r- HOME CHAT." BY NOEL COWARD. AT THE DUKE OF YORK'S THEATRE. " THE KINGDOM OF GOD." BY G. MARTINEZ SIERRA. AT THE STRAND THEATRE.] SOME of Mr. Noel Coward's dramatic ideas appear to be very old. His dramatic style is new, in so far as it is obviously and deftly imitated from current conversation. The result, for the audience, is often an odd mixture of boredom with amusement.
We are amused at the bright sharp things that Mr. Coward says. We are wearied by his insistence upon themes worn into rags twenty or thirty years ago ; in sum, by the paradox of imitative youth trying to renovate obsolete age—trying to " fake up " the old face with plasters too often employed for that purpose in beauty shops of to-day.
In all this, Home Chat differs little from several of his other comedies, and I am unable to explain why it has been so severely criticized. It is not so pleasing as Hay Fever, because its tone is not so consistent, its anecdote and treatment not so delicately unpretentious. It hovers between comedy and farce. But, to me at least, it seems just as good as Fallen Angels ; a little better than The Marquise or than all but a few specially eloquent scenes of Easy Virtue ; a great deal better than the romance of The Queen Was in the Parloui. Perhaps the first-night brawlers were offended by the rumour that it had been written in a week ; for we like to believe that an author has taken trouble and exercised much careful art in displaying apparent artlessness. However that may be, I see no reason- why subsequent audiences should not revel over Home Chat as they did over Mr. Coward's biggest successes. It is almost as naughty superficially, and not much more hackneyed in substance.
And now it would be nice if Mr. Coward could escape from his constant preoccupation with late-Victorian or early- Edwardian situations—based, so many of them, on doubts about other people's sideslips in morals. Did she meet him at Maidenhead ? Ought we to call on her ? Is she to have the benefit of the doubt ? Where were they last night ? Whether wagonlit (as here) or week-end inn as (I think) in Mr. Henry Arthur Jones's Liars, whether Mrs. Tanqueray or another of her class and type, it doesn't much matter. The problem begins to pall, wherever it may locate itself for solution. But I will say one thing for the alert modernity of Mr. Coward. Those Victorians hovered for the most part heavily over questions of compromising proximity. They were anxious. Mr. Coward, like Hippoeleides, " doesn't care." But, then, neither do we ! That is precisely the trouble.
One admires the touch of firm reality imparted by Mr. George Curzon into an improbable scene in the second act, and Mr. Coward's incredible hero and heroine are played with the requisite carelessness of demeanour by Miss Madge Titheradge and Mr. Arthur Margetson ; while Mr. George Relph excellently realizes a priggish husband, and Miss Henrietta Watson's subdued malevolence of manner gets every conceivable laugh out of every word and gesture of the part of a late Victorian mamma, full of doubts without benefits.
What a relief it is, after all the noise and all the smartness of epigram prevalent in the London theatres this autumn season—after the bangs of crook plays and the snap of social wit—to come upon a piece of quietness, moving with a gentle rhythm from beginning to end, in Sierra's Kingdom of God. Let me urge all lovers of the same writer's delightful Cradle Song, to go to the Strand Theatre ; for this play is, with the possible exeeption of The Silver Cord, by far the best now running in London. One does not like to believe that the taste of playgoers is so vitiated by highly seasoned fare as not to- recognize and enjoy real beauty, when, at rare intervals, it is offered them on the stage.
Here, in the exquisite settings designed by Mr. James Whale, we follow the whole life's work of Sister Gracia, in her strife with the sufferings of a world divined from the dark side. ' Her world changes ; yet remains, in essence, the same. She has, first, the care of the old men in an asylum -for their use ; then of a " maternity home," where motherhood brings disgrace ; then of the rebellious foundlings in an orphanage.-
The thread uniting the inevitably episodic treatment of these lost or broken lives is Sister Gracia's only once inter- rupted peace of mind and gift of pacification. Only in contact with the animalism of the central episode does her courage momentarily fail ; and the glimpse of her weakness serves to bring out the unconscious heroism of her long effort. A beautiful performance, this, by Miss Gillian Scaife. If The Kingdom of God is a little less satisfying than The Cradle Song, that is because the subordinate figures and incidents tend to obliterate the main purpose—the saint's being perhaps too fragile a figure to hold them close together ; while, here and there, a touch of sentimentality seems needlessly to " melancholize " the heroine. I hope that Mr. Anmcr Hall, to whom we already owe so much, will be able to give us others of Sierra's plays. The more we see of them, the more we want to see. Three of the shorter ones—El pobrecito Juan, Rosina es Fragil, and A Lily Amongst Thorns--would make up a delightful evening's entertainment.