1939; Judgement Day
Performed in the School Hall, February 16th, 17th and 18th, 1939. The curtain rose upon a Court of Justice in full and, for the moment, agitated session. (For readers of this notice not cognizant with the play it may be indicated that it presents the trial of three persons, two of them members of the People's Party, accused of making an attempt on the life of the Leader of a totalitarian state in south-east Europe.) And a very fine Court of Justice it is, with its compact elaborateness and firm construction, doing great credit to the creators of it, Mr. Brobyn and Mr. Starbuck, and to the ladies who helped to deck it, Mrs. E.G.Bull, Mrs. W.W.Pttegree, and Mrs. T.C Taylor.
To the right is the dock, in which George Khitov (Harry Hyde) is receiving one of his periodical suppressions for aiming yet another admirable thrust at the Prosecutor or at the proceedings in general. A splendid performance is Mr. Hyde's, a white and fearless flame, witheringly scornful of this mockery of justice and, in a noble passage protesting before the world against the persecution of a race and the horrors of the concentration camp. Beside him sits Lydia Kuman, played by Yvonne Durgnat with an utter sincerity and a shining integrity; we know that each of the five judges in his inmost mind believes the truth of the evidence by which she clears herself, and so the play surely assumes its sinister significance. Behind these two mopes the duped Kurt Schneider of Albert Brobyn, a fine and terrible study, whose disastrous outburst of laughter provided an even better curtain than the slightly anaemic explosion.
In the well of the court ranged at large the Prosecutor of Leonard Moules, bullying and incisive, revelling in the loaded dice, without scruples, but not without nerves, a strong and excellently judged performance. The duties of his assistant, Malinov, were little more than those of an usher, but Arthur Davis ushered well. As Dr. Stambulov, chief defending counsel, Ernest Starkey lacked conviction, even allowing for his ambiguous position, but the aggrieved deference of Schneider's much snubbed counsel (Thomas Starbuck) was admirably revealing. As Lydia's lawyer brother from America, who is allowed to participate in the defence, Roy Ford gave a very human and attractive performance, a comforting oasis of Anglo-Saxon solidity and alien's immunity.
In addition to the prisoners, the witness-box had a variety of occupants in the course of the evening: the Leader's Private Secretary (Anthony Waizeneker), a wisely restrained performance amid such a galaxy of character; a gloriously irrelevant and transparently primed prosecution witness, the cafe waiter Vasili Bassarabba, who was played by Jack Allen with a gusto that kept this side of improbability and who left the box in a state of perspiring relief that spoke volumes. Another bribed and uneasy witness, Mme. Marthe Teodorova, competently acted by Elizabeth Lee; Sonia Kuman, Lydia's daughter, a moving little sketch by Joy Wood; General Rakovski. Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, of whom Ronald Burrage, handicapped (or helped) by an ill-fitting uniform, made a grimly vital and formidable figure; and finally, the florid and indignant prima donna of Julia Epton, an immense performance, which the house greatly enjoyed.
We move on to the Bench. Here were five admirably differentiated performances. George Chapman played judge Tsankov with a snarling malignancy that was extremely effective. Llewellyn Elliott gave a telling edge of joviality to his ruthless judge Sturdza, a capital figure, this. Judge Murusi, cheaply sneering at the prisoners from the bench and seeking refuge in contemptible equivocation when he has to condemn them, was played with the right touch by Harry Epton. Of the one judge of relentless integrity, Count Slatarski, Ronald Dubock gave a convincingly aged and consistently dignified portrayal, upon which he is particularly to be congratulated. John Payling's presiding judge, though his course was rightly set, was not wholly satisfying. That he should have been a. judge for eighteen years was frankly incredible; even when allowance is made for the circumstances of the trial, he failed sufficiently to assert himself; above all, in the scene in which the judges confer on their verdict he did not adequately portray, or even adequately imply, a soul in torment, a good man struggling to remain true to himself, the ultimate and tragic conflict of a terrorist regime. It may here be remarked that this vital scene had a general air of being under produced.
It was a marked merit of this production that almost all the subsidiary characters were well acted. As the Clerk, of the Court, Edward Bull administered the oath with polish; Florence Billson stenographed busily throughout the evening; Robert Woollard and Peter McDermott appeared vigorously, if ephemerally, as a Captain of Police and Lieutenant Nekludov respectively; Douglas Peacock made a very effective and convincing figure of Alexander Kuman, disguised as Father Sebastian; Messrs. Robert Hodd, Trevor Morgan, Brian Phelps, Claude Payne and Reginald Duffell made a stalwart scattering of guards and rebelled with aplomb; while the crowd in the public benches wavered not in its attention to the proceedings, applauded energetically at the appropriate political moments and Hailed Vesnic to the manner born. Sidney Williamson seemed miscast as the Dictator, whom he failed to invest with the qualities associated with that calling.
A play that could hardly fail? Possibly. But this production did much more than not fail. Through the whole-hearted energy of all concerned, the high level of the acting, the admirable staging and competent production, the performance took on an urgent rhythm and a vivid reality that passionately conveyed its message.
A. E. H.