SPECTATOR COMPETITION No. 153 Report by Richard Usborne I don't
think much of the entrants as parodists. Ivor Brown's paronomasia, Harold Hobson's Parisian Equation—yes, yes. But I'd have said that both of them had other prehensible qualities of manner, as well as predilections of subject-matter worth poking fun at. Six or eight entrants didn't say which critic they were parodying, and in only one case could I tell ; a semi-slighting reference to the Scots suggested that this was not Brown writing. In none of the other five or seven could I tell if the parodist was a Sunday Times or Observer addict. Two of them, I am sorry to say, won prizes.
' But surely anybody was wrong who suggested that Brown or Hob- son would have written off the entertainment as tomfoolery, an absurd farce, an insult to the etc., etc. It is not likely that, three years from now, the Oliviers and the Old Vic will do Macbeth on ice. But, if they do, it will be a considered and considerable show, and the critics Will presumably be civil about it. Allan M. Laing made I.B. adopt an attitude of weary disgust not only to Macbeth on ice with the Oliviers, but to The Importance on ice with Gielgud ; slating actors, producers and audience.
In the majority of entries Brown and Hobson were enthusiastic about the experiment, and said, that Shakespeare would have been delighted with it, not only as a dramatic experiment but as a box- office gimmick. Two offerings, both rather good otherwise, were from ladies who made I.B. or H.H. review Hamlet on ice. I held these up to the light, lest I was missing some subtlety of parody here. But I decided in the end that the entrants had simply misread the question ; and I ploughed them. Perhaps in the end I was overmarking facetiae, in default of parody. Here are some gobbets, with initials of critics allegedly parodied given at the beginning if known.
(IB) The fight with Macduff is spendidly skated, though certain passages might be accelerated. Experience has made me chary of innovations of the type, but I found the susurrant, steel-shod phantasmagoria at the second meeting with the witches a fully justifiable and exciting piece of " business." Shakespeare, I fancy, would have loved this
icebound inventiveness. (R. A. K. Wright)
(IB) KNICKERBOCKER GLORY. On the rare occasions that I treat the young to an ice, their invariable choice is " Knickerbocker Glory," an enormous and spectacular affair. With Macbeth on ice (Old Vicdrome) we have Knickerbocker Glory indeed.... But if Shakes- peare the poet goes into cold storage, Shakespeare the dramatist is surprisingly well served. The unearthly glidings of the witches lend added point to Banquo's " What are these ... that look not like the inhabitants o' the earth, And yet are on't ? " and their dance, led by Robert Helpmann.... Laurence Olivier, in spite of his unfortu- nate first night slip.... " They have tied me to a skate, I cannot fly. ..." etc. (Joyce Johnson) (Its) THE ICE-KING COMETH. ... Old New Theatre memories were revived when Sir Laurence's (a grizzled Scott-of-the-Antarctic Thane) Oedipean scream raised the rafters as he was hurled into the crevasse after the best fight on ice I have ever seen. The rest was silence..... (Ross Lewis) (??) There is nothing more conducive, I find, to an appreciative house than cold hands.... The battle scenes showed up the limitations of the Old Vic ice-apron ; 200 rinkmimers cannot manoeuvre on it at over 25 m.p.h. without an occasional mishap. The time for the
erection of the National Ice Theatre has come. (J. F. P.)
(IB) DEATH LAYS His ICY HAND. ... Roger Froze's settings are colder than any stone. This is a great help to Miss Leigh. She is able to make it abundantly clear that Lady Macbeth's death was accelerated by pneumonia contracted while sleep-walking in inadequate nylon nightwear. At last her sudden mental collapse is adequately ex-
plained.... (Martin Oliver) (in) . . . Their limited range of movement and air of anxiety might have been impressively suited to the theme had not the effect been spoiled by the certainty that they were less interested in the dramatic situa- tion than in the problem of keeping their feet. When a rather shaky Macduff administered the coup de grace to Macbeth, the latter fell on his back with a crash so convincing as to leave no doubt that it
was unrehearsed. (A. M. Sayers) (att). . It disturbed me, however, to see the aged Duncan skating blithely to the Castle gates. How shall old age be served ? Doubtless we shall see when it comes to the turn of King Lear.... (M. E. Fossey)
(m). . When Lady Macbeth says " Help me hence, ho ! " and Macbeth exclaims " Look to the lady ! " we feel Miss Leigh is really asking someone to strap up her skates for her. (W. J. H. Watson)
(nn) I confess I expected my reactions to Macbeth on ice to be glacial. Granted the unlooked-for success of Hamlet on skates, the brilliant glissades of Barrault in Paris (where Phedre Gel& is playing to packed houses), I still frowned on the prospect of, a refrigerated
Dunsinane.... (Nancy Smith) (an)... Only a very slight hesitation here and there in his speeches be; trayed the fact that any feet but metrical were his concern....
First Prize to Kennard Davis. But whom was he parodying ? Second Prize, H. A. C. Evans on Ivor Brown. Third prize, A. E. Parrott. But whom was he parodying ?
(R. KENNARD Davis)
" This castle has a pleasant seat," observes Duncan, as he enters Macbeth's abode, in which every courtyard and corridor is sheeted with ice. Truly the Scots are a hardy race ! Hamlet himself would surely have admired the grace with which Vivien Leigh " saws the air " with extended toe as she pirouettes before her royal guest ! But then, Lady Macbeth (as we discover in a later scene) positively went to bed in her skates ; which throws a fresh and lurid light upon her lord's insomnia. We could not but surmise that the " bleeding sergeant " of Scene One had taken one of those monumental tosses which used to attend our early ventures upon the rink ; and the spectacle of the three witches, skirts well raised, rotating about their cauldron, fairly made us giddy. The last battle scene resembled a hockey final ; even so, no doubt, old Hamlet " smote the sledded Polacks on the ice." " If 'twere done, then 'twere well it were done quickly," was the motto of the whole company, with the exception of the Porter, whose drunken and protracted titubations were wonderfully executed....
SECOND PRIZE (H. A. C. EvaNs)
" But wild Ambition loves to slide, not stand, And Fortune's Ice prefers to Venue's land." Thus Dryden in Absolom and Achitophel, with prophetic vision of the London stage today. The most recent victim of the Great Freeze is " The Old Vic," where last week the pro- ducer sent Macbeth skating on what, at times, seemed perilously thin ice. Indeed, there were moments near the beginning when 1 wondered if, with the skates, he had not put the skids under his production. However, miraculously it survived, in spite of the deep damnation of its taking off. That it avoided disaster was almost entirely due to the superb dramatic power of Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier, and their ability to overcome every disadvantage imposed on them by the producer. I have no doubt they could make a moving tragedy of Charley's Aunt if they wanted to. A little matter of skates makes no vital difference to the tragic force of their performance. What Shakespeare himself would have made of this production provides us with an interesting speculation. As it will almost certainly prove to be good " box office," I have a horrible sus- picion that he might have found it interesting and exciting. But perhaps that is too violent a heresy with which to shock a Si-1day morning.
THIRD PRIZE (A. E. PARROTT) But in her future productions, Miss Altwegg really should guard against the preciousness of too much learning. In mounting the whole of her cast upon contemporary Shakespearean skates she imposed severe limitations upon the mobility so essential to Macbeth. The long, languid phrases dictated by these skates may have suited the sleep- walking scene, but they robbed the battle and other crowd scenes of all excitement. There were none of the jump-spins and loop-change-loops which made the Agincourt scene so memorable a feature of Miss Belita's recent Henry V at the Haymarket, and which a modern audience has a right to expect. Moreover, these skates, designed for the flooded fens, demand an enormous expanse of ice, which would make their use impos- sible in most provincial theatres. And unless Miss Altwegg can take her ideals to Barnstaple and Bootle, she can never play a vital role in British drama.
The cast was generally excellent, the Tricky Trio bringing a fresh understanding to the Weird Sisters. Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier did their best to make the words audible above the ring of steel on ice, but here again some might think Miss Altwegg guilty of pedantry in insisting upon the spoken word. Surely a projection of the printed text on to a screen above the proscenium would have been better for all concerned. After all, The Play's The Thing, and the audience does not go to hear Lady Olivier bemoan her bloody hands, but to see her do outside-edge double loops.