Oberon In Cambridge Circus
LULL'D in these flowers with dancesand delight, the critic eats his words. Four weeks past 1 scathed the " dreary old Ruritanian theme " in British musical plays. This week Mr. Ivor Novelle, has given us King's Rhapsody (PALACE THEATRE) and me my comment on a golden platter. The latter I swallow; the former is so appetising a confection that the performance is made easy. Here is a rich satisfying pre-war chocolate box of entertainment.
It recalls the good old days. The Palace Theatre, the perfect setting for a Novello show, is a shrine to pre-1914 London. Only Mr. Belieman could hymn its eccentricities justly. From the outside it suggests a niesalliance between Gothic, Turkish Bath. inflated by puritan romanticism, and a match factory raised by Victorian private enterprise, which was the same thing. It is a stunted version of King's Cross Railway Station. Chesterton, I am told, loved King's Cross; G.K. was a holy man. To the eye inhibited by the absence of ineffable sanctity, it conjures images that would have given Freud many a merry moment. Inside, however. the Palace is as happy and as opulent as an Edwardian barmaid; it wears ostrich feathers, gold teeth, diamonds in its hair and it calls you " dearie." Its genteel plush ripples with raucous laughter. Before the curtain goes up there is cracking business in the orchestra pit with fiddle, flute and small drum. In the stalls is a buzz of conversation and much adjusting of evening gowns; in other parts are wide anticipatory smiles and great cranings of honest necks. All around is the rustling hint of ghostly bustles and surely the gallery is awash with pearly flounces. boas and unpeeled oranges. Carriages, one feels. await below; at the stage door there must be a queue of silly young men. all whiskered. Champagne Charlie is everybody's name.
Mr. Novello's manner with his players and audience enhances the atmosphere. He has the zest and bonhomie of an old-time music hall chairman, but educated at a good school and one of the older uni
versities. He is, in a gentlemanly way, the life and soul of the party. Fifty years ago he would have carried gold sovereigns in his waistcoat for his favourite nephews; today, I suspect. his secret ambition is to live in the Albert Hall, invite the human race around for tea every afternoon, and stuff it with plum cake. He aims to please and he succeeds supremely.
He is a conservative showman; he serves a conservative public. His audience has the good taste in life to find Ibsen irrelevant, Shaw a bore and Strindberg a solecism. Mr. Novello shares their enthusiasms. More light, they cry, like Goethe. Their Oberon gives them all the light he can command, songs they
will sing in their bath-tubs, mingles in laughter and adds a soupcon of sentiment.
His flair is unfailing; his talent is disciplined by an assured taste that is uncanny. Each scene is a picture that startles by the innocent joy that inspired it; he will give you the clean, cool sunlight of Cezanne and. all in mood, switch suddenly to the sombre shadows and violent colours of Rembrandt; and then throw in Sir Alfred's Academy with a coronation act that silences the matrons in the stalls for fully ten seconds. And all is the framework of a Corelli anecdote. Always it moves. Snatching the peasant costumes of Europe. the spring. greens, summer blues. autumn golds and blazing scarlets, the billowing skirts. flowing cloaks, feathers, leather, blouses, breaches and jackboots, and gently reshaping to the pattern of his stage the old dances, he weaves these living threads on a canvas of delight to the eye. He is unrivalled in his field.
Flis sense of character alike, is precisely attuned to the capacity of musical comedy. His peasants are all pretty or rugged, honest and faithful. His aristocrats are wicked yet their hearts are romantically
golden. In his world, there is no hint of austerity. When he creates a king, the royal gentleman drinks champagne with the deathless thirst a modern state official brings to canteen tea. He is a had man, this monarch, who comes home late after making practically platonic love to an opera singer; he is as rude as Mr. Novello can be — a faint absentminded frown on the fact of the children's favourite uncle — to the beautiful young queen.
The truth, in truth, is that Mr. Novello is a bit of a fraud and must be exposed. For himself he has written a part that keeps him out of the limelight; he sits nearly in the wings most of the time. With equal cunning. in his own foul way, the critic turned a pair of glasses on this shy man and discovered that he was sitting back and enjoying the work of his company as much as those who had paid for admission. Here is the secret that lies in the heart of the matter of a Novelle,
show. Besides his great talent he enjoys his work. It was obviously a sore trial to him to restrain his applause for his players. He beamed with appreciation.
Yet despite this admirable knavery in making the best of both worlds his own characterisation provided the central thread that kept the big show speeding along; it is an exquisitely raffish and generous performance.
The songs and dancing throughout are as gay as yesterday; they will be whistled and remembered until the day after the smallest child's to
morrow. Miss Olive Gilbert and Miss Vanessa Lee bring them tunefully to life. Miss Zena Dare was a pert, truly grand, grande dame as the Queen Mother. And Miss Phyllis Dare's singing of the satirical Mayor of Pappignon was the best part, to one member of the audience, of an evening of unmixed pleasure.
Can this be the actress who stirred us so deeply with the strength of her tragic queen in Oedipus at the Vic three years ago? we asked ourselves at Treasure Hunt (Aeolic)). It was Dame Sybil Thorndike. This pixilated comedy of Anglo-Irish squireen, their faithful retainers and English invaders in search of Celtic fleshpots, fresh air and wine is written by M. J. Farrell and John Perry. Dame Sybil, as a sanely scatty old lady who knows the world from a sedan chair in the parlour, her own magic carpet that flies behind the Iron Curtain or to Honolulu as the spirit moves her, is delicious in her every gesture. Was ever an actress so humble in her view of human wisdom and human sanity; those fluttering hands, the delicate cringe, and the swaying dancing carriage, all enlivened with a sense of loving fun that makes her quite the most lovable player in our theatre. Mr. Alan Webb as a dottie old gentleman, Miss Marie Lohr, Miss Irene Browne. and a fine cast make this amusing piece. hilarious. Sir Lewis Casson, good humoured, rationally avuncular. contributes the rock of good sense that anchors it into real comedy.
W. J. L