An Interview with Sarah Thorne

An Interview with Sarah Thorne

Some time ago I managed to purchase a wonderful couple of rare original pages from The Sketch magazine dated October 9th 1895 featuring a two page article on Sarah Thorne, which I'd never seen before so I've transcribed it for you to read, I've tidied up the spelling etc but left everything else intact so these are Sarah's recorded words. Original article copyright to the original source and this transcription to TRM Archive, feel free to link but please acknowledge this site.

THE SKETCH Oct. 9, 1895

After scrambling over my eggs-and-bacon, and coaxing my charioteer with the price of a "bitter" in addition to his wonted shilling (writes a Sketch representative), I just managed to reach Victoria in time to catch the morning express to that "Saturday-to-Monday Paradise," Merry Margate. The sole object of my visit was to make a call upon Miss Sarah Thorne, so that I might learn something of her career and her "Dramatic University," as Mr. Clement Scott was once pleased to term it.

There is an air of homely comfort about the little house in Hawley Square, Miss Thorne's summer residence, and the pretty little drawing- room contains many souvenirs of theatrical interest, most prominent among them being a silver-mounted claret-jug, which was presented to her on the occasion of her recent benefit at the theatre.

Probably no one lives, or ever has lived, who has had a finger in moulding and guiding the early career of so many of our leading actors and actresses. But there is nothing of the pedagogue about Miss Thorne, at any rate when she is at home. What she may be when at work, I don't pretend to say; but I hear- and on excellent authority too- that there is generally a little flutter in the hearts of her pupils as she takes her seat of judgment, under the shelter of the little green baize screen, on the prompt side of the Margate stage.

"You will, I hope, excuse the bareness of the room," said Miss Thorne on entering; "but, you see, I am just on the move to Chatham, where I have taken another theatre; so that now I can keep my company going all the year round."

“And yourself too," I added.

"Quite true," was the reply "I sometimes think I really will take a holiday, but somehow or other I never seem able to manage it; in fact, I can hardly remember when I had a proper holiday last.

"No," said .Miss Thorne, in answer to one of my first questions, "I did not come of an acting family. My father was the lessee of the Pavilion Theatre, and I was the first of the family to appear before the footlights. It came about this way. When, quite a child, I had a longing to play in my father's pantomime. At last, after a great deal of worrying, I was promised, as a great treat, to be allowed to play for one night only; but that was on the strict understanding that I should never ask to act again."

"And you never did?"

"Never," said Miss Thorne, with an amused look, "for I modestly confess that I made quite a hit in my little part. And that," she said, " bears out what I so often tell my pupils—that it is quite possible to do a great deal with a very few lines indeed."

"I suppose you never went to any school of acting?" I said.

"Oh, yes!  I was at the very best school of the time," came the quick reply; " for I spent nearly all the earlier part of my career in stock companies: first, at my father's theatre, where I had several plays written round me by the stage-manager, who used to say to his friends, ' I made her, sir ; I made her'; and then I went to the Surrey, Ryde, Dublin, Brighton, Glasgow, and the St. James's, under Mrs. John Wood's management. After that, I started tours of my own."

"Stock work is the best training '? "

"Undoubtedly; it gives one a breadth of style that no other work can."

"But it is very hard?"

"Oh, yes! In the old days we had to work with a vengeance. I remember once, after sitting up studying most of the previous night, I was giving evidence in the trial scene of an old drama, and, being questioned by the judge, I could not for the life of me remember whether I ought to answer yes or no to his inquiry. However, after a short pause, I struck an attitude and, turning to a man close by, said 'Ask that man' whereupon I left the court”

"It would be difficult to tell you my favourite part, but I have bestowed the most care and time on Juliet and Desdemona and Lady Macbeth. And I think they are my greatest successes."

"And now, Miss Thorne, what first gave you the idea of starting a school of acting?"

"Reading several articles which appeared in the newspapers about twelve years ago, the writers drew attention to the defective elocution of many of our London players, and pointed out the great need of a dramatic school."

"What are your methods of teaching?"

"To tell you the truth, I have no method. It would be absolutely impossible for me to lay down a rule. Each case must be dealt with as its own peculiar needs require. However, with absolute novices I generally ask them to recite anything they know, or, failing that, to read me a piece out of Shakespeare, or some other standard author. Pupils usually begin by walking on, and then I give them speaking parts, as I consider them capable. But you must not think all my pupils are novices. Sometimes quite old hands come to me for advice, and ask me to go through their parts with them."

In answer to a further question-
"My chief object is to bring out original talent, always being very careful never to disturb a good individuality. Experience can warn the beginner against faults which would probably take him years to find out if left to himself, I merely guide and develop. The footlights do the rest, but," added Miss Thorne, with much emphasis, "the teacher should be absolutely without mannerisms. You would be surprised how easily pupils will catch mannerisms, even from one another, and "—with a laugh—" especially if they are bad ones. And I always have to guard against imitation. You see, it is very tempting, to anyone who possesses the faculty, to use it. It is so much easier to copy than to be original. I often have to check exceedingly good imitations of our leading actors and actresses."

"Then, I take it you do not think acting can be taught?"

"Most certainly not," replied Miss Thorne, with a merry twinkle in her eve; "one can only develop a talent that is already there—one cannot create it. Nevertheless, I have been several times offered goodly sums to do so."

"You have, no doubt, had some amusing requests?" I said, hoping to get a tasty paragraph for my readers.

"Yes, indeed I have; but I am afraid," said Miss Thorne, checking herself, "I might be hurting someone's feelings, which I have no wish to do. Still, I often have the most amusing excuses for mistakes and failures. An error of costume, the turned-up edge of a carpet, or an ill-fitting wig, have at various times been held responsible for making young actors and actresses fail to impress the audience, or even, at times, for making them forget their parts."

"Then your company plays a fresh piece every week?"

"Yes, and sometimes even oftener than that."

"So that a week is the longest time you usually get to rehearse, is it not? "

"Quite so; but the same people do not necessarily play leading- arts each week. Sometimes I have several ladies, for instance, playing leads; so they take it in turns. But I never promise anything, and I very often change the cast at the last moment."

'What sort of pieces do you usually put on?"

Everything, from Shakespeare to pantomime. By the way, every Christmas I produce a pantomime, which tours for six or eight weeks through Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, always opening on Boxing Night at Maidstone. I believe I am the first person who ever took out a touring pantomime.

"Oh, yes! London managers continually pay us visits. Sir Henry Irving and Mr. Toole paid us a visit quite recently. Some time ago the former, after seeing one of our performances, remarked, ' The ladies are better than the gentlemen-as usual.' 'Yes,' I replied; 'I think the gentlemen's brains are so crammed with education that there is no room left for dramatic conception.'

"How, in your opinion, does the acting of to-day compare with the past?"

"Certainly, I don't think it is so good, as a whole, because the actors do not get the varied experience that they used to formerly. What the public like is, clear and distinct enunciation, intelligence, and a right inflexion of the voice."

And, most assuredly, if everyone possessed Miss Thorne's charming and wonderfully pliant and expressive voice, there would never be any reason for audiences to complain on that score.

Just at this moment we were interrupted by a ring at the bell which brought our interview to a close.

"That reminds me," said Miss Thorne, "of a story that, years ago that used to be told at my expense. But, mind, I do not own to it. Having forgotten my lines, I am reported to have got out of the difficulty by saying to my companion, ' See! We are interrupted. Come into next room, and I will tell you all.' "

However, the intruder was no one more formidable than charming Miss Violet Brooke, whose portrait adorned the front of this journal but a few weeks ago.

 Original article copyright to the original source and this transcription to TRM Archive, feel free to link but please acknowledge this site.

1 comment:

Naomi Paxton said...

Thank you for taking the time to transcribe this interview - a fascinating glimpse into the work of an important woman in the late Victorian and early Edwardian theatre.