2 OCTOBER 1942, Page 11


LIKE most productions of the Merchant of Venice, Mr. Robert Atkins's venture suffers in its first act from the foreboding that we shall inevitably have to endure the casket scenes ; how could Shakespeare have allowed himself to commit to paper those boring, pompous, patronising speeches which surely, even in his time, had not even the merit of keeping an audience in suspense, since everyone has known for thousands of years that you always choose the least. attractive of three objects when put to a test of this sort? Mr. Atkins, while at least sparing us Arragon, gives us Morocco in full, and very bravely does Clement Hamelin acquit himself in this difficult task. Then, once Bassanio has done his bit and won his bride, the play gets going again,_With no fear of further inter- ruption ; though for many perhaps the trial scene will never be so memorable as the dialogue between Lorenzo and Jessica at the beginning of the last act—surely the most exquisiiely tender and delicate love-scene in all writing. Here it is played with charm, and without affectation, by Michael Bentine and Helen Cherry.

As for Shylock, Robert Atkins gives us a curiously subdued per- formance which is for the most part very effective. In the trial scene, however, a more vigorous and violent expression of sheer hate is surely needed ; as it is, one almost feels that Mr. Atkins's sympathy for the " I am a Jew " aspect of Shylock has outrun his conception of the usurer sharpening his knife before the seat of justice.

As if to counterbalance this somewhat gentle Shylock, Adele Dixon gives us a robust and full-voiced Portia, always mistress of the stage and of herself ; it is a pity, however, that in the trial scene she should elect to appear in a costume perilously similar to that of a principal boy. John Wynyard is a sincere and well- spoken Bassanio ; Peter Bennett a vigorous Gratiano ; and Michael Martin Harvey squeezes the part of Launcelot Gobbo completely dry ; he must learn not to over-act.

A Man With Red Hair can be best summed up by a remark over- heard during the performance. " Fancy that," said someone, when the monster-sadist hinted at unbelievable refinements of torture, and marched one of his victims off into the library. (How nice if a play, or even a novel, were to contain a library which people used simply and solely for a nice quiet read.) The cast works incredibly hard. Gillian Lind throws a brilliant fit of hysterics ; Lionel Gadsden makes an all-too-brief appearance as a drink- sodden doctor ; and Mischa de la Motte, who has practically no lines, and has to stand around most of the time, succeeds in being more terrifying and sinister than anyone else—even including the Man with Red Hair himself. In this part Francis L. Sullivan acts with great skill, and sports a masterly make-up beneath his not quite so masterly magenta toque ; but he somehow misses the essential beastliness of the character—so that the veneer of culture and intelligence is never properly swamped by that homicidal lunacy which alone can account for Mr. Crispin's somewhat unusual attitude to his relations and friends. BASIL WRIGHT.