Tuesday, October 17, 2017

KNOBLOCK’S TIGER! TIGER! ON STAGE



Tiger! Tiger! was a success when it played on Broadway. It racked up 183 performances.  David Belasco (1853-1931) was producer and director.  He was delighted with the production and claimed in the New York Times on November 14, 1918 that he had never staged a greater success than Tiger! Tiger! He further announced the theatre was sold out for every performance.

Perhaps the popularity for Tiger! Tiger! should not only be attributed to the play itself and the glowing reviews for Frances Starr (1886-1973) in the leading role as Sally as well as praise for Lionel Atwill (1885-1946) a British actor who played Clive Couper, but some credit should also be given to the free publicity garnered by the controversy surrounding the play. The New York Times reported on December 7, 1918 that a magistrate would determine if the play’s content was immoral within the meaning of the law.  This issue was raised due to a police complaint that focused on some of the speeches in the opening scene.  A December 11th follow-up article reported the chief magistrate refused to entertain the complaint after he perused the manuscript and attended a performance. He claimed there were conspicuously objectionable points in the play, but offered that the title is misleading and should be changed.

Theatre Magazine later reported that David Belasco consented to modify some of the offending lines, but it is unclear whether it was done.  This tempest in a teapot helped make Tiger! Tiger! the controversial play that became a popular box office hit across the United States. 
 
After it closed on Broadway in April 1919, the production toured the United States through fall of 1920. The tour included Chicago, where it played for several months in early 1920 before moving to other destinations in middle America and later heading to theatres in western cities.

Since interest in this play lasted more than two years in the United States, it gained a reputation as “one of the most discussed plays of the last decade,” according to the Dover Express on May 21, 1920, when Tiger! Tiger! was having its pre-London performance week at the Pleasure Garden Theatre in Folkestone, England. The article further claims that the play “created an immense sensation due to the courageous frankness with which it tackled a difficult but virtually important sexual problem.”

The play opened at the Strand Theatre in London and the review in the London Times appeared June 3, 1920. The review states: “These simple tales of elementary human passion can hardly achieve their full poignancy of effect without the best acting. Tiger! Tiger! we fear, gets only the second best.”  The review neither mentions the relationship between the social classes nor does it comment on the male/female issues beyond the passionate relationship. The reviewer ignores the war as a factor beyond stating it is “on” and that “the M.P. is chafing to get to the front.”

Other reviews also mention the acting as the major weakness of the production. The Tatler’s  June 23, 1920 review is more specific: “Miss Kyrie Bellew has not the temperament to give a perfect representation of a cook carrying on a secret liaison with an M.P. Nor has Mr. Leon Quartermaine quite the style to make us understand and sympathize with this M.P.”

Leon Quartermaine (1876-1967) who played Clive Couper, was an established British actor by 1920. He had been acting both in London and on Broadway for nearly two decades by the time he was cast in Tiger! Tiger!  Kyrie Bellew was the young wife of Arthur Bourchier (1863-1927) an established actor, who managed the Strand Theatre when Tiger! Tiger! was presented. Bellew had starred in plays prior to Tiger! Tiger! but did not always earn positive reviews.

Knoblock remarks in his biography, Round the Room, that the London production of Tiger! Tiger! “made no appeal whatever and only ran about six weeks.  His rational was that the London public in 1920 was sick of all references to the topic of war. He claimed his only consolation about this play was “Somerset Maugham told me once that he thought it perhaps my best play—‘very nearly a great play’ he added.”

The play garnered new productions in Great Britain after its London premier. It was produced in March, 1921 in Grimsby, England at the Prince of Wales’ Theatre. Another production was produced in Worthington, England in May, 1922. I have not attempted to discover more British revivals of the play.

It also was staged in Paris, France and opened in September, 1922 at the Théatre des Arts under the title L’Eveil du Fauve. This production was labelled an adaptation of Knoblock’s play in an article that appeared in The Stage on September 21, 1922. This same theatre presented the play under its English title in September, 1923. It starred two well-known French actors Paulette Pax (1887-1942) as Sally and Pierre Renoir (1885-1952) as Clive Couper.

Knoblock had nine new plays that appeared on Broadway and in London throughout the 1920s and 1930s. One of those plays relates to World War One. It is titled Simon Called Peter (1924) and adapted from the best seller 1921 novel by Robert Keable (1887-1927). This play opened on Broadway in November 1924 and closed in January 1925 after playing a total of eighty-eight performances.

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