WHAT IS A SUCCESSFUL HISTORIC PLAY?
Achievement And Failure Of " Charles The King"
The transference of Maurice CoIbourne's Charles the King to the Cambridge Theatre provides the opportunity for a further notice. Let me say at once that on the night I went the theatre was not too full. This may have been an exception, but it is as well to warn those who intend to see it and also the many who will want to see it twice. It is a play the memory of which will not easily fade, and one that gives much more value for money than the great majority of plays I have recently visited.
Not that it is entirely satisfactory as theatre. The secret of the successful chronicle play lies not in suggesting far more than can possibly be shown on the scene, but in the selection of artificially rounded-off incidents that typify the clash of forces at work. The play-goer should not be asked to supplement what is missing from his own historical memory. Bernard Shaw's St. Joan is probably the best chronicle play in the modern theatre because a man can understand it even if he has never heard of the characters before, while the firmness and clearness of the story and character-drawing drives personal historical reactions from the head of the better-informed play-goers.
From this point of view, Charles the King is not very successful.
The first scene is excellent, giving promise of a neat study of the clash of ideas between King and Puritans. But then the Puritan outlook fades away, while Charles struggles with financial difficulties. Parliament double-crosses his family in order to win the day for kingship and the people, until his final defeat at the hands of Puritans, who return to the scene as gross and filthy fanatics in the presence of whom even a second-rate king could be dignified.
I am not suggesting that the author has been falsifying history---on the contrary he is extremely accurate as far as his scenes are concerned—but that he has selected his scenes to make the very best of Charles and, after the first scene or two, the very worst of his enemies. For it was not in the rough and tumble of this or that historical incident, this or that clash with Parliament, that the real conflict of forces was to be found; and if it is fair to throw a veil over many of Charles's subterfuges and desperate attempts to wriggle out of positions made impossible for him, a veil should also be thrown over the less edifying scenes on the other side. Not only would this be truer to history, but it would be better theatre. The admirer of Charles has always got the trial scene, about which even as an historical incident no man can have two opinions, to end up with and point the moral.
Convinced as I personally am of the truth of Mr. Colbourne's thesis. I could not help feeling that Charles's cause suffered because he was fighting and being physically defeated by caricatured opponents. His noble words at the trial: " If power without laws may make laws., I do not know what subject he is in England that can he sure of his life or anything he calls his own," would have been far fuller in meaning had Cromwell's attitude in the first scene been linked up with his behaviour in the last.
But this criticism still leaves the play a fine one. The author has made the very hest of the " love for wife and family " theme. using its simple emotional appeal to cover up lacunae in the development of ideas, while the lecture on the money-power --dragged in rather as if the author thought it worth his while to write a play and risk its production for the sole purpose of letting London have his views about the nefarious bankers—suggests the existence of another key to Charles's actual failure, a key which the author has not had time to place in the lock and turn.
Finally, Barry Jones's flawless portrait of the noblest and most beautiful of Britain's kings moving with dignity towards the inevitable doom of the tender and intelligent conscience in conflict with circumstance, and Miss Ffrangcon-Davies's utterly true rendering of queen, wife and mother, too foreign as queen, too intriguing as wife, too loving as mother, would carry to success a greatly inferior play on Charles the King.
Behind Your Back I wonder how many patrons who enter the theatre, in search of romance, would look anywhere else than on the other side of the footlights. Certainly the last place thay, would expect 03 find what they
sought, would be among the very matterof-fact and apparently impersonal members of the staff in front of the house, yet. Mr. Charles Landstone has done this little band of theatre employees more than a service by writing Behind Your Back (Strand). Each member of the staff in this play is made to radiate romance, from the exalted but extremely lovable manager, splendidly played by Jack Melfold, to the conscientious plodding cleaner, a jealous wife of a uniformed attendant, played with consummate art by Phyllis Morris and Arthur Hambling respectively.
The entire action of the play takes place in the dress circle bar, while the evening performance of an unsuccessful play is progressing. The staff is bravely bearing up in the hope that the piece may not justify the remark of the commissionaire" Well, we'll be out of work next week."
This little human drama, so beautifully acted, of every-day front of the house stage people, whose loyalty to the management, is as marked as their anxiety for their future, is so real, that surely it must have softened even the most blase dramatic critic, who as I said in an article a week or two ago, should try to give a play, where possible, the benefit of the doubt, realizing how much depends on the success or failure of ri theatrical enterprise, so far as the staff is concerned.
Please go and see this play. Not only will you enjoy it, but knowing that it will probably help the staff, you may even buy more than one box of chocolates!
WAITER a BECKETT.
THE ART OF FUGUE-I!
Bach's Task and Ambition
By ERNEST MOSS I said last week that the device of fugue is of such a nature that (like canon, of which it is a modification) it determines with utmost rigour the internal structure of music which embodies it. It is no mere arbitrary superimposed shape, it is a lifeprinciple.
Fugue is therefore eminently fit for the musician who is intent to create music which delights from the sheer Order, regularity, and unity of a determined succes sion of well-related sounds. It is the pure mathematics of music which transmutes to the beautiful (which can eventually be grasped intuitively, without effort) the supreme discursive sort of pleasure of the metaphysician in pursuit of essences. of the astronomer who abstracts general laws from celestial plienomerta.
It was with the same magnificent conception of his subject-matter that Bach, " to whom technique and creation were vitally related, not separate activities of the mind." became deeply absorbed. towards the end of his lifc, in exploring the manifold possibilities of fugal form.
Moreover, in order that such an exposition of fuge should preserve not only the internal unity of the individual fugue, but a cumulative unity of relationship between the fugues themselves. Bach determined that the entire exposition, ivhich was to be as exhaustive as possible of every form of fugal and canonic counterpoint, should revolve round a single theme.
This idea further served the invaluable purpose for Bach of taxing his resources (and incidentally fugal resource in general) to the utmost, in the invention of a subject which should be suitable not merely for a single fugue but for a large number; and. which when lengthened, shortened, turned upside down, and modified (but not obscured) in a host of ways should still be capable of correct combination with its counter-subjects, and more especially (with allowance for stretti and innumerable other things) with itself under any or all of these guises.
Correct " simply means that Bach took account of the harmonic, as well as (Continued at foot of next columre