like to add one word more. It seems a very fine and splendid thing that Mr. Lascelles, with his magnificent experience, with his tremendous talent, with all behind him that is behind him, should put aside his own affairs and come to Toronto as a volunteer to lend us his genius and help present the Dynasts as the Dynasts should be presented. This volunteer spirit is what holds together some two hundred odd people who will endeavour to do their very best next week to be worthy of their subject.
MR. FRANK LASCELLES
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN, -I think Mr. Alan Sullivan has so excellently put the meaning of the Dynasts before you and the inspiration which we had always in our minds in producing it, that there is very little left for me to say under that heading.
I would like, however, to impress upon you that our desire in this production is to make people realize how very much what we are going through today is what our forefathers went through before us.
Thomas Hardy's "Dynasts" is a very long work and we are only able to produce a very few scenes from it. But I think if the scenes that we produce encourage people to read the Dynasts for themselves, it will not have been given in vain.
The performers, as you know, are all amateurs and all work in connection with it, headed by Mr. Sullivan, who has given many weeks of his valuable time to it, all services are entirely voluntary; and we hope very much that the words of Mr. Hardy may get across the footlights, so to speak, although as a matter of fact there are no footlights. Well, get across to the audience.
I think I will just read you one or two very short scenes which will, perhaps, give you some idea of the beauty of some of Hardy's works. I will just read the prologue.
Extracts were read with great elocutionary power.
A hearty vote of thanks was accorded to Mr. Lascelles and Mr. Alan Sullivan.