THEATRE: By W. J. IGOE
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (Princes)
THIS is Shakespeare's imperial -11tragedy, the last of the major works. He had conquered art, the world of the Elizabethan theatre was his, and he was past the zenith. Success could be measured; life's afternoon had come. So in the vast arena of the Roman Empire as Shakespeare saw it, the Antony who was a great captain, maker and undoer of Czsars, might have brooded and reckoned the world a bauble There is a thread of disenchanted despair running through the play, a sense of the ageing "triple pillar of the world" grasping hopelessly at the object of his lusting love. He had lost interest in conquests. She never was entirely won. He seeks her, spurns her, hates her, is bemused and besotted by her. The tigerish Antony of the Forum and Philippi is weakened, his teeth loosened in the gums; the rot of age is in the beast. The panic-stricken hedonism is hollow at the centre; nobility is departing. He speaks of soft beds.
So Antony is played by Mr. Michael Redgrave, a shaggy captain with something of the shambling gait of an old world's champion, lovable, still intimidating, shame-faced at his fall, still capable of menace, yet doomed. From the first entrance, the over-wrought gaiety implied an Antony ill-at-ease with himself and unreconciled to corruption. A poignant Antony.
nISS ASHCROFT'S Cleopatra IvImakes no claim to being tawny; apart from a russet wig, this serpent of old Nile is ivory-white, A ripe amorist, who suggests an abysm of sensuality that makes Antony the old conquerer's suicidal passion all too believable, her amused sneer at her "salad" days is natural and true. It is an illusion of our oddly adolescent era, this squalid age of mechanics and scientific tinkering, that women are most lovable, most dangerous when they are just past the brat stage.
Even in our classical theatre we have seen maidens barely out of gym frocks reduce critics to the level of cheer leading. But if we are to be serious in our approach to the theatre, we must accept that age is better than youth. Miss Ashcroft*: Juliet, for example, when she was nearing her forties was more truly young with all youth's mercurial emotions fixed and flowing at the command of the artist, than any we have seen from the high charm school of recent years. And more beautiful.
Her Cleopatra has a range ot passion, abandoned womanhood, too wide, too tragic, too gay, too pathetic, too rich to be analysed. To the adult I recommend her speaking of the speech that begins : 0 Charmian, where think'st thou
he is now! Stands he, or sits he? Or does he walk? Or is he on his horse?
0 happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony. . . .
Listen to her orchestration, watch her blending of action and word
from a position brilliantly and heartlessly contrived by the producer; and salute an actress. And, incidentally, meditating upon this play, written for Elizabethan groundlings, its richness of adult knowledge, its poetic rendering of inevitable experience, its objective acceptance of what we call the facts of life, think then of what we mean by progress, comparing all to contemporary entertainment.
One other player must be more than noted, Mr. Harry Andrews. We know Mr. Andrews in London as a fine player; but I have seen him do nothing better than his bear-like Enobarbus who snarls music, growling poetry that sings. Enobarbus is the fighting soldier who reflects, the man of the camp who has assessed life beyond the camp, a man of honour, a shrewd, a wise man. Mr. Andrews gives us all Enobarbus, a magnificently moving and honourable performance.
Mr. Marius Goring's blanched Cxsar is a pedantic, inhibited figure of majesty, comic at Pompey's boozeup, menacing, and in the ending noble in a schoolmasterish way. A thoughtful and soundly realised performance. I liked Mr. Donald Pleasence's slippery Lepidus.
THE SLEEPING PRINCE (Pluenlx)
T O'VELY is the Leigh, amusing is Lathe Olivier and extremely thin is the Rattigan.
We were delighted to welcome Miss Leigh and Sir Laurence back to the West End, charmed at any price. And it is true that many worse plays have had perplexingly long runs in this neck of the metropolis. Mr. Rattigan could not write a had play; he is the only craftsman in English theatre who could contrive a play from nothing. That is his achievement in The Sleeping Prince.
An American choru girl is invited to the presence of a prince, a Balkan Regent who is obsessed by politics. He is engaged with England and France in attempting to keep the late Wilhelm of Germany in his place. It is the eve of the Coronation of Edward VII.
The prince resorts to occasional amours rather as happier men take to darts, the reading of Henry James or keeping pigeons. It is his sparetime occupation. Of "true love" he knows nothing. Mary teaches him. That is the play.
Miss Leigh is, as one would expect in such a role, enchanting. Sir Laurence is sullenly, brilliantly comic, dashing from his absentminded wooing to the telephone to order the arrest of his political opponents or to plot with the French ambassador. He contrives a guttural accent and a square-headed haircut in the tradition of his own blunt, delicately rendered sense of humour.
There is a grand portrayal of regal dottieness from Miss Martita Hunt and an assured delivery of a boy king from the astonishing Master Jeremy Spenser.
I look forward to seeing, after the long run I fear and hope they will have in this gay trifle, Sir Laurence and his lady in mettle more worthy.