15 OCTOBER 1954, Page 13


Bell, Book and Candle. By John van Druten. (Phoenix.)

THERE is no doubt that, on the stage, you can have a great deal of quiet fun with Witches. The properties that they are usually supposed to carry around with them—cats, broomsticks, eyes of newts and so forth —are such as to roll the modern audience in the aisles, whatever their effect may have been on those for whom they were originally intended. The mere sight of anyone levitat- ing is likely to throw the spectator into convulsions of laughter, let alone any more unusual manifestations. John van Druten was, therefore, on to a good thing when he got the idea of a play about a coven of contemporary witches and warlocks going their inefficient way in London. But he has done nothing with it—nothing at all. Not the vestige of a convulsion shook me through- out—only perhaps a faint, wan smile which rapidly developed into a sneer.

Mr. vai Druten's central situation is the administration by a young witch of a Powerful love spell to a young publisher. When events take their normal course, and he falls in love with her, she begins to reciprocate with the result that she loses her Powers, as witches tend to when they fall in love (there seems to be a bit of symbolism about woman in general concealed here). This then is the plot which, with the necessary trimmings, would not be a bad one. But there are practically no trimmings—no broomsticks, no levitation, no cauldron, hardly any magic at all. More important, there is no wit, and at this point one asks oneself what spell can have bewitched Mr. van Druten. A brilliant cast do their brilliant best with this piece of suet pudding, but Lilli Palmer, Athene Seyler, Rex Harrison and Wilfred Lawson, good as they are, are devas- tatingly wasted. The drama is traditionally Meant to produce smiles and tears. This time the smiles were the cast's doing; the tears Were for the author.