Tale from a London Theatre
[Gekijo Miyage – Eikoku Rondon]
Synopsis by Ian McArthur.(An adaptation of Mary Braddon’s 1877 short story Her Last Appearance.)
Date of first narration: 1891.
Black begins the narration stating that he will take one-and-a-half months to complete the story in episodes. He then refers to conditions in Japan 24 years ago when he arrived in the country, reminding listeners that foreigners were resented at the time. He says that things have changed a lot since then. He mentions the dangers which used to exist for foreigners venturing out of their homes and tells of an incident involving his family being confronted by a sword-wielding samurai. He states that these days, Japanese people have changed their attitude toward foreigners and now want to copy them, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. He explains that this is his motive for adapting a British ninjô banashi as a serialized shibai banashi.
In the village of Ruisu, about 17-18 ri outside London, lives a farmer called Beniyûeru with his beautiful daughter Gâtsurudo, 17. Beniyûeru has studied at an agricultural college and has taught Gâtsurudo the rudiments of reading and maths. Gâtsurudo’s aunt has invited her to visit London, a place Gâtsurudo has never seen. Beniyûeru agrees reluctantly that she may go for 10 days after New Year celebrations.
In London she spends the first few days shopping for dresses. Black digresses to explain how women in the West buy fine dresses to attend a play. He compares play-going in London with the all-day kabuki performances in Japan where women spend so much of the previous evening preparing that they are too sleepy to enjoy the performance the next day. Gâtsurudo attends a performance at the Adelphi Theater. The bell rings to call the audience into the theater.
Black tells his audience that many Japanese, on first hearing a Western orchestra, thought it merely boisterous (sôzôshii), but that many Westerners on first hearing a Japanese instrument, find it puzzling. But if they listen long enough, even Danbei’s shamisen playing is good. Gâtsurudo enjoys her first theater performance. She falls for a young, inexperienced actor called Sumerurî. Black details the difference between Japan and Britain with regard to the manner of praising or rewarding actors who are popular. In Japan, money is given in envelopes. In Europe, people give flowers. Gâtsurudo writes her name and address and attaches it to a flower which she throws to the actor. At home, Sumerurî puts the flower in a bottle and is so happy he cannot sleep.
Sumerurî goes out to visit Gâtsurudo. On the way, he borrows a set of clean clothes from his friend Edwin. He calls at Gâtsurudo’s aunt’s house. The maid allows him in. The maid informs Gâtsurudo that he has come. She goes downstairs to meet him.
Black begins with a paean to the equality of all races, saying that skin colour is irrelevant. Gâtsurudo fancies Sumerurî, but he does not fancy her. However he begins to toy with the idea of proposing a marriage so that he can gain access to her father’s fortune. He persuades her to marry him, but asks her not to tell her father or aunt until he can become as good an actor as Danjûrô. He insists that he will eventually tell her father. They marry in a church and then Gâtsurudo leaves by train for the country to inform her father of the marriage.
Gâtsurudo’s father is angered at the news of the marriage and disinherits her. The couple set up home in London, but Sumerurî begins gambling away their money. In desperation, Gâtsurudo decides to earn money by becoming an actress. The owner of the Adelphi Theater agrees to meet her.
Black begins by referring to the differences between acting styles in European drama and the all-male kabuki. He discusses the comparative low status of actresses in Britain. Gâtsurudo auditions for the owner of the Adelphi Theater. He likes her and sends her to train in the country for 10 months, after which she is brought back to London where she is an instant success.
Black explains how actors in the West train and how they have considerable status, allowing them to mix with politicians. John Brown is an unmarried nobleman who loves the theater. He meets Gâtsurudo back stage and chats briefly with her. He decides he wants to marry her.
Gâtsurudo lives apart from Sumerurî in a house on Kensington Park. John Brown visits her and requests her hand in marriage, but she explains that she is already married and that she lives apart from her husband. She offers to remain as brother and sister with John Brown. He accepts this, but one day visits her and learns that her husband has beaten her. Brown resolves to kill him. Back home, he dyes his hair black, and puts on makeup and old clothes to disguise himself.
Brown goes to the Adelphi Theater to make sure Sumerurî is there. Then he installs himself in a restaurant opposite the theater and asks a waitress to take a note to Sumerurî, requesting that Sumerurî join him after the performance. Sumerurî arrives and the two men chat. Brown pays the bill. Sumerurî notices that Brown has hundreds of yen in his wallet and decides to rob him. He offers to entertain Brown by taking him to a gambling den.
After referring to Meiji debates over the rights and wrongs of gambling and prostitution, Black explains that Sumerurî takes Brown to a private room in a gambling den as a ruse to extract money from him. Sumerurî cheats and wins all of Brown’s money, but Brown gets Sumerurî drunk and starts an argument with him in which Brown stabs him to death. Brown leaves, telling the owner that Sumerurî should not be disturbed because he is asleep.
The police are called to investigate. Brown waits a week until after the funeral for Sumerurî, before attempting to contact Gâtsurudo.
Black refers to a Western custom of waiting many years until being able to marry someone one loves deeply. Brown visits Gâtsurudo’s house, but is rebuffed a number of times by a servant who tells him she is unwell. He eventually learns that Gâtsurudo will appear at the Adelphi the following day. He reasons that she must now be well again so visits her house and pushes past the servant to confront her. Gâtsurudo says she suspects he was her husband’s killer. He confesses to the killing and takes a gun from his pocket and threatens to shoot himself unless she marries him. She is afraid he will also shoot her, so she agrees to a marriage.
Black explains European wedding customs, referring to white being a symbol of purity. Gâtsurudo and John Brown marry. Gâtsurudo forgets her first husband and begins to enjoy being married to Brown. Meanwhile, the detective on the case has concluded that since nothing was stolen from Sumerurî, the motive may have been malice. He suspects Brown, since it is he who married Gâtsurudo soon after the murder. The detective gets a photo of Brown and deduces that he is the same as the man who came to the gambling den, but had probably dyed his hair. He goes to Brown’s house, but Brown and Gâtsurudo escape and hide in a London hotel, slipping across to Paris the following day. But because they risk detection if they send for money from London, they are soon in financial straits and Gâtsurudo begins bickering over money. Brown takes to spending long periods away from the hotel. On one of these absences, he meets an old friend Frances Imîru who invites him home. Gâtsurudo is left wondering where Brown is.
Since Brown does not return for some time, Gâtsurudo decides to return to London. She offers the hotel manager her jewelry as a surety, saying she will pay her debt to the hotel on her return to London. In London, her former manager advises her to return to perform at the Adelphi. Meanwhile, Brown has returned to the hotel to find that his wife has left and his booking has been cancelled. He cannot follow her and he cannot write to her.
Black explains that men and women in Europe do not have equal rights, but that many men love their wives so that if they hear a domestic argument, there is a code allowing people to intervene to protect a woman from being beaten by a husband. Brown and Imîru visit a gentlemen’s club similar to the Rokumeikan. Here, they encounter a retired army colonel called Shiberia Deboâto who is actually an undercover agent for the police. Deboâto greets Brown and explains that he has been instructed to bring him in as the British police are looking for him on suspicion of murder. Brown takes out a pistol and shoots himself dead. His son inherits his title, and Gâtsurudo receives 2000 pounds a year from his family. She retires to live with the Brown family.