10 MAY 1930, Page 11

The Theatre


ONCE more, as so often in the recent past, the curtain rises upon total darkness. A sound of shattered glass.

Would that be a window broken by a burglar ? It would. It was. We know this scene pretty well. We wait, proud of our prevision ; and in a minute there he is—the burglar — with his electric torch, ransacking a bureau, muttering as he hears approaching steps, cursing and disappearing again behind the window curtains.

If behind the curtains, why not safely out of the broken window ? For we believe that facilis clescensu s ; easier, surely, the exit than the entrance. But look at the title of the play. This burglar is the " witness " ; and he stays there, huddled behind the curtain, perhaps (hint the authors) because it was his first job, and he may have been overcome by a novice's curiosity, and certainly (say we) because he's needed in order to make a happy ending to an exciting play.' •

What does he see and hear ? Not the sort of domestic tittle- tattle that must usually bore the lurking crook, but the arrival, in a light young person's garish flat, first, of the light 'young person,' lightly attired, and then of a nice young man who is paying, for the flat and believes that the young person is also

nice. Indeed, he wants so much to marry her and regularize their situation that he has failed to go that evening, with papa and mamma, to a theatre—though it seems that almost any other night would do for his protestations and proposals of marriage. This, then, the burglar, whom you may almost have forgotten, silently witnesses.

But please do not forget the theatre which the young man didn't go to ; because that matters a lot. If you don't go to a theatre in a booked seat you must be careful what you do elsewhere. The dramatic critic, especially, shivers as he learns that a system of number-taking, noting, and counterfoil- conservation, with the detective collaboration of commission- aires, stall-attendants, the box-office and even taxi-drivers, may allow the management to note absences, and apparently to retain for ever, in their secret dossier, evidence that may at any moment be used against anybody who was not present on any night. What a revelation ! And do they know also who goes out after one act and who doesn't come back again, and why ? One is uneasily glued to one's seat. One dare not move. But this is becoming personal and irrelevant . . .

The young man, that night, behaved in a violent manner that would undeniably make anybody's absence from a respectable seat remarked. He had a row with the young person whose husband (bigamous) came in and behaved sardonically, and he throttled, or thought he had throttled, her. Then, impressive in the haggard look of Mr. Robert Harris, who makes him rather real and very pathetic, he staggered home to Finehley to tell papa and mamma all about it—very like the other nice young man in Mr. John Van Druten's play, Diversion. Only Mr. Van Druten's passionate hero knew too well how to throttle, and this young man didn't, as at last we learn after a long trial scene, teeming with legal improprieties.

Not the young man's trial No. His papa's, who tried to take the boy's place. Then, as a horrid erreur judiciaire is about to move to its inexorable completion, behold, from the back of the court, the burglar whom you've now quite for- gotten (as you were meant to do, so please do it). He, after an improbable confrontation scene at Scotland Yard, tells us that he silently witnessed the young person's effectiVe throttling at the hands of her snake-like husband—a very fine performance, this last, by Mr. Wallace Geoffrey.

I hope I am not committing a deferred and lingering contempt of court if I confess that, having served lately as a special juror in a case involving taxi-cabby witnesses, who were by no means silent but extensively garrulous, I was amused and surprised by the author's picture of a taxi- man who appears laden with the badges of his calling and acts like a half-wit, obviously incapable of dodging any vehicle through the traffic. My taxi-cabbies looked so smart that they fairly put the jury to shame. But what of it ? Mr. Harold Scott, as the taxi-driver who took papa and mamma to the theatre on the night of the double throttling, imported the spice of hilarity always indispensable for the relaxation of strained nerves. As to the others, there was Mr. Malcolm Keen, sincere as ever, an excellent listener at his own trial, and there was the ever-lovely Miss Marie Lohr in a sacrificed part as mamma, who has nothing to do but to look on and gaze disapprovingly—as well she May—at husband and son. It was not the actress's fault that she gave one an impression that she heartily wished to be free of those tiresome dramatic relations of hers, who would go about half-throttling people and sacrificing them- selves, and raving and storming, and so disturbing an existence that looked beautifully prosperous in Miss Lohr's elegant aspect and sedative suavity of manner.

It has occurred to Mr. Simon Ord to give us a series of nineteenth-century revivals at the Kingsway Theatre, and he has begun with one of the late Captain Robert Marshall's romantic farces. We may still laugh at this, if not with it, noting the rather laborious merriment of 1898. In those days authors and audiences enjoyed a slow working-up of comic effects. The dresses look funny, of course ; and a touch of pathos is provided, during an interval, by an orchestral selection from the popular melodies of the period: The middle-aged may like these faint, far-off tunes laetter than the play. I wish Mr. Ord had thought, say, of Lord and Lady Algy, surely a 'better joke than any of Captain Marshall's. But one can always feel superior as one looks back upon the drama of the 'nineties—until, uneasily, one remembers that we still do that sort of thing, as Mr. Knoblock has just taken the trouble to remind us in an artificial comedy seeming to date even earlier—perhaps from the days of Divorcons In The Mulberry Bush we appear to be in 1980, by dress and place : pyjamas at Le Touquet. We might be in that same year of His Excellency the Governor, when, if I remember well, Mr. Knoblock was already writing artificially in a farce called The Club Baby. Which proves that, in the theatre there is an eternal undated convention for patrons of the digestive drama. Only the costume need be changed.