Alias Mrs. Jones, 1937
Alias Mrs. Jones
by Leslie Howard
Bristol, Little Theatre, September 27, 1937
Cast: Denis Green, Peggy Thorpe Bates, Lockwood West, Alwyn Whatsley, Michael Hordern, Ralph Hutton, Frederic Gibson, Barbara Leake
The audience recognised a good thing when they saw it.
They were not so sure of it, however, during the first act. This was the weakest part of the show, but if Mr. Howard can improve it (writes the ‘Press and Mirror’ theatre critic) he will have written a really good play.
This act is a rather uncertain introduction of an idealistic journalist, Edward Lansallos, who gets the sack because he cannot stomach the political views of his Press baron employer, and unconsciously falls in love with the latter’s paramour (who is really much too sweet to be anything of the sort). It is, nevertheless, often good comedy, particularly for journalists, because of unimportant technical discrepancies.
In the second act the journalist, now a crusader, goes off to Lord Southavon’s little kingdom in the South of France intent on sealing the heart of his lady and confounding his politics. Now the play has got into its stride, and there is a brilliant scene where Lansallos wins his one ambition at the expense of the other. Southavon gracefully hands over the lady, “Mrs. Jones”–at a price! Lansallos must write his manifestos for him. The latter scenes become highly dramatic when neither Lansallos nor his wife can stand the unholy contract any longer… By this time the audience has no doubt about its enthusiasm.
Denis Green, as Lansallos, was adequate until the last act, when he was excellent. As always, he did his job confidently. Smarter dress in the first two scenes would have improved the impression he made. Peggy Thorpe Bates imbued with grace and charm and, where necessary, deep feeling, a part that suited her down to the privileged ground she walked on. But the best acting of the night came from Lockwood West as the newspaper magnate. He did more in a few minutes than most actors do in an hour.
[…]As for Ronald Russell’s production, it is difficult to see where it could be bettered with the resources at hand, except that the radio set got in the way in Act 1. The audience was amazed at the quality of the stage settings designed by John Lindsay and done in the theatre workshop by Albert Malpas and Bill Rowlands.
After the final curtain, applause lasted for several minutes until Mr. Howard–whose wife, son and sister were present–faced the footlights.
In a speech which provoked still further enthusiasm, he confessed that while he was experienced as an actor he was a “new boy” as a playwright. He paid a glowing tribute to the Rapier Players for the way they had performed his comedy.
“I can assure you,” he told the audience, “that from the professional point of view a sort of miracle has taken place here to-night.”
He said that in London or New York many weeks of preparation would precede the appearance of a new play, with careful casting, consultations with technical experts and several dress rehearsals.
“These extraordinary people here have cast, rehearsed, painted scenery and made costumes in five days!” he said.
“It has always been my personal loss as an actor that I never had the inestimable avantage of repertory work of this nature.”
Mr Howard invited the audience to write to him with constructive criticism of the play–“Plays are not written but re-written,” he remarked.
He said he hoped the experiment of making the repertory theatres the proving ground for new plays would grow.
Talking with the ‘Press and Mirror’ theatre critic after the show–while a large crowd was waiting to cheer him at the stage door– Mr. Howard expressed himself delighted with every phase of the production of his play. He hopes to attend another performance of it during the week.
(Western Daily Press, September 28, 1937)
Apart from the glamour that surrounds its author’s name, the play is making such a strong appeal to the public for several reasons. Firstly, in spite of a doubtful opening, it contains a sound and gripping dramatic theme, exceptionally neat curtains–the final one is the weakest–some good lines, and comedy well placed to contrast with the drama. Secondly, it gives the opportunity for easily the best stage settings the Rapier Players have done and for some beautiful dressing. Thirdly, it is excellently produced and acted.
Apart from the performances of Denis Green, Peggy Thorpe Bates and Lockwood West, which were commended in the ‘Press and Mirror’ review of the first night, typically good work is done by other members of the cast. Alwyn Whatsley sweeps on and off the stage as an irrepressible Hollywood playboy; Michael Hordern is splendid as the powerfully sinister majordomo; Ralph Hutton serves up lark pie with rare relish; Frederic Gibson acts with energy and precision, and Barbara Leake makes the most of a slight comedy role. The show, in short, is entertaining and proves how much pleasure can come from the germ of an idea.
(Western Daily Press, October 1st, 1937)