14 AUGUST 1936, Page 14


THE trouble about Dr. Clitterhouse is that he never existed, that we know he 'never existed, and that his adventures have accordingly only an academic ingenuity. How easily it might have been Otherwiie ! Mr. Lyndon's plot is roughly as follows : A young doctor, believing that crime has a physical as well as a pychological effect on its perpetrators, turns burglar in his spare time.' In the interests of science he records his own and his accomplices' reactions throughout a number of highly successful burglaries. When he has col- lected enough material he proposes to drop out of the game ; but a villainous " fence "—the only one of his associates who has discovered his identity—threatens blackmail, thus giving the doctor the chance to test his own reactions as' a practising murderer. He takes this chance, but fails for once to baffle the police. On the eve of arrest he tells all to an improbable K.C., and asks what are his chances of acquittal. The K.C. says they are excellent. Why ? Because Dr. Clitterhouse is obviously mad. The curtain falls on what is clearly intended as a happy ending ; but to at least one member of the audience much the most amazing thing about Dr. Clitterhouse was the almost hilarious equanimity with which he accepted the fate of a homicidal lunatic with a distinguished criminal record.

It may seem grudging to pick a quarrel with what is, as it stands, agreeable and mildly exciting entertainment. But how vastly the play would be improved if Dr. Clitterhouse were something more than a puppet, actuated by slender and recondite motives and immune to all human feelings save a vague and engagingly humorous anxiety. We are never con- vinced of his devotion to science, nor of his burglarious skill, nor of anything that is supposed to be his. Yet we so easily might have been. Suppose that what had started as a cool experiment had become an abiding passion. Suppose 'even that Dr. Clitterhouse's manner and aspect had in some degree reflected those symptoms which he was risking his liberty to diagnose. Suppose—but it is too much to bid Mr. Lyndon rewrite his play ; and it is doubtful whether there is any economic necessity for him to do so.

All the same, one would have liked Mr. Ralph Richardson to have had the chance of making the sawbones turned cut- purse something more than a disarming automaton. Some of the others have richer though smaller opportunities ; Mr. S. Victor Stanley brilliantly exploits the humours of a Cockney felon, while Mr. Charles Mortimer is excellently dour and dastardly as the fence. Mr. Charles Farrell and Mr. Hugh E. Wright also shine in the underworld.