THEATRE : By W. J. IGOE
ANASTASIA (St. James's)
Y colleagues, almost to a man, IV' have risen in praise of Miss Helen Hayes performance, as the last Dowager Empress of Russia, in Anastasia, a quaintly attractive melodrama now playing under the aegis of Sir Laurence Olivier. It is a performance that should be cherished by all who love the cool competence that raises the art of elaborated and moving mime to the level of poetry.
That it is not, as one lady critic, carelessly enraptured. observed, great acting. is not Miss Haye's fault:. not even she can make bricks, if one may coin a phrase, with mere straw. She acts, I am convinced. like an Empress; but the lines she is given suggest a retired and genteel barmaid settled in a nice gay hotel modestly lurking in the back streets of Brighton.
Mad the Romanoffs may have been, some bad, but one cannot believe that the aristocrats in this play derive from a source in history more accurate than the theatrical tradition that gave us The Royal Divorce; ironically the American republican, in the broader sense, Robert E. Sherwood, gave us more acceptable shadows of vanished grandeur in Reunion in Vienna than this work by a French writer translated by an Englishman.
ANASTASIA is based on the myth or truth that one of the children of the Czar escaped the murderers of DOUGLAS HYDE Is on holiday. He will resume his Column on September 4. her family, wandered through Eastern a n d Central European countries for years and then was discovered in Germany, the time being "between the two World Wars."
A depraved prince, an ex-officer in the Imperial Army, taxi driver and gigolo, finds a girl. a starving, sickly, suicidal waif, whose resemblance to the Grand ruchess is such that he hires her to impersonate the child who, if she lives, is Czarina of Russia. He instructs her in the history and manners of the Royal Family, grooms her to meet the Dowager, the grandmother, for she is heiress to some millions of pounds. What he does not know, what Miss Mary Kerridge makes quietly clear to the audience, is that the girl is truly the little Grand Duchess Anastasia.
It is Miss Kerridge's blanched waif, transformed into the steely beauty of a Royal princess buffeted by brutes and exploited by frivolous wickedness and Mr. Anthony Ireland's suave portrait of a gently-born blackguard that give the play substance in the first act.
THE situation of the ambiguous
waif is stated as close to the facts of the myth as we know; it is resolved by the Grand Duchess, grandmama convinced, renouncing her claim to the leadership of the White Russians lest the syndicate get her inheritance and the "blood of the Romanoffs" be dishonoured.
Now this is nonsense, melodramatic rubbish.
Most commendably, Miss Kerridge and Miss Haye carry it off, with the aid of the old Russian National Anthem blared off.
AREN'T WE ALL (Haymarket)
"I\ if R. RONALD SQUIRE wears an 1V1 extremely red carnation in this production; the sets are worth the price of hired opera glasses, the frocks attractive and the actors stylishly witty and agreeably personable. The script is not inane; vacuous is the more accurate word.
This thinly vulgar whimsy about a couple of married ninnies who kiss the wrong people, quarrel, kiss and make up, is made barely tolerable by the ever-lovely Miss Marie Lift, Miss Jane Baxter, that beloved witch Miss Marjorie Fielding, and the delightfully doggy, kindly, otherworldly worldly-wise Mr. Squire.
But the star of the show is Mr. Cecil Beaton, whose sets and costumes are entrancing at a glance. A glance does not make a play. Mr. Beaton, someone should tell Tennent's, can neither act nor write.