PLAYS OF THE YEAR, VOLUME 9. Chosen by J. C. Trewin (Veit, THE doldrums are upon us. The 1 year, which so far has been the most mediocre in my experience of the London theatre, has reached that ebb when nothing new emerges in the playhouses. The season we define as summer reaching its high point, when American tourists elect to freeze upon English beauty spots and natives freeze upon beaches and cricket pitches, only repertory, pierhead minstrels and ice-cream vendors thrive.
True, this week there has been a revue from Cambridge, which I notice below; but Mr. Trewin'e selecdon of past successes in the West End provides matter more useful for a toiling pen. We shall consider Trewin's choice, leaving Hobson's, the revue. to the bottom reaches of the column.
Mr. Trewin enjoys the play. It is in the nature of drama critics to expect each time they go to the theatre to see a masterpiece; but also to sublimate their chagrin, sometimes as often as six times in a week, when the first naive aspiration is frustrated.
Some, of course, invent their own masterpieces and we are plagued at the moment by Frankensteins whose metallic cliches clang on posters from Piccadilly Circus to AlcIwych.
Mr. Trewin is the eager type of critic but no "beaver" he, with or without the capital letter; when the anticipated masterpiece does not appear, he settles in his seat and enjoys himself, reporting his pleasure or disappointment to the reader.
He is an amiable critic; his writings are wise and consequently never
strident. His short introductory mays to the five plays assembled in this volume are admirable, brief, benevolent and unsentimental. They represent a fair cross-section of theatre in contemporary London.
"A NASTASIA" and "The Return" Elkare, I believe, the two most worthy of survival and I look forward to seeing them again sometime, if the good Lord spares me, played by the excellent company I mentioned in my last week's letter from Cork. Mr. Carl Clopet would find them good material for his actors and audience.
The first is a melodrama, marred by the translator's illusion that the Dowager Empress of Russia conversed in the manner of a refined gym mistress, but with a strong theatrical plot hinging on the possible survival of one of the last Czar's murdered daughters. Two types of aristocratic survivors are in conflict for Anastasia, the waif who might be an Empress, the corrupted and cynical and the faithful, dignified and pathetic.
M. Maurette, the writer, brought down his final curtain on a melodramatic and sentimental note; yet it was stirring.
"The Return" is Miss Boland's study of a nun returned to the world of the laity after 36 years in a convent and, as Mr. Trewin observes, the writer handled the subject with uncommon good taste, making of it a pleasant and moving entertainment.
"Trial and Error," "As Long as They're Happy" and "Birthday Honours" are more commonplace items on the perennial West End programme, farcical comedies, one enlivened by a slight touch of crime. Each amused after-dinner theatregoers and was well-made in its way.
OUT OF THE BLUE (Phoenix) THE pleasure I might have received from this undergraduate romp from Cambridge was marred by its offensive, nagging references to America and the American Army. I fear I am one of those who do not find the mere mention of the name "Private Schine" witty; nor do I think it amusing, in view of the number of young Americans killed in Korea, to lampoon an investiture in Washington, at least in the boorish way of this company. A colleague has noted that in one item in the show two young men "pleasingly wring the withers of Mr. Evelyn Waugh and Mr. Graham Greene." The withers of these two distinguished authors are, so to say, closed books to me; I lack Mr. Hobson's privileged position. My withers were unwrung. But I am surprised that a revue. sponsored by members of a great university, should caricature writers without giving evidence of any kind that their works had been read by the caricaturist. I thought this part of the show unfunny, ugly, oafish and untrue.
"Out of the Blue" contains some talent; it is devoid of good taste. It becomes tedious.