" KING LEAR " AT THE OLD VIC
If Shakespeare had forestalled Ibsen and put into the mouth of one of the characters in the last scene of King Lear those illuminating words spoken at the close of Hedda Gabler, "These things don't happen," then we should have understood clearly the purport of Shakespeare's play.
As it is, we are left to guess at—not know for certain—what was meant by the terrific melodrama of the ruin of Lear. The work is, instead, presented without comment, and we are left to explain it by the measure of our own capacity.
The Old Vic has produced a magnificent edition of King Lear bound up in the covers of superb sets whose lofty simplicity evoke visions of Stonehenge. No .detail has been spared to establish that atmosphere of other-worldliness which is the only possible background for the enactment of tragedy on such a grand scale.
William Devlin, as Lear himself, strides the stage a gaunt and impressive Colossus like an illustration from the prophetic books, giving us the whole measure of his strength. The three daughters, with their individual addictions to sheer vice or sheer virtue, are other cardboard figures of one dimension, and are grandly presented to us by Dorice Fordred (Goneril), Catherine Lacey (Regan), and Vivienne Bennett (Cordelia).
The picture is completed by Alec Clunes (Edmund) of scheming ways and flashing eyes; Ion Swinley (Kent) of the faithful dog disposition and Geoffrey Keen (Edgar) the guileless son of innocent ways. All
these portraits are presented in a strong light, and they cast none of the shadows of figures of reality.
The unnatural tension was felt from the very entrance of the King in the first act. With the senseless rage which rises quickly in the King's breast, as his favourite daughter stands tongue-tied before him unable to confess her love before a public
assembly, the tension rises, too. It becomes a flood tide in the scene of storm, while frail humanity's declarations are still heard above the din of thunder; and bursts the banks of all restraint in the plucking out of Gloucester's eyes.
And yet with all this power in presentation—and the Old Vic's company poured out every reserve of strength; with all the beauty of its showing; with all the slickness with which it moved from one scene to another without distracting pause—the tide of those great emotional breakers still rolled over us—and we emerged unchanged.
We Puny Race ?
Have we become too small a people to be able to comprehend the vastness of tragedy? Was this play utterly overwheltning to the audiences for whom a was written in the days of Elizabethan vigour, and have we lost the taste for anything which transcends the real or the infinitesimally personal.
Hamlet still affects us profoundly, so does Macbeth. Hamlet can be translated into terms of ourselves, and so can the hesitations of the weak Macbeth. But where are the grandeurs of Lear to-day? We can neither appreciate the heights nor
"Flotsam's" farce at the Strand, despite an extremely strong cast, including Mabel Constanduros, failed to please. The plot was too complicated and unreal, while the obviousness of the verbal humour did nothing to carry it through.