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Victoria ReginaThis is a pleasing excerpt from the play Victoria Regina by Laurance Housman, brother of the more famous A.E. I wonder if anyone would produce it now.
(In his dressing-room, Prince Albert is preparing to shave himself, when suddenly the
door opens, and Queen Victoria enters. At first we only see her head, in a pretty nightcap,
but presently she is all there, wearing a rose-coloured dressing-gown, and over it a
white shawl. She looks very happy and charming.)
Queen: Albert, may I come in?
Albert: Yes, Dearest, if you wish to.
(She gazes in pleased astonishment at a spectacle she has never seen before: the foam
of shaving-soap on a human countenance is something quite new to her.)
Q.: What are you doing?
Q.: Oh! How exciting! May I stay, and watch you?
A.: If it would interest you, Weibchen.
Q.: But of course: to see you shaving is wonderful! Something I never thought of.
A.: Oh? Did you think one did not have to shave at all?
Q.: I never thought about it – till now ... You see, Albert, I have never seen a man
shaving himself before.
A.: No, I suppose not.
Q.: How often do you have to do it? Once a week?
A.: Every day.
Q.: Every day! But how absurd! It can't grow as fast as all that.
A.: Oh yes, it does.
Q.: How very troublesome! Why, I only cut my nails once a week.
A.: Nails can wait longer; beards won't.
Q.: I wouldn't like you to have a beard.
A.: Nor would I. That's why I am taking it off now.
(He now begins to shave.)
Q.: How strange it looks! ... and how interesting! – ... Is it dangerous?
A.: Not if you don't talk to me.
Q. (a little startled): Oh!
A.: – not just while I am stroking myself.
Q.: Stroking yourself! Oh, Albert, you are funny!
A.: Is that not the right word? Ought I to have said "wiping myself"? – or what?
Q.: Really, I'm not quite sure, Albert. It's a part of the English language which
from not having to know – I've not been taught.
A.: Ah, Vicky! It is nice to hear you say that! Then you, too, do not know the English
language quite like a native. For that – if it were not for the soup – I would kiss you.
Q.: The soup?
A.: This, I mean.
Q.: Oh! Not "soup", Albert darling. Soap!
A.: Ah, soap, then.
Q.: But I don't mind the soap, Albert – your soap – if you would like to.
A.: Very well, then; now I will.
(Having wiped his lips, he kisses her, and then goes on with his shaving.)
Are you sure that's not an excerpt from an episode of Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns?
Well, I haven't checked all the footnotes, but evidence points to its being authentic
Having had my beard for a great many years, I can't help wondering when it was I last stroked myself: I guess all you beardless men have to stroke yourselves regularly...
PS I spluttered my coffee all over my PC screen when I read that bit!
Hello Gareth, In all my playgoing days I have never collected a performance of 'Victoria Regina' by Laurence Housman, but copies are regulary to be seen in second-hand bookshops. Is your copy the one with illustrations by - I think - EH Shepherd?
That is the one. It's a library copy. I hadn't inspected it until today, but came across the excerpt posted above online and felt compelled to pull it off the shelves.
A report of a girls' school production of it, featuring Victoria played by the marvellously named Beryl Sprunt: http://www.greatyarmouthgirlshighschool.co.uk/victoria.html
Well, I have read Laurence Housman's Victoria Regina, and what an odd book it is. First published in 1934, it's called a 'dramatic biography'. I wonder if that is an indication that it is intended to be read rather than performed. It certainly has been put on occasionally, but I can't imagine it's often presented unexpurgated, at least not in a single night. It's 470 pages long, and although the spacing is wide and there are plenty of performance directions (and pictures by E.H. Shepard), there's still an awful lot of text for a single play.
It reminded me of lots of different things, first of all the play within a play in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On (Speak for England, Arthur!), which has a similar structure. Victoria Regina is presented as a series of tableaux from Victoria's life spanning over 60 years, from her accession in 1837 to 1898, three years before her death, encompassing domestic scenes, visits from dignitaries, the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee, and so on.
The really remarkable thing about it is the dialogue, which reads as though it has been written for children to perform, if not perhaps by a child himself. Frequently it teeters on the verge of self-parody. I can't imagine Housman was an inept writer - his stage directions are wryly funny, which suggests he is in on the joke - but it is often laughable stuff, like the National Theatre of Brent's rewriting of history. The events of the play are accorded a historical context they would not have had at the time. You expect characters to say things like 'I see Dante Gabriel Rossetti's just started the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,' and sometimes they almost do. See also the drama serial in Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV, series 1 episode 4: 'I don't like bad feeling. This is 1929 and there could be a war in ten years.'
This is from a scene that depicts the attempted assassination of Victoria:
LADY GRACE. The Queen! Something exciting must
have happened! Has there been a declaration of War?
LADY MURIEL. There's no one just now to declare war
against, that I know of.
Stilted? It makes Acorn Antiques look like Hedda Gabler.
Here is how the subject of haemophilia is broached:
ARCHBISHOP. The Duchess has privately planned a
marriage more to her own liking, I'm told.
CONYNGHAM. Eh? Who?
ARCHBISHOP. She has two nephews--through her
brother the Duke of Saxe-Coburg--Prince Ernest, and
CONYNGHAM. But that won't do! Tainted blood!
CONYNGHAM. (disgustedly) Ye-es: bleeding skins--
haemophilia. It's in the family. Cousins. No; it won't do.
ARCHBISHOP. But Prince George is her cousin, also.
CONYNGHAM. Ah, but it's not on that side. It's one the
Mother's--the Coburgs. And, you know, it comes through
the women. The males have it: the women don't; but
they pass it on. Do you know her brother, the Duke, once
nearly bled to death?
ARCHBISHOP. Dear me! Is that so?
Subtlety is not the order of the day. And yet, somehow, it's moving, perhaps precisely because of the artless, childlike charm. Victoria and Albert come to life, and their relationship is particularly poignant, in spite of the ridiculousness of their portrayal.
ALBERT. Here is something more practical and important,
which concerns us now. I have some plans to show you. See!
(He takes up, and spreads out for inspection some large
sheets of paper.)
THE QUEEN. What are these, Albert?
ALBERT. The designs for the building of the Great Exhibition,
which the Royal Commission has accepted--if you agree. Mr.
Joseph Paxton, the architect, has had a wonderful idea for it--
quite new. It is to be all of glass.
THE QUEEN. Of glass, Albert? But won't it break?
ALBERT. Not if it is put into a frame--a metal frame, like a
window. But this will be all window: not a solid wall anywhere.
Look well at it; for this, perhaps, is what modern architecture is
going to be ... And, talking about Art, my Dear, is it not time
that you gave Mr. Edwin Landseer some kind of a title?
THE QUEEN. (doubtfully) A title?
ALBERT. Yes. He is a great painter--especially of dogs, which
you are so fond of. And now that he has also done his great
picture of the Duke's visit last year to the Field of Waterloo, would
it not be well to make him a Baronet, or a Knight?
THE QUEEN. Oh, not a Baronet, Albert! that would be too
much. Mr. Landseer is not a man of any Family; he only comes
from the people ... But Mr . Landseer is certainly my favourite
painter--his subjects so appeal to me.
ALBERT. Yes; what a pity we cannot sit to him as a family
group of his favourite species--'Queenie, Prince, and their six
THE QUEEN. (rather shocked) Oh, Albert, dear!
ALBERT. I was only laughing, my Love. But, speaking of the
family reminds me that I have something now much more serious
to talk about. Our son, Bertie, is now eight years old.
THE QUEEN. Oh, not yet, Darling!
ALBERT. He will be in November; and it is quite time for his
real education to begin. As some day he will have to be King, we
must no longer think of him as a child.
and so on. A lovely book, and the only one, I suspect, where Lord Melbourne appears saying, 'I've been trying all I know how. And it's God damn difficult.'
I wonder what the author's brother, A.E., thought of it.