3 FEBRUARY 1956, Page 26

In the Minor

CARNIVAL KING. By Henry Treece. (Faber, 12s. 6d.) A MATCH FOR THE DEVIL. By Norman Nicholson. (Faber, 10s. 6d.) THESE two plays have nothing in common except that, they are both the work of poets, Carnival King is in prose, rarely poetic though, as the blurb suggests, `vigorous, . . . muscular, [and] an admirable vehicle' as far as it goes, which is not very far. Marlowe's shadow bars the way at every turn, and Mr. Treece has not been able to free the reader's mind from this obsessing presence. It is always dangerous to deal with a subject or a theme which has already been dealt with successfully by a writer of genius, though the attempt is by no means always condemned to failure. Mr. Treece's efforts to modernise the subject and to produce topicality by fitting modern notions and words into the past, are not suc- cessful; the numerous anachronisms jar and form a hotch-potch of old and new which, together with some very melodramatic effects, considerably diminish the worth of his play. The problem is different with A Match for the Devil which is, within its limita- tions, good poetic drama. Its theme—religion and sex—is fraught. with difficulties which the author tries, not altogether successfully, to skirt. Cuckoldry is treated not as farce or satire, but as part of a world of primitive simplicity and as a parable of God's rela- tions with His people who have forsaken Him. The characterisa- tion is good, except in the case of the boy David, who is too knowing and too wise; the verse is excellent, with a distinctive rhythm and always character. This is a good play in a minor key.