Theatre World, 7/64, pp. 8-9



A Thousand Clowns



Murray Burns                     James Booth

Nick Burns                         Chris Barrington

Albert Amundon                John Cater

Sandra Markowitz             Andree Melly

Arnold Burns                      Sidney Tafler

Les Merman                       Roy Kinnear


Directed by Henry Hirschman

Scenery by George Jenkins

Lighting by Michael Wilson

Presented by Arthus Lewis, Bernard Delpont, and Tom Arnold (For Dorchester Productions Limited)


Whether it be comedy or drama, the American theatre is founded pretty strongly on the theme of Those Who Can't Last the Pace.  The American Dream, in fact, has given way to the Great American Guilt Complex, and few plays cross the Atlantic without their quota of characters who find difficulty in "making the scene" career-wise, sex-wise or otherwise.


A Thousand Clowns is a comedy, and a good one, but in the centre is Murray Burns, a scriptwriter who doubtless started off with the intention of setting the world afire with his brilliance and wit but who has ended up by writing a children's TV programme and can stand it no longer.


Murray is happy enough in his idleness but he is the guardian of his precocious  12-year-old nephew and the Welfare Board takes a very dim view of a boy being brought up by a man who not only has no visible means of support but who deliberately teaches the child the way to get the better of Welfare Board inspectors.   


Mr. Gardner nourishes the guilt complex by depicting Murray as a fine, free soul reduced to lassitude through the act of kicking over the traces.  But he makes greater play with society's tormentors.  The Welfare Board's "field team" has its scientific approach torn to tatters, especially the attractive girl psychologist.  Murray's successful agent brother soon finds it necessary to recite a long apologia for his success.  Mr. Gardner's most cherished victim is, however, the Children's TV personality, depicted here as a quivering hulk of neurosis and played with all the stops out by Roy Kinnear, for whose appearance, incidentally, we have to wait for over three-quarters of the play.


James Booth, with his wide clown's face and loose limbs, should have been just right for the role of Murray but strangely enough lacked the tiny something to make him entirely convincing.  The same applies to that charming actress Andree Melly, who never quite persuaded us that psychologists, even in New York, could behave like the captivating Sandra Markowitz.  The trouble was, I think, that both these artists were forced to wear American accents for which they are not suited.


More convincing were Chris Barrington, with an intelligent and amusing portrayal of the boy Nick; John Cater, as the precise sociologist member of the investigating welfare team, and Sydney Tafter, as the brother who has come to terms with the world and cannot help hating himself for it.