PLAY By R.W.S.
Do We Want a National Theatre?
Last Tuesday a lot of clever people got together at Drury Lane and performed a number of scenes from Shakespeare. was not there myself, but it is apparent that Miss Ffrangeon-Davies gave more than a hint of what she might do as Cleopatra, and Mr. Godfrey Tearle reminded us of what he once did with Othello and what he might equally well do again. One thing is certain: the proceedings lasted until half-past six.
The purpose of all this expense of talent in a waste of Shakespeare was the English National Theatre, and the matinee. presumably, resulted in the raising of a fair sum.But we are brought at once to the question—do we want a national theatre, and if so, what is thc best way to bring it into being?
esin Public Appetite
Mr. W. J. Turner has rightly said that any theatre which is to guarantee a continual output of good work must be substantially endowed by public or private patronage. And this leads us to the nice question as to whether we have any right to use the nation's money for something which is not nationally desired. For the fact remains that in spite of Mr. Granville Barker and the propaganda of subsequent committees the public has shown no great desire for this theatre, which it is always being told it must have.
Of course, if would be pleasant for London to possess a grand building (on an improved left bank of the Thames, or in one of our more beautiful squares) which we could proudly display to Continental and, particularly, to transatlantic visitors. It would be de.signed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and house the 'busts and oil por traits of our greater players. Several Zoffanys would be loaned from the Garrick Club. But what about the per formance inside? We already have a magnificent building at Stratford, raised largely by American capital, and its possibilities as a centre for Shakespearean acting and production have scarcely even begun to be explored. Its policy is parochial commercialism. What reason have we for thinking that the productions of the national theatre would warrant the expense of building and maintaining it? The answer, I am afraid, is that of Osric, " Nothing neither way."
No Guarantee In short. then, you would expect the public to pay for an unknown article. Very few of them know what a national theatre would look like, or what kind of show they would see in it Why should they? Only a few of us, after all, have yawned over Moliere at the Comedic Francaise, and I should want, for my part, a firm guarantee that the production of Shakespeare would not ossify into a national ritual. We do not want to go to Hamlet as we go to the Lord Mayor's Show, But there are no signs of any such guarantee forthcoming. The matter, as it seems to me, boils down to this. We have no right to build a national theatre unless the nation wants it;
and the nation has no means, at present, of' knowing whether it wants it or not. The late lavish matinee at Drury Lane proves nothing. What the promoters of the scheme should do is to demonstrate both in London and the provinces the kind of production that the national theatre may be expected to give. When we have seen Mr. Gordon Craig's Hamlet, Mr. Granville Barker's Antony and Cleopatra, and a few other similar excitements, the pounds, shillings and pence may ride more loosely in our purses. And if they are bent on a building. they should take a leaf from Dr. Downey's copy-book and show us a largescale model before appealing to our generosity.
Wanted—A Dictator I have no space to discuss the biggest question of all. Whether—or how far—a theatre can be run by a committee. I would only point out that the Authorised Version of the Bible is the only masterpiece that the English genius has produced in this way, and that there is nothing in the history of the theatre to lead us to suppose that it can draw its inspiration from any source save that of individual talent. Where, then, is the benevolent autocrat who shall rule the theatre, as Mr Yeats rules the Abbey in Dublin? Unless he be found and given plenary control, the national theatre will be still-born with the birth-mark of Socialism. Dictators are questionable short cuts to national prosperity, but they are the life-blood of the theatre.
And if you want me to define the qualities of this dictator, I reply that he should be one who realises, to alter slightly the words of Sir Thomas Beecham, " That the theatre is not even an art; it is an entertainment."