Page 7, 17th April 1964

17th April 1964
Page 7
Page 7, 17th April 1964 — A mixed week in the Theatre

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Organisations: London Electricity Board
Locations: Paris


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A mixed week in the Theatre

WHEN Albert Camus' Caligula (Phoenix Theatre) first was staged in Paris, in 1945, the last exultant shout of the assassinated tyrant must have rung both eerily a n d prophetically through the auditorium. "But still I live." Hitler was just a few months dead: Stalin was very much alive. France was not long liberated from the Nazis.

Gerard Philipe played the title-role in Paris. It is a part that calls for a master essayist in controlled rococo. Mr. Ernest Milton, when younger, would have made beautiful sense of it. Mr. Kenneth Haigh shows glimmerings of understanding but his notions of "the absurd", one felt, are conditioned more by Mr. Charles Chaplin than by Albert Camus.

The performance is an interesting exhibition of acting techniques, a frenzied portrayal of conventional madness into which the player injects pathos and lays on. irony like a greedy child spreading marmalade.

Caligula should be played with restraint: in themselves the words and actions are "absurd". The emperor was trying to break out of the ordained pattern of manhood and its limitations: to be a god. achieve the impossible. The moon is a symbol and CeJigula. like Faustus, in trying to escape from his nature and limitations, must be damned.

The pace of the production was wrong; the set recalled one of the more hideous warming devices supplied by the London Electricity Board. The elaboration of Camus' directions in the Venus scene was tasteless. Even that good actor, Mr. Michael Gwynn, playing a part that combines Mark Antony and Brutus did not manage to establish the character until the final duologue with the emperor. Minor actors moved like conscripts drilled by a rookie instructor.

Apart from Mr. Haigh's wellmeaning histrionics there was something perfunctory about the whole business. One felt that Mucius's wife, for example, had been called from the theatre canteen and hurried on-stage (leaving her sandwich to be eaten later) to he raped and afterwards, having tidied her hair-do, she would return to the canteen, or snuggle down in her dressing room with a copy of Little Women.

Mr. Andrew Ray, as Scipio, miraculously, in the circumstances, struck the right pace: relaxed, in movement, almost strolling, grave in voice. Mr. Ray suggested the poet. a contemplative, in a word, all the things Caligula lacked.

I once saw a Greek actor play Caligula: Mr. Haigh improved on him. The fault in this presentation, I'll bet my "little boots", lay with the producer. WITH memories of Waiting for Godot still fresh in mind, it was to be expected that Samuel Beckett's new offering, Play (National Theatre) would provide an unusual theatrical experience.

Indeed, for the benefit of those who were not acquainted with Godot, a programme note by the producer George Devine gave fair warning that the audience might have its difficulties in deciding just what it was all about.

"When we first see a new form of painting or listen to a new kind of music", he writes, "we realise that we have to make art adjustment in ourselves and our attitude if we are to get the best out of the experience . .

So far so good.

Mr. Devine goes on to tell us that one should approach Beckett openly and give up any panic tendency to ask "What is it meant to mean?" The simple answer, he tells us, is that "it means what it says".

I will go along with him even to this point, providing, of course, that it does say something.

But often in the case of Beckett (and I am still quoting from Mr. Devine's programme note) "words are not used for their intellectual content or their emotional impact . . . words are used more as sounds, as 'dramatic ammunition',"

If the words are to he merely sounds as Mr. Devine says, then why should Mr. Beckett go to all the trouble of writing them? He could save a lot of time by merely giving the cast a British Railways timetable or a leading article in The Times, letting them read it backwards.

And I would be grateful if Mr. Devine would tell me just how, if words are to be used just as "sounds", the play can say anything at all. One could achieve far more with good old-fashioned mime — except•that even miming would be a little difficult for people sitting neck-deep in urns, which is the case in this production.

All I was able to gather was that a man (Robert Stephens) had a wife (Rosemary Harris) and a mistress (Billie Whitelaw) and that for half the time of the play they exchanged quick-fire words ("dramatic ammunition") about this situation. I say half the time of the play intentionally, because for the second half they merely repeat what they said in the first half.

There may be good point to this. A lady in the theatre press office told me she understood the play perfectly, but she acknowledged that this had been aided by the fact that she had seen it six times.

For the theatre-going public, with scats at the price they are, understanding "Play" would consequently come at a rather high price.

The second production on the

bill is Philoctetes in which Sophocles is able to show us just how effective words can he when they are used for the purpose for which they are intended (or were intended in the days in which he was using them!).

The story — yes, there is a story here is concerned with the abandonment of Philoctetes on an island after he had been bitten by a serpent, and the efforts of Odysseus and Neoptolemus to get from him the magic bowl of Heracles by which Troy will fall.

Colin Blakeley, Robert Lang and John Stride strike the right note throughout in a production that does much to bolster one's faith in the National Theatre.

THERE must have been a lot of heart-searching around the Fortune Theatre when it became necessary to find something to replace the long-running Beyond the Fringe. Comparison between that show, and any successor would be inevitable.

Wait a Minim, Vihich opened last week, could not be a better choice. It is a revue, put on by young people, this time from South Africa.

I found the show just as funny, just as young in heart, just as smooth, and much more tuneful. The satire is not as biting, and is none the worse for that.

The cast comprises three very beautiful young ladies and five young men who between them play 57 musical instruments to such good effect that there is never a dull moment.

I am sure you need not hurry to see and hear them. They should certainly be there for quite a time.

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