20 JANUARY 1950, Page 12



The Miser." By Moliere. Freely adapted by Miles Malleson. (New) A MENTAL effort, similar to that involved in recalling that there were once wolves in Surrey, is demanded of the contemporary tax- layer before his fancies can assimilate the idea of a miser with a arge hoard of money. That, however, marks the limit of the stresses to which the Old Vic's fourth production subjects our intellects. " French without tears " might have been Mr. Malleson's motto in his approach to Moliere's classical astringencies ; and the result is a jolly, unpretentious pantomime, with satire mellowed into slap- stick, vices reduced to the status of foibles and rhetoric wherever possible rendered down to gags. Harpagon himself ceases to be an ogre with an obsession which, though ridiculous, is nevertheless passionate and terrible ; he becomes a funny little oaf, a blowsy, quirking eccentric who might have been created by an alliance between the pencils of Emett and of Giles ; and his consuming anxiety about his money-bags is not much nearer to being a valid comment on humanity than Mr. Robertson Hare's ever-present fear for his trousers. Within the limits of this convention Mr. Malleson manages him very well indeed.

He is efficiently supported. Miss Diana Churchill and Miss Jane Wenham sparkle fetchingly whenever the sub-plots allow them to do So, and they are adequately partnered by Messrs. Michael Aldridge and John van Eyssen. Miss Angela Baddeley enhances our interest in the scheming Frosine by giving her a precarious refinement, and Mr. George Benson, as the honest servant whose clumsy excursions into falsehood are as fatal to him as his sturdy adherence to the truth, is invariably effective. Mr. Tyrone Guthrie's production, very handsomely dressed by M. Benda, moves at a spanking pace. In short, what is attempted is achieved ; the only question is, was It worth attempting ? Much as we enjoy seeing Moliere transmuted into terms of Charley's Aunt, we cannot help wondering whether this is what the Old Vic is for. The Miser is amusing, but it can hardly be called distinguished ; it cannot be said to increase our understanding of Moliere, nor do we come away from the New Theatre with the feeling that our theatrical experience has been enriched. We have seen a very competent company give an enjoy- able performance of an old comedy which has been popularised to suit the modern taste. But that is all ; and I hope I will not be thought churlish if I say that we expect rather more from the Old