(Role: Third Tempter/Third Knight)
If proof were needed of the solid hold which the Belgrade Theatre has established on that part of Coventry's theatre-going public which it set out to attract one year ago this week, it is surely to be found in the full and attentive audience last night for Murder in the Cathedral.
This, the first of T. S. Eliot's plays, seems still to me the best, the most aptly felt, in which he achieves the most fitting union of his own poetic thought and dramatic style, despite the technical advances of some of the later plays.
In a sense, too, I suspect that it is among the easiest to present effectively. This implies no disparagement of the considerable attainment of James Roose Evans and the Belgrade company (another measure of the year's work is that the cast is almost completely composed of regular members of the company).
Mr. Roose Evans makes his sweepingly-imaginative production strongly stylised and symbolic; he is supported by verse speaking which without exception (and here is achievement) is firm, sensitive, and deeply-felt.
Light and colour, pattern and movement, sound and vision, he uses thoughtfully and, generally, simply, from the first entry of the women of Canterbury to the final scene around the bier of the martyred Archbishop.
Those women of Canterbury in 1170 can be a problem; modern audiences are unaccustomed to using their inward eye for lengthy periods while a chorus speaks, but I several times found the solo balletic mime with which the producer points the speech a distraction, and wished he had left us with those excellent voices.
Bryan Bailey, director of the theatre, gives his first performance on its stage as Thomas Beckett; last night he appeared a little unsure in that magnificently dramatic first appearance, but after the scene with the four tempters, who convince him of the direction of his path, Mr. Bailey's Beckett found a sure and certain dignity, an assured calm.
One might have looked, perhaps, for a little more passion, a suggestion of the fire that had been in the man, of the Cheapside brat who rose to the highest office of State only to renounce it when offered the highest office of Church, but it is a criticism to be set against the background of a performance of moving sincerity.
The Tempters and Knights - Charles Kay, Clinton Greyn, Alan Howard and Terry Wale - move with authority and speak with fluency (the knights' justification is a beautifully satiric piece of comic observation); the women, led by Hilary Liddell, and the priests I have already commended. A fitting birthday tribute.
Birmingham Post, 24.3.59.
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