14 FEBRUARY 1920, Page 14



"I solemnly declare that you have seen no such acting, no, not in any degree, since." So wrote a contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine seventy years after the first production of Marriage- 1-1a-Mode. To say that the present performance is worthy of such a tradition is to praise it too little. We can imagine that just such words may be spoken seventy years hence by some one who saw the Phoenix's production of the play, nor will his words be the vain praising of a past time. Nothing more

spirited, more competent, more heartless can be imagined than Dryden's comedy as the Phoenix revitalized it for us. When I wrote a month or so ago I, like the rest of the world, had only read the play, and, like other readers, wondered rather dubiously how it would show in the limelight. For by a reading-lamp it seemed a hollow, tinsel thing. How would this sham jewel show when The Duchess of Malfi, the true ruby, had glowed so dimly ? There we have it. The theatrical costumier knows what he is about. On the stage it is the glass diamond that sparkles. Marriage-a-la-Mode was designed for the stage, and though it is oommon glass compared with the Elizabethans whom in the heroical part it strives to rival, on the stage it eclipses them. That true poetry should be outdone by this conventional stuff seems yet another argument against realism. We know that to put actual trees, real rabbits, and genuine grass upon the stage is not necessarily to achieve the utmost in grassiness and rabbitiness. Now it almost seems as though to have real poetry recited by your characters is not necessarily to produce the most poetical effect. All that is gold does not glitter.

The acting and the production of Marriage-a-la-Mode were as nearly perfect as possible ; that is, if we except the ineffectual little Court masquerade when we were put off with half-hearted dominoes and masks and a strangely innocent little dance instead of the sinister Pietro Longid revel which would have been appropriate. But this was literally the only blemish.

The producer, Mr. Allan Wade, followed Dryden's clues and, while the comedy of intrigue was extremely smart, dressed the persons in the heroical drama in a charming fantastic costume which was exactly appropriate to the impossible world in which Palmyra and Leonidas lived and loved. Nothing could be imagined more perfectly appropriate than the costume of The Tyrant of Sicily, who looked rather like a king in a pack of cards save that he wore a magnificent full-bottomed wig and what was surely the most satisfactory pasteboard crown ever made. The characters in the comedy of intrigue wore elegant and rich costumes of the correct period—Rhodophil a really gorgeous confection in plum colours and golds with a feathered hat and fair peruke, Palamede a very effective black and white dress. Miss Cathleen Nesbitt was charming as Doralioe, and contrived most cleverly to soften the outrageous improprieties of some of the dialogue. Miss Athene Seyler as Melantha was an ideal " Extravagant," for she contrived to be at the same time ridiculous and attractive. In the brief scene where they are dressed as boys both were admirable, Miss Nesbitt acting with a most amusing swagger. Mr. Ion Swinley and Mr. Nicholas Hannon as the husband and lover were both of them most orna- mental and wore their clothes well. Like Miss Nesbitt, they handled some thoroughly nauseating lines and situations with the greatest tact. All four lovers were in fact as spirited and as light-handed as heart could desire. Mlle. Rambert was a very quiet but effective soubrette.

Nor were those who acted in the heroical play less excellent. Indeed Miss Rita Thom was the most perfect ingenue imaginable. " The Usurper of Sicily " was worthy of his clothes. He was impressive, and yet never for a moment made his audience uncomfortable by acting realistically. He never pretended to be a real man, and therefore we were not jolted by the unreality of his ridiculous words and deeds. The periwigged shepherds were excellent, and Argaleon with a very small and highly conventional part contrived to depict a convincing and yet fantastic villain. It would be interesting to see Mr. George Hayes as Iago or Bowls. If I have omitted any of the dramatis personae from specific mention, it is not because their performance was not entirely admirable. If this cast could be reassembled and the play cleansed of its worst foulness, it would, most of those who have seen it agree, be sure to prove a popular success. The task of Bowdlerizing would, however, be a hard one, for the whole structure of the play is infected with the pestilential morality of the day.

I must remind readers of the Spectator that if the. Phoenix is to flourish it must have plenty of subscribers. At present it seems to have only sufficient members to warrant two perform- ances of each of the plays which it gives. The terms of subscrip- tion are very moderate and entitle members to two seats at each performance given. If the present standard of production is maintained, a play-lover could not lay out his money to better advantage. Both its productions have been excellent, for, although there is no doubt that Marriage-a-la-Mode was much more successful than The Duchess of Ma(fl, we must remember that in The Duchess of Malfi the Phoenix only just fell short of achieving the impossible, while with Marriage-a-la-Mode its task was comparatively easy, the author doing his full share of the work. There is some talk of it producing The Maid's Tragedy. I very much hope that this project will be realized. But its activities must be supported. (Offices of " The Phoenix," 36 Southampton Street, Strand, W.C. 2.) TARN,