20 FEBRUARY 1953, Page 12

THE temptation, after this production, is to say that it

is the play itself which is of no importance : but that would be unwise, for it has its moments. Tennents have had it knocked into three acts, relieved of some of its painful absurdity, refurbished with some additional witticisms, sumptuously set and dressed by Loudon Sainthill, produced by Michael Benthall, and performed at a stately pace by a company of the first quality. The result of all this has been to wrap up the text in a fancy muffler which quite takes the bite out of the Wildean lines as they come straining through. There are publishets who sometimes succumb to a strange fever, in the midst of which they pick on some inoffensive minor work and send it forth into the world again in a dress fit for a masterpiece. This, as often as not, is misplaced generosity ; and so it is here. I can imagine a clever and properly arrogant young person making his first acquaintance with Wilde through this production and being bored to stupefaction. If! meet such a one I shall advise him to read the text : he might be agreeably surprised—at any rate by those parts quite free from the abhorrent false seriousness which ensures the artistic failure of the play as a whole. I cannot blame the pro- ducer and the actors for approaching with the utmost nervousness a curtain by this famous slippery staircase : Gerald : Lord Illingworth, you have insulted the purest thing on God's earth, a thing as pure as my own mother. You have-insulted the woman I love most in the world with my own mother. As there is a God in Heaven, I will kill you I down to— Mrs. Arbuthnot : Stop, Gerald, stop ! He is your own father! No, there is much reason for caution, but so much trouble has been taken to avoid the melodramatic booby-traps and tripwires cluttering the scene that there is all too little energy left for vivacity in the high comic and witty passages which are the only possible justification for reviving the play. I can only suppose that it is the effort to suppress even' the faintest hint of Jasper the Moustachio. Twirler in the character which so takes the wind out of Clive Brook's Lord Illingworth. Athene Seyler and Isabel Jeans are quite admir- able as Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby, but the mood of the production is against them. Nora Swinbume plays Mrs. Arbuthnot —the woman of no importance, the cast-off mistress of Lord filing- worth—with a suitably pale and godly determination. It is the text that works against her, alas. As I write this, I have the uneasy feeling that one should be ignoring flesh and blood to dwell on the heavily, detailed stage-pictures painstakingly devised" by Loudon Sainthill and the elaborate costumes he has designed for the actresses in the deformed style of the 'nineties : one has the impression that they are meant to matter as much as the words. I am indebted to the friend who accompanied me for my final observation : that the one character who really comes to life is the hypochondriacal spouse of the Yen. Archdeacon Daubeny, D.D. (who is amusingly played by Aubrey Mather in the true English tradition of comic divines). Mrs. Daubeny, poor dear, is fortunate enough, it may be recalled, not to appear in the flesh.

The latest American musical to burst out in the West End, with a British company, has a pleasant little story of northern California in the gold-rush days when men were men and women were very sweet. The men of Rumson Town leave one in no doubt as to their masculinity. It is constantly and cheerfully asserted in the thun- derous male choruses ; and when the fandango gals arrive by the coachload, to dig the gold from the pockets of the men who dug it from the stony soil, the point is made again, and again, and for good measure again, in dances of a marvellous and most accomplished directness. All this tumultuous celebration of the simpler facts of life in no way impairs either the gentle melancholy implicit in the story. of a boom town's decline (and in Bobby Howes' pleasant performance as Ben Rtunscin) or the innocent sentiments of the romantic lovers, Jennifer (Sally Ann Howes) and Julio (Ken Cantril). A pleasing entertainment. lazi HAMILTON.