A documentary play of life to-day in a corner of France, written specially
for the occasion by Mr and Mrs F. L. Dash.
Here was a war-time production in which the School-in which any school-
could take pride. The play was of absorbing interest and so the world
of theatre was brought right into line with one of the many and various
war efforts. The standard of production, of acting, of make-up, of costume,
of lighting, were all first class, and the play entertained without
stooping to any of the lower levels of contemporary taste. The characterisation
was vivid, and on the whole, well varied and one of the most difficult
aspects of play-writing, namely, the scene climaxes were most effectively
staged. There was also plenty of amusing stage business to animate the
scene, and good French music was used with taste and effect. It has
recently been said of our young R.A.F. writers that they write with
dash, vigour and conviction; so apparently does Mr Dash's collaborator.
There was no disturbing weakness amongst the actors, who introduced
themselves before the play in a style made familiar by the film trailer.
While the further innovation of female players was more than justified,
I do not think it unfair to say that chief honours of the acting went
to Sylvia Miller and Vernon Duker, both of Hornsey County School. As
Madame Gudrin, the central figure in the play, Sylvia Miller gave a
restrained, moving performance, admirably sustained throughout, the
level of which one did not fully estimate till the play was over. The
part demanded more emotional intelligence than most of the other parts
put together. It was a considerable performance to move so convincingly
through every scene. Audrey Salter as Mme. Dantec acted well, if in
too subdued a fashion. It may have been the fault of the play that the
parts were not sufficiently contrasted; this appeared as a colourless
reflection of the central character. As Pierre Gudrin, Bonner acted
as always with spirit and vigour and an inward shining light, but here
he sacrificed a certain amount of conviction by trying to give too much.
A. Davies as Denis, gave a pleasant, thoughtful performance in a small
part, which was dramatically a foil to Pierre. The younger boys played
by G. Brooks, L. Farrington, J. Harrison, J. Jordan, and J. Heale, gave
an attractive combined performance of controlled rowdyism, revelling
in slogans and songs against the Boche. The singing was spirited, Farrington
an inspiring conductor of the school of Mickey Mouse; and the general
effectiveness not one whit impaired by the fact that their strong dialect
was not a Breton one. R. M. Beckley as the Deputy Mayor, contrived to
look and to sound more French than anyone else in the play This was
a vintage performance in a part which bore no gold labels on the bottle.
Local colour and character variety were contributed by F. 8leeze as
Breton fisherman, Chapple as the local doctor, P. Abell as the village
priest, and K. S. Bains as the rural constable. All gave sound performances,
notably Bleeze in a part which gave him opportunities to spread himself.
He swore and was drunk with the charm of someone who had never done
these things. D. I. Hemstead as the English Pilot gave a performance
that was both convincing and sympathetic. As a type he was well chosen
with the right diffidence towards his own courage. But to act the complete
imbecile is, however, beyond the capabilities of most English boys,
at any rate on the stage. The Nazi characters, balanced as they were
on a tight-rope between farce and fact, were superbly played. Duker
as Von Schlagel gave an admirable performance in terms of voice, bearing
and gesture. His voice seemed just right in its quality of brittle brutality,
whether speaking in German, French or English. Here was a performance
of a part which, while a ' gift " to the actor, could scarcely have
beeg bettered on the professional stage. His N.C.O.s, Galton and McKeer,
supported him admirably, being as they were effective advertisement
of the regimentation of the Nazi in terms of thought, walk and laughter.
The three differential sounds of laughter, echoing hollowly from one
to the other, provided a piquant commentary on the German "freedom of
the 'Yes' " ! The slight criticisms one might make about inaudibility
in the second and third scenes and about an occasional loss of tempo
which made the play drag somewhat in its middle stages, are perhaps
irrelevant to the true qualities of the production, for I fancy the
producer would have eliminated these surface weaknesses by the next
performance. Balance then was the feature of the whole play, and its
production. The relation between entertainment and propaganda, the grim
and the gay, the heroic and the domestic, were excellently measured.
And through it all the character of place and people shone through the
simple, moving tale with light and radiance and hope for the hour that
will come. The tension seemed to increase with the quantity of English
spcken; and it was remarkable how much English was spoken by French
and English alike by dramatic devices which in no way straiaed credibility.
The play was enthusiastically received with a sincere regard for the
theme in the moving finale, as the strains of Marseillaise rose from
a random whistle to National Anthem, applause changed to an even more
reflective silence. We have hoped since that the play would be performed
before another audience, as it so well deserves to be. It now seems
probable that it will be performed in Hornsey in the autumn. It will
have there a proportionately greater success.
The play was preceded by a series of national dances given by the pupils
of Hornsey County School. In addition to a high level of dancing, there
were numerous colourful tableaux, a splendid variety of costume and
some fresh carolling. All the dances were from the Allied Nations with
one rather neutral addition ; and by a coincidence, this last, a so-called
Irish jig, was the only one which did not appear genuine. The Irish
have a culture of their own which, in terms of music and dancing of
the folk, is in many respects superior to the English, and the English
in thinking them a quaint variant of themselves do wrong to parody them.
The English dances have their own grace and charm, of perhaps a more
characterless charm than that, say, of the French and Polish dances.
They invite a light, rather than a fantastic toe. The French and Polish
dances were particularly lovely, but it was the Cossack dance which
was best applauded, probably for the vigorous, colourful nature of the
costumed dance than for the excellence of the dancing. It was danced
charmingly but approximately; that is, this most exacting of all folk-dancing
technique demanded more than could be given. Finally, it was such a
pleasure to hear so many good tunes.
C. R. K.