16 APRIL 1932, Page 14

The Theatre

"The Miracle." Directed by Max Reinhardt. At the Lyceum.

Ix this, as in many other countries, the church was our first theatre. Now the Lyceum is our latest cathedral. The stage, the proscenium, and part of the auditorium have been decked out in the full architectural panoply of at least two distinct periods, that London may have its second chance in a quarter of a century of seeing The Miracle. Herr Karl Vollmoeller's story (which is a very good one) is mimed and danced to Humperdinek's music. The spoken word is heard only in Latin prayers.

A young Nun is led into the cathedral to take her vows. But she has hardly renounced the world when a Knight undermines the resolve of the flesh, while the Spielmann perverts the purpose of the spirit. The world calls strongly ; but the doors are locked. The little Nun can return no answer to the songs of children under the trees outside. She abandons fevered prayer for frantic action, and from the arms of the Madonna snatches the figure of the Child,, the nearest thing to a symbol of her longings. The child vanishes, and the Nun shrinks in horror from her deed. But the doors are open now, and theYirgin's smile offers pitying release. The Nun goes out to the arms of her lover. The Virgin descends, and, putting on the Nun's robes, takes her place,

The Spielinann sees to it that the lovely world proves cruel. The Knight is murdered, and the Nun goes whirling to perdition, with Death as her unavailing bodyguard. Those who desire her—the Robber Count, the Prince, the King--are destroyed. But it is a wanton, futile holocaust. It cannot ease the Nun's agony, or stay her downward course. At last, still haunted by the Spielmann, she is back outside the Cathedral door, a baby in her arms, the

scars of the Inquisition on her body. Inside, the Madonna, till now her deputy, puts off the Nun's robes and returns to her niche. The Nun drags herself to the feet of the statue and offers it her baby. But the baby is dead ; and though the Madonna has found the gift a worthy one and stands with arms no longer empty, the Nun dies in the Sisters' arms, weeping.

Technically, The Miracle is a monster, and a hybrid one at that. Drama, mime, ballet, music, pageantry ; the prestige of the sacred and the panache of the profane—all these have been fused, with a success which can be no more grudged than denied, into a unified, prodigiously effective whole. The Miracle is a stunt. It is no good quibbling about art-forms, or probing for mystical significances, or scenting blasphemy in the juxtaposition of shrine and box- office, or complaining that its " message " permits of dubious interpretation. The theatre does not abide our question on these solemn issues. We go to it for illusion ; and at the Lyceum illusion, though spun to an unfamiliar and daring design, remains illusion still. The Miracle is a stunt ; there is no use quarrelling with it for not being something else.

Herr Reinhardt scales the highest peaks .within the reach of showmanship, and we sniff the rarefied atmosphere of art : his work is superb in taste, in timing, in display. In the rich and elaborate background of Professor Strnad's settings authenticity of detail mingles effectively with a flavour of the fantastic in the general design. Mr. Oliver Messel's dresses offer, on so large and so crowded a stage, more delights than can be savoured in a single visit. His Huntsmen, his Nobles, his Gypsies—all, while subordinate to the atmosphere of the whole production, betray an artistic individuality whose full range of expression the Adelphi and the Lyceum have by no means exhausted. Only his Trees missed their mark, and for a moment we were transported, in fancy, to an interlude contributed by the Broccoli Growers' Association to a Pageant of British Vegetables.

The Madonna is seen only in the first and last of the seven episodes which make up the play ; yet she must impose on the whole that quality which gives the piece its peculiar excellence, the stunt its justification. Lady Diana Manners, projecting by some indefinable process of irradiation a quality not to be expressed in action, stamped on our minds ' an image which did not leave us during the play, and will not leave us after it. Remote, lovely, tuitheatrical, hers was a presence exactly corresponding to the blend of human and divine which the rile demands and the audience's imagination sanctions.

Miss Tilly Lomb plays the Nun (deliberately, I imagine) as a pagan, and has been criticized for doing so. It is surely the right interpretation. From the moment when we first see her come to take her vows, it is clear that one so con- sciously full of life can never .... endure the livery of a nun,

For aye to be in shady cloister mewed, To live a barren sister all her life, Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon."

She was born to fulfil a high destiny on another plane. he is not less, but greater than a religieuse: Only she is too young to realize that she has mistaken her vocation. If this conception is not valid, we must smell a fault when the Madonna releases her. Miss Loseh's Nun had imperative need to express herself in something more positive than self-denial. Even at the end she is not broken, 'When she comes back to the Cathedral, we know it is not for good. She belongs to those who are at home in storms, but ill at ease in havens. She is, once more, a stranger, an intruder,' in that slightly complacent, slightly unnatural circle. Her death, on the spot which she had desecrated, is inevitable rather than pathetic. The part is played perfectly, with a fiery yet a tender grace, at the Lyceum.

There is not space to do more than praise M. hfassine for his choreography, to which the production owed much. His Spielmann, a malign, preverted Arid, pervaded the play; as he should. He showed an invaluable ability to include the whole stage in his own performance, drawing in the supers whom he touched, the scenery which he skirted, to give a fuller meaning and a wider relevance to his dancing.