24 JANUARY 1936, Page 17


"No Exit." By George Goodchild and Frank Witty. At the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage No Exit is an ingenious and entertaining play. It embodies an innovation in its method of exploiting the current taste for murder on the stage, it • is neatly constructed, it has the uncommon merit of being without any unnecessary characters, and its dialogue is dexterous and amusing. Because it possesses in addition the romantic elements essential to popular success, it will be surprising if it does not follow Ten Minute Alibi and other plays of the same kind which were first produced at the Embassy Theatre and prove one of the attractions of the town for several months.

It begins by being not a murder play but a simple comedy. Two of the characters discuss the possibility of achieving an undetected murder, and agree to back their differing theories with a bet. Jim Wilding says that he can make Philip West disappear from the world for a month, just as effectively as if he had been the victim -of an actual unsolved murder, if he will agree to submit to all, the instructions that he gives. West is made to go to ground in Wilding's Chelsea flat, his whereabouts revealed not even to his parents and his person being hidden from callers in a cupboard. In a short time, as the result of his father's disquiet, West's disap- pearance begins to exercise the police. It is known that he had visited Wilding's flat just before his disappearance and in due course a detective calls, amiable but suspicious. Wilding manages effectively to simulate concern, and the policeman is compelled to retire without a clue. But West is beginning to find confinement in a cupboard irksome, and Wilding has to agree to move their headquarters to his cottage in Surrey. West makes the journey in a trunk in the back of Wilding's car, and substituting the kitchen for the cupboard as a sanc- tuary from callers, sets himself to observe the second week of his routine.

Up to this point the play, based only on the execution of a practical joke, has had to rely for its suspense on Wilding's ability to survive the visits of a suspicious but not particularly perspicacious detective. In the second act the play takes a different turn and acquires a second and more potent draught of suspense. West and Wilding go out rabbit-shooting together in the dusk—somewhat improbably, we may feel, since they.know that the detective who has just paid them a visit is still in the neighbourhood. What appears to be an accident occurs, and Wilding is left with a real instead of merely an imaginary corpse on his hands. His actions of the last ten days convince him that to attempt to explain the real circumstances to the police would be the equivalent of suicide, and he therefore sets himself to dispose of West's body and prove his contention that the police are not difficult to outwit. His efforts to do so provide the material for much the best part of the play, and the last scene, which resolves itself into a duel between. Wilding and the detective who is gradually acquiring circumstantial justification for his suspicions, provides as a whole more than enough excitement to atone both for the slight lack of interest in the opening act and for the lack of plausibility in the final device which permits the play to end on a rather alarmingly cheerful note.

The play could not be better presented. Mr. Robert Douglas effectively reproduces in Wilding the brisk tenacity of the hero of Ten Minute Alibi. Mr. Ronald Simpson sup- ports hint well as his smiling victim, and Mr. Cyril Raymond is admirably prosaic as the detective. Miss Leueen MaeGrath, who plays the predestined partner of Wilding's final happiness, is a decoration both to play and stage, and Miss Elliot Mason dispenses comic relief by counterfeiting drunkenness and harassing the police. It is a fault in the characterisation that the husband of Wilding's inamorata should so exude unpleasant- ness from his first appearance that it is obvious that he will not bi allowed to survive the evening, but Mr. Edward Ashley makes his fate seem the most welcome ingredient in the play's happy ending. Mr. John Fernald's sensible pro- duction could not be improved on. In short, an agreeable evening's entertainment, which is likely to prove as popular as its predecessors from the same dramatic nursery.

DEREK VEnscnomE..