Page 10, 4th June 1937

4th June 1937
Page 10
Page 10, 4th June 1937 — The Play

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The Play

Strange Story Of Louis VII

" He Was Born Gay "

Mr. Emlyn Williams's presence on the stage of the Queen's Theatre during the third act when he himself was acting in He Was Born Gay, seemed to give temporary significance to the play. One must presume that the rest of it had an equal significance and one which he himself could have conveyed, but the great good-will on the part of both players and audience was not enough to bring it out.

About the date of Waterloo, according to Mr. Williams, the son of Louis XVI, who had been smuggled out of the Tower during the Revolution instead or dying there, was a music master in a snob family in Dover. His presence coincided with the attempt to palm off another-claimant to Louis XVII's personality, and by the actual date of Napoleon's defeat and consequent restoration of the Bourbons in the person of Louis XVI's brother (his son being regarded as dead) yet another claiMant makes his appearance in the Dell household.

Though the fate of Louis XVII is historically sufficiently uncertain to be one of history's classical mysteries, this abundance of pretenders in one time and place provides material for a farce rather than a drama, and Mr. Williams, who plays the third pretender, makes little attempt to avoid the farce in which the audience momentarily delights until he suddenly presents a cup of poison to the real Louis. The latter being played by John Gielgud dies with tragic beauty after three acts of Hamletising and making up his mind whether to try to be king again or not, and so the farce suddenly becomes tragedy again. This is typical of the whole play. Mrs. Del! (Elliot Mason), a snob old lady of Dover: her son (Glen Byam Shaw) a stiff but coming M.P.; Lady Atkyns (Sydney Fairbrother), an even older and more amusing old lady with a past. who, by the way, did play a part in history; Mr. Leroy (Frank Pettingell), a false pretender looking exactly like a Bourbon but with the voice and character of a Cockney working-man — all these are the stock-in-trade characters of broad farce. Prissy Dell (Betty Jardine) and Sophy Raffety (Carol Goodner) come from light, if not musical, comedy, while John Gielgud and Gwen Efrangcon-Davies belong, of course, to high romantic tragedy.

Such a queer mixture was never seen before and only Mr. Williams's brain can possibly understand its significance.

Nor do thc little details help. French counts, as I know on the best authority, do not cause very much social flutterings in snob hearts, and it is most surprising to find the ordinary conversation in an eighteenth century bourgeois drawing-room, even with pretenders present, turning on why ladies do or do not lock their bedroom doors at night on gentlemen—and all in the tone of voice with which one would express one's sorrow at a friend's not turning up for a cup of tea. M. B.

A Month In The Country

Experts will tell you that one of the greatest artistic crimes you can commit is to put a glass over a famous oil painting. I felt something of the sort had figuratively happened to mar the artistic success of A Month in the Country, the Russian period play just revived at the Westminster Theatre. It was not all wrong, but on the other hand it was just not right. Perhaps a conversation I overheard during one of the intervals hit the nail on the head, as far as the general atmosphere was concerned. One very blasv young lady was discussing the play with a dapper young man. " My dear," she drawled, " of course none of the characters are true to life but they are ail too divinely Russian." " You're right," replied her partner, " but, I say, isn't the old dame hard to please as regards her lovers. I'd lock her up if she belonged to me."

But to be serious. 'Stanislavsky, the great Director of the Moscow Arts Theatre, believed that Turgenev, the author of the play, was a genius, and that A Month in the Country was built on the most delicate curves of love experience. I am afraid Stanislavsky was a bit of an optimist.

The story deals with sudden affection and jealousy which overtakes a middle-aged woman. First she falls in love with her son's tutor and then is jealous of her seventeen-year-old ward, who also finds that she has a deep affection for him. A competition rages for the supreme affections of the young man who, strange to relate, is in love with neither of them. The husband and a faithful friend find themselves involved and at the end everybody seems to be running away from everybody else in order to avoid a catastrophe.

At the commencement of the play, I thought we might almost be about to witness a domestic comedy, then I changed my rnind. Was it to be tragedy? I was wrong in both these suppositions, because it turned out after all to be only melodrama.

The acting was not too perfect. Miss Gil. lian Scaife as the middle-aged woman, had all the mannerisms of the conventional melodrama queen when, in distress, she turned her back on the audience, raised her arms, only to lower them again and press the backs of her hands to her lips.

Miss Cherry Cottrell as the ingenue, had equally fixed ideas with regard to showing emotion, which took the form of staring blankly at the middle of the Dress Circle.

With all this, the play was distinctly unusual, and as such is worth seeing, if only for the really delightful setting and fine production.


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