25 APRIL 1941, Page 11


',women Aren't Angels." By Vernon Sylvaine. At the Strand.

THE English theatre is sometimes as elusive as the snark: the Elizabethan owed so much to Italy ; the Restoration to Spain, and afterwards the French, the Russians and the Norwegians took a hand, until the poor thing seems rather like a corpse in an air-raid, almost inextricably mixed up with its surroundings. So if a foreigner were to Ak for a really national play, something as English as Nellie Wallace's feather-boa, I'd be inclined to ,thipw him a Robertson Hare and Alfred- Drayton farce. Mr. Sylvaine's new play is almost perfect' of its kind—and surely its kind is superior to the smart Coward comedies like too expensive cigarette-cases, or to those dreary comedies of family-life hovering on the edge of rainbow-tears (the Dodie Smith speciality), or the serous unreal problems with which Mr. Maugham used some- times to present us. Mr. Sylvaine's farce is in the tradition of Lear and Carroll; it is crazy without being American. It would be useless to try to convey the incredible plot which fills the bedrooms of a house kept by two evacuee grass-widows with grieved wives, fainting women, unbe,arable children, deserters ... and leaves Mr. Hare and Mr. Drayton without' their clothes, with nothing -to wear but their wives' uniforms. The lines are admirable, there is a wholly improbable explanation of every- thing in the last two minutes, but the whole thing is inseparable from the actors—Mr. Drayton's grim, bulldog despair, and Mr. Hare's frightened hilarity. The careful little tie, the razor-edge crease, the triangle of handkerchief, the shot cuffs, the soaping hands—we know what elemental passion surges behind this disguise, under the well-fitting waistcoat. The clothes make the man. Remove the clothes—as they always are removed, and what is left is the March Hare. And that is very English, too.