THEATRE: BY W. J. IGOE
AUTUMN FIRE (The Irving Theatre)
NAR. T. C. MURRAY is one of the Irish dramatists known as "the Cork realists," Birthright, his first play, was staged at the Abbey Theatre on October 27. 1910. In the intervening years he has served the playhouse fruitfully and honourably. I long have wished to sec his work, especially Maurice Halle which was recently revived in Dublin, The legend of Irish drama, one feels, is too much dominated by the names of Yeats and O'Casey. Here in London the present Abbey Theatre, might do very well if they presented a season of works by authors who sustained the playhouse in quieter years, when Synge was dead and O'Casey not yet arrived. the Liffey flowed a relatively non-inflammable path at right-angles to the front door.
Autumn Fire is tine fodder for a national repertory theatre, commanding the skill contained in the company of 1924, when it first was produced. by Mr. Michael J. Dolan. Turning to Mr. Lennox Robinson's tatterdemalion treasure of a book, Ireland's Abbey Theatre, one notes that the cast included Mr. Dolan in the central role. Mr. Barry Fitzgerald, Mr. Arthur Sheilds, Miss Eileen Crowe, Miss Maureen Delany. Sarah Allgood and, in a very small part, F. J. McCormick. The piece could not fail. This company. I swear, could play with a sheet torn at random from the Dublin. even the Belfast, telephone directory and make it seem great theatre.
AUTUMN FIRE is better than that, but it is not a good script. It owes too much to the Irish loquacity, which in some mouths is golden eloquence. in others leaden garrulity; in the spontaneity of a Dublin bar is silver wit. in the theatre slick dross, pouring smoothly and darkly to a heap of nothingness.
An ageing farmer marries a young girl. Their meeting and the resentment of the husband's grown daughter make the first two acts of the play. Tragedy, it is implied, must come from such a union. Perhaps it is so, was so in like associations of youth and age in the real life of the author's experience. inevitably a harbinger of disaster. But one feels Owen Keegan, as here presented, might live to Ise 90, leaving a sorrowing widow of 70, "a slip of a girl." He is that sort of man. How then is the play made tragic? Between the second and third acts the husband is crippled by a horse. This, one suggests, is not a tragedy but a regrettable accident. If a gi.1 marries a lover of net own age it might happen. Another accident completes the piece.
Unexpectedly. Owen enters a room to find his son kissing his wife. Any fool who has kissed a girl in the parlour knows the odds are against being interrupted. Life is not, thank God, so tragic, and especially in Cork. Rather stupidly, Owen believes the worst. The curtain descends upon his sighs.
MR. WILLIAM SHERWOOD is a capable actor who sighs effectively, But he did not convince me that Keegan would not think differently when. next day, the parish priest, at the behest of his misunderstood wife, had a few minutes talk with him.
Autumn Fire, in a word, is a wellmade theatrical contrivance. No more. it gives opportunities to good players to prove the actor is the thing
to catch the interest of the audience.
Upon a stage that would make a normally muscular earwig feel claustrophobic, Mr. Sherwood, producing, works wonders, but not miracles. And creative craft is not absent from the acting.
Mr. James Neylin is tenderly and brilliantly inarticulate as the on caught in the kitchen; Mr. Sherwood is boastfully and sombrely true as Keegan. Mr. Colin Lotidan erupts with robust comedy in the McCormick part and Mr. Edmund Donteavy is deliberately right in another small role. But apart from one neat peo. fill-mance by Miss Jessie Ball, the ladies, so far from playing their parts, give no evidence they have thought on the persons portrayed. I-ire of any kind is lacking from their work.
One performer seems illuminated M a way that suggests a lamp in juke box. One sometimes feels that young actresses with big eyes should be forced for a couple of years to wear "blinkers," or at least told that, when on stage, they are not at dance in the "Hihs' Hall"; a gauge should be placed upon female orbs that socially may flatter men but theatrically remind us. especially reviewers. of traffic lights dipped in olive oil.