14 AUGUST 1964, Page 14

Don't Play with Hamlet



Victor. (Aldwych.) Mr. Whatnot. (New Arts.)

IF no one had told me be- forehand I wonder if I'd have known that Roger Vitrac's Victor was im- portant, a fore-runner of the theatre of cruelty, a flaming excoriation of bourgeois morality whose revulsion before the sexual act could have been drawn from Swift and which inspired Jean Anouilh, and that Alan Ayckbourn's Mr. Whatnot was at best cherryade and at worst Salad Days without the songs. Victor was written in 1928, then largely forgotten till Anouilh saw it in Paris after the war; Mr. Whatnot was devised for the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, last year. One hesitates to call M. Vitrac's play pretentious, since this is something that may have been thrust upon it. It is a sad coincidence, however, that it should have appeared at the same time as Mr. Whatnot. The result is that something which is simply, harmlessly but genuinely funny is dis- missed as an impertinent irrelevance.

After a clever little charade of an opening that could have been used to brighten up Expeditions One, Victor is not funny. Though it is decked out in the ribbons of farce, it is not farce since very little of what humour there is is physical and it is seldom outrageous. Nor when I saw it at the Saturday matinee did the actors play it with the style of farce, but simply to get through as quickly as possible. What it is like is a very elegant rather overdressed woman coming on stage expecting a kiss and instead being blown a particularly succulent raspberry. It goes on rather longer, but that is about the limit of its capacity to shock or surprise.

Victor floats on a series of cross-references to Hamlet. The prodigy Victor is nine years old and five-feet-nine. He knows everything, but not apparently how to make love. In developing his parallel M. Vitrac took over only two of

Hamlet's characteristics. One is Hamlet's disgust at his what he calls his mother's adultery which extends to a protest against sex in general. The other is something that in modern sym. pathetic productions is usually played down : Hamlet's driving desire to expose everyone around him to 'their inmost being,' so that Hamlet can be read as a sequence wherein the court of Defl-. mark is systematically stripped to pieces by some- one older than nine, but still much of an adolescent. So Victor strips the salon, which com- poses his uncle, his parents and the people next door.

He finds no murders, no school friends come to ply him no Father's Ghost; there is a poor Polonius, and his Ophelia is with him all the way. There are several tedious fools but only one sin, adultery—between Victor's father and his girl friend's mother. To expose it Victor has to put on his own play, which, like the Players in Hamlet, he goes through twice as the first time no one is properly listening. It goes roughly, 'Pussy, puss, puss ... floating ectasy ... sob, sob!' The adults rise and the children have taken over. Tacked on, there is the episode of Ida Mortemart, the rich and beautiful woman who can't stop farting as others can't stop f-----. It is she who whispers to Victor how to make love. He is conventionallY appalled. Dressed like a choirboy, he comes as Hamlet does to his mother's room at night, onlY to complain of a pain in his stomach. Ids Mortemart has been too much for him. He dies like the poor girl beneath Dorchester AbbeY, 'a martyr to excessive sensibility,' Let us paint an inch thick, etc.' But it is the Aldych and its unpaid P.R.s who have done the painting. it'll' posing on a one-act fable a weight it can't bear. Mr. Whatnot is a joy. It is simply the escapades of a piano-tuner caught up in tennis sets, billiard games and dinner parties with the aristocracy. It might be said that the dialogue is weak. The dialogue is, in fact, irrelevant and is at times deliberately inaudible. The play relies on mime and perfectly synchronised sound effects. It is a minor technical triumph. Please see it.