11 AUGUST 1961, Page 16


The Symbol on the Carpet

By BAMBER GASCOIGNE The Bishop's Bonfire. (Mermaid.) — Wildest Dreams. (Vaudeville.) —One For The Pot. (Whitehall.) KNOCKABOUT symbolical and knockabout com- mercial — The Bishop's Bonfire and One For The Pot respectively. In O'Casey's play there is allegory in every slap of the stick. When the Old Codger spills an entire bag of cement on Coun- cillor Regan's fine carpet, it's really a case of a Life-Loving honest fellow lousing up the evil schemes of the capitalist carpet-owner. The carpet is ruined for ever, and why not, indade? In the real world of farce, at the Whitehall, objects and people have the indestructibility of characters in cartoons. The seat of a man's trousers, well soused in soda water, will be dry in time for the next gag., The spoiling of furniture is one of O'Casey's favourite anti-capitalist wish-fulfilments. One entire play, Purple Dust, concerns the efforts of two rich Englishmen to move their treasured possessions into the large Irish house which they have just bought. In addition to the joyously clumsy Irish workmen there is a large lawn- roller which is brought into the drawing-room and rolls away through a wall; there is a cow which gets into the hall and is taken for a bull by the rich English boyos; and finally the river rises, true to its Irish source, and sweeps away the whole building.

In The Bishop's Bonfire there is much scraping of a priceless table with flower pots, as well as the cement on the carpet, but beside the ravages of Purple Dust this is mere wear and tear. As usual in the later O'Casey the setting is a small village, Ballyoonagh, with priest and squire as stout representatives of Church and State. Their dire double influence on the youth of the place is seen in the restrictions on Councillor Keegan's two daughters. The older one, Foorawn, will have nothing of the workman who loves her, because the priest has filled her up with a stern and mock holiness. Her virginity is being preserved by a process of refrigeration. The younger and gayer girl, Keelin, cannot go to her man because the Councillor has convinced him that he is socially unworthy of her; and the man is too weak to stand out against this pressure. As in many O'Casey plays violence suddenly breaks out. The man who loves the cool religious girl (Saint Frigid is the name of a saint in another of the plays) shoots her. She performs her first truly loving action by writing a suicide note as she dies.

This, then, is the skeleton of meaning on which the farce hangs, but the play improves only when the bones don't show. The best scene is a com- pletely aimless and incongruous discussion be- tween the workmen about Ireland's defence 'if tens of thousands of Russian paratroops come dropping down out of the Irish skies on to the hill of Tara.' For much of the evening there is little but the pleasures of the Irish language to hold one's interest.

Ever since the Twenties O'Casey has been the victim of too much thinking—his late plays are pale intellectual versions of his early ones. In Juno and the Paycock and the others the farce was character farce and the O'Casey love of life was left implicit in the warmth of these ordinary Irish people. Violence and unpleasant- ness kept breaking into their lives from the politi- cal situation in Dublin, the genuine 'state of chassis.' The meaning of the plays was as moving and unforced as the characters. But since O'Casey's excursions into expressionism in the Thirties the love of life has seemed a mere slogan, the villains pure puppets and the erup- tions of violence quite out of place in Bally- oonagh. The production at the Mermaid has a fine quality of romp about it. Davy Kaye is particularly good as the Old Codger; and the physical lines of Annette Crosbie, a charmingly frisky Keelin, say rather more about life than the lines which she has to speak.

One For The Pot and Wildest Dreams had me chewing over the question of what can make purely commercial theatre justifiable and even enjoyable. The answer, undoubtedly, is that it has to be unpretentious and very well, done. Wildest Dreams is neither. Julian Slade's and Dorothy Reynolds's attempts at something more than tinkling and joky romance are disastrous, and the cast have somehow been coaxed into giving performances which match the silliness of the story, dialogue and lyrics. A place amu ingly called 'Clumpington Hill,' which can the later be referred to as 'Clumpers,' is a fa sample of the way the jokes bud and blosso If a musical touches reality at no point, it mu at least create a fantasy world of its own. M confusion as to what we were supposed to mak of this whimsical little town of Nelderham w finally capped when the journalist-hero, who ha shown no sign of being a joker, solernat reported to his paper that 'the town has certai beauties and the people lead practical lives.'

One For The Pot makes no pretences at al It has everything that farce always has had an it is on the whole well done. The oddest thin about it is sociological. The play takes place in country house, complete with butler. The owne is a self-made Northerner and he even, believ it or not, has gout. Having at last been jeere out of business as upper-middle-class domest comedy, the entire routine seems to be tryin to establish itself as lower-middle-class farce After that there's always vaudeville (sortie where), then burlesque; even perhaps late-nigh revue-bar cabaret, with Cronin in an advisor capacity.

The week provided some even more irrelevan sociological conundrums. Why does the Dis tressed Gentlefolks' Aid Association advertise the Whitehall programme? Is distressed gentilit the hidden factor in the trusty Whitehall and ence? Or are the gentlefolk arguing that if they'll take the butler they might take them? There's an equally ambiguous item at the Vaudeville. A large photograph in the foyer shows Princess Margaret walking into the theatre past a poster for Slade's earlier musical Follow That Girl, wil Armstrong-Jones the proper three paces behin her. Is this a dark and very true comment on th sheepish habits of theatregoers? Or merely 3 statement of Mr. Armstrong-Jones's position in the royal line-up?