22 JANUARY 1972, Page 21

Something old, something

„Kenneth Hurren Mr Val May, the director of the Bristol Old iffevic, clearly and rightly takes an enchanted leasure in the reconstructed and newly opened Theatre Royal, and not least in e anion of ancient and modern in this ndsomely accounted building, of which e famous old eighteenth-century auditourn — delicately preserved, its elegant orseshoe terrible for sight-lines but comparably gracious — now occupies 1Y one-fifth of the total complex on hich three-quarters of a million pounds as already been spent. "Standing here," said Mr May, showing band of us dedicated visiting buffs ound the place, and pausing dramatically the lushly carpeted area above the new , entrance foyer, "we are between the best 11,1' of two worlds and can step into either. ,Beyond this wall — the theatre of 1766. s;-beYond that wall — our New Vic, designed asv for the present and future, adaptable to ,o I every perirrientk.!nd of theatrical studio ex31Y.Present is a small chaos of rubble and Actually, the New Vic at timber surrounding a stagnant indoor pool. No matter. Mr May's enthusiasm encom11P, passes the confidence that it will be P, completed in time for its official opening in er) March, and, in dividing his energies between the two theatres, I'm sure he'll enjoy himself no end. Jela \ilean'while, and I cannot reasonably cif; ;y longer the moment when the kissing Ti51 oas to stop, the business at hand is the )of gala reopening production of the Theatre "1..R°Yal — in which, coincidentally, there as been another attempt at refurbishment ancl the fusion of old and new which or hasn't come off at all. The show is called r,e1 Trelawny of the ' Wefts.' The new part of it Tmight easily guess, is Pinero's 1898 play, relawnY of the Well.' The new part of it is a set of songs by Julian Slade, to accommodate which Mr Slade and his fit _collaborators, Aubrey Woods and George er.2tf.(3Well, have foolhardily thrown out most . the things that were endearing in vrmero's exuberant portrait of midignt°riarl mummers (the play was set in the te d as the newfangled 'cup-and-saucer' rarna of T. W. Robertson was about to engulf them. The celebrated scenes in the sl°di ging-house frequented by these " disIl.te gipsies " are especially regrettable 0 i,uv nlissions; the scenes illustrating their etlivernent in a pantomime are especially !egrettableo,nsi.ndeed almost unendurable. I nterpolat sepit,is easY to see what made the thing c,,—" so appealing for the present bi'cas!on; apart from the notion of neending something old with something je..W. with which the management is ”ueratuated, the climax of the work is the “oPefull °Penn-lg of an old playhouse looking musicals have been based on far more unlikely material (the works of Chaucer and St Matthew, for handy examples). It might even have been thought that some of the well-made play' mechanics of Pinero needed the frivolous assistance of songs to mitigate their absurdities for contemporary audiences, and this, I suspect, is where the enterprise is misconceived.

The manoeuvres and coincidences whereby the actress-heroine, Rose Trelawny, is reunited with her young 'swell' (whose rigidly exacting family has proved too constricting for her independent spirit to bear), while at the same time her loyal friend, the aspirant dramatist Tom Wrench, gets his play financed and produced, are quite preposterous, but they were acceptable enough because Pinero took them far less seriously than he did the equally absurd contrivances of earnest melodramas like The Second Mrs Tanqueray and His House in Order. Set protractedly to music, I'm afraid they really do look pretty foolish, and at the same time the main themes — the innovatory struggles of Tom Wrench (a character based directly on Robertson) and the sense of the theatre in transition — are lost.

Julian Slade's laboured lyrics are far less interesting than the dialogue they have replaced, and his score is routine, turn-titurn stuff. The songs, indeed, are little help to the players; nor they, as it happens, to them. Pictorially, Hayley Mills is a Rose to set Harry Wheatcroft's whiskers a-quiver (and her gameness ensures that one or two of Pinero's 'moments' retain their sentimental kick), but her voice when raised in song only occasionally coincides with the notes. Ian Richardson, as Tom Wrench, is at a similar vocal disadvantage, and besides finds fewer pickings on the stripped bones of his part than would seem to justify his fervent attack on them. Most of the bearable singing comes from Elizabeth Power as Avonia and John Watts as Rose's suitor; and Timothy West, settling for talking his songs, does a dignified job of constructive character acting as the lad's irascible parent.