22 FEBRUARY 1952, Page 12



Bet Your Life. By Alan Melville. Music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith and Charles Zwar. (Hippodrome.) A urrix hooting owl in a nightshirt, ejected by his wife and falling with precise monotony off the swinging seat in the garden ; a bespectacled mouse cocking a snook at giants of normal height and throwing himself off balance under their' curious stare ; a bulging bundle of nonsense masquerading as an air hostess and rousing rage and riot fourteen thousand feet over Avignon. In Such farcical disguises Arthur Askey endears himself to us, and all is topsy-turvy when the lecherous side-glance, the outsize long drawers, and the absolute inability to avoid disaster are the order of the evening. Mr. Askey is a capable artist. So is Julie Wilson, more than generous of voice and as wide of smile as she is slender of skirt, who utters her outrageous lines as though, in the full passion of vitality, she had thought of them herself. Quieter, but pleasing, talents are present in Brian Reece and Sally Ann Howes, who are under-employed, and in Tom Gill, who oscillates with marvellous smoothness between cockney wide boy and French vicomte.

But it must be owned that the matter is thin for the manner. Mr. Melville has stretched the point, perhaps. Mr. Askey is a jockey newly wed to Miss Wilson, but the Ajaccian honeymoon strays from its purpose, to Miss Wilson's stentorian dismay, because Mr. Askey spends the velvet nights exclusively in slumber and in prophecy of winning horses. When the impropriety is cheerful and bursting with good humour, it is anything but unamusing ; when you see it adVancing with cold deliberation, it is otherwise. When the farce roars familiarly, it is good. But it is not in the words (pace the prim) that weakness lies so much as in the music, for some numbers wail a most melancholy way through stock sadnesses and others attempt too blatantly to repeat for Miss Wilson the success provided by another composer. Yet there is zest in a lot of it. The gallery was unjust on the first night.