Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lady Audley's Secret (adaptation) by C.H. Hazlewood

This play adaptation of Lady Audley's Secret was first performed at the Victoria Theater on May 25, 1863. Colin Henry Hazlewood was a playwright and comedian who wrote mostly for the Britannia and Pavilion Theaters. Lady Audley's Secret is one of his most popular adaptations.

The play's plot and affect differ significantly from the novel, owing to the changed or exaggerated characterizations of Lady Audley, George, Alicia, Robert, Sir Michael, and Luke. The result is a play that is essentially comedic--the exaggerated sparring between these characters and not suspense drives the action. The play opens with Phoebe and Luke in conversation on the "lime tree walk." Phoebe reveals she is marrying Luke with hopes of reforming his boorish behavior (also, it is a promise to her mother) while Luke plots to steal jewels from the rich Audleys during the occasion of Sir Michael's birthday. This opening scene already signals the importance of Luke to the drama: cast aside in the novel, Hazlewood's adaptation rescues him from the shadows. Sir Michael is much older, "a gray-headed gentleman of 70," and he is much more of a bumbling old man blind to everything which is going on around him. Alicia and Robert are lovers, and are engaged to be married. 

George Talboys is significantly more of a cad, having subjected Helen Talboys (Lady Audley) to his indolent and impulsive losses of money. He also describes his marriage as "one of impulsive passion." The story is that he left England to secure an appointment abroad, and while abroad, he received news of Helen's death. Though this was a blow for George, he is certainly not devastated like the George of the novel. Robert and George attend Sir Michael's birthday celebrations, and there, they see a likeness of Lady Audley in Alicia's possession. Immediately, George reveals in an aside that he knows Lady Audley is his wife. He confronts her directly, and they spar. Lady Audley is much more unabashedly militant and determined to make her way in society: "Then you will war with a woman?" she asks, challengingly. George too is harsh and belligerent, and in the scene where they spar, Lady Audley directly uses an iron piece from the well to strike George into the well. She exultingly cries out: "Dead men tell no tales! I am free!" Luke, however, is an eyewitness, again underscoring his pivotal role in the drama.

Alicia and Robert's marriage plans are delayed by George's disappearance. It is six months since his disappearance. Luke comes onto the scene again and has the chance to confront Lady Audley while in a drunken state. He threatens her with blackmail, and extorts money from her. Robert too confronts Lady Audley, telling her that he has found Helen Talboys's likeness in George's luggage. Lady Audley is unfazed (throughout, she has been calculating, overbearing, hard, and strong--nothing like the over-feminine, soft Lady Audley of the novel; the only person blind to her calculating nature is the senile Sir Michael): "No; my motto has, hitherto, been death or victory; and to that end I am fixed." Lady Audley thus turns both Sir Michael as well as Alicia against Robert, telling Alicia that he has not been faithful to her in the attentions he has paid his aunt Lady Audley. Robert tries to get Luke to talk, meanwhile, but is unsuccessful even though he buys him many drinks. Lady Audley arrives at Luke and Phoebe's residence, tells Phoebe to go ahead, and deliberately burns down the house in a much stronger action than the desperate act which she commits in the novel. Robert comes back unscathed, and in this final confrontation with Lady Audley, she still says that she will "crush" him with her "wealth, boundless wealth." At this point, Luke makes a grand entrance, "supported by peasants and Phoebe." The ineffectual Robert tries to silence Luke and make the accusation himself, and Luke falls back, saying "Then I will be silent, silent for ever--ever--ever." This dramatic scene enacts the "silencing" of the working class man by the wealthy gentleman much more obviously than the novel, calling to it greater attention. Alicia runs in as Luke falls over, announcing the death of Sir Michael. Luke revives, and tries once again to tell the murder of George Talboys. As the words come out of his mouth, however, George enters--at which point Luke falls back dead (he has again been silenced, this time for good). George, however, points to Luke and tells Lady Audley that she should "thank that man that you have not my death upon your soul." It isn't until the very end here that Lady Audley truly goes mad, vacantly staring ahead of her and imagining Sir Michael's ghost. She ends the play with her mad speech and finally keels over dead.   


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