This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. A decorative initial letter has been added.

Explanatory Notes

This article laments changes to the British theatre, such as the more naturalistic acting which came into vogue in the last three decades of the century. Samuel's nostalgia takes him back to the time before full rehearsals were the norm, and when star actors occupied the front of the stage, backed up by the rest of the cast, with little rehearsed interaction between them. He condemns the what he sees as the neglect of elocution, and identifies a damaging fashion for amateur actors.

There is, he says, 'nothing of the rogue and vagabond' about actors in his century: under the Vagabond Act of 1572, 'all fencers, bearwards, common players of interludes, and minstrels (not belonging to any baron of this realm, or to any other honourable person of greater degree), wandering abroad without the license of two justices at the least', were subject to be 'grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about.' —— David Skilton

The four illustrations show

Decorated initial T

he modern actor, while similar to his predecessors of the good old days in some respects, seems to me to differ largely in others. For one thing, he has more side, and he is petted and praised with a lavishness worthy of a better cause.

In the old acting days the wearers of sock and buskin had to labour long for a pittance that the average modern actor would turn his nose up at. Yet they did far better work than is being done now, and laid in their own way the foundations of the art that is more thought of to-day than in any period of its history.


There is nothing of the rogue and vagabond (by Act of Parliament) about your modern actor. He is received in the best society. and looked upon as a being from another world. One peculiar phase of the present-day Thespian is his opinion of himself. He never is possessed of the slightest doubt as to his own value. If by any chance I could find an actor with even a moderately modest opinion of himself and his works, I would have his photograph framed in the best English gold and hang it on a wall by itself that I may be able to study it free from the contaminating influence of any other picture or pictures.

The modern dinners, suppers, nights at the club, with convivial admirers, and other forms of pleasure, were things unknown to the old 'circuit' actors, who not unfrequently had to trudge from one town to another, and when they got there play in a new piece every night, with an occasional night with two extra pieces tacked on. Why your modern actor would die with fright if anyone asked him to play a new set of parts every week. His plan is far easier than that. He goes on tour for a year or two with the same piece and the same part, and, having no tedious rehearsals, spends his days in pleasure. One result of this is that the average modern actor is not conversant with the technique of his art, and will as likely as not tell you, as one of the species recently told me, that elocution -- one of the first and most important principles -- was not necessary to the actor of to- day.


Possibly he was right so far as the present style of playing goes, but the fact -- if fact it be — that it is so but points to the degeneration of the actor's art.

In the old 'stock' days an actor had to play any part he was cast for, but nowadays if a part does not 'suit' an actor he declines to play it. His parts are made for him much as his clothes are, and if they don't fit him he discards them. If you go to see an actor in his home or in his dressing-room, he at once proceeds to tell you, in his own way, what a wonderful genius he is, and if you chance to tell him that you think he has not played a part to perfection he at once writes you down as an ass, and comes to the prompt conclusion that you cannot possibly know what you are talking about. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, and the more the actor knows of his art the more he is open to listen to the criticism of those who, sitting in front, are capable of seeing him as he cannot see himself.


There are more incompetent actors on the stage to-day than there have been in the history of the theatrical art. The reason is not far to seek. The stage has become a fashionable fad, and amateurs with money have flocked to it as a means whereby they could pose as figures of importance and become the pets of an enthusiastic, if not discriminating, public. I venture to say, with no fear of contradiction, that there are more so-called actors playing without being paid to-day than at any other period of the stage's history. It is this class of actor that keeps capable and old-trained artistes out of a berth, and compel[s] their friends to 'send the hat round' when illness overtakes them.

From the 'alls

These fledglings, with money, run their own companies, and expect to be praised and flattered as though they were really capable and trained artistes.

How far the public is responsible for this state of affairs is a problem too intricate for discussion in the limits of this article.

That the patrons of the drama are largely responsible for the state of affairs at present admits, I think, of no doubt. There seems to those who know them not to be a sort of halo of romance round those beings whose nights are spent behind the footlights and whose mornings (early ones) are spent amid an atmosphere of adulation and hero worship.

If the public insisted upon a return to the old stock companies all round the actor would be compelled to learn his business and mediocrity would give place to efficiency.

Last modified 3 May 2022