7 SEPTEMBER 1951, Page 11



"Ardele." By Jean Anouilh. (Vaudeville Theatre.)

MERETRICIOUS worldlings, casually conspiring to destroy love . . . I remember a friend saying to me: " I can never look at the Place de la Concorde without thinking of Paris " ; and in the same way I never come across this situation without thinking of Anouilh. Eurydice-, L'lnvitation au Château, La Repetition—in-all of them life, corrupt and intricate, baffles love ; and in all of them the stock, almost musical-comedy characters speak such refreshing and delicious truth of themselves that they seem, every time, unfamiliar. So, again, in. Ardele; and, again, Anouilh's favourite weakness, his habit of using fairy-tale plots to make his people disrobe their souls. This latest legend turns on a hunchback who, to the horror of her well-born kin, takes a hunchback lover ; a family conference, sum- moned to dissuade her from marrying him, succeeds only in driving the wretched pair to suicide. We never see her, but her locked door is brilliantly used as a 'confessional. One by one, the relations argue through her keyhole, and we are invited to weigh their deformity, which is moral, against hers,alig is only physical. They. are a gallery fit for D : a lubricious old general, with a mad wife and a below-skki mistress; a posturing countess, travelling with her roué hush-Mint% her tolerated lover. Anouilh has taken Tchehov's characters in the next stage of decay, hardened into applied cynicism: they now practise what in Tchehov they only heard rumours of, and the mists which surrounded them are pierced by Anouilh's Mediterranean glare of hot light and cold shade. Tchehov's broken lute-string becomes, in Ardele, the scream of a peacock. It is a play puritanical to the point of bigotry, with no power to heal the sores it exposes.

One could have predicted that the performance at the Vaudeville would be imperfect. To begin with, French is spoken at roughly twice the speed of English ; and the actors' double labour—of working through a translation and of speaking it at half-pace- gives us too much time for reflection. Secondly, Ardele cannot stand without a curtain-raiser, which was provided in Paris ; the evening is over in less than two hours, but they are two hours on one note.

Mr. Anthony Pelissier's clever company behaves throughout with a sort of perplexed polish, rather as the Pytchley might behave if it arrived by error at a vampire hunt in Transylvania. With few exceptiqps (among them Miss Jane' Henderson and Master Lance Secretan) they cannot quite suggest that serious interest in sex which the play assumes. Mr. George Relph tends to vulgarise the general, making him an old dear instead of a deranged mountebank ; and Miss Veronica Hurst is incapable of persuading us that she " moaned with delight" in the arms of her brutish husband. Mr. Ronald Squire manages a charming but too reticent performance, balanced wryly on the brink- of a shrug ; and, as his countess, Miss Isobel Jeans nicely sketches a collapsed meringue. KENNETH TYNAN.