By W. J. IGOE
SAINTS DAY (Tor. Allis THEATRE) was, as I recall, Mr. Graham Greene who said, in his book on British Drama, that the most considerable literary contributions to contemporary English theatre were made by writers of Aldwych farces. The writer finds the verdict agreeable. Normality awry was the secret of those unsung, super-taxed geniuses. Mr. John Whiting who wrote Saint's Day is not unsung; if he meets many judges of his work as magnanimous as Mr. Alec Clunes, Mr. Christopher Fry and Mr. Peter Ustinov who gave him £700, first prize in the Arts Theatre's Festival of Britain Play Competition, he may justly be super-taxed. I have seen two of his works; now I'd like to see his horoscope, Not that the prize-winning play lacks the ingredients of drama: the garden, of ideas, so to say, cultivated by the author blooms profusely. Rut the kitchen where he cooks is smokes': the consequent dish has something in common with haggis but not enough; the audience gets a dull confusion of feeding. Abnormality awry is what Mr. Whiting offers; the saddest thing about lunacy is that it bores. There must he a consistent centre to any play; one requires a sane vantage point to appreciate.
Saint's Day is January the twentyfifth, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. and the birthday of Paul Southman, a "grand" old rebel of the literary arts. I would have given the prize to Mr. Michael Hordern who plays the part. The actor conveys richness of detail into his portrait of a fiery dotard, blend of passion and drivelling senility, more memorable than the material given by the author. The make-up, like Carlyle's, Meredith's, Havelock Ellis s and a couple of old agitators t watched and heard as a boy on Glasgow Green, is based, consciously or not, on Michelangelo's Moses. The stick in the palsied hands, like Aaron's rod, is a magic wand. Mr. Hordern makes a person. One would like to see him essay Lear.
For twenty-five years, Paul has been outlawed from I.ondon literary society, a displaced person living in a tattered country house, menaced by "the villagers" who wish to kill him. A granddaughter survives to cherish memories of greatness which, on script, appear to he based upon a pamphlet with the arresting title. The Abolition of Printing.
The family is poor. The woman is thirty-two and pregnant. Her huehand, an adolescent genius, a painter, has abandoned society and occupies himself covering the walls with murals that seem to derive, badly. from those in Lyons' Corner House.
On his eighty-third birthday, society having pardoned the old poet, one of those rites of literary superstition common in London West One is arranged to do him honour. Paul is old; his years are recorded; he must be garlanded. A youngish critic in Saville Row suiting—a fine piece of acting by Mr. John Byron—one could almost name the "house," journal or department the newt emerged from—arrives with a hound bouquet of appreciations, each signed by a high commissar of the trade.
A dinner has been organised, and speeches; a cheque will he presented. The granddaughter's eyes glitter; the old man will he re-instated; royalties will flow; the villagers will ebb. And she will go to London, Torn by vanity and fear of meeting men again, knowing his talent, such as it was, is withered, the venerated rapscallion veers between bombast and childish whimpers. Theboy artist contemptuously mutters, l'nd been invites his wife to model for him.
This situation might have
r the steady centre of a play; a work of art might have grown from a good idea. But the stage wallowed in a welter of words, a splurge of symbolism.
A bugle is heard outside the house. The villagers are menaced; deserting soldiers pillage the countryside. Paul's beloved dog dies and he accuses unseen enemies of murdering the animal. A stuttering parson. keeper of mysterious religious books, comes to beg the poet's aid. He is dismissed. The old man and the young husband arm the literary gent, whose revolver explodes and kills the wife. mother and granddaughter.
The last scene shows the villagers' wives and children grouped while the artist completes a picture using
his mate's cadaver as model. The soldiers arrive, led by the critic, and hang Paul and the painter. The parson roasts in the flaming church tower. Corpse and all, there was material lying around to keep Senor Salvador Dali working overtime until Mr. Godfrey Winn is eightycone diagnosed Ibsen and eightythree.
in Saint's Day. I. alas, thought of a novel by Mr. Rex Warner, in a paper-bound edition, dog-eared and shabby, the margins covered by schoolboy "doodlings." I wonder why they fried that humble parson?