In 1894, Oscar Wilde came up with the scenario for a play. The key scene is one in which a woman is alone resting in a darkened room when her husband and his mistress Lady X enter and begin a love scene. The husband of Lady X is then heard shouting angrily at the door, whereupon to the surprise of the lovers, the wife turns on the light and admits him, making some excuse about keeping Lady X up with 'an experiment in thought reading'.
The wife leaves her husband and goes to live with her own lover. The husband and her lover are due to fight a duel, but the husband begs her to return to him. She refuses him and in the process lets slip she is pregnant by her lover. The husband, filled with despair, shoots himself. The play ends with the two lovers clinging to one another in a fever of emotion. Wilde saw this as a play in which the central theme is that of love conquering all.
Wilde would never use this scenario - he got as far as working on a version of it, called 'Constance', but by this time it was after his trial and imprisonment and he was a broken man, incapable of the sustained effort of creation.
The man who would bring the story to the stage was Frank Harris. Wilde, exiled and impoverished, had 'sold' the scenario several times over to different people on the basis that when he finished it they would have the right to stage it. With Harris he took a different tack, suggesting that he should write the play himself. Unaware of the play's dubious status, Harris set to work and produced 'Mr. and Mrs. Daventry'.
Once Harris had put the play on and it started to have some success, he was forced to pay out large sums to all the other 'owners' of the rights to the scenario. It was not altogether a critical success, being considered by many an immoral play, in part because of the taint of association with Wilde, but also in its relaxed treatment of the subject of adultery. Nevertheless the play went on for 121 performances, its run being brought to an end only by the death of Queen Victoria.
As a play it is a mixed bag. There are constant signs of intelligence throughout, the characters are interesting and well-drawn, the writing is free of cliché, but Harris was not really a man of the theatre. For example in order to portray the interior feelings of one of his characters, he used the rather hackneyed cod-Shakespearian technique of having him or her left alone at the end of a scene to speak them directly to the audience.
That being said it is by no means an insubstantial piece and one can imagine a sympathetic performance being highly enjoyable. As far as I can discover it has never been staged in any theatre since the original run, though there was a BBC radio performance in the 1950's.
In book form it has only been published once, by the Unicorn Press, in 1956. Copies are therefore scarce, though not particularly pricy.
Scribbled by Alfred Armstrong 12 years 2 months ago