The proper lighting of the stage is nowadays an important factor in every production. In these preliminary preparations the electricians are equally concerned, and are kept busy with the installation of the lights and the placing of the lamps so that the necessary effects may be accurately obtained.
In this way is assured perfect smoothness of working on the great night.
In the earlier days of his career, Sir Herbert Tree, when commanded to Balmoral to play the "Ballad Monger" and another play before Queen Victoria, included in the caste his daughter, now known to the playgoing world as the accomplished Miss Viola Tree, and she appeared as one of the pages to Louis XI. She was a little girl at the time, and had the honour of being presented, with her father and mother, to the Queen, who was greatly taken with her, for no one will need reminding that her late Majesty was very fond of children.
At a convenient hour on the day of the performance the actors go down to Windsor by train. On their arrival a number of Royal carriages are in waiting to take them to the Castle for the final rehearsal, which is always held on the stage. This is necessary, because the stage in the Waterloo Chamber is very much smaller than the one on which they usually act. In fact, it is no bigger than what is commonly known as a "fit-up stage," used when plays are given in town halls and similar buildings in the smaller towns which have no theatre. At this rehearsal the actors get accustomed to moving about on the restricted space available.
While the stage has been decorated to fit it for its purpose, the auditorium has, equally, been made suitable for the reception of the Royal family and their guests. Gay flowers and tropical plants are added to the fine works of art which ordinarily adorn the walls, and rows of seats are arranged down the room, with armchairs in the front row for the Royal party. By the side of the armchairs are small tables for the programmes. These are specially printed on white satin, and opera-glasses are provided for the exalted personages.
There is one striking difference in which the appearance of the auditorium differs at a command performance from that of the ordinary theatre, even when the latter is commanded for a gala. In the ordinary theatre, as everyone knows, the stalls go right up to the orchestra, and, in the theatres in which the orchestra is under the stage, right up to the stage itself. In the Royal theatre, however, there is a great gap between the stage and the front seats. This is necessary, because the King and Queen and their most exalted guests and the members of the Royal family sit in the front row, and they must be placed at a convenient distance from the stage that they may see everything to the best advantage. - If seats were placed in front of their own, the King would be sitting with the backs of his subjects turned to him, and this would be a gross breach of Court etiquette.
"The Merchant of Venice," as played by Mr. Bourchier's company before King Edward and Queen Alexandra and their guests in the Waterloo Chamber, Windsor Castle. The Royal party are seated in the front row at a convenient distance from the stage, as it would be a breach of etiquette for their subjects to sit with their backs toward them
Front a drawing by A. Forestier
When the rehearsal is over the actors are driven to the hotel where rooms have been engaged for them. They dine together, and either rest or go for a walk, as they like until the time when the Royal carriages arrive to take them to the Castle, so that they may dress and "make-up" for the performance.
While this is happening the guests who have had the honour of being commanded to the play arrive, and are shown to the seats allotted to them. They invariably include members of the nobility who are staying at the Castle, and others who, with distinguished men and women, have come down specially from London for the entertainment, in addition to certain notable residents in the neighbourhood and the members of the Household, who are accommodated in the gallery which runs across the Waterloo Chamber at the end opposite the stage.
It need hardly be said that the guests make a point of being in their seats before the hour fixed for the commencement of the performance. When the hour strikes, the Royal party enters to the strains of the National Anthem, played by the orchestra. At the first note the guests rise in their places and await the coming of their Majesties. If it is an affair of state, the Royal party is in ceremonial dress, the men in such uniforms as are appropriate to the occasion. If, however, it is merely a family and not a state occasion, the Royal party wear ordinary evening dress.
On state occasions, the formal entrance of the Royal party in procession is an imposing one. Arrived in his place, the* King bows to his guests and takes his seat. As soon as the members of the Royal party are seated the general company does the same.
When the audience is comfortably settled, the curtain rises and the play begins. The actors, naturally, are all on their mettle, anxious to give as fine a performance as they can. In one noteworthy respect, however, the performance differs from the regular one. There is little or no applause; indeed, there is never any applause at all unless the King himself starts it.
As soon as the performance is over the orchestra plays the National Anthem; the whole audience rises, and remains standing while the Royal party retires from the Waterloo Chamber to the supper-rooms.
As soon as the actors have changed from their stage clothes into ordinary evening dress, they assemble in one of the banqueting halls, where supper is served for them. At supper one of the Court officials always represents the King, and conveys his Majesty's appreciation of the efforts of the actors in a complimentary message to the manager.
On state occasions none of the actors are received by his Majesty, but if the performance is not a purely formal one, the "stars" may have the honour of being commanded to the Sovereign's presence to receive the Royal congratulations in person. Naturally, they wear evening dress to be received in this manner.
On one occasion, however, this rule was relaxed in the most gracious manner. It was at a command performance, given at Sandringham when the German Emperor was visiting King Edward. Mr. Arthur Bourchier and Miss Violet Vanbrugh, with their company, had been playing in "Dr. Johnson," and King Edward sent a message that he would like Mr. Bourchier to sup with the Emperor and himself. As Dr. Johnson, Mr. Bourchier wore an old, greasy suit of clothes, and his costume and make-up were so elaborate that they took some time to remove. King Edward was apprised of this fact, and he graciously had Mr. Bourchier informed that he might go to supper in the costume he had been wearing as Dr. Johnson instead of waiting to change into conventional evening dress.
After supper the actors are driven from the Castle to the station, and return by train to town. Next day some of them are happier, because they have been presented by the Sovereign, or on his behalf, with some souvenir of their association with what is, necessarily, a great event in their life.
After one of these commands at Sandringham an amusing incident happened to an actor. He had had supper after the performance, and left on the special train which brought the actors and guests back to town. When he arrived at King's Cross there was not a cab to be had, and as he lived in Brixton, he and a friend began to walk home.
The weather was exceedingly cold, and by the time they reached the other side of Waterloo Bridge they were nearly frozen and very hungry. To their delight, they found a coffee stall, and the two who had a few hours before supped as guests of the King breakfasted there cheerfully in company with some of the poorest of his Majesty's subjects.
To the actor, however, such a sharp contrast is all in the picture, for in the mimic life of the stage he does indeed play many parts, and becomes as well acquainted with the fustian of the poor man as the velvet of the monarch.