18 AUGUST 1939, Page 16



4, In Good King Charles's Golden Days." By Bernard Shaw. At the Malvern Festival.

THE first week at Malvern, which began so badly, improved by careful leaps and desultory bounds. Sir Robert Vansittart in Dead Heat gave us a heavy high ccmedy, oddly old-fashioned in manner and method, with a cad, a good sort, and a wise old lady epigrammatising on countless thousands per annum. The good sort when stumped for a repartee had the remark : "Look here, it's 1939—and nearly dinner-time! " This was the kind of play in which it is always nearly dinner-time. But its year was 1910 or 1911 at latest ; and it proved nothing whatever, though Sir Robert, in a note in the Festival Hand- book, said it proved Man to be " a more lovably tepid crea- ture than he will himself admit, or than tradition will allow." Mr. Alexander Knox's whimsical first play, Old Master, was an improvement, but altogether too like Arnold Bennett's The Great Adventure, just as Big Ben, by Mesdames Evadnc Price and Ruby Miller, was altogether too dose in subject and style to Milestones, which Bennett wrote in col- laboration with Mr. Edward Knoblock. However, this resemblance should not mar the new play's chances of pro- motion to London. It is a big, homely, heartfelt play, full of life's ups and downs, with very little of your damned artistry about it and a great deal of comfortable philosophy to the effect that ambition even more than love is what makes this old world keep revolving, that life is worth living to the full, and that good looks do not last for ever. The inexor- able dial of Big Ben is seen through the drawing-room window throughout three generations : this is that kind of play.

The jump to Mr. Shaw's latest conversazione, In Good King Charles's Golden Days, was sudden, steep and breath- taking. For here was an irruption of mind. Technically, Mr. Shaw has once again written something which is indefen- sible. Historically, it is inadmissible. By all the rules of nature, logic and truth we should not have King Charles II, his brother James, three of his mistresses, George Fox, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir Isaac Newton all sitting in that natural philosopher's study at Cambridge arguing each other's heads off on a summer day in 1680. But there they sit and sit, discussing every subject under the sun, not to mention the sun itself. Mr. Shaw says take it or leave it, almost in so many words ; and, unless we be hopeless sticklers for fashion, tradition and propriety, we cannot bring ourselves to leave it. Not even when in his third act, with stripling audacity, the old genius scraps Nell Gwynn, the two Duchesses, the painter, the quaker, and the philosopher, all of whose queerly mixed company vt..1 have come to enjoy! In their stead we are left quite alone with King Charles and his Queen, Catherine of Braganza, whom not even Miss Irene Vanbrugh can make much more alive than she was in her own reign, if anything so passive can be called a reign! Mr. Ernest Thesiger, here as earlier, is enabled by his many noble words to do far more for the King, though he did not at the first performance remember all those words. But the critic should be humane, if never human ; he must make allowances for this major part being imperfectly prepared. The superfine actor who plays him had to deliver three brand-new parts on three consecutive nights—a dapper- exquisite art-dealer, a petulant hypochondriac at various ages between twenty and ninety, and this highly and Shavianly ratiocinative king who hardly ever leaves the stage and is an unconscionable time a-talking. But what supremely good talk it is, and how well Charles and James and Newton are observed, and dissected, and displayed! And how cavalierly Neil and the Duchesses are dismissed, even though Miss Eileen Beldon, Miss Yvonne Arnaud, and Miss Daphne Heard are there to give them their respective warm-hearted- ness, charm, and jealous protest! For Miss Arnaud is Louise de Kerouaille, later Duchess of Portsmouth, and Miss Heard is Barbara Villiers, later Pepys's Lady Castlemaine, and later still Duchess of Cleveland, who afflicted that poor, deplorable, rich, contemptible, human, iniquitous, enchanting Charles II, and hardly ever left his side or his purse for twenty-odd years. But most of all in the desultory reaffirmations of this play's third act we miss the delicious and serene mathematics of Mr. Cecil Trouncer's Newton. ALAN DENT.