Escape, a play in prologue, two parts and ten scenes by John Galsworthy
Produced and staged by Winthrop Ames
Booth Theatre, New York, October 26, 1927
Cast of Characters
|Matt Denant||Leslie Howard|
|The Girl of the Town||Henrietta Goodwin|
|The Plain Clothes Man||Edgar B. Kent|
|The Policeman||A.B.I. Imeson|
|The Other Policeman||F. Cecil Butler|
|The Fellow Convict||Lawrence Hanray|
|The Warder||A.B.I. Imeson|
|The Other Warder||Edgar B. Kent|
|The Shingled Lady||Frieda Inescort|
|The Maid||Cyrena Smith|
|The Old Gentleman||Lawrence Hanray|
|The Shopkeeper||J.P. Wilson|
|His Wife||Lily Kerr|
|His Sister||Ruth Vivian|
|The Captain||St.Clair Bayfield|
|The Man in Plus Fours||Alan Trotter|
|His Wife||Viva Tattersall|
|The Dartmoor Constable||Edgar B. Kent|
|The Laborer||St. Clair Bayfield|
|The Other Laborer||F. Cecil Butler|
|The Farmer||Lawrence Hanray|
|The Little Girl||Geraldine Kay|
|Miss Dora||Renee Macready|
|Miss Grace||Lois Heatherley|
|The Parson||Austin Trevor|
|The Bellringer||Alan Trotter|
Sitting on a bench at night in Hyde Park, Captain Matt Denant starts an innocuous conversation with a girl. When a policeman tries to arrest the girl for prostitution, Denant rushes to her defence knocking down the policeman, who bangs his head on an iron fence and dies. Denant is arrested and sentenced to five years at Dartmoor for manslaughter.
Denant decides to escape. Beyond the prison walls he avoids two warders who try to catch him. Next he turns up in a woman’s room in an inn. The woman recognizes the quality of the man and helps him get out of the law’s reach. Next he encounters an old man, once a judge himself, who helps him too. A short time later, Denant meets a group of obtuse picnickers and helps himself to their Ford, aided by a young wife whose unimaginative husband does not approve. Then Denant escapes from laborers and a farmer, also obtuse. Next he is aided by two sisters who end by fighting about the rightness of giving him aid. Finally, Denant takes refuge in a church and is befriended by a parson. It is here the fleeing young man is caught, for he cannot permit the parson to lie in order to save him.
No better consolation could Leslie Howard have when he is pulled out of a play of his own than to come into this one. Here he is on and off the stage almost continuously, making the case of the fugitive as real as quixotic, giving it all the facets that will make it shine most graciously. He never had a finer part to play, nor played it finer. And, though she has to cram the whole impression of her into one scene, there is just as much to be said and remembered of Frieda Inescort. Her playing of the Shingled Lady is a joy.
But so, for that, is all of the acting first class. The staging is as suave as cream, and the settings deserve far more than small print in the rear.
(Gilbert Gabriel, The New York Sun, October 27, 1927)
Mr. Ames has given an exciting production, and touched up, I gather from Scribner’s printed version, several of the scenes. He contrives splendidly to capture the pace and harried itch of the tale, suggesting, indeed, in each episode, a whole countryside a-bowl with bushwhackers and covert-beaters as a pervasive and insistent background for the quiet, almost whispered tautness of the play.
Mr. Howard goes through it superbly, sheared utterly of those engaging mannerisms which have made him so popular as a comedian. He plays easily and expertly, and gives such a mounting crescendo of fatigue that both he and the audience seemed likely to collapse from the plain sleeplessness of his sweaty, heavy-lidded exhaustion. The rest is no less effective, and makes it peer of the best performances in town.
(John Anderson, New York Evening Post, October 27, 1927)
The play, though not by its nature essentially dramatic, is written with that great wisdom, understanding and sympathy that mark all the work of John Galsworthy. The presentation is not perfect; the play reads more easily than it acts. And yet it has many very moving moments.
Leslie Howard, one of the lightest of comedians, plays Denant a bit more heavily than Galsworthy may be supposed to have intended and with less than all of this doughty young man’s dash. In a play with so many characters, few of which appear for more than a few moments, the acting is, however, of surprisingly high grade. Perhaps the most satisfactory of the players in the smaller roles are Lawrence Hanray, who fills three, that of a kindly old gentleman best of all; Austin Trevor, Viva Tattersall, Renee Macready, Lois Heatherley, Frieda Inescort, Henrietta Goodwin and Geraldine Kay. Miss Tattersall is a charming little person and will, I dare guess, turn out to beone of those many actresses who succeed and later look back upon Winthrop Ames as the gentleman who started tnem up the ladder.
(Arthur Pollock, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 27, 1927)
The production is Winthrop Ames perfect, and Leslie Howard plays Denant superbly. The Captain’s qualities: his nerve, his kindliness, his wit, his beaux gestes, make him a hero impossible to entrust to an actor not endowed with great taste and restraint. Mr. Howard has both and far more. His Captain Denant gives no suggestion of a hero out of Ouida. He is an intensely human chap drowned in a mounting tide of fatigue against which he fights to the end.
The other roles in so picaresque a play are necessarily brief, but Henrietta Goodwin as The Girl of the Town, and Frieda Inescourt as The Shingled Lady stand forth.
(The New Yorker, November 5, 1927)
Playing Captain Denant, Leslie Howard goes beyond mere good breeding to a kind of cosmic futility–a translucent performance that surpasses anything this engaging actor has previously done.
(J. Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times, November 6, 1927)
Actor Leslie Howard, slim Englishman who is more than likely to be found in the creations of such froth blowers of the drama as P. G. Wodehouse and Frederick Lonsdale. For Messrs. Galsworthy and Ames he has turned murderer, and he goes through parts of the play, his normally immaculate countenance grimy with sweat and an uncut beard.
To defend a woman, this character knocks a policeman down in the first scene, unwittingly killing him. He is jailed for five years, and spends the rest of the play’s nine scenes fleeing his jailers and his destiny. He evades the jailers but cannot dodge himself; in the final scene he gives himself up to the pursuers to prevent a clergyman from shielding him by telling a lie. He has been at various times in the piece a murderer, a thief, a beggar, but throughout a gentleman. His finer nature traps him.
The play is short (out at 10:30) and chopped small in episodes. These waits weaken interest. Mr. Ames’ excellent staging is not so excellent as usual. Mr. Galsworthy’s thesis is engrossing in a faintly inhibited fashion. “Gentleman worship” is a cult most of the U.S. envies, tries to copy, fails perhaps to understand. For almost any U.S. actor, the part would have been impossible; for Mr. Howard it is a goal unerringly achieved.
(Time, November 7, 1927)
The other most notable evidence of artistic skill is the burden which Galsworthy, as so often before, has thrown on the actor. This is no lazy abdication on the part of the playwright, but literary creation in the peculiar terms of the theatre. It is not every actor who can play Galsworthy, who can respond to this challenge. But Mr. Ames has assembled and drilled a cast who pick up the bare but pregnant word and conjure it into the sublimation of life which is the theatre. This is, of course, most vividly, most excitingly true of the young English actor, Leslie Howard, whose poignantly veracious portrait of Matt Denant, on top of his volatile impersonation in “Her Cardboard Lover” last season, marks him as the chief rival of Alfred Lunt among our younger players.
(Oliver M. Sayler, The Saturday Review of Literature, November 12, 1927)