Gems and jewels
Queen Christina (Tricycle) The Jeweller's Shop (Westminster) The Pirates of Penzance (Drury Lane)
queen Christina of Sweden, daughter of Gustav Adolphus, did not look like a Garbo, who, profile uplifted, sailed into myth on the prow of a ship in the film of 1933. There has been disagreement as to whether she looked like Chrissie Cotterill either, with pasty face and butch haircut, clumping about in boots and not observing the diet she is recommended. It is not im- portant. The play sounds as if it has been researched in detail (not entirely a compli- ment; an occasional line seems to be there because it is true not because it is relevant) but there is no attempt to pretend that this is how it was. Even if at her own abdication Christina did say, 'Get on with it', she can hardly have asked several people to receive her crown before taking it off herself. However her debate on sexual morality with the Roman Catholic Church developed, I cannot believe she said, `No need to cut it off, Pope. Think again.' We are always kept aware that a historical story is being presented by a modern feminist to see what sparks it will strike. Little Christina is the only heir and they must `make a man of her'. So she becomes a power somewhere between the sexes. Plain, she turns down a tender prince because he is plain too: 'The flies would fall off the walls on our wedding night.' I do so love your vicious in- telligence.' Though she has affairs with girls, she is no man-hater and pays for what she cannot attract. She abdicates because she cannot bring herself to marry and breed. We then follow her to Italy where the aristocratic lesbian set are eager to snare even an ex-queen. Always, but particularly with them, Christina is curiously uncouth,
devoid of dignity, gulping down wine and snatching macaroons uninvited, but she manages to turn them down politely, ad- ding, `I honour your intentions and your courage.' A convert, she is offered Poland
by the Vatican, refuses, gruesomelY murders an ex-lover, fondles a cardinal, is reduced to eating chocolates alone in a white room and fianlly cries out that what she really needs is a child, that she has been robbed of her true role as a mother. Ton much incident has been crammed in and what is being argued is by no means clear. You can tell that Pam Gems has thought her topic through by the briskness with which she ticks off some arguments, for in- stance that women are romantics and that this is because they have been denied ex- perience. If the whole remains incoherent to an outsider, it is bristling with intelligence and Chrissie Cotterill endows the rude, loud, hysterical, ruthless heroine with Wel; vitality that you stick with her. When told the man sheloves is to marry another, her face reflects growing alarm, acute Pain' anger and then violence in a few seconds — a gift for any actress perhaps, but a gift few could have made so much of.
The Jeweller's Shop was not written by a pope but it is not juvenilia either. In 1960 Karol Wojtyla was 40, auxiliary bishop of Cracow and had been an actor and a poet' His technique seems modern still, the eon' tent old, if not quite timeless. Characters do not speak to one another but have monologues of their thoughts and memories sometimes quoting speech. It sounds dreadfully boring, but in fact it works. The subject is love and marriage, with women to the fore. Hannah Gordon tells of her happiness 'that broadens and enriches what was limited and narrow'; but he dies. Gwen Watford brings a welcome astringency to her story of bitter grievance against a husband who has become indi',t; ferent. Finally their children meet and fall in love, unaware of the complications ahead.
Of course it would not have been put on if the author had not become who he Nor would the starry cast have been assembled by Robin Phillips, boy wonder of the Sixties, successful king of Stratford, Ontario in the late Seventies, now in search of a theatre. Nor would the audience have wondered if each unusual character was God. The jeweller never appears but says that a wedding ring weighs nothing while the husband is still alive. A tiresomely wise passer-by is called Adam and refers to the parable of the foolish virgins. Also not at' pearing is someone called the Bridegroom who suffers when he has not found love. For Roman Catholics presumably any scrap that gives a clue to the Pope's ideas has its value. I preferred the human side of this slight work, which has somehow ended up rather whimsical and English, reminiscent of the James Saunders of A Scent of Flowers.
Michael White's continuing assault 00
the West End has at last, in the language of the moment, won a beach-head. The Understanding has been sunk and Pass the Butler is retiring from action with minor damage but The Pirates of Penzance having taken possession of Drury Lane should be able to hold it indefinitely. Tim Curry, grasping the best chance he has had since he Was a Transylvanian trans-sexual, swaggers with such confidence that he can send himself up, then swagger again — the necessary central star performance. But the triumph is the chorus; not a uniform line of maidens who coyly dart glances at a line of nice young pirates with good elocution, but a rumbustious mob of individuals filling the stage with shrieks and gags. At first I did not know where to look but the answer is at bespectacled Sylvester McCoy whose reper- toire of surprising gestures and uncertain expressions is endless.