Page 10, 28th May 1937

28th May 1937
Page 10
Page 10, 28th May 1937 — The Play
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Locations: London, Paris

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The Play

" The Devil, They Say, Was A Woman 99 A "Paganini"

Cochran Comedy

To write at length about an °melte with mimic by Franz Lobar, adapted from the German by A. P. Herbert, staged by Tyrone Guthrie, sung by Richard Tauber and Evelyn Laye, and presented at the Lyceum by Charles Cochran would indeed be a case of love's labour wasted. And should there be any slight hesitation on the score of the possible high-brow nature of a musical play on the career of a virtuoso of the past called Paganini, a glance at the list of songs in the programme will rapidly dispel it : "If Love Should Die Today," " Girls Were Made to Love and Kin," "Nobody Could Love You More," " Love Live for Ever," "Who will be My Love Tonight?" Clearly, there could not have been anything very unusual from the musical comedy point of view about this Paganini.

And so thousands of people will for ever confound one of the strangest men in the history of music with Richard Tauber— wielding a fiddle, singing beautiful love songs in the court of Lucca to Napoleon's sister, gambling away his beloved violin (that one happens to be true) and even playing it while ballet-dancers try to convey what it should sound like.

Biographical Blasting

As the programme does not venture to prick the glorious bubble with a word or tveo of biographical note, let me attempt the ungracious but necessary task.

Paganini was born in 1784 and died in 1840. He was a Genoese and was taught the violin by his father, who was in the shipping business. Instead of making love all day he practised single passages for ten hours on end. (No wonder Bartucci, his publicity agent (F.sme Percy) was feeling peeved in the play.) As a young man he did gamble away his violin to pay gambling debts, but the violin was a cheap affair, not the Guarnerius which in fact was his most treasured possession. Finally he realty got going and the whole of Europe rang with his fame. He played in Paris and London in 1831, amassed a fortune, lost a good deal of it in running a gambling casirwe died of laryngeal phthisis and left £80,000. He was decorated by the Pope with the Order of the Golden Spur, but not for anything which appears in this comedy.

The Large and the Lean

And in case anyone should think that Richard Tauber's nicely rounded appearance has any connection with the original Paganini here is Sacheverell Sitwell's description of the original: "He was so thin that he seemed tall, and so dark that even his haggard features left him ageless. His body was completely fleshless and his limbs were mere bones, everything being sacrificed, so it seemed, for his long hands and talon-like fingers. . . . The longtails of his coat were preternaturally thin and flapping; his collar and cravat were formless and hardly visible, for his jaws, by long custom, leaned down to hold his violin, and were thus sunk for ever upon his chest. His features were wasted to nothing but an aquiline nose, sharp eyes, and a huge forehead lank with hair. This was in locks of raven black, like his black eyebrows, with the metallic darkness of hair that never whitens as it grows old."

Yes, a play could he written about Paganini, but, if it were, Cochran, Tauber, Lehar, Evelyn Laye and A. P. Herbert would not be its natural interpreters. The only connection between their delightful show and the original that 1 can think of is suggested by the fact that even seriousminded people believed Paganini to have been taught by the devil, and the devil,

they say, was a woman. M. B.

And The Music Stopped

Mr. Noel Scott, author of And the Musk Stopped, at the New Theatre, must have an ingenious and yet a simple mind. When he decides to write a thriller he starts by imagining as many novel thrills as he can, juxtaposes them in the first act, calls his play by one of them, and then proceeds in a couple more acts to try and explain how on earth this medley of thrills can possibly have been combined in some sort of logical sequence.

Not unnaturally the first act is considerably better than the second, and the second better than the third. How Mr. James Caravel was killed—or even whether he was killed — still remains something of a question to me. What with corpses coming back to life, pianos played by ghostly hands, murders of people sitting alone within four stout walls, and a police inspec

(Continued at foot of next column) for so genial and charming that everyone is almost persuaded that these mysterious and gruesome happenings are worth while if only to enable one to meet him, one loses one's ordinary standard of judgment.

Perhaps that is what the author intended, for there is no denying that a play which will not bear a moment's analysis succeeds in being first-class entertainment.

A great deal of the credit, however, must go to the cast who managed to bring to very real and fresh life the queer set of people required for the enactment of the thrills. It was a real disappointment when Mr. Edmund Willard; as James Caravel, was murdered at an early stage, but he was nearly as effective in the part of James's mad brother, Daniel. Miss Phyllis Dare, as Lady Charity Carstairs, the least perturbed of the little nest of Caraval's victims called together to witness his murder, charmingly reminded us every few minutes that the whole business was nothing like as gruesome as .it might otherwise have seemed. But it was Mr. Bernard Lee, as the detective-inspector, who reconciled us to the sequence of improbabilities by his study of a courteous and unruffled policeman probably more like the real thing than any of the hundreds who have preceded him on the London stage.




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