Coventry, July 14th
On the night when they opened their short season in London the resident company of the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, gave in their home town the first performance of Mr. Desmond Stewart's Room in the Paradise, having for its theme the anguish of a group of French people besieged in Algeria.
What was once a brothel has been turned into a strong point by a detachment of paratroopers under the command of a fanatic. For Captain Clerici, a Corsican, the insurgents are mere armed riff-raff and no way of dealing with them could be so tough that he would shrink from it. He expects the other characters, military and civilian, to conform with this attitude in a situation that looks desperate. They all, and an Alsation corporal in particular, have doubts. The corporal actually siezes command and forces Clerici at the rifle's end to listen to reason, but Clerici succeeds in ridding himself of the corporal and in throwing the blame for his death upon the enemy. The corporal's friend, a trooper, would carry on the fight against Clerici if only he knew how to, but he does not and he, too, perishes. In the end the captain is left to fight single-handed in the losing battle that he believes to be that of France.
But does he believe this, or is he, without knowing it, a man with a blood thirst seeking excuses for indulging it? The corporal thinks the worst, but Mr. Stewart has not given the corporal the power of expressing himself in a way that convinces us. We feel that on this point the corporal may even be wrong. Accordingly a doubt persists as to whether Clerici is at heart as evil as the others, and perhaps the author too, consider him. In other words the character is only half explored and Mr. Leonard White in playing it cannot satisfy us that this is a portrait of a whole man. Mr. Ian White contends with a similar difficulty as the corporal, but Mr. Clinton Greyn, as his friend, and Mr. Brian Murphy and Mr. Patrick O'Connell, as two civilians, have a somewhat easier time of it. They are asked to support the author's argument rather than to lead it.
From our special correspondent.
The Times, 15.7.58
*Alan Howard played a character called Brahim, and according to him this was his first speaking role on stage
Roy Plomley: "Do you remember what the first occasion was when you spoke a line on stage?"
Alan Howard: ".........it was a new play about Algeria and I was playing an Arab; I'd been taken prisoner and I had to say '.......Arabic quote ......' And don't ask me what it means! But there was an Arabic expert around who said this was some kind of prayer, and I just had to keep mumbling this in the corner, so that was the first time I ever spoke!"
Back to Coventry Reviews page