3rd, 4th, 5th May, 1962
THE conjunction of such diverse wits as N. F. Simpson and Sir A. P. Herbert in a "double bill" by the boys and staff provided some intriguing material for students of the English sense of humour. Perhaps fortunately for the reviewer the two plays do not tempt direct comparison. Each justified its production on its own terms, and presented its own peculiar problems.
But it is perhaps unfair to see The Hole as primarily a source of amusement. Underneath the allegorical absurdity lurks a savage scepticism, and a suggestion not so much that all men see truth through their own eyes as that we waste our time trying to see truth at all. Yet over this stark theme the playwright weaves a highly entertaining fabric of sharp parody and logical incongruity. Perverted clichés, accidental meshings of unrelated conversations, cleverly mimicked speech rhythms and withering caricatures are deployed in almost bewildering profusion to tickle our wits.
The success of a production of this play must therefore be measured on several levels. On the purely technical plane, excellent use was made in this production of some recalcitrant resources, a remarkable illusion of space was created, while the economically authentic set served well to focus the effective movements of the actors. There were in addition some impressive special effects, notably a vigorous explosion followed by a most improbable smoke-ring.
As a piece of verbal knockabout this production again scored well. Speed was occasionally lacking, but intonation and clarity were admirable, and the maze of wordplay was more than adequately negotiated. The element of caricature, however, received more variable handling. D. Mingay as Soma excelled in turn as knowledgeable sportsman, opinionated man of action, and muscular religious fanatic, suspicious in all his guises of the meanderings of the visionary. In this latter part R. Mingay was rather less successful in conveying the detachment and inward conviction needed to offsett the superficial busyness of the other characters.
If there is a man-in-the-street in the play, he is Endo. Unproductive of ideas, ready to listen and to have his sympathies drawn in turn by the other characters, he drifts visionless from prejudice to easy prejudice. Although Barrow brought to this part a suitable degree of pliant vapidity, his performance was marred by a certain lack of spontaneity. The weakest characters are by no means the easiest to play, if only because our natural impulse in life is to conceal weakness.
The part of Cerebro is perhaps the least satisfactory in the play. The fact is that his glib theories are neither convincing nor particularly funny, and merely stamp him as an all too familiar type of half-baked intellectual. As such the parody is hardly worth making, and he can hardly support his role in the underlying structure of the argument. Argent's performance seemed properly designed to stress the element of scientific dedication. But all his sincerity could not conceal the blatant falsity of the intellectual pretensions inherent in the part.
In the women's parts the caricature is at once at its most obvious and its most purely funny. In the hands of actresses one can imagine these parts suffering from an over-selfconscious malice or archness. The merit of Morant's and Sarginson's performance was the deadpan earnestness of their anxieties, forming the ideal counterpoint to the pompous tones of masculine folly. The reaction of some mothers in the audience was sufficient evidence that the appearance of the actors and the inflections of their speech were well matched to the playwright's acute observation of feminine confidences.
Finally it must be recorded that the Workman emerged from the hole like a man from another world. If we were left at the end of the play with little more than a vague sense of futility, this must be laid squarely on the shoulders of the playwright. If this was his intention, the actors and producer, Mr. Points, can take a large share of the credit.
After the anarchic humour of " The Hole." A. P. Herbert's " Two Gentlemen of Soho," produced by Mr. Adam, afforded some relaxation. The play is a parody of Shakespeare only in the broadest sense and it was the broad effects that came over best.
In a staff play inevitably the audience came to see the staff as much as the play. This production was wisely content to build to the "very tragical mirth" of its climax by a series of contrasts in tone and manner between the various eccentric characters. The performance that lent to the play such coherence as it needed was Mr. Points' Plum, played with the gusto of a Richard III, dominating the stage with energetic movement, and making "Now Plum, go off" an explosive moment indeed. A strongly contrasting performance was provided by Mr. Cowan's Lord Withers, a melancholy, decadent aristocrat creakily revealing the heart that beat beneath the starched shirt front.
The "ladies" in the cast produced, in their varying ways, delightful entertainment for the audience. Mr. Vernon's skittish Duchess hinted at reserves of dignity and authority, while Mr. Burns brought a professional touch to his sketch of the coy and winsome Laetitia. The physical contrast between Topsy (Mr. Knowles) and Hubert (Mr. Edwards) provided the basis for a most piquant relationship. The very appearance of Mr. Earl as Sneak provoked applause: and his down-at-heel self-confidence in turn set off the suavity of Plum. In the service of them all Mr. Hall's waiter showed himself a model of obsequious efficiency.
While the players, then, severally made effective use of their opportunities for individual interpretation, their team-work, most spectacularly evident in the orderly disposition of corpses at the final curtain, enabled the production to move surely to its grisly goal. The audience was demonstrably amused: and A. P. Herbert's libertarian squib did veteran service in a novel but no less worthy cause.
R. A. B., R. C. G.
(courtesy of Dr B Knowles)
Mr. Points + assorted cadavers
Topsy (Dr. Knowles) and Hubert (Mr. Edwards)
Topsy (Dr. Knowles) and Hubert (Mr. Edwards)