5 JULY 1963, Page 13


Out of the Round

By DAVID PRYCE-JONES St. Joan and Uncle Vanya.

(Chichester Festival.) — A Severed Head. (Criterion.) St. Joan is an exercise in overcoming the deficiencies of the now notorious Chichester stage, and Shaw. What is one to make of Joan Plowright's first entry, for instance, when she at once sits with her back to the audience, talking at the concrete rear wall? The only alternative is to run like a single-track train up and down the other characters. It is also possible to harangue the audience, but any movement involves gyrating in mid-speech. Sitting in a central seat, I missed whole passages.

Yet John Dexter's production is thought out. If it must be a schoolboy play on this stage, then let it be as schoolboy as possible. The Court scene, the trial, the interior of Rheims Cathedral, have all been stylised: the actors stand as symmetrically as they would to sing an opera. The vital dialogue between Cauchon and Warwick is also quite effective like this, a kind of table tennis where we can only watch one performer.

I imagine that Shaw would have been satis- fied with Joan Plowright's performance. He wanted Joan to be 'a born boss' and yet a girl too inexperienced to understand the nature of political events. Joan Plowright resolves these difficulties with her extraordinary accent : 'Ah cum fra Gad, Chalie,' and her squat, boyish energy of movement. Perhaps it is a little too controlled but then Shaw wanted that too. How else did he expect anyone to act the final scene?

It does seem a dated play now, grinding its Shavian axes, capping the hotchpotch with the epilogue as if to show that deathless ideas were in the air. 'Her ideal biographer must be free from nineteenth-century prejudices,' Shaw wrote. But free to hand them on it seems.

A different key is needed for Uncle Vanya. First of all there is Laurence Olivier's sensitive, interpretative production and secondly there is a uniformly.. high standard of acting which is impressive and moving. To achieve the Chekhov wistfulness and melancholia, the characters need to be wrapped up in themselves. In turn Voynitsky, Sofya, hyena and Astrov bend the play in their own direction, and the measure of success lies in the force with which they do this. Where is the distinction between pity and self-pity? Between love and selfishness? What person is more important than another?

Michael Redgrave's Voynitsky and Rosemary Harris's Ilyena are definitive. Both parts need to be built up, the former to explain why he will shoot at the professor and the latter to justify her faithfulness to the professor. Any clumsi- ness will spoil the conviction. With floppy hair and a delayed adolescent manner, Michael Redgrave shows the frustrations of this spoiled man. Rosemary Harris's languid elegance brought into focus the ambivalent indecision and self-delusion of hyena, whose strength is that she is to be neither blamed not praised. By comparison Joan Plowright's Sofya is a straight- forward study in innocence—as it should be. Not all of Laurence Olivier's lines were audible, and once or twice Max Adrian slightly over- stePped, as when he clutched the seat of his tkoustrs as the revolver went off. Nor is the set quite satisfactory with its dual-purpose entry- exit in the middle, although it covers up the limitations of the apron stage. But these are small things, pointers to perfection.

Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head has the neces- sary unity for an up-to-date Restoration comedy, like a piece of architecture. Still, it isn't the novel, and perhaps J. B. Priestley's adaptation should have taken more account of this (usually a fault in the right direction). Some of the scenes duplicate behaviour which has already been established; hence the longueurs. Paul Eddington and Monica Evans are enlivening though, and accurate, as the couple who finally go off to- gether. (No point trying to explain all the com- binations: no path is unexplored.) As for Honor Klein, Sheila Burrell makes the most of this symbol of irrationality; malignant intelligence; or anything else the imagination can make of her.