10 MARCH 1928, Page 11

The Theatre


Wrrn our present form of proscenium and picture stage, we always look through the fourth wall of any play upon a plot proceeding within the other three. Presumably, by his title, Mr. Milne invitingly suggests that, this time, we are to peer into some action that is to give us an unusual sense of privacy overlooked. What we see, at any rate, is one of the very finest stage murders ever committed. Nothing would induce me to give away its contrivance. I will say only that, however many crook plays you may have seen, during the past six months or more, however many assassins may have shot for your pleasure, or stabbed for your continually increasing expertness of judgment, you cannot—no, not even in Broadway—have seen so slick and neatly polished a bit of work as this. " Are there any bangs ? " Question always and rightly asked of the hardened critic, as he returns from the latest sensation-drama. Yes : there is one bang. But do not let it deter you. It is worth while ; it is soon over. It was necessary. It had to be. Soon over, too— more regrettably—is the life of Arthur Ludgrove, victim of the bang. This one laments ; for Mr. H. R. Hignett gives in the part one of his absolutely natural and exquisitely winning performances. Perfectly acted, from beginning to end, is the scene between him and Edward Carter (Mr. Frank Cellier) which leads up to the bang. Ludgrove is marked down for the revenge of two criminals, whom, long ago, he had condemned in South Africa. He laughs at the idea that they will get at him, here, in his quiet Sussex home. We know better. We have heard of the threat hanging over him. We know that a queer guest is amongst that house- party. Our attention has been drawn to Edward Laverick (Mr. Spencer Trevor) who carries an unnecessary pistol. We suspect Laverick. We do not suspect . . . But I am not going to give him away.

First class, without doubt, this murder and its immediate preparation. A little too lingering, on the other hand, the scene of earlier introduction, making known to us the other guests in the house, with their light wit, and, particularly, the modern banter of the inevitable, dear young lovers who have to provide relief, and a subordinate interest, in every detective play. Not above the level in intelligence, the young man, Jimmy Ludgrove—Mr. Jack Hobbs lisps pleasantly through the part : yet upon him and his betrothed, Susan Cunningham (Miss Nora Swinburne), falls the burden of detection. For, naturally, after a scene of prolonged and over-emphasized comic relief, the local police—one of them a sort of incredible Dogberry—fail, and decide that Ludgrove committed suicide. Behold Jimmy. and Susan revising the evidence, alone together, at midnight in the murdered man's room. A difficult scene, dramatically, for it involves a •slow retracing of the steps already so smartly taken and just spied upon by the audience through the fourth wall. I noticed a restlessness amongst them—an outbreak of coughs, earlier doped, by emotion, into quiescence—during this scene ; signs of relaxing attention, due partly no doubt to the scene itself, which demands that we should watch the game of " hot and cold " being played with our full knowledge of where the secret is hidden ; partly to the dreary melodramatic tones of the actors, who ought, in their investigating, intellectual excitement of search, to whisper it swiftly, instead of snatching at its latent .thrills and dis- playing them in semi-hysterical outbursts, or scarcely suppressed sobs. may be the producer's fault, though I cannot believe that it is so, because Mr. Nicholas Hannen- remeinber March Hares—is an excellent Producer. Anyhow, this dragging scene needs, I think, a different treatment. Nor can I believe that the two banterers, silly creatures, Would be so clever as all that However, there it is ! And Susan not only finds, but also faces and, convicts the main ringclere.r, with a witness (delightfully sketched by Miss INIrmt„Mheridan) -behind_ Clirtains, We, hav'n[th believe- in Susan. She collapses after all her efforts ; but that is in order that there may be further relief, with Jimmy embracing her, as the murderer is led off. If I go. on I shall say too much. You must 'see for yourself at the Haymarket.

While I am dealing with Mi. Milne, I may as well point to the revival, with Miss Marie Tempest instead of Miss Irene 'Vanbrugh, and Mr. Horace Hodges in place of Mr. Dion Boucicault, of his Mr. Pim at the St. Martin's. It is worth another visit on account of these two. But the very " little " play wears very thin. We saw it first against the background of war, which prompted the cry : " Anything for a laugh ! " It easily made us laugh in those days. Now the acting of the two principals helps to a fainter success, achieved with more sense of effort ; for really, in himself, or as the marionette deus machina, popping in and out to direct the play's action, Mr. Pim is nobody and nothing.

The same need not be said in criticism of Mr. Crispin, the red-haired horror of Mr. Henn Levy's thriller at the Little Theatre. Undeniably Mr. Crispin exists, as Mr. Charles Laughtonshows him to us. Here is a personality ! Apparently a type known upon the Cornish Riviera ; known also, alas ! from earliest recorded history—the professor of pain, the Neronian amateur of tortures. Less elegant than Nero, how- ever ; less discriminating. Mr. Crispin hasn't got beyond the lash and the dagger, the weal and the gash. But he looks original—quite like one of those revolting flower-pots, common in the shops some years back, out of which livid cress used to sprout in contrast with grinning gargoyle terra-cotta faces. One look at Mr. Crispin and you've the best of the evening's entertainment ; unless you also appreciate, as you ought, Mr. James Whale's languidly submissive Herrick Crispin, the son. For the rest, papa Crispin's Japanese jiu-jitsu body- guard, his towering residence over the wild sea rocks, and his elaborate preparations for a flogging festival did not impress me as they appear to have done one or two of those critics who quail at the sight of such oddities. Mr. Crispin, I felt, had too easy a time of it—found his victims too simply. And they, the bull-like David Dunbar (Mr. Ion Swinley), the wailing Hesther Tobin (Miss Gillian Lind), and a vaguely wandering American (Mr. J. H. Roberts), seeking Cornish impressions and rare etchings, struck me as such idiotic sim- pletons that I felt, after a good deal of them, that they deserved to be well frightened, if not actually flogged. And what—may one ask in conclusion ?—are we to say of a censorship that forbids Young Woodley and smiles tolerantly upon Mr. Crispin's