19 JUNE 1947, Page 22

Athanasius Contra MUndum

The Other Theatre By Norman Marshall. (John Lehmann. 15s.) Tins book is a record of courageous effort to redeem the English theatre, and of heart-breaking response. Oxford's record is the blackest ; even that cultured city in 1929 'allowed J. B. Fagan's gallant enterprise to gutter out. Mr. Marshall hits the nail on the head when he says, " The Englishman resents any attempt to mix education with his amusements. He knows what he wants, and he sees no reason why anyone should try to educate him up to wanting something else." Time was when people of all classes flocked to the Elizabethan theatre, resisting the allure of the bear-garden next door, eagerly intent on beauty of language and emotion. To-day's " compulsorily educated ones " have ears and hear not, and if the few are still to enjoy drama of distinction they will have to rely, upon State or municipally subsidised theatres. Perhaps schools and universities will some time recognise a responsibility for ensuring that the theatre, for which much of the world's great literature has been written, shall not perish. The theatre-going habit can be caught young, and education should develop discrimination.

Mr. Marshall is urbane, scholarly, temperate and shrewd. In a book where the subject matter makes inevitable lists of plays and such phrases as "the next production was," the arrangement is skilfully varied. Closer revision would 'lave avoided frequent repetition, but the information is always interesting. It is pleasant to recall, now that the theatre has lost him, that James Agate described The Cherry Orchard, when it was first produced in London, as " an imperish- able masterpiece," while a contemporary critic described it as " fatuous drivel." It was he, too, who saved the fortunes of the Gate Theatre with an enthusiastic notice of From Morn to Midnight. It is amusing to find Stratford's tepid response to Nigel Playfair's production there of As You Like It ascribed to annoyance at his refusal to use a very ancient stuffed stag which was kept in the museum specially to be carried on in the forest scene.

But the book is chiefly valuable as a clear-headed history of the theatre of genuine feeling over the last twenty years, and for its detached and unprejudiced analysis of the contribution of such people as Lilian Bayliss, Sir Barry Jackson, Terence Gray, Peter Godfrey, Nugent Monck and Anmer Hall. Almost always their productions were presented in unsuitable buildings. The Oxford Playhouse redeemed from a big-game museum relapsed into a miniature golf- course when Fagan admitted defeat, and the Gate was a converted skittle alley. Perhaps the saddest of all theatrical indignities is to find the Westminster, which housed some of the most rewarding plays in London, now abandoned to the doubtless spirited but cer- tainly amateur acting of the so-called Oxford Group.

Mr. Marshall has some hard things to say about repertory theatres who content themselves with presenting smudged copies of popular West End successes, and about amateur actors who rarely go to the theatre themselves. As long as repertory theatres fail to put their house in order by grouping themselves so that adequate rehearsal time is possible, they must continue to rely on " slick, superficial technique to cover up .the deficiencies in their acting." Few amateurs think they have anything to learn from the professional, and their acting needs more gusto, attack and abandon. Mr. Marshall, himself an unrepentant Londoner, may be underestimating die difficulties of provincial repertories and amateurs, struggling for very survival against the cinema's competition and the public's awful indifference. They may be " sandblindr or even " high-gravel blind," but they

are at least struggling towards the light. JOHN GARRETT.