‘The Play Actress’ was originally published in serial form under the title ‘The Great Preacher’ in 1894 and then as a novella in the Antonym Series by T.Fisher Unwin. The ‘Great’ Preacher of the original title is rural minister Gilbert Rutherford. At the end of a Sunday service a woman dressed in black brings him a grand-daughter (Ailie) he never knew existed. This is the child of his now deceased son. Bessie (the child’s aunt) has taken Ailie from her dissolute mother,, who lives in London and moves in theatrical circles, (it was the dead son’s dying wish) and brought her to be reared by his father. This unexpected event presents Gilbert with all sorts of emotional and practical challenges. He does not shirk his duty but he also determines to challenge his prejudices and, once Ailie is set up happily in Galloway, he travels to London to find out what is behind this ‘story’ and deal with the family issues. Rutherford is drawn into what he has always believed is the immoral world of the theatre and finds himself both facing the reality of urban poverty, and challenging his views of ‘goodness.’
The obvious biblical analogy is that of the prodigal son (daughter or even grand-daughter in this case) but it is a contemporary story which travels between the rural world of Galloway and the urban poverty of London. While Crockett is known as a ‘romancer’ rather than a realist, he did not shy away from contemporary social issues in his work. What Crockett describes is an urban reality we might recognise from a Dickens novel. He developed this story theme several times in his later work, most notably in ‘The Moss Troopers’ where he considers the ‘evils’ of London and in ‘Sandy’s Love’ where he delves into ‘the theatre’ and London life once again.
Crockett’s friend and contemporary J.M.Barrie enjoyed ‘The Play Actress’ so much that he wanted to adapt it for the stage and he took it on honeymoon with him in 1894. There is no record that it ever actually became a stage play.
Crockett wrote of The Play Actress, ‘A great deal of nonsense is spoken in England about the Scotch Sabbath. I enjoyed my Sabbaths immensely. It is true that I was born to it. We used to drive over to the Cameronian Kirk at Castle Douglas (that 'Kirk on the Hill,' of which I have written in my little book, ‘The Play Actress’-a book written to amuse myself, whilst I was writing ‘The Raiders’).
VOLUME 30 OF THE GALLOWAY COLLECTION. BUY THE BOOK AT UNCO HERE
LINK TO PLAYACTRESS125 HERE
THE COMPLETE CROCKETT
1886 Dulce Cor