Page 10, 10th March 1939

10th March 1939
Page 10
Page 10, 10th March 1939 — The Play
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Organisations: London Playgoers' Club
Locations: London

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The Play

You can sight Catholic from Villiers Street Europe

Asmodee

VILLIERS Street is shoddy. There are birth control shops, pubs, a garage, a bookmaker's shop. The street smells warm even in winter. There is a harlot comfort about it, a leer which tells you this is the way to the Strand boys, beneath a meretricious Bridge of Sighs. It is a street of gaslight carousals.

But in these days something astonishing has happened in this street.

For a little time—so long as the Gate Theatre pleases—it has become the one place in London, except for a few churches, where one can get a sight of Catholic Europe.

The sight is given by Francais Mauriac, one of the leaders of the Catholic revival in France. It is an intensely clear and moving sight; blurred in outline a little by the bad acting of one of the players who try to translate this sight for our English sensibilities.

ASKODEUS is the devil whose jealous love for Sara caused him inconsiderately to slay her first seven husbands. He is, of course, familiar to all who know their Bible or their Bridle.

In the Mauniac play he is credited with the power of prising open the roofs of houses, and of drawing up the flame of all the latent passion and jealousy of the people inside.

A young Englishman on a visit to a French family is the unwitting agent of Asmodeus. His presence in the isolated household near Bordeaux infects with fever the repressed bates and lusts that have poisoned the house. The venom courses terrifyingly. Those who have the poison in their hearts become livid. Evil falls upon the house, smothering gradually those within. The innocent in the end escape; the impious remain to decay.

The end is frightening and grim.

The mother has done all possible to prevent her daughter marrying the young Englishman, for she herself lusts after him; but her desire is frustrated by the tutor, who is insanely jealous, who is in love with her, who supplies her with a power she needs and yet hates. The daughter and the Englishman stand on a terrace planning their marriage. The mother and tutor are in the house by a fire; they are planning how to pass the winter. They detest one another, yet they pity one another, for each needs the other. Yet when they have each other they have no satisfaction, for each is happy only in the knowledge of the other's deficiencies.

They stand by a fire and the daughter cornea in. She is in white and there is joy on her face. She asks her mother to come out on the terrace. The moon is clear and Harry said she mina come.

The mother is delighted. She win come. Harry has asked for her. But the tutor asks would it not be a mistake? And, of course, it would be a mistake.

" But," says the daughter, " you cannot stay here, mother, all alone." The mother looks at the tutor. Her eyes are full of hate, but he smiles. She says "Alone? But I have M. 1,e Bel," and the curtain falls.

THERE is horror in that ending, more potent than anything such mechanical contrivances as Frankenstein's monster can give. The mother and M. Le Bel are real people, and with the ending of the play they are beginning their purgatory.

The effect is spoilt only by the grotesque overacting of Wyndham Goldie as M. Le Bel. Mr Goldie creeps about the stage, giving by dirty smiles and piercing glances, lavish hints of villainy which out not be out of place in a Pearl White serial; in the delicate, intricate mechanism of this piece by Mauriac they make appalling damage.

In one scene the actor commits the barbarism of laughing at his own lines. Even were those lines only fit to be jeered at, for the actor to jeer himself betrays at least an inartistic lack of control, but in this instance the lines are made ridiculousness only by the actor.

Save for this one disastrous misinterpretation the play is done perfectly. Mary Hinton makes us pity as well as despise and fear the mother, selfish, hungering, frustrated. Wyndham Goldie does not let us have this pity for the tutor, yet this man is also hungering and frustrated—and if he is cruel it is perhaps because others are cruel to him; so cruel that his jealous watch over the few things he has managed to gain has insanity in it. The jealousy is grotesque, blind, pathetic. Mr Goldie finds it almost comic—and of course it could be if Asniodde were a French farce, and the people in the play—the mother, the daughter, the Englishman, the governess, mere figures that walked through doors at embarrassing moments. But all these people are real, and the jealousy of the tutor is real. He has had so little, and that little is to be taken from him, everyone is trying to take it from him: so it seems to him.

N all the intertwining conflicts which I make up the play there is no blurring, no approximating. The writer is certain of all the causes, events and implications of each conflict; consequently he is at all times clear; and if his people are thrust by the action of their conflicts into deeper and deeper emotion, he is not afraid to give word to this emotion.

He is not afraid either to follow the reason of those of his people who are not swamped in feeling, and the reason goes to God.

Emmanuele, the daughter, is the one person in the play who feels completely the evil upon her mother's house, and understands the way of driving through that evil. She believes in and trusts and loves God.

She has great virtue, and, amazingly, great interest.

MAURIAC has made her virtue the most interesting thing in the play. It is wholly understood by him.

Joyce Redman has the part of Emmanuele. She does not in any way abuse it, make it priggish or sensational —for daily communicant could be easily sensational; sometimes organs of the Catholic Press show us nauseatingly how.

To Love and To Cherish

k AR MICHAEL EGAN has paid the modern generation the unusual and somewhat embarrassing compliment of supposing that it is interested in divorce.

It is interested in easier divorce, cheaper divorce, divorce for this or that reason, as legislation not so old has proven.

Thirty years ago, perhaps, when the intellectual and scientific theories of fifty years before were beginning to reach the outer fringes of the upper middle-class the problems that the excellent dramatist raises were pertinent and perplexing.

People in general were not quite sure whether it was quite the thing to divorce, be divorced, or marry a divorcee. Latterly, the aristocracy has given so clear a lead, that it Is probable that the question only arises as a human problem in Portland Place. That is, except in the very special circumstances that Mr Egan posits for his tragedy.

A wholly sincere and truly admirable parson, Mark Fairley (Laidman Browne), of the advanced Anglican persuasion we must presume, holds the morally and socially true view of marriage. It is indissoluble; it is a sacrament. In this spiritual—not intellectual—conviction he has brought up two daughters, Helen (Lydia Sherwood) and Susan (Helen Horsey), who both fail in love with men who have been divorced, and want to marry them.

That is the stuff of the tragedy.

As is natural with a problem and crisis so essentially internal the "action" tends to express itself in duologue, or monologue. And as Mark Fairley has most to defend he has the solo most frequently.

We know that for social intercourse the good " priest," as he styles himself, had his daughter's cave pater to stop him turning conversation into a sermon, but she uses this veto too rarely, and then the author had no such guardian angel.

THEplay falls to satisfy that irritatingly simple, but quite effective, definition of a story as having beginning, middle and end. This play just stops. Susan has gone off with her divorced love, to wed and to live happy ever afterwards; but with Helen, the author leaves us, so that we know that she too would if she could, and that's all. amateur productions put on at Easter or Christmas—with hymn records— it is a duty to see the way in which Mauriac restores piety to the place of first splendour and importance.

There is a priest in this play. He is a holy priest. He is also the first holy priest represented on the stage who seems unconscious of a halo. He is a simple priest. He is also the first simple priest I have seen represented who does not contradict his alleged simplicity with an intricate brilliance of ratiocination that would defeat a Machiavelli.

In short, he is a real priest, who probably finds it a most uncomfortable business having to rise in the winter mornings before it is light to say Mass before a few old women, or before no 0/10.

The translator of Asmodde is Basil Bartlett. He has put Mauriac into simple and sometimes very beautiful English.

PtIrgR THOMPSON.

Gate

Africa Flight

VAL GIELGUD'S story might make a successful film. It certainly doesn't make a good play.

A long-distance flyer, kicked out of the R.A.F. for a smash at Hendon Air Pageant, is engaged by an Airways Co. to make a record flight in a new machine across the Sahara. He takes a motley crowd of passengers on the trip and their re-actions make the play's action.

Martin Lewis as Professor Hubert Manson, was polished; Anthony Bushell as Rupert Larrimore, the flyer, was audible. The rest were neither.

The stage settings were the best part of the show. So they should have been considering the time taken to change them.

DICK CAMPBELL

Richmond

The thesis is unconcluded because it is unconeludabie on the premises.

I have seen few plays which kept me so consistently admiring the acting of all the characters, and by that I really do mean acting, not skilful and successful casting, which too often gives modern actors half their claim to fame, The humour, wit, and comedy, the sense of stage and drama, are all admirable, and the whole play of crystalline sincerity. One of the most effective situations is when the pure and selfless Helen is confronted by the former wife who finds in Dave Manford's (Robert Beatty) accession to fortune a compelling and irresistible argument in favour of the indissolubility of her marriage anyway.

At the climax Mark Fairley is present. It makes good theatre—but for any who share his, or the author's, conviction it is an almost cynical jest to force him into defending the loud-mouthed golddigger for the sanctity of marriage.

I am not certain how far it is either right or desirable for criticism as such to take into account the probable reaction of the public, but I will venture to assert that I could have wished that for this important first venture of the London Playgoers' Club going into production, a somewhat more obvious appeal.

I hope for the sake of the play, the thesis, the acting, as well as the Playgoers' Club venture that I underrate the interest of the theatre-going public in this question of divorce.

B. P.

Kingsway

Her performance is calm and intelligent —passion play amateurs would do well to see it, though, of course, they so often have to bear the handicap of incredibly sanctimonious dialogue. For anyone who has got his idea of stage virtue from




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