THE MORTIMER TOUCH (The Duke of York's Theatre) AYOUTHFUL peccadillo may prejudice this assessment of Mr. Eric Linktater's comedy. 1 was born in Scotland. Certain types of Caledonian humour, Barrie, for example, writing for any market, Bridie for the West End, Harry Lauder and Sir John Boyd-Orr, surface on me a melancholy latent in all Scots, We are not a loudly humorous people: our mirth, when expansive, is like the glee of a maniac depressive saturated in laughing gas. Mere characteristic is the saturnine grin. With The New Yorker we feel kinship, ghosties and goblins being part of our own culture: Punch, 1 write with deference, although agreeably printed, we reckon mysterious, Metaphysics is, as they say, mother's milk to us, but not even my uncle Mick McGoldrick is as metaphysical as that.
Thus. I hope, the kindly Saxon reader may understand the weight of angst that is my heritage.
I1' may he said of Bridie that he wrote good beginnings, then meditating upon the first act of his nest comedy, allowed his pen to -ash chaotic eloquence over the remaining sheets of paper needed to make a parcel big enough to be mistaken for a play.
The doctor, dear man that he was, had read deeply, not only in anthologies and the Encyclaptedia Britannica; he knew a poet from a poltroon, a politician from a statesman, was aware that the human heart is a chancy organ. that the mind of man is fallible; and normally he kept his Calvinism at bay with an irony strong as warm steel. Even his blethers rippled with inconsequential wit and stark wisdom.
Mr. Linklater has Bridie's faults, few of his virtues. By taking his principal characters and initial situation from Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, he dispenses with the primal necessity for writing anything new.
The charlatan. the man-servant, the jade. he assembles in the borrowed house; palmistry, atomic science and un patented medicine are added.
In the first act characters swarm; before the interval we are aware that some are there to serve no purpose but rounding off the second and third acts. The author, having created not one situation, a better title for the piece might have been Eric or Mickle by Mickle, and many a mickle not making muckle.
THE charlatan will distil gold for an impoverished duke, manufacture a bomb for two eccentric sisters named Sobieski-Smith : from a mentally deficient Communist he will conjure an orator; reunite. in his way. a moronic married couple and choose a husband for a wealthy widow. Ideas proliferate; none is developed. The actors, being English the play needs Duncan Macrae and James Gibson who were the charlatan and his Man Friday in Edinburgh), hurtle the tortuous epigrams and streaming prose at the audience like Glasgow policemen throwing cabers. Dazedly one mourned the few flashes of wit obscured by wordy mist.
The set, we are helpfully told, is an Edinburgh mansion. I saw what seemed the back-shop of a prosperous Glasgow public-house. The portraits of whiskers, belts, scarlet tunics, kilts, those crossed claymores, romantically atmospheric to the Sassenach, who was finding it "a fair scream," suggested a publicity "campaign" on behalf of Scotch whisky. Our whisky is good.
Druidically funny men ran in and out of the premises. They were characters to the English; to the Scot it was Saturday night; they were the overflow from the smoke-room. Not only ladies, but women being unwelcome in the bars where Scots brood on Calvin, even when they think they
think of Danny Kaye, the females must be unreal. The things Scots see in their cups? Perhaps Mr. Linklater wrote an allegory.
MR. ROGER LIVESEY works hard, looks magnificently seedy and coos persuasively us "Dr." Mortimer; Mr. George Relph, as ever, is blandly, richly funny. As the Hibernian doxie, the type that exists only in the dreams of Edinburgh stockbrokers, Miss Pamela Brown contributed the most curious Irish accent heard since the Dixie Minstrels essayed A Little Rit of Heaven on Glasgow Green. If Mr. Arthur Lucan had physical curves he might play the role as the author wrote it; Miss Joyce Redman could make, it tolerable; Miss Brown is wasted, Mr. Mervyn Johns, Miss Esma Cannon, Mr. William Mervyn and the incomparable Molly Urquhart from the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre send rockets upward through the fog, They are obscured by the Linkiater touch.
W. 1. IGOE