STAGE AND SCREEN
Mussottax (to Chamberlain): " The blue Mediterranean will soon be a Fascist lake."
Brivia : " I'll let you keep the Isle of Wight for Nancy Astor's sake."
IT was bound to come ; the year which has given us trenches in the parks has, logically enough, given us politics in panto- mime. At the Unity Theatre the politics are slightly better than the pantomime, which is terrible ; but both politics and pantomime are redeemed from the heights of amateur enthusiasm by intermittent gleams of inspiration (the Fairy Wish-Fulfilment is a particularly well-conceived character) and, what is more important, the whole experiment derives from its very nature a disarming (though not often a compelling) vitality. You are perturbed, when the curtain rises, by the eager grimaces and the inexpert limbs of the chorus ; but in the end it all turns out to have been at least as easy to sit through as the average drawing-room comedy. It would be even easier if the company could abandon the practice—induced, perhaps, by that Fairy I mentioned—of giving itself an encore after every number.
It is extraordinary how well the topical theme fits the traditional medium, how easily a form of pure entertainment slips back into the purposeful harness of the morality play. The Babes (who were both good) were Czechoslovakia. The Robbers were—inevitably—that popular comedy duo, Hit.
and Muss. (Hitler was six foot high and Mussolini had no chin ; but Cromwell's wart is, after all, a small matter compared with his habit of stabling horses in churches.) The King and Queen were evidently intended to represent the present Occupant of the British throne and his Consort ; but here the satire had no bite and small relevance. The Wicked Uncle was Mr. N. Chamberlain ; he was a smash hit.
Several popular interludes were provided by the Cliveden Set, of whose notorious egotism we are subtly reminded by a pronunciation which makes the I in Cliveden long, and arrogant at that. This Set was ably impersonated by a mixed quartet and had some of the best lines in the pantomime; the costume and desneanour of the players were little, if at all, less true to life than they would have been in the case of a duchess acting a charwoman in amateur theatricals, and the lyricist had performed the most unusual feat of distinguishing the proprietor of the Observer from the proprietor of The Times. But on the night I saw it the best thing in the show was the make-up of the man who played Mr. Chamberlain. As a result (I was told) of intensive study of the newsreels, he had the Prime Minister to the life, excelling especially in the reproduction of that curious lungeing of the upper mandible which to me irresistibly recalls the Bactrian camel (an animal for which I have a high regard) in moments of emotional stress.
Other comic relief was provided by a Dame, who seemed to have slipped through the fingers of the ideologists. The Principal Boy was Robin Hood, and he stood for a good deal, though whether for Labour, or for Communism, or just in a broad general way for Militant Democracy and the Worth- whiteness of the Proletariat, I should not like to have to say.
The Proletariat, incidentally, was not represented in the audience. We were a smug, comfortable lot, enjoying in a novel form the greatest luxuiy known to the English race— moral indignation. Looking round at our complacent, long- converted ranks, I found it hard to credit what my programme told me—that Unity Theatre's "development and expansion are of vital importance to the whole Democratic movement."
Which is not to say that this theatre is not an extremely enter- prising venture. It is ; but its large pretensions give it a bogus air. According to my Piogramine, printed on pink paper and full of gush, " Unity Theatre's influence has brought thousands into the labour movement by presenting the drama of truth to people otherwise unable to see clearly through the distorted
Propaganda of :Hollywood and Fleet Street." This seems to me a silly prologue to an unashamedly partisan charade, whose relations with both drama and truth are 'about equally tenuous. Still, perhaps it's a hound priociple to insist -that, if the people are going to have dust thrown in their eyes, the more plentiful.
and variegated the dust the better. PETER FLEMMG.