22 JULY 1972, Page 23


Intimate relations

Kenneth Hurren

Jtist in case the disdainful thought had crossed your mind that I had flinched from attendance at the new and virtually openair Bankside Globe Playhouse in the gelid conditions that obtained earlier this month,

should like formally to deny it. I did not flinch until the interval, when I turned to ITIY companion and the deity was Mentioned between us, and we crept away into the bleak night. My confrere from the New Statesman, who was similarly among the departing guests and has a sturdy sense of the proprieties, felt that we were thus denying ourselves the right to comment critically upon the production of The Shoemaker's Holiday, and he may be Tight. My own view, however, is that a Show that has been a ragged, wearisome and distressing nuisance for more than an hour is — barring miracles, which I tend, Perhaps discreditably, to discount — Unlikely to develop any symptoms of Charm or professionalism during the course Of a twenty-minute interval; and the only reason I abstained from comment was that the thing rather defeated my poor vocabulary of invective.

The whole dismaying business must theatrical been a sobering introduction to meatrical sponsorship for the John Player

Co. (whose advertisements for their season, booked in advance to coincide with the run of The Shoarnaher's Holiday, had a terrible pathos), but things should look up for them this weekend when the Bankside Globe has three performances of the National Theatre's 'mobile production' of the Caroline tragedy, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, by John Ford. I saw it earlier this Week at the Old Vic, where it will be cropping up during August at midweek Matinees.

Even in these audacious days, you won't find many plays around that put in a good Word for incest, so the Ford piece is one look the notebook of anyone who likes to

brother at both sides of a question. The orother and sister lovers do not actually

live happily ever after (both perish in the Wholesale carnage at the end of the play), hut the general tenor of the work is sYrnpathetic to their plight. The proPosition is that the hapless siblings are cfriven by an irresistible destiny and that, 18 consummating their desires, they are Challenging merely moral and religious Conventions, not nature itself. On the ,F.Ontrary, as the brother, Giovanni, puts it: nature first in your creation meant 4,0 make you mine; else't had been sin and foul Lo share one beauty to a double soul. "4earness in birth and blood doth but persuade A nearer nearness in affection.

Throughout the play, the passion of the I overs, though necessarily clandestine, is

every bit as noble and steadfast as that of lomeo and Juliet (whose story it curiously Parallels), while nearly all the other ,.characters on hand are brutes, villains or Tools. Even the husband whom the sister,

Annabella, must eventually take to cover her pregnancy is a contemptible rake, and Ford — with none of the shilly-shallying that afflicted Beaumont and Fletcher when dealing with a similar theme in A King and No King — leaves no doubt of which love he thought the worthier.

The convoluted melodramatics of the subplots do not entirely escape the sardonic clutches of absurdity, and the law of diminishing returns, as it invariably applies to violence and bloodletting on the stage, seems to have been overlooked. The scenes for the incestuous lovers, though, are the best things Ford ever wrote, and two of the National's younger players, Anna Carteret and Nicholas Gray, handle their hot intimacies with engaging ardour.

It is easier to accept the wayward premise of 'Tis Pity than that of Parents' Day at London's other Globe (the one in Shaftesbury Avenue). Ronald Millar has based this on a novel by Edward Candy, which I haven't read, but which I am prepared to believe argues a more persuasive case for `progressive,' coeducational boarding schools than emerges in the dramatisation. Apart from a hint that the French classes are concerned more with Rimbaud and Verlaine than with the duller irregularities of verbs, we learn nothing much about the academic curriculum, but the demeanour and vocabulary of the students are not encouraging. Millar seems to go out of his way to load the case against the 'progressives,' and Robin Bailey — as a parent considering the advisability of enrolling his son at the school, and viewing its product with deep and understandable distaste — has all the telling lines. His ultimate capitulation, though grudging, is a goal against the run of the game: "I suppose if Robert has to face a world in chaos," he says, "the sooner he starts the better ".

I take this to be the nutshell enclosing the 'message,' and it seems to be so defeatist a position that I should worry about the alarm and despondency it might .spread if I thought Parents' Day were long for this world. Fortunately it is a pallid, uninviting little play.

Almost next door, at the Queen's, John Mortimer's I Claudius is scarcely more invigorating. It is dramatised — though I use the word with a minimum of confidence — from two Robert Graves novels whose pattern seems to have been less an inspiration than a straitjacket to the dramatist. I daresay Mortimer would have come up with a livelier work if he had started from scratch (or at least from Suetonius) and built a Rome of his own — on which to impose whatever eternal verities took his fancy. Here, with a protagonist who is not only introspective but crippled (he is played by David Warner, frequently on all fours), the Opportunities for liveliness are not excessive, although Claudius has a divertingly sporty young spouse, Messalina (slinkily played by Sara Kestelman). The other ideas of Mortimer and/or his director, Tony Richardson, in this department run to such wheezes as a parade of bare-breasted harlots and a great many wan little jokes about the British, reaching a high point of hilarity, I'm afraid, when the Romans arrive here with umbrellas.