Curtains for 1951
ECHOING Dickens on another
year, one says that 1951 was "the best of times; it was the worst of times." We saw performances we shall not forget. Sir Laurence Olivier played his greatest role as Anthony in Anthony and Cleopatra and Mr. Gielgud added to Leontes in A Winter's Tale what Shakespeare omitted, a soul. Mr. Wolfit, to whom we were indebted for a noble Lear. who had shown genius in the more simple Shakespearean comedy roles --one has not seen his Falstaff — deepened our respect for his skill and compassion with a beautiful comic performance in The Clandestine Marriage.
Looking back over the hundreds of entertainments seen during 1951 these achievements tower above all others. It has been the actors' year. One recalls Mr. Clunes' poetic Henry V; Miss Ashcroft's stricken Electra: Dame Sybil Thorndike delicately circling the stage in Waters of the Moon in a genteelly alcoholic trance; Mr. Denholm Elliot's pale, puzzled soldier in A Sleep of Prisoners: Mr. George Formby's Hallowe'en lantern face, half gaping, half giggling, in Zip Goes a Million, and Mr. Michael Hordern's dotard in the Arts Theatre Festival Play.
IN smaller parts the Old Vic gave
opportunities to Mr. Leo McKern, Mr. William Devlin and Mr. Mark Dignam. Mr. Harcourt Williams offered an incisive and barrowing study of the drunken doctor in The Three Sisters, which mislaid Sir Ralph Richardson's talents during the festival season. As the tutor in Electra. Mr. McKern contributed one of the outstanding moments of the year with a magnificent heroic oration. In The Clandestine Marriage he gave us an English valet who implied Sam Weller after schooling in Fagan's academy for young pickpockets; in a scene on a stairway at midnight, making love to a "wench." He mixed ballet, mild acrobatics and Keystone falls into a series of Hogarthian sketches, a performance overshadowed by only Mr. Wolfit.
Mr. Deylin's Fluellen to Mr. Clune's Henry V is one of the two best minor Shakespearean portrayals I have seen during any year. . The other was Mr. Harcourt Williams' Glendower in an Old Vic production of Henry IV.
Fluellen is one of the most completely realised studies to be found in Shakespeare, a flawless sketch of
By W. J. IGOE
a professional warrior. Mr. Devlin could have played the part in any costume from armour to battledress for he gave us a universal creation touched with mad Celtic music. Arrogant on parade, humble in his heart, honourable, slightly bigoted, proud of his trade; this was Fluellen as Shakespeare might have seen him.
In a series of parts, notably the Puritan in Bartholomew Fair, Mr. Dignam, who has contributed much to past Old Vic seasons, placed us in his debt by sterling craftsmanship
and unobtrusive style. This actor presently is touring in the title-role of His Excellency, and I recommend the play and Mr. Dignam's per
formance to those readers who are fortunate enough to come upon it.
WRITING, from younger authors,
during 1951 was confused, pretentious and dull; with the exception of Mr. Fry's dramatised examination of the contemporary conscience, A Sleep of Prisoners, nothing more than faintly promising appeared.
The Arts Theatre prize play has been the occasion of some chiding of the critics, notably by Mr. Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier. With due respect to both distinguished actors, one must point out that, apart from Mr. Fry's The Lady's Not For Burning, a second run of the play since Richard of Bordeaux, the former has not been seen in a contemporary work: and the expeditions of the latter into new writing have been on two recent occasions disastrously dull or simply disastrous. Fading Mansions and Streetcar Named Desire gave no evidence that Sir Laurence, master actor and producer, is immune from the occupational myopia of his profession; his judgement of a script is not acceptable.