20 DECEMBER 1946, Page 24

" This Player Here

All for Hecuba. By Michael MacLiammoir. (Methuen. 21s.)

IT may seem very ungracious to begin by saying of a book so full of true charm as in this autobiography of Michael MacLiammoir that one sometimes wished it shorter ' • shorter and less running with colour, less indeed of " a herbaceous border," as the author jibinglv quotes a friend's description of his style. A herbaceous border is, I understand, that strip of the garden where whatever is tall, colourful and easy-going may be allowed to fend for itself ; which sounds pleasant enough indeed. But I am prejudiced against it, as it always turns out to be the place where those horrid things called lupins turn up. However, this book is not in fact anything like a herbaceous border ; there is nothing vague or borderish about it save that it might do with thinning out and needs weeding in one or two places, but it is no kind of appendage or decoration to life, no Saturday- afternoon hobby, but rather a life, full, shapely and generous, and set down honestly in ringing, vivid words.

However, to get through and done with this one carp—of there being perhaps too much of this good book—the chief reason for this, and it may be only in the mind of this reviewer though I think it will be more widely felt, is that we are not, all of us, all for Hecuba all of the time. A dull truth which our enchanting theatrical friends, when at odd times they are forced to face it, find queer and sadden- ing in us. " This player here," however, is so many more things than player that we expect much of the universal from him, which indeed we get, but less of the particular, that is, of chronicling of

productions we have not seen and now may not see • less also of detailed praise of actors and fellow-artists whom, in the nature of things, we cannot come to know within this book and whose merits must therefore leave us still detached. Yet in passing let us praise the generosity, entirely clean of unction and shot through with every variation of wit and sweetness, with which Mr. MacLiammoir salutes his friends. It is a rare and good thing indeed to find that a man who has had to work so hard, who is still working so hard in one of those professions wherein vanity and touchiness are almost a temperamental necessity, knows how to pay tribute to others or, if necessary, to withhold it, each with an equal mannerliness and grace of spirit.

I began by saying that there is perhaps too much of this book. But what I really meant was that there is net enough. We want more in it of the true centre of the man himself who is entertaining us so beguilingly with the scene he passes through ; we want, I' think, more of the childhood of this man, more data on how he accumulated, still young and having to earn his -living, all his great store of culture, of European languages and music and history and art ; more certainly of the sources of that struggle. which still rages in him between Ireland; his old -Hecuba, and that world we call Mediterranean, his other' love. We want his sources of reference, more of his tem- pestuous self, even at the loss of some of those externals he evokes for us with such finely tempered perception. Nevertheless, here is richness to be going on withportraits—of W. B. Yeats, of Lady Gregory, Mrs. Patrick Campbell and a hundred others less or more renowned, all alive and newly seen through these unblinking but benevolent eyes ; places, Spain, Greece, North Africa, called up so as to make the laziest-ache again for boats and trains and frontier- and phrasebook-troubles. And Dublin characters, Dublin jokes and the casual, streelish charm of Ireland's little towns—these to explain why a man has tears for Hecuba. Yes, a lovely book. " Say everything you really believe, whether it's wise or not," said Hilton Edwards to its author. In so far as he has spoken I believe he has done this. Perhaps in a longer pauie, when he is older, Mr. MacLiammoir will tell ns whence they seeded, all these beliefs, these poet-painter's per-