‘Mr. H.’ by Charles Lamb, Played at the Kilve Study Weekend 2003
(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 22, Winter 2003, p 98)
On the Saturday evening of this year’s Study Weekend at Kilve the Blake Drama Group from Bridgwater kindly agreed to give a special representation of ‘Mr. H.’ by Charles Lamb. They presented a dramatic reading with movement, gesture and facial expression, but did not attempt a full scale acting performance.
This gave a unique opportunity to see a shortish farce which in the hurly-burly of the early nineteenth century theatre was played for one night only in December 1806, being withdrawn by the Drury Lane management after a disastrous opening, at the end of which the enthusiastic acclaim for the Prologue was replaced by vehement hissing as the audience expressed derisive objections to what they had just seen.
At Kilve the audience was kinder, and found much to laugh at in the skilful rendering of the script, though even that could not entirely conceal the somewhat laboured way in which the author worked out his denouement. The whole thing turns at every stage on verbal ingenuity (the right sort of ingenuity for a literary gathering!) and there is really little real action in theatrical terms.
However, the central character—Mr H himself—was cleverly realised. He was absurd, ridiculous, scarcely at all hampered it seemed by the book in his hand, wheedling, cajoling, shouting, excessively sentimental in what Dickens might have called ‘the approved manner’ one moment, and with a keen eye to the main chance the next. His words were well phrased, timed and spoken in an appropriate and convincing period style. He might have stepped straight out of the year 1806 to entertain us in 2003.
He was well supported by the landlord, a group of ladies fluttering around him for a while, and several servants. In contrast, Melesinda—the girl he wished to marry—was quietly spoken and dignified, which certainly added something to her approach to the whole business of finding a suitable husband.
It was good to see ‘Mr. H.’ in a very carefully prepared piece of acting. It is probably true to say that such an opportunity is unlikely to occur again, and it was therefore all the more welcome.
O rare Charles Lamb!
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