THEATRE: By W. J. IGOE
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK (Lyric)
L'ARCE is tragedy played for
laughs, Mr. T. S. Eliot has written a farce about characters that quiver with life. His play. had he been a pagan, might have been entitled The Tragedy of Sir Claude Mulhanuner. We enjoyed The Confidenthd Clerk.
Let me disabuse those readers who expect a critical essay explaining Mr. Eliot's work to the last fullstop. I am unable to oblige.
The author, I believe, is imamparably the most important artist currently writing for the theatre; he sensitively is aware of the spiritual crises, and the manifold effects upon men and women which exercise our culture. He has mastered the traditional dramatic forms and is a poet.
I hope to see his play again during the current production's period in London; and each time find new meanings in it. But I cannot hope to enjoy it more than on the second night when its seeming inconsequential comedy of character revealed by situation compelled laughter. With all its profound wisdom beneath the surface, it is great fun.
Bearing in mind the one fact we took to the theatre. that Mr. Eliot is a Christian, let us examine some of the facts he gives us over the footlights.
IHE theme of the play, I suspect, is expressed in the title. It is about a confidential clerk.
It begins in the private office, the sanctum. of Sir Claude Mulhammer in the financier's private house in London. Sir Claude is a power in the city, and he has a serious domestic problem.
Recently his confidential clerk re tired and was replaced by a young man named Colby Simpkins. Colby, Sir Claude believes, is his natural son. The young man is to be groomed for heirdom to the Mulhammer millions.
Lady Elizabeth Mulhammer, Sir Claude's wife, has been in foreign parts taking various "cures." Her home-coming is due. The old confidential clerk, Mr. Eggerson, she trusts and, in her way, loves. How will she accept the new boy? Mr. Eggerson is called back from his retirement to smooth the transition. The play begins during his preliminary consultation with his master, Sir Claude.
Bearing in mind that Mr. Eliot is a Christian. Eggerson is, I believe, the keystone, as it were, of the dramatic chnstruction. He has the title role and is the only unsophisticated character.
He is a simple man. the type described by worldly wise adolescents of all ages as "a dear." His neat grey suit is just too small for him, his black boots just too big. His grey hair and moustache arc too long because, absorbed in work, he has forgotten to attend the hairdresser; both are carefully groomed.
Eggerson is easily shocked, but a kindly moralist; his principles he applies to himself. At no time has he expected success; his good job came as a surprise, A little proud of Sir Claude's friendship, he is unaware that he truly is the greater man.
Once he had a son whose life was given in war, and he, in his quiet way, mourns the soldier still. He is retired to an outlying suburb named Joshua Park, where he tends his garden, lives with "Mrs. E." and is a verger at the parish church. Eggerson believes time solves all problems.
HEprepares to confront Colby with Lady Elizabeth and is interrupted by a lovely young lady,
Lucasta Angel, and her fiance, B. Kaghan, who invade Sir Claude's office with the air of conquerors.
Lucasta mysieriously is associated with the financier; B.'s origins are obscure. Colby is attracted to the lady. The engaged couple depart and Lady Elizabeth arrives to take the young man to a heart worn conspicuously.
The scene ends with Sir Claude, Eggerson and Colby nonplussed by the lady's apparent familiarity.
No reviewer could give an adequate summary of what follows. Mr. Eliot has concentrated many traditional farcical and classical situations into the next two acts which unfold in a series of dramatic explosions.
Colby and Lucasta are about to fall in love when the girl reveals that Claude is her father. Lady Elizabeth, too, has a long-lost illegitimate son and thinks he is Colby; his father was "run over by a rhinoceros in Tanganyika."
Bemused by the complexities life and his peccadilloes have woven about him, the financier calls another conference. From Teddington he brings Mrs. Guzzard, who fostermothered, he believes his illegitimate boy, to clear the problems away.
She reveals that neither husband nor wife are parents of the son each desires. Lady Elizabeth's son is the bluff Kaghan, who she despised. Sir Claude's son died at birth. Colby's father was an unsuccessful musician. Mrs. Guzzard is his mother.
The play ends with Colby going off to find his vocation as organist in Mr. Eggerson's parish church. The confidential clerk will arrange it.
Rright-eyed with delight, the old man offers the young man lodgings, a home, in his house. He speaks of the future — Colby may take holy orders. Of all those on the stage, Colby is the one who truly has found a way in life. Time and patient charity and humble judgment of himself have, it seems, brought a son to Eggerson.
Sir Claude is stricken, only he rebels against the facts. Lucasta and her loyal and unromantic lover, B., Lady Elizabeth. each reconciled, gather about him.
PRIMARILY, I think Mr. Eliot has written a great, funny farce about the folly of a powerful man and his illusions; and the wisdom of the simple upon whom the great rely. There is much here, too, of vocation and the illusion of worldly fatherhood as compared, by implication, with the eternal fatherhood. But that must wait for analysis.
The author is served superbly by his players. Mr. Alan Webb, the best Polonius I have seen. is tenderly. absurdly lovable as Eggerson, and Mr. Paul Rogers rudely pathetic as the commanding Sir Claude.
Miss Isabel Jeans, as the dithering and exquisite Lady Elizabeth, is enchantingly funny and at the right moment wisely touching. Mr. Denholm Elliott speaks with tactful understanding and gives remoteness to Colby, who has no place with Sir Claude. Miss Margaret Leighton is most beautiful and blends the right notes of hysteria and stillness in 'he tragic Lucasta. As B. Kaghan, Mr. Peter Jones is comically brusque.
Miss Alison Guzzard dominates the part of Mrs. Guzzard, which demantis further discussion. As Eggerson is sinless and victoriously humble, Mrs. Guzzard, who sinned, with a humility that seems prideful relentlessly accepts her lot. She loses her son.
As I said, there is too much in this play In be analysed in one article. That it is magnificent comic entertainment the reader must End out for himself.