THEATRE: By W. J. IGOE
STOCKTAKING is a melancholy business. But normally in theatre criticism it has its compensations; if the good work in any season does not outweigh the had, there is enough to flavour one's memories pleasantly. Not so in 1952. The year 1951 gave us three more than memorable performances, Mr. Wolfit's enchanting essay in romantic senility, the palsied Quixote, lord Oglehy in The Clandestine Marriage and Sir Laurence Olivier's golden, irascible Anthony in Anthony and Cleopatra, and his Casar, whittled to the hone of Roman cynicism, in the Shavian comedy at the St. J17527's. Both actors have been absent from the London theatre during Only one performance of like stature has been given us, Mr. Gielgud's gay, delicately wistful and hard-boiled Benedick in a disciplined and elaborated production of Much Ado About Nothing. In that part he auspiciously opened the 1952 season at the Phienix; he closes the year with a production of Richard 11, with Mr. Scofield as the King, at the Lyric, Hammersmith, first of a series of presentations which, in themselves, should elevate Coronation theatre above the 12 months past.
I.HE Old Vic began the second half of 1952 on a wave of faintly hysterical optimism which still remains, I believe, unjustified by results. Much has been written of the youth of the company, as if lack of experience is a virtue, a quality to be praised in actors.
The Romeo and Juliet currently revived at Waterloo is a pretty game and to be recommended as a holiday item high On the list of things to be seen by children; all it lacks is tragic force and Shakespearean depth. The hell does not toll for the lovers; it sweetly tinkles. Miss Bloom, the Juliet, is a young player of great promise with the delicate beauty that is almost stereotyped in ballet, and the innate good taste which makes self-discipline almost too easy. As the awakening child Juliet, in the dance and on the balcony, she is touching; in the scenes that require dominance of primeval passions she is outclassed by the part.
The players who emerge most con
fidently from this production are Sir
Lewis Casson. Miss Seyler and Mr. Devlin; experience carries weight in Shakespeare.
The Old Vic would be well advised to observe Mr. Quayle's policy at Stratford. which combines star, not stunt, quality with an adventurous approach in production. Only an adaptation to the actor-managercall it actor-director—policy will restore the playhouse by the Thames to a prestige solidly based upon achievement.
OUTSIDE the classical theatre we have been surfeited with disappointments. Occasionally poor plays were made tolerable, once satisfying, by the skill of the actors.
Mr. Redgrave massed depth of human detail into his study of Frank Elgin. a broken matinee idol, in Winter Journey: and Mr. Sam Warmmaker, the producer, skilfully contrasted with a lightning cartoonist's impression of a new-world craftsman of drama that was most impressive.
In Monserrat, a mixture of sentimental political philosophy and melodrama, at the Lyric, Mr. Noel Willman smiled and smiled, snarled and snarled and was a most intelligent and terrifying villain. Mr. Willman's blackguards are from the Graham Greene country; their evil is touched by pathos. With each the shadows of vanished goodness and lost nobility walk; their horror is intensified by the feeling that each might have been, still potentially is. a saint.
In a hideous little play by Mr. Emlyn Williams. Accolade, Mr. Willman, in another year, played a sad, demoralised parent, ready to sell his child. He was the one dreadfully real thing in the piece. He is an actor who cannot be forgotten.
These few scraps and Mr. Gielgud's work are all one recalls with pleasure in a year of bad literature, hack comedies, bogus moralities, shallow philosophies and downright bad taste. Each is the work of an actor.