Plays and Players, 12/58
By Bredan Behan
First performance at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, London, E.15, on October 14, 1958. Directed by Joan littlewood, with setting by Sean Kenny and costumes by Margaret Bury.
Pat, HOWARD GOORNEY; Meg Dillon, AVIS BUNNAGE; Monsieur, GLYNN EDWARDS; Collette, LEILA GREENWOOD; Bobo, ANNETTE ROBERTSON; Princess Grace, DUDLEY SUTTON; Roy, ROY BARNETT; Mr. Mulleady, ROBIN CHAPMAN; Miss Gilchrist, EILEEN KENNEALLY; Leslie, MURRAY MELVIN; Teresa, CELIA, SALKELD; I.R.A. Officer, JAMES BOOTH; Volunteer, CLIVE BARKER
BRENDAN BEHAN'S method of interpolating songs and dances into this play is disconcerting at times, for one does not quite know whether one is supposed to regard the work as a serious play with music or a musical comedy with a serious theme. Most of the time, these episodes fit the action and the emotion of the moment; on two occasions at least, they are inapt and, to my mind, the only detraction from a play which might otherwise have been as great as its warmest admirers think it.
It certainly has the seeds of greatness in it, and the first night was an occasion which I shall long remember.
One of the most admirable things about it is that the author, an Irishman who admits his early association with the I.R.A., has quite simply not taken sides in this story of conflict. He appears to think both sides of the question are equally funny and equally sad. If he can keep up this attitude of affectionate detachment, Mr. Behan is likely to become one of the greatest writers of this age; and if he continues to make this audiences collapse in guffaws of irreverent laughter, he will probably be popular and successful as well.
Undoubtedly a great deal of the excellence of this presentation was due to the producer; but that is fair enough. A producer cannot but enhance or detract from the effect, and Joan Littlewood does more enhancing than most.
Murray Melvin, as the young Cockney soldier who is taken hostage by the I.R.A. for one of their comrades who is incarcerated in Dublin Gaol, first took my eye in A Taste of Honey. He was good then; but it is entrancing to see how he has developed under Joan Littlewood's policy of training, which she once described top me as "being prepared to boil an actor in oil if it will help at all".
Dudley Sutton is very amusing as a sort of "quare fellow" who prefers to be known as Princess Grace, and there are very fine performances from Howard Goorney, Avid Bunnage, Eileen Kennally and Celia Salkeld, a young actress whose future will bear a deal of watching.
--Lisa Gordon Smith