22 MARCH 1957, Page 18

Noblesse Oblige

The Iron Duchess. By William Douglas Home. (Cambridge Theatre.)—A Hatful of Rain. By Michael V. Gazzo. (Princes.)—The Wit to Woo. By Mervyn Peake. (Arts.) ONE has the feeling that The Iron Duchess will create siesmic convulsions throughout every county where Debrett is read. Really, Mr. Home, you're playing a very dangerous game. Gathered cosily together at a Blandings- like seat somewhere north of the Tweed are the Duke (Ronald Squire), Duchess

• (Athene Seyler) and family of Whitadder, to- gether with the Colonial Secretary and sundry retainers. This delightful scene is shattered by two strangely similar crises; Gimalta, an obscure member of the Commonwealth, demands her freedom, and so does the Whitadder cook. Ruth- less repression by both Secretary and Duchess forces the nationalist leader into the hills, and the cook into the shrubberies with a rifle. When the rebel is captured and sentenced to execution, the Duchess (this is where blood begins to tell) is struck anew by the parallel and threatens to do likewise to the cook. This being obviously too much (where would one get another cook?) both parties relent and are rewarded by the penitent return of the rebels to the fold. All jolly uplifting in these enlightened days and played with a straight bat but, as I am sure Mr. Home's brother, the present Commonwealth Secretary, has told him, deuced bad form. Dash it, there might be a Cypriot or two in the audience. Still, I suppose the aristocracy come pretty well out of it, bless their dear, sweet, eccentric old hearts, and Mr. Home will probably be forgiven this time. One of these days, though, he's going to go too far.

Don't be alarmed by the fearful tortured screams issuing from the Princes Theatre—it is only Bonar Colleano having a fit of the horrors. His father (George Coulouris) has made a big mistake in neglecting him in childhood, and his brother (Sam Wanamaker) another by financing his heroin orgies all this time; as for his wife (Sally Ann Howes), looking for lipstick smears when she should have been confiscating the hypodermic, she's just plain stupid. Mr. Gazzo just brings off his play by a kind of professional mesmerism in spite of its characteristically senti- mental conclusion, and he is very well served by his actors. I doubt, though, whether dope-addic- tion means enough to us here to justify a caution- ary tale of such inordinate length.

The Wit to Woo, like its title, will have you

either rolling or squirming in the aisles. If you like Peacock, Fry, puns and whimsy. (at least three of which are poison to this perSon) you will like this simple tale of a stammering sprig of nobility who pretends to be dead in order to capture his coy (and how !) mistress. It is in any case brilliantly produced by Peter Wood and well