The Red Cross Matinee – Summer 1916

You asked me to send you a short account of the Special Red Cross Matinee, which was given on May 2nd, at Drury Lane, during the Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival.
Mr. Ben Greet’s Company with whom I have been working all the winter at the Royal Victoria Hall, more generally known as the “Old Vic,” were asked to represent the “Winter’s Tale” episode in the Pagent of Shakespeare’s Plays, which followed the command performance of “Julius Caesar.”
It is difficult to say which were the most interesting to gaze at, the performers or the audience.
The King and Queen were present, and number of the Royal family, and those theatrical celebrities, who were not on the stage were certainly in the stalls.
The whole play of Julius Caesar was given at the special request of the Queen; and the crowd scenes, in which we all took part, were thrilling, led by Gerald du Maurier and A. E. George, on the immense stage of the “Lane,” with the most beautiful Roman scenery.
There was much consternation when Caesar’s ghost could not be found for his appearance in the Tent scene: but a little later on the truant ghost was led forward by Sir George Alexander, who explained, to the delight of all, that the delay had been caused by the King having just conferred the honour of knighthood on Mr. Benson, and the ceremony had taken longer than they expected, as no sword could be found, until someone thought of the “property room,” were one of shining “theatrical steel” was discovered.
The staging for the Pageant, which followed “Julius Caesar” was wonderful. In a few moments, by means of the machinery under the stage, which is just like the engine-room of some enormous ship, the whole stage was turned into a huge black staircase, each step having a black and white check border. Large, grey pillars filled in the wings, and the heavy, grey curtains at the back, through which the figures appeared, made a most effective setting.
Eight plays were chosen, “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Merchant of Venice”, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “As You Like It”, “Twelfth Night”, “Coriolanus” and “The Winter’s Tale”.
The figures moved quickly down the staircase, a few minutes being allowed to each episode for a little grouping and movement, and as one story reached the footlights at the bottom of the staircase, and then vanished right underneath the stage, the herald of the next episode appeared through the top curtains.
The most interesting of the characters were the “Volumnia” in the “Coriolanus” episode, of Miss Genevieve Ward, who at 83 has returned to the stage in the cause of War charity, and is now working hard at His Majesty’s. The “Hermione” of Miss Mary Anderson in the “Winter’s Tale”, and above all the ”Portia” of Miss Ellen Terry, still with all the charm that is hers alone, in the “Merchant of Venice” episode, which was arranged by her daughter, Miss Edith Craig.
Last of all the curtains at the top of the staircase were drawn, and a bust of Shakespeare was seen, with Ellen Terry and Genevieve Ward standing on either side, representing Comedy and Tragedy. All the performers then grouped themselves on either side of the staircase, while the leading actresses walked up the centre, to the music of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” and placed laurel wreaths round the statue. Then Miss Muriel Foster sang “God Save the King”, and the front curtains came down, and we realised that it was long past six o’clock, and we were awfully hungry.
But afterwards it was delightful to realise that one bad taken part, not only in an historic performance, but that one had helped to contribute over £3000 to the Red Cross Funds, to which all the profits of the day were given.
Yours affectionately,