Getting Over History's Hurdles
The Drama Of Parnell
It is well to remember that the being historical is a handicap, not an adventitious aid, to a drama. The fact that a drama is good history does not help it to be a good play and even a good play may he handicapped by its happening to be history, whether good or bad. Usually those who know history are distracted, if not irritated, by the necessarily inaccurate reading of history, and those who know none have to overcome one extra hurdle before reaching to the human story which always constitutes the drama itself.
In Elsie T. Schauffier's Parnell, at the New Theatre, I was certainly irritated by the fact that the Parnell of the author and of the actor (Wyndham Goldie) was not the Parnell I knew from history. Parnell, as I know him, was a much harder, a much colder, a much more masterful man; his face was longer. more drawn, more haggard—a man fighting throughout his political life with disease. In the real Parnell the fight between the icy exterior and the fires of passion blazing within was something much more tremendous than the stage conflict between the almost genial politician's sense of duty and his deep, though normal, love for an ill-used woman.
Look at it from the angle of any ethical code you will, the drama of Parnell's life lay in the long drawn-out struggle between a cold passion of hate in public life and a burning passion of guilty love in private with the latter slowly gaining the day until it swept through his whole being, carrying all the passion within him, the passion of political hatred as well as of love, into a mad disastrous bereserk fight against all the powers that be, in heaven as well as earth.
I may, of course, be wrong in this interpretation, but my point is that anyone with an historical sense will have his own interpretation, and he will be forced to halfclose his eyes and try to see the play as a drama of adulterous 'love between Mr. P., played by Wyndham Goldie, and Mrs. O'S., played by Miss Margaret Rawlings. As such it made a fine play. The author most skilfully worked her way through the ten years, from the time when Mrs. O'S. met Mr. P. and, encouraged for selfish motives by her complacent and thoroughly villainous husband, at first helped and then—when it was too late to do anything —fatally harmed her lover in his career, until the time when the full price of passion was paid. We are left to infer that the price was worth it.
How far the success of the play—apart from the accidental notoriety achieved by it through the censor's hesitations to allow on the stage close connections of living people—depended on Miss Margaret Rawlings' complete self-identification with her part, and on Miss Marda Vanne's perfect rendering of the shrewd, witty old lady who cools everybody's tendency to hysterics, can only be appreciated by those who go to the New Theatre to see as good acting as is to be found in London to-day.
The Wild Duck
Ibsen and antimacassars have become almost synonymous, so it was a relief at the Westminster Theatre to find a modern sense of space on the sot and to see that the whiskers had been shaved off The Wild Duck. The ideas of this play are universal enough to survive any period or place so that it always seemed a pity to dress it in those most ugly of trappings—the antimacassan Victorianisms.
But despite this freedom into which it has escaped, the first act of The Wild Duck is still a little heavily overladen with ormolu and explanations. Only when the curtain goes up on the airy expanse of photographer's studio, where the rest of the action takes place, does the play really get going.
The untempered fury that the author had previously directed at others, is, in The Wild Duck directed satirically at himself. He is the great upholder of truth; he is the man who preached that honesty is the only policy; that sincerity must be absolute, and this character of Gregers Werle is surely the caricature of Henrik Ibsen.
Marius Goring, who plays the part of Gregers Werle, presents these "demands of the ideal " in all the uncompromising rigidity of the fanatical reformer who knows just how things should be but has no idea of how things really are.
Alan Napier, as Hjalmar, expresses the ineffectual dreamer who is not an idealist but a pretendist as much in the looseness of his gait as in his evadence of realities.
The rest of the cast uphold the Westminster's traditions of integrity. Susan Richards is charmingly practical as the wife, and Ruth Wynn Owen a real child of swift impulses. Mark Dignam imparts philosophic dignity to the part of the drunken doctor, and Cecil Trouncer's Ekdal is a figure of pathos. I. C.
Crichton The Scholar
That excellent institution, the Playwrights' Club—which exists to help the unknown author and actor—presented Crichton the Scholar, by Martin Holmes, at King George's Hall on November 3.
The attempt to tell the story of how James Crichton, " the Admirable," ran the court of Mantua in 1582 and was run through the body for his pains by the Duke's son, imposed a burden heavier than either author or actors could comfortably bear.
Anthony Mouravieff, in the title role, and Audrey Reeves as Giovanna de Santoracte, played well in roles that would have taxed actors of long experience.