SHAKESPEARE IN DISILLUSIONMENT
Belongs To This Gas Mask Age
Troilus And Cressida
liv1TH Helen of Troy a lovely blonde who throws beautiful parties nightly in her chromium flat that has a roof-garden so far unaffected by the aerial bombardment of the besieging Greeks; with the military of the opposing camps clothed in storm troopers' uniforms of brown and sky blue; with cocktails circulating freely through the Trojan mess; at least no one could accuse the London Mask Theatre production of Troilus and Cressida of being unadventurous.
The experiment of dressing up the old Trojan story in the props of these gasmask days was based on something more than an itch to be surprising. Michael Macowan explains how the disillusioned Shakespeare who wrote Troilus and Cressida out of the depths of faithlessness never came nearer to being period (—but twentieth century period at that) than when he took pen in hand to debunk the heroics of war and show up the shallowness of a woman's feelings.
In Mr. Macowan's words, it seemed that " the world that Shakespeare has created is certainly not a realistic picture of the Greek and Trojan war, nor do I consider it a picture of the Elizabethan scene, it is a purely imaginative world." And so he relates Shakespeare's mood to the mood of our period and hitches Troilus and Cressida's story to contemporary experience.
This way the play certainly gets its point. Except in certain long passages (but never those spoken by Robert Speaight, who has that kind of interpretative voice that could make nursery rhymes sound like high poetry) which were declaimed without regard for the poetry—and even longer sages speeded through without much regard for the slowness of an audience to pick sense out of rhetoric. Through these labyrinths confusion became more confounded.
Stephen Murray, cast as chorus in the role of Thersites, was brilliantly, chosen. From him came the key to the action naturally and without strained effect. Ruth Lodge played Cressida (Cressid for short) svit'a no-period archness and a Juliet intensity which was engaging all the time. Troilus couldn't help being a bit of a bore and Robert Harris needn't be blamed for anything. IRIS CONLAY.
TWO self-assured young ladies in what
must have been 1415's most amusing two-piece went through the motion of drawing curtains obviously able to take care of themselves, trumpets sounded with enthusiastic frequency, a ship visibly moved, and armies visibly fought.
Yet in spite of these sops to Drury Lane tradition, Lewis Casson's production of Henry V remained a sincere and unadventurous work. The magnificence of dress would have been better appreciated had the background been plainer. The artificial realism of the scenery was apt to make all the colour and splendour of the lords of France and England rather confusing.
Shakespeare makes of the schoolboys' hero of Agincourt a fanatic anxiously trying to believe in his own fanaticism, and only when he fails and bewilderedly enumerates to God his good deeds in order to justify his expectation of material victory can the contemporary mind, formed by the ignominious failure of politician-created moralities, feel real sympathy for the man.
Ivor Novello made a fully satisfying hero of Henry, pathetic in bewilderment, as little repulsive as possible in his implacability, gay in his love-making.
The chorus was eager and high-spirited and gave descriptions of the action so vividly that more than ever did the painstaking realism of the Drury Lane stage seem unnecessary. Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies gave the chorus all fire and roused the anticipation of the audience so surely as if it had been the first night of a hitherto unproduced play.
Dorothy Dickson got the very last sparkle out of her two scenes of frolic as Katharine. If you want to escape from the grim news of the placards and you have not wearied of King Henry's beautiful jingoist rhetoric, then this sight of a gorgeous unreality of war, wherein ambassadors and kings may walk on the battlefield, is for your delight. PETER THOMPSON. Drury Lane
AA-Ft. S. N. BEHRMAN has written a -LT"piece of gilded nonsense—but the day of the piece of gilded nonsense passed with Oscar Wilde and I doubt if Mr. Behrman will find much support for his experiment of resurrection. There have been other such experiments, notably those of the post-war hangover when young Mr. Coward found fame. But the nonsense of those pieces was too uncomfortably like reality, and the gilt was corroded with bitterness.
Mr. Behrman's gilt suffers in the same way but not from the same cause—a pity, it might have been a better play with a stiffer dose of sour derision. Mr. Behrman's gilt, so promisingly bright in the first three scenes, peels off eventually through sheer wear.
He presents a situation which could have had delicious results; unfortunately all the evening is spent in the working out of just one delicious result, so that things begin to taste decidedly stale about two-thirds of the way through.
There is a sleek jeweller with an itch for psychological experiment and profit who lends a diamond ring Sleek Jeweller's to a girl from Wap Experiment ping-near . the-docks (of course, she isn't really from Wapping, as she is played by Vivien Leigh, and has pleasant dresses and literary sentences) in the expectation that this ring on a lovely hand will inevitably attract other rings, by way of men dazzled with the splendour of the first, and the beauty of the girl wearing it.
This girl is given for a month to a flamboyant countess who enthusiastically tries to clinch the success of the experiment by marrying the girl to something wealthy. The girl does not make a success in this way, but instead, after one amusing afternoon with a young peer (the kind which has to pay bills of £600 for the upkeep of the family mausoleum) she runs off with a poor, but nice young man who writes songs.
By this time the gilt has completely peeled off, and only the memory of its glitter, which the brilliant acting of Jeanne de Casalis as the hard, highly-coloured countess, and of Aubrey Dexter as the jeweller, preserves, still keeps us politely in our seats till the last curtain.
The Last Trump
THE Last Trump, by James Bridie, sounds its own doom. There are some good lines, a few witticisms, and one or two telling situations; but not even Sir Seymour Hicks can make a poor play good; though he has often succeeded in making an indifferent one excellent entertainment.
He almost succeeds in making the character of Bucklyvic credible and perhaps would quite, if it were not for the impossible gangster astronomer. He wholly succeeds in interesting those for whom a d:licult character reading is fun, and makes the very most of all the situations. He gets all the laughs in the text, and then plenty more because he is Sir Seymour.
The story of the play is impossible, the characters are colourless or dashingly daubed. The highminded scientist performing drawing-room murders on an oversuccessful business man suffering from heart attacks, who has to resort to the gunin-pocket trick and " lead pumping " remarks to get out of a drawing-room barred only by the heart case, after announcing the end of the world for the ensuing morning, was too much.
Mr. J. Twiss as this sinister scientist had an extremely difficult task but his utterance and make-up exaggerated rather than naturalised the melodramatic obviousness of the character.
The " young modern," played excellently by Miss Hazel Terry, was hard to believe in, though when opposite Sir Seymour she put a grip into the scene elsewhere lacking.
The supporting cast worked manfully at a play which somehow ought to be good. Perhaps it is just possible that it would make a good radio play; in that medium certainly many crudities would be lost, but then so would Sir Seymour Hicks's astonishingly vivid and amusing acting of the frightened, superstitious, aggressive Bucklyvie, which does leave much good entertainment in the play as it stands.
Duke of York
Senora Carrar's Rifles Waiting For Lefty
PROPAGANDA in all its guises is the meat of the Unity Theatre. To visit its productions is to be forewarned of the brisk command " Eyes Left." But frequently high imagination and real dramatic art emerge out of the political plays of this group which has counted Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden among its writers.
Senora Carrar's Rifles, by Bertold Brecht, extols Republican Spain in an uneonstructivs and emotional way. To look for sound political argument from a play is of course unfair, but it seems equally unfair of the playwright to represent particular characters as symbolical of the whole body from which they come. (The Church in Spain, for instance, has a raw deal from the namby-pamby Don Francisco.) But for the rest, there is drama, tense and stark which carries its audience into the realms of universal human feelings beyond all partisanship.
Of the two, Waiting for Lefty, by Clifford Odets, was much the better play. Set inside a trades union meeting of taxi-drivers in New York, it brought the whole audience into its drama of men working for starvation wages. More subtle in its propaganda, it would have its audience unobservedly sliding into an identification of all struggle for livelihood with a struggle against capitalism.
Inevitably the rights all come from the Left, but this does not prevent the cry against injustice sounding a clear.unmistak• able call. IRIS CONLAY, Unity