The Fourth Wall, by A. A. Milne.
On May 31st and June 2nd the School Dramatic Society presented A.A.Milne's Fourth Wall. The play did not offer very good material, but had the advantage of requiring only three women characters.
The piece opens in the serene atmosphere of a house-party at Arthur Ludgrove's country house. The two lovers (excellently and naturally portrayed by Stuart Barker and Geoffrey Barrett) are discussing their uncle's guests. Susan (Barrett) distrusts Laverick (Ken Schrouder), but Jimmy (Barker) points out that they know just as little about some of the other guests, notably Carter. Most of the guests then set off for a tennis party, to the sound of a B.B.C. recording of a car starting up. Left behind is the host, Arthur Ludgrove (Roy Stables), Laverick, who is going bird-watching, and. Carter (J. A. Bastin), who is going to potter by the lake. We then learn that Arthur Ludgrove is expecting a visit from Laverick. Carter claims to distrust him, and hides behind the curtains. Laverick comes, and Ludgrove threatens him with a gun. Carter, on the pretext of holding the gun while Ludgrove phones the police, shoots his host. The ingenious plot is revealed. Laverick and Carter are criminals who had previously been caught and sentenced through Ludgrove. In Act II the household and guests are interviewed by the village constable (Raymond Hastings) and his slick up-to-dale son. Sergeant Mallett, from Scotland Yard (Ken. Lewis). These two played up to each other admirably, and soon won the approval of the audience. Then follows a midnight scene, which dragged a little, during which the lovers, by brilliant deduction, discover the real authors of the crime. Finally, there is a tense denouement in which Susan and Jane force Carter into a confession. The play ends on a note of comic anticlimax, with the brave heroine in tears and Jimmy helplessly wringing his hands.
Altogether the performance was a credit to its producer, Mr. Hyde. The actors all set a high standard. Particularly enjoyable were Jane's (Bernard Smith's) drawling, "Shall we tell him?" and Lander's accomplished sketch of the merry widow, Mrs. Fulverton-Fane. The make-up and lighting were both very skilfully done. School furniture made a surprisingly attractive decor. The costumes were both appropriate and charming. The only serious criticism was that the production would have benefited from clearer speech. At times the actors were barely audible from the back of the hall. However, this is a difficulty common in school plays.
From the School Bulletin.
In this year's play, the Dramatic Society, after considering many suggestions, finally decided to revive A.A.Milne's The Fourth Wall, after a lapse of fourteen years. The conditions of production, in spite of repeated and unavoidable delays for various reasons, were much superior to those in 1931 when our stage was only a platform at the vestibule end of the hall and the lighting arrangements suggested a Heath Robinson nightmare.
The choice of The Fourth Wall may cause some inquiry, but the ever-present difficulty of finding plays with few female characters explains it. The play has some good moments, but also some long and rather tedious portions, though it never sinks to the level of sheer boredom. Mr. Hyde's production maintained a high level of interest even if, on Thursday, there were few "high spots." The old difficulty of audibility in a hall built without any application of the principles of acoustics was still present. In spite of the limitations of the play itself and the stage conditions, those who took part in the production in any way can regard their efforts with quiet satisfaction. The audience showed a generous appreciation of such a good production under difficult conditions of time and place.
It would be invidious to deal with all the actors in detail: it must suffice to say that all had worked hard and responded well to the producer's interpretation. Barker and Barrett, the Society's stage lovers, played their parts well and with few traces of embarrassment. Bernard Smith, a newcomer, showed promise as Jane West. His "Shall we tell him?" was delivered with an effective blase drawl. Lander was highly successful in the all too small part of Mrs. Fulverton-Fane. His mannerisms and gestures were admirable and deserved a more important role.
Of the male characters the most attractive perhaps was Hastings as P.C. Mallet, a natural bit of acting, in which Hastings enhanced the reputation he made in last year's production. Lewis, as the suave but pertinacious Scotland Yard man, had a part which suited hint. Bastin had a long and rather thankless part as Carter, but he acquitted himself well and showed some appreciation of the variation of moods. Stables, Sandow, Schrouder and D.A.Smith maintained a good standard.
The setting, always a difficult task on our stage, was convincing and adequate. Even School furniture had an attractiveness when seen in stage lighting, and borrowed classics from the Library looked most impressive in the bookcase. Mr. Brobyn had done some hard work to produce the successful lighting and scenery. Knowles managed the radio-gram and the "noises off." If the wigs were a trifle obvious, the women's dresses were certainly not. Barrett's ravishing kimono in Act III Scene I (Midnight) was the cynosure of all feminine eyes in the audience. Miss Fortescue, Miss Owen and Mr. Brobyn were responsible for the successful ''make-up," and Mr. Rayner was, as ever, an efficient business manager.
With the coming of more normal times and the resumption next term of full Dramatic Society activity, it is hoped that all boys a with any liking and talent for acting will rally to the support of the society.
NOTE ON THE SATURDAY PERFORMANCE.
It would not normally be considered a very inspiring experience to attend three successive amateur performances of a play, the denouement of which depends mainly on an ingenious but not very credible series of events, especially when one is already familiar with the plot. Thanks, however, to the care which Mr. Hyde had bestowed upon his production, and to the ability of the actors, the performance on the Saturday exceeded that on the Thursday in interest almost as much as the latter performance exceeded the dress rehearsal. It was not merely that the actors had learned their parts by Saturday; they had also improved noticeably both in the delivery of their lines and in their actions. Perhaps the most important feature of the Saturday performance was that, although all the actors played their parts capably, and in some cases with a touch of brilliance, no individual character dominated the stage: the cast played as a team. Especially effective were Roy Stables's quiet and convincing performance as Mr. Ludgrove, the two policemen of Ken Lewis and Pat Hastings, Ron Lander's characterisation of the seductive Mrs. Fulverton-Fane and Ken Schrouder's Laverick. Geoffrey Barrctt was more convincing us Susan at the Saturday performance than on the Thursday, and the other parts were all played satisfactorily, Robert Sandow's accent as Major Fothergill being delightful, even if improbable.
Mr. Hyde, in a short curtain speech, thanked all those who had helped with the production, and his sentiments would undoubtedly be echoed by the audience.