MARCH 30th, 1953
THE experiment of presenting a programme of one-acters as a change from the usual full-length and full-dress School Play is one that has perhaps not been tried often enough in recent years. It has the advantage of giving wider opportunities (both for success and failure), but it also involves greater difficulties of organisation and co-ordination. It is not the critic's business, however, to enquire too closely into the backstage mysteries and histories, but to report what he saw from the front. He is not supposed to know that the plays have been produced on a shoe-string for a one-day (afternoon and evening) stand; that one play has been directed by a master, one by a Prefect, and one by a fluid combination of last-minute improvisations; or that a leading lady has sprained her ankle playing rugger. He is not, in short, to make allowances for any accident or obstacle whatever; and it is pleasant to record that in this case he felt very little need to do so.
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Thread of Scarlet gave the show an excellent start. It could hardly have been bettered as an object-lesson in the value of teamwork as a much more potent factor than any individual talent. No miracles of impersonation -were achieved by the youthful middle-school cast, but the total effect was clean and clear; every word audible; properties well assembled and surely handled, to give sufficient backing of realism and atmosphere to the situation; grouping, movement, and that all-important absence of movement, under firm control. You could have heard a pin drop; but not one did.
That exceedingly slender trifle, The Man in the Bowler Hat, achieved a success that must have surprised its much-harassed performers and producers. It certainly created unstinted laughter, if not always in the way intended by the author. Orton's exuberant performance, addressed unashamedly to the audience, cheerfully hit the wrong note, but at least hit it definitely. His charming wife, Westlake, whether by accident or design, gave a much better idea of the unruffled ordinariness which was needed as a foil to the startling events enacted in her ordinary sitting-room. The sketch succeeded largely by the apt and effective dressing of all the characters (in primis Parfitt's inspired cap and bow-tie); it nearly failed through weak timing and uncertain movement; the joke only just lasted out the brief duration of the episode. But a tribute should be paid to the longest and most realistic embrace ever seen on these venerable boards.
From The Monkey's Paw we expected, and to a great extent received, a more serious and convincing dramatic presentation than could have been possible from either of the other items. But the play is obviously fraught with perils and pitfalls, and it was not surprising that its mechanism sometimes creaked as disconcertingly as that treacherous section of the floor where some of its important action took place. The first of its three scenes (separated unfortunately by much too long intervals) was in good shape, with opportunities well taken by Lodge, and very nice work by Senior as the old soldier. The early removal of these two left the heavy burden of the rest of the play on Butler and Thompson, aided, but not much, by Cousin's noble endeavour in what must be the worst-conceived small part on the British stage. A tendency to express grief by lapsing into inaudibility, and a rather uncertain grip of that terribly difficult last scene, left the final impression a bit blurred. The setting and lighting, again a difficult problem, in aiming at an atmosphere of poverty or tragedy, achieved only a bleak absence of atmosphere.
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The whole affair gave evident enjoyment to both the afternoon and evening audiences,
as well as useful experience to those involved, whom, for the record, we enumerate
Thread of Scarlet-C. J. Belk, D. Bailey, B. D. Hutchinson, J. How, H. R. Hunter, R. Longden. Produced by Mr. C. A. Reeves.
The Man in the Bowler Hat-G. C. Westlake, R. J. J. Orton, M. J. Shires, J. M. Jackson, J. A. Hodgson, D. M. Parfitt, J. C. Tebbet. Produced by J. H. Nowill and Mr. J. C. Hemming.
The Monkey's Paw-R. Butler, E. P. Lodge, R. Thompson, D. J. H. Senior, W. D. Cousin. Produced by I. A. Mottershaw. Stage Manager, N. H. Cunnington.
E. F. W.
The party that went to Cambridge on February 20th (ten days after the blizzard) contained twenty boys from the 4th, 5th and 6th Classical, many of whom had the advantage of having seen Arnold Freeman's sincere production of this play in English at the Little Theatre last autumn. With the party were four members of the Girls' High School and a larger number from High Storrs Girls' School in charge of the Classical Mistress, Mrs. P. M. Jones, who had made most efficient arrangements for the journey by coach. By starting at 7.15 a.m., and with a halt for " elevens" at Stamford, we reached Cambridge in time to spend over an hour on the "Backs," visiting St. John's, Trinity, King's and other colleges.
This is no place to review the play's production in detail, but it can be stated that the enunciation was so clear that the drama could be followed by those only slightly acquainted with the text.
Tea was taken in the Hall of Sidney Sussex College before we set out on the five-hour return journey, the tedium of which was beguiled by an enthusiastic "' choir " with a trilingual repertoire.
B. C. H.
It is not very often that a translation of a Greek play is chosen for production in a London theatre. In February, Mr. E. F. Watling's translation from Sophocles, published in 1947, in the Penguin Classics series, was used by Donald Wolfit for his production of the two plays, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus, presented together in one performance.
This was a very real tribute to the excellence of Mr. Watling's translation, which was intended primarily as an acting version. If this translation is easy to read and understand, it is even more attractive when presented on the stage. Donald Wolfit brought to his part all the power and resource of his acting ability. If at times his voice was a little strained, or his own personality too evident, the production as a whole was worthy of the author and his translator. It seems a great pity that more of these plays could not be presented more often to London audiences. It was clear that the performance which I attended was received with admiration and gratitude. We are proud to be able to congratulate Mr. Watling, as a member of our Staff, on achieving this distinction.
C. E. S.