The Interlude at the Playhouse

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The Interlude at the Playhouse  (1907) 
by George Bernard Shaw
This playlet was written to introduce Winifred Emery—actress and wife of the manager—at the gala opening of the Playhouse. It was not performed again.


Opening night. Brilliant first-night audience assembled. Conclusion of overture. In each -programme a slip has been distributed, stating that before the play begins the Manager will address a few words to the audience.
The float is turned up. Lights down in auditorium.
Expectancy. Silence.
The act drop is swung back. Evidently somebody is coming forward to make a speech.
Enter before the curtain the Manager's wife, with one of the programme slips in her hand.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Ladies and gentlemen. [She hesitates, overcome with nervousness; then plunges ahead]. About this speech—you know—this little slip in your programmes—it says that Edwin—I mean Mr. Goldsmith—I am so frightfully nervous—I—[she begins tearing up the slip carefully into very small pieces] I have to get this finished before he comes up from his dressing-room, because he doesn't know what I'm doing. If he did —Well, what I want to say is —of course, I am saying it very badly because I never could speak in public, but the fact is, neither can Edwin. Excuse my calling him Edwin; I know I should speak of him as Mr. Goldsmith; but—but—perhaps I had better explain that we are married; and the force of habit is so strong—er—yes, isn't it?^ You see, it's like this. At least, what I wanted to say is—is—is —er—. A little applause would encourage me, perhaps, if you don't mind. Thank you. Of course, it's so ridiculous to be nervous like this, among friends, isn't it? But I have had such a dreadful week at home over this speech of Edwin's. He gets so angry with me when I tell him that he can't make speeches, and that nobody wants him to make one! I only wanted to encourage him; but he is so irritable when he has to build a theatre! Of course, you wouldn't think so, seeing him act; but you don't know what he is at home. Well, dear ladies and gentlemen, will you be very nice and kind to him when he is speaking, and if he is nervous, don't notice it? And please don't make any noise; the least sound upsets him and puts his speech out of his head. It is really a very good speech; he has not let me see the manuscript, and he thinks I know nothing about it; but I have heard him make it four times in his sleep. He does it very well when he is asleep—quite like an orator; but unfortunately he is awake now, and in a fearful state of nerves. I felt I must come out and ask you to be kind to him—after all, we are old friends, aren't we? [ Applause] Oh, thank you, thank you; that is your promise to me to be kind to him. Now I will run away. Please don't tell him I dared to do this. [Going] And, please, please, not the least noise. If a hairpin drops, all is lost. Coming back to centre] Oh, and Mr. Conductor, would you be so very good, when he comes to the pathetic-part, to give him a little slow music. Something affecting,you know.

CONDUCTOR. Certainly, Mrs. Goldsmith, certainly.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Thank you. You know, it is one of the great sorrows of his life that the managers will not give him an engagement in melodrama. Not that he likes melodrama; but he says that the slow music is such a support on the stage; and he needs all the support he can get tonight, poor fellow! The—

A CARPENTER [from the side, putting his head round the edge of the curtain] Tsst! ma'am, tsst!

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Eh? What's the matter?

THE CARPENTER. The governor's dressed and coming up, ma'am.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Oh! [To the audience] Not a word. [She hurries off, with her finger on her lips].

[The warning for the band sounds. "Auld Lang Syne" is softly played. The curtain rises, and discovers a reading table, with an elaborate, triple-decked folding desk on it. A thick manuscript of unbound sheets is on the desk. A tumbler and decanter, with water, and two candles, shaded from the audience, are on the table. Right of table, a chair, in which the Manager's Wife is seated. Another chair, empty, left on table. At the desk stands the Manager, ghastly pale. Applause. When silence is restored, he makes two or three visible efforts to speak.]

THE MANAGER'S WIFE [aside] Courage, dear.

THE MANAGER [smiling with effort] Oh, quite so, quite so. Don't be frightened, dearest. I am quite

self-possessed. It would be very silly for me to—er—there is no occasion for

nervousness—I—er—quite accustomed to public life—er—ahem! [He opens the manuscript, raises his head, and takes breath]. Er— [He flattens the manuscript out with his^ hand,affecting the ease and large gesture of an orator. The desk collapses with an appalling clatter. He collapses, shaking with nervousness, into the chair.]

THE MANAGER'S WIFE [running to him solicitously] Never mind, dear; it was only the desk. Come, come now.

You're better now, aren't you? The audience is waiting.

THE MANAGER. I thought it was the station.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. There's no station there now,dear; it's quite safe. [Replacing the MS. on the desk]

There! That's right. [She sits down and composes herself to listen].

THE MANAGER [beginning his speech] Dear friends—I wish I could call you ladies and gentlemen—

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Hm! Hm! Hm!

THE MANAGER. What's the matter?

THE MANAGER'S WIFE [prompting him] Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I could call you dear friends.

THE MANAGER. Well, what did I say?

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. You said it the other way about. No matter. Go on. They will understand.

THE MANAGER. Well, what difference does it make? [Testily] How am I to make a speech if I am to be

interrupted in this way? [To the audience] Excuse my poor wife, ladies and gentlemen. She is naturally a

little nervous to-night. You will overlook a woman's weakness. [ To his wife] Compose yourself, my dear. Ahem! [He returns to the MS.]. The piece of land on which our theatre is built is mentioned in Domesday Book; and you will be glad to hear that I have succeeded in tracing its history almost year by year for the 800 years that have elapsed since that book—perhaps the most interesting of all English books —was written. That history I now propose to impart to you. Angelina, I really cannot make a speech if you look at your watch. If you think I am going on too long, say so.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Not at all, dear. But our friends may not be so fond of history as you are.

THE MANAGER. Why not? I am surprised at you, Angelina. Do you suppose that this is an ordinary frivolous audience

of mere playgoers? You are behind the times. Look at our friend Tree, making a fortune out of Roman history! Look

at the Court Theatre: they listen to this sort of thing for three hours at a stretch there. Look at the Royal

Institution, the Statistical Society, the House of Commons! Are we less scholarly, less cultured, less serious

than the audiences there? I say nothing of my own humble powers; but am I less entertaining than an average

Cabinet Minister? You show great ignorance of the times we live in, Angelina; and if my speech bores you, that

only shows that you are not in the movement. I am determined that this theatre shall be in the movement.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Well, all I can tell you is that if you don't get a little more movement into your speech,

there won't be time for Pickles.

THE MANAGER. That does not matter. We can omit Pickles if necessary. I have played Pickles before. If you suppose

I am burning to play Pickles again you are very much mistaken. If the true nature of my talent were understood I

should be playing Hamlet. Ask the audience whether they would not like to see me play Hamlet. [Enthusiastic assent]. There! You ask me why I don't play Hamlet instead of Pickles.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. I never asked you anything of the kind.

THE MANAGER. Please don't contradict me, Angelina—it least not in public. I say you ask me why I don't play

Hamlet instead of Pickles. Well, the reason is that anybody can play Hamlet, but it takes me to play Pickles. I leave Hamlet to those who can provide no livelier form of entertainment. [Resolutely returning to the MS.] I am now going back to the year eleven hundred.

THE STAGE MANAGER [coming on in desperation] No, sir, you can't go back all that way; you promised me you would be done in ten minutes. I've got to set for the first Act.

THE MANAGER. Well, is it my fault? My wife won't let me speak. I have not been able to get in a word edgeways. [Coaxing] Come, there's a dear, good chap; just let me have another twenty minutes or so. The audience wants to hear my speech. You wouldn't disappoint them, would you?

THE STAGE MANAGER [going] Well, it's as you please, sir; not as I please. Only don't blame me if the audience loses its last train and comes back to sleep in the theatre, chat's all. He goes off with the air of a man who is prepared for the worst].

[During the conversation with the Stage Manager, the Manager's Wife, unobserved by her husband, steals the manuscript; replaces the last two leaves of it on the desk; puts the rest on her chair, and sits down on it.]

THE MANAGER. That man is hopelessly frivolous; I really must get a more cultured staff. [ To the audience]

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm extremely sorry for these unfortunate interruptions and delays; you can see that they are not my fault. [Returning to the desk] Ahem! Er—hallo! I am getting along faster than I thought. I shall not keep you much longer now. [Resuming his oration] Ladies and gentlemen, I have dealt with our little play-house in its historical aspect. I have dealt with it in its political aspect, in its financial aspect, in its artistic aspect, in its social aspect, in its County Council aspect, in its biological and psychological aspects. You have listened to me with patience and sympathy. You have followed my arguments with intelligence, and accepted my conclusions with indulgence. I have explained to you why I have given our new theatre its pleasant old name; why I selected "Pickles" as the opening piece. I have told you of our future plans, of the engagements we have made, the pieces we intend to produce, the policy we are resolved to pursue. [With graver emphasis] There remains only one word more. [With pathos] If that word has a personal note in it you will forgive me. [With deeper pathos] If the note is a deeper and tenderer one than I usually venture to sound on the stage, I hope you will not think it out of what I believe is called my line. [With emotion] Ladies and gentlemen, it is now more than twenty years since I and my dear wife—[Violins tremolando; flute solo, "Auld Lang Syne"] What's that noise? Stop. What do you mean by this?

[The band is silent.]

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. They are only supporting you, Edwin. Nothing could be more appropriate.

THE MANAGER. Supporting me! They have emptied my soul of all its welling pathos. I never heard anything so ridiculous. Just as I was going to pile it on about you, too.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Go on, dear. The audience was just getting interested.

THE MANAGER. So was I. And then the band starts on me. Is this Drury Lane or is it the Playhouse? Now, I haven't the heart to go on.

THE MANAGER'S WIFE. Oh, please do. You were getting on so nicely.

THE MANAGER. Of course I was. I had just got everybody into a thoroughly serious frame of mind, and then the silly band sets everybody laughing—just like the latest fashion in tragedy. All my trouble gone for nothing. There's nothing left of my speech now; it might as well have been the Education Bill.

MANAGER’S WIFE. But you must finish it, dear.

THE MANAGER. I won't. Finish it yourself. [Exit in high dudgeon.]

THE MANAGER'S WIFE [rising and coming center] Ladies and Gentlemen. Perhaps I had better finish it. You see, what my husband and I have been trying to do is a very difficult thing. We have some friends here-some old valued friends-some young ones too, we hope, but we also have for the first time in this house of ours the great public. We dare not call ourselves the friends of the public. We are only its servants; and. like all servants, we are very much afraid of seeming disrespectful if we allow ourselves to be too familiar; and we are most at our ease when we are doing our work. We rather dread occasions like these when we are allowed, and even expected, to step out of our place, and speak in our own persons of our own affairs—even for a moment perhaps, very discreetly, of our own feelings. Well, what can we do? We recite a little verse; we make a little speech; we are shy, in the end we put ourselves out of countenance, put you out of countenance, and strain your attitude of kindness and welcome until it becomes an attitude of wishing that it was all over Well we resolved not to do that to-night if we could help it. After all. you know how glad we are to see you, for you have the advantage of us, you can do without us: we cannot do without you. I will not say that

’’The drama's laws the drama's patrons give,’’
’’And we who live to please must please to live.’’

because that is not true; and it never has been true. The drama’s slaws have a higher source than your caprice or ours. and in in this playhouse of ours we will not please you except on terms honourable to ourselves and to you. But on those terms we hope that you may spend many pleasant hours here, and we as many hard-working ones, as at our old home in the Haymarket. And now may I run away and tell Edwin that his speech has been a great success after all, and that you are quite ready for Pickles?

[Assent and applause}. Thank you. [Exit}

End
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).