THEATRE: By w. j. IGOE
A QUESTION OF FACT (Piccadilly)
EV1L coming to the unsullied calm of a gracious place is Mr. Wynyard Browne's favourite theme. In The Holly and the Ivy it was a country vicarage from which a clergyman's children had gone to meet violent sorrow and find problems and anxieties beyond anything their father had anticipated in teaching then,.
Thcir Christmas home coming made gaps in the untried defences of his spiritual fortress. and in Mr. Herbert Lomas's beautifully wrought performances we saw the old vicar grow in stature until his vision of life surmounted the harriers of quietude that surrounded him; he saw and understood the agonies of those who go to the city.
There is no character in A Question of Fact quite as commanding as the Rev. Martin Gregory. But it is an admirable play, shaped with lean theatrical effect: the dialogue is ingratiating and has the sharp tang of good talk.
BACK to an English country town, .1-dto his task of classics master at a public school, comes Paul Gardiner and his wife after their honeymoon in Italy. The young man is a scholar. radiant with love of the classics, dedicated, one sees. to his craft of instructing boys in the best of European literature.
He is wittily sceptical of the future of classical education, imparting to his friends forebodings that recall Mr. Scott-King, the lovable usher in Mr. Evelyn Waugh's wise parable. But whatever the future. may bring. Gardiner is an artist schoolmaster presently absorbed in his teaching and studies.
His life, man and boy, had been happy. But one dreadful act in the past. recently exposed to him. has pierced his defences. An adopted
child, he learned that his true father committed murder and was hanged. He does not know his true mother.
‘AOST of us have encountered 11'1 occasional schoolmasters of genius, men capable of bringing to life the dull pages of history textbooks and of making, for example, Shakespeare start, in all his bright courage, colour, comedy and tragedy, from the printed page. Only when watching Mr, Paul Scofield's vigorous and characteristically disciplined performance as Gardiner did I realise that some of the best actors I ever have seen were masters in my own school.
Mr. Scofield is the only player in England today who can give the glory of a golden doublet to a performance in tweed jacket and flannel bags. He loves being an actor, has a likeable zest for striding the boards. If he were not so intelligent he would he the most virile "ham" in the business. As it is, he may be the great actor of his generation.
/lc endows his teacher with the stuff of a tragic figure. In his beloved classics. the note of doom predestined from the cradle had recurred, striking clearly as a silver bell.
His father's crime comes between him and his wife: has he, he asks himself. a similar tendency to brutal violence? If so, has he a duty to give up his vocation? Should a man bent by nature towards a wicked sin follow a sacred calling?
Mr. Scofield's interpretation of the role endows Gardiner 's life, his craft, his problem with immortal value. And that is as it should be. One is tired of insignificant people on the stage, In life everyone is infinitely important.
C(-IRIS'S is precipitated when a senior master is taken ill and Gar
diner is offered his post. He seeks out his mother and arranges a meeting.
Mr. Browne's gift for mingling comedy i and pathos is pleasantly revealed n a scene between wife and husband anticipating the arrival of "the poor old thing." The lady turns out to be a successful business woman in the cool and lovely shape of Miss Gladys Cooper, rich, old only in the sense that a work of art gains mellowness from age, the sort of "thing" that is a joy for ever. She staggers the schoolmaster by asserting, tactlessly, that he looks and behaves almost exactly lijc the deceased criminal. Ciardincr recklessly dashes out to resign his post.
Li ESPITE Mr. Browne's unobtrusive skill, I confess I found the last act of his play more talked-out than worked-out in terms of drama. That it is engaging talk spared me from more than momentary tedium. In a clash with his wife the young man, who has his father's fear of life, learns what it means to be loved, a lesson many find difficult.
In a talk with his mother he becomes aware of a truth we all know in an abstract was: that each of us carries within himself the impulses responsible for all the sins of all the fathers.
As in The Holly and ihe Ivy, the potentially tragic hero emerges redeemed, knowing more of himself and thus understanding others more fully and reverently. Mr. Browne makes this clear with a final curtain line so quiet that it echoed like a single note struck in an old quiet church. He is a very good writer.
Mr, Harold Scott contributes a churrning study of an ageing librarian, part Thurber. part Henry James. and Miss Pamela Brown plays the harassed wife with impeccable style.
In small parts Miss Maureen Delany. Miss Mary Hinton and Mr. Henry Hewitt are capable.