An Incomprehensible Ascent
The Ascent of F.6, by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, has been transferred from the Mercury to the Little Theatre, where it sheuld be sure of success.
The lesson of the play as a whole is incomprehensible. The authors have left the main issue hazy and consequently open to many interpretations. It has already been said that its value is tentative, but its ingredients also have extraordinary merit.
It has a background of the Inter-Imperial political satire—bitter Left and very bright —about a mountain " F.6," the ascent of which will save England's prestige; atid a surburban couple, sometimes pathetic and real, and sometimes whose couplets are too caustic and " intellectual " to be anythiag but the mouthpiece of the authors' sardonic wisecracks. The main theme is an intense personal problem, never fully realised and essentially moral based on the belief that a life of action is bound up with spiritual pride. Simplicity is not considered. The alternative is a life of contemplation and the complete abnegation of the will. There is also a maternal strain which is comprehensible until the climax.
The authors mix burlesque with good characterisation and interweave the other threads into a mentally exciting tangle. In the original version they closed on nightmarish babel; in the play they end on enigma and a shrug. William Devlin takes the brunt of the honours of the play, with a quiet, dark rendering of the hero. Barry K. Barnes is fun and Norman Claridge very sound.
The authors seem to have pushed along a pretty snowball of ideas; it grew great but as they rolled it rolled away and careered down the slope to end a queer, entertaining monument to their exercise. Perhaps later they will resurrect these ideas and we will hear more when they have followed the threads honestly. I hope so.