15 AUGUST 1958, Page 10

(2 Culture Ahoy!

By STR1 X PRESUMABLY because I was at one time a dramatic critic, some benevolent organisation has for years been sending me World Theatre : a quarterly review published by the International Theatre Institute with the assistance of UNESCO. When 1 have sampled its contents I have found them to be distinguished by an earnest insipidity and to be illustrated by extremely good photo- graphs .of last year's productions in Bucharest or Berlin.

The quarterly is so glossy, and has such a cul- tural appearance, that one cannot throw it straight into the waste-paper basket like a bulb catalogue. My rather spineless policy has been to leave it lying about. Nobody ever looks at it, and it sinks into the clutter which accumulates in odd corners of our drawing-room. When, Periodically, somebody sorts out these deposits of obsolete telephone directories, bridge-markers, exercise books, gymkhana programmes, old New Yorkers and road maps of Herefordshire, World Theatre comes to light. Still almost as glossy as ever, it is salvaged and placed in a prominent position.

Again nobody reads it, and it soon sidles off to join the visitors' book, three patience cards and a French dictionary on one of the window-sills. This process would go on almost indefinitely were it not that, sooner or later, I catch World Theatre in the open and hurl it with a great zonk into the waste-paper basket.

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The current number, however, has somehow found its way on to my desk, and for the first time I have had the decency, to say nothing of the curiosity, to try and find out what it is in aid of.

This is not as easy as one would expect. World Theatre is published in Brussels. It costs 6s. 6d. in Great Britain, 9s. in Australia, $3.50 in America, and 300 francs in France; in other countries its price shows the same arbitrary fluc- tuations. Each number is printed in French and English. The honorary presidents (or presidents ethonneur) of the International Theatre Institute are Messrs. J. B. Priestley, Llewellyn Rees and A. 0. Normann; its secretary general is M. Jean Dargante, of UNESCO. Most, but not all, countries are members of the Institute; with four of those that are not (Bulgaria, Canada, Rumania and the Soviet Union) World Theatre has recog- nised contacts.

Its. current number is largely devoted to 'an extensive inquiry into the way in which theatre architecture should be conceived in order to attract the public. Between the moment when one decides to go to the theatre and the moment when the curtain rises a series of psychological barriers are crossed, of a kind which helps to put the spectator as much as possible in the right frame of mind. Can the theatre architect contribute to this?'

This inquiry was partly based on the answers to a questionnaire sent out to thirty-odd distin- guished men and women connected with the theatre. Although there was a wide measure of support for M. Andre Barsacq's contention that 'a theatre must not be confounded with a public building or a bank,' there was little unanimity on any of the issues raised.

The question, for instance, 'Should a spectator be left in the solitude of his own individuality or should he be incorporated into that new entity, the audience?' produced two diametrically opposed schools of thought. One, led by Mr. Victor Glasstone, felt that 'In the theatre the spectator is part of an audience. He should be aware of his fellows, they should be all around him, near to him, visible, audible.' For the lay- man it is difficult to visualise any alternative arrangements, short of deliberately producing plays which hardly anybody wants to go and see; but Mr. Wim Vesseur thought it essential 'for the theatre-goer to isolate himself in his seat like the anonymous end of an imaginary cane extend- ing between his perception and the stage.' Nobody expressed any views about the eating of chocolates in the auditorium.

The second article—`The Educational Theatre and its Architecture,' by Willard F. Bellman- began ; 'The educational theatre, as its best, is a function of its basic purposes,' a sentence which may possibly have some meaning but which excusably baffled the French translator. These educational theatres sound rather alarming places; a spectator 'is never quite sure that he is not at the very moment the subject of a student observer preparing a thesis on audience re- actions.'


The fruits of some French researches into building theatres cheaply included the discovery that 'the dimensions of the stage should be as large as possible. The actor must, when need arises, have sufficient space for his movements and his scenic arrangements.'

Then there is an article, reprinted from the American magazine in which it appeared a year ago, describing the erection by the actors them- selves of a home-made theatre at Warren, Ohio, Here the author's colloquialisms have occasion- ally foxed an exceedingly game translator, and expressions like 'with three productions under our belts' have not been rendered into French.

The closing pages of the quarterly are devoted to summaries of last year's theatrical highlights in various countries. The 1957 London season is dealt with by that very reliable critic, Mr. J. C. Trewin, whose opinions of the plays he mentions were published at the time in several British periodicals. The contribution on the American theatre takes us back to the even earlier period of 1956-57, and that on Rumania, which deals mainly with the award of State prizes and diplomas for theatrical activities, is signed not by an individual but by a government agency. We are however given, from Calcutta, a tempting glimpse of a festival of plays in Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Gujerati, Marathi and Punjabi.

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1 find it extraordinarily hard to see what pur- pose is served by subsidising this expensive pub- lication. Is there anybody who needs to be told that a stage should be large enough for the actors. to move about on, that in 1957 an unnamed musical comedy in Vienna 'did not have a very enthusiastic reception, being too American in character,' that in the same year cash prizes amounting to 156,000 lei were won by young actors in Bucharest?

For all I know, the- International Theatre In- stitute is a most admirable and enlightened body and does an endless amount of good. But if this is so, World Theatre represents it unworthily, being both pretentious and unprofessional; and I am sure there are better causes in the theatre on Which to spend the money at present lavished on this pointless publication.