IN watching Emlyn Williams' new play " Beth " at the Apollo one is reminded forcibly of a car with a sticky engine starting and stalling. It is always just going to start being good.
But just as, usually in a scene of two people, things begin to hum and real comment to be uttered, in strolls one of the more or less idiotic cornedien-esque types with which Mr. Williams has felt constrained to pad out his play and everything is ruined.
The story opens in the kitchenliving room of a poor but nice family which consists, to take the best ingredients first, of " Main "at the moment ill in hospital—of Lydia, pretty, gentle and marriageable, and of Beth who, at 16, still behaves like a child of eight and rushes around in mad hats uttering simple truths, such as—of the young man who wants to marry Lydia.--" I don't like him ; he hasn't got a face."
There is a brother, too, who is a talented pianist but insists on ruining his hands doing manual work but, apart from being pleasant and handsome, he doesn't contribute to the story.
There is an uncle and aunt, though, who do contribute—in fact, they are obviously there only so that exciting or tragic or amusing things can happen to them. The aunt is a prima donna past her prime and the uncle has no legs ; I am sorry to say that he reminded me irresistibly, but perhaps unfairly, of the priest in "The Living Room."
TWO things happen in the first act; a millionaire proposes to Lydia and "Mam" dies in hospital. In the second, however, almost too -much happens ; a lady-psychiatrist tries to cure Beth, Beth discovers that the odd-job man cannot read either, and uncle falls out of his chair.
The shock to Beth's system of seeing he has no legs is the hinge on which the rest of the play hangs. a rest that shows one and all to be thoroughly nice chaps, unselfish to the core, and true to their better selves. Put like that, it sounds idiotic. But, in fact, the play has its moments and most of them take place when Beth is on the stage. I don't, as a rule, feet that what is nicely termed "simplicity" is a suitable ingredient for a straightforward family tragi-comedy, but at least Mr. Williams has avoided the usual error of making his " grown-up child" really much wiser and all there than his other characters.
His " Beth " moves, appals, hut never repels or invites ridicule. And this, considering the difficulties, reflects credit on both the creator and interpreter.