The Admirable Crichton
The Admirable Crichton is a comic stage play written in 1902 by J. M. Barrie.
Roles and opening night cast list
- Lady Mary Lasenby, Irene Vanbrugh
- Crichton – The Butler, H. B. Irving
- The Earl of Loam, Henry Kemble
- Lady Catherine Lasenby, Sybil Carlisle
- Lady Agatha Lasenby, Muriel Beaumont
- Ernest Woolley – Lord Loam's nephew, Gerald du Maurier
- Tweeny – A between maid, Pattie Brown
- Naval Officer – J. C. Buckstone
Barrie took the title from the sobriquet of a fellow Scot, the polymath James Crichton, a 16th-century genius and athlete. The epigram-loving Ernest is probably a caricature of the title character in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. The plot may derive from Robinson's Eiland, an 1896 German play by Ludwig Fulda. In this, "a satire upon modern super-cultur in its relation to primal nature", a group of Berlin officials (including a capitalist, a professor and a journalist) are shipwrecked on an island, where a secretary, Arnold, becomes the natural leader of the group. The contemporary critic Arthur Bingham Walkley, however, viewed the connection as merely a rumour: "I feel quite indifferent as to its accuracy of fact".
Act One is set in Loam Hall, the household of Lord Loam, a British peer, Crichton being his butler. Loam considers the class divisions in British society to be artificial. He promotes his views during tea-parties where servants mingle with his aristocratic guests, to the embarrassment of all. Crichton particularly disapproves, considering the class system to be "the natural outcome of a civilised society".
At the beginning of Act Two, Loam, his family and friends, and Crichton are shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island. The resourceful Crichton is the only one of the party with any practical knowledge, and he assumes, initially with reluctance, the position of leader. This role begins to take on sinister tones when he starts training Ernest, one of the young aristocrats with them, to break a liking for laboured epigrams by putting his head in a bucket of water whenever he makes one. Crichton's social betters at first resist his growing influence and go their separate ways, but in a pivotal scene they return, showing their acquiescence by accepting the food Crichton alone has been able to find and cook.
Act Three reveals the island two years later. Crichton has civilised the island with farming and house building and now, called "the Guv.", is waited on with the trappings and privileges of power, just as his master had been in Britain. Lady Mary, Loam's daughter, falls in love with him, forgetting her engagement to Lord Brocklehurst at home. Just as she and Crichton are about to be married by a clergyman who was shipwrecked with them, the sound of a ship's gun is heard. After a moment's temptation not to reveal their whereabouts, Crichton makes the conventionally decent choice and launches a signal. As the rescuers greet the castaways, he resumes his status as butler.
Act Four (subtitled "The Other Island") is set back at Loam Hall, where the status quo ante has returned uneasily. The Loams and their friends are embarrassed by Crichton's presence, since Ernest has published a false account of events on the island, presenting himself and Lord Loam in key roles. Lady Brocklehurst, Lord Brocklehurst's mother, quizzes the family and servants about events on the island, suspecting that Lady Mary might have been unfaithful to Lord Brocklehurst. The household evades these questions, except for a final one when Lady Mary reacts with shock – "Oh no, impossible..." – to the suggestion that Crichton might become butler at her married household. To protect her, Crichton explains the impossibility is due to his leaving service, and the play ends with his and Lady Mary's regretful final parting.
The play deals with serious class issues that were controversial at the time, but does not seriously question the status quo. Barrie had considered a more controversial resolution – particularly an upbeat ending with Crichton and Lady Mary continuing their relationship – but decided "the stalls wouldn't stand it".
It was produced by Charles Frohman and opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in London on 4 November 1902, running for an extremely successful 828 performances. It starred H. B. Irving as Crichton and Irene Vanbrugh as Lady Mary Lasenby.
In 1985 the play was staged at the Royal Exchange, Manchester with Hugh Quarshie as Crichton, Janet McTeer as Lady Mary Lasenby, Amanda Donohoe as Lady Catherine Lasenby and Avril Elgar as Mrs Perkins.
In other media
- The play was filmed twice for television, in 1950 and 1968.
- The 1918 film was directed by G. B. Samuelson.
- The 1957 film starred Kenneth More, Sally Ann Howes, and Cecil Parker.
The play was also filmed in three more remote forms:
- the 1919 Cecil B. De Mille silent Male and Female,
- the 1934 We're Not Dressing, a Bing Crosby vehicle, and
- the 1936 Chinese film Back to Nature, written and directed by Sun Yu.
- 'The Admirable Crichton' is referenced by Charles Dickens in his 1859 "The Haunted House", 43 years before J M Barrie used this as the title of the self named play.
- 'Crichton' also formed the basis for 'Kryten' as a name for the mechanoid servant in the British science fiction television series, Red Dwarf.
- Introduction, The Admirable Crichton, Shefali Balsari-Shah, Sangam Books, 1988, ISBN 0-86131-794-7
- Der Talisman: Dramatisches Märchen in vier Aufzügen, Ludwig Fulda, H. Holt and Company, 1902
- Drama and Life,"truly amazing" Arthur Bingham Walkley, Brentano's, 1908
- Red Dwarf Series II DVD booklet, BBC Video, 2003
- The Admirable Crichton at Project Gutenberg
- The Admirable Crichton text with illustrations at Peterphile.info
- The Admirable Crichton illustrated review from The Play Pictorial No. XI (1903).
- List of longest running plays in London and New York
- The Admirable Crichton BBC Radio 4 version
- The Admirable Crichton public domain audiobook at LibriVox