Friday, March 09, 2018

Review of Scaramouche, the play

By Graham Sutton
The Bookman, July 1927, pp 247-48

Accident rather than design took me to two successive plays about barnstormers – Scaramouche at the Garrick and When Crummles Played at the Lyric, Hammersmith. The first, true, deals only incidentally with the old tribe. They loom largely: but they are not there so much for their own picturesque sake (though in this respect the author makes good use of them) as to provide an asylum for the hero, a young Monarchist who is induced to espouse the Republican cause for the sake of a private vengeance. The political outline of this play – one might say its ethical outline – is extremely fresh and ingenious. I am no politician; but if I were, I should be tempted to expend the rest of my article on tracing the nice vacillations of public opinion, which have resulted in the balance of this play being poised as we see it. Time was, within fairly recent memory, when the Sans-culotte was the inevitable villain of French Revolution tales. The balance shifting, Aristocrats came in for their share of stage abuse. To-day opinions are so divided that it is no longer safe to put all one’s dramatic eggs in one political basket. So here we have young André-Louis Moreau, a fervent aristocrat, driven against his logical convictions to attack the Marquis d’Azyr on a point of individual tyranny. Moreau proves such a force that he ends as one of the bright particular stars of the new Republican government; after which he sees the error of his ways, and declaring that republicanism will be only the substitution of a new tyranny for the old, resigns his portfolio and goes into voluntary exile. The whole theme is admirably handled, though it is much less stressed than my account of it may imply. I emphasize it here because in our theatre a costume-play with any genuine thought in it is so rare as to be a portent. Most costume-playwrights are content to assert themselves with a few “gadzooks” or “marrys” or “citoyens,” as the period demands, and with a rehash of stock judgements; just as most star managers are apt to insist on plays with no live parts but their own. That is not Mr. Rafael Sabatini’s way – nor Sir John Martin Harvey’s only way, either. The play is both intelligent and well written; and Sir John has surrounded himself with a capable company. Apart from his own performance as Moreau (excellent despite recent illness) there is the Marquis d’Azyr of Mr. Gordon McLeod, the finest rendering of the villain-aristocrat that I have seen since Mr. Malcolm Keen’s de Guiche in Cyrano de Bergerac. Altogether, a sound and worth-while production, which provincial readers will be unwise to miss.

(The rest of the review is about some other play.)

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