“St George and the Dragons”

Ernest Thesiger as Rev. St. George Loftus

Gaiety Theatre, Manchester

Kingsway Theatre, London



“There is much more of the substance of wit and truth in Mr. Eden Phillpotts’ ‘Devon comedy’ at the Kingsway. The St. George of the title is not the Cappadocian, but that somewhat irreverent Father in God, St. George Loftus, Bishop of Exeter; the dragons are two quite unsuitable suitors for the hands of Monica and Eva (daughters of his dull old friend, Lord Sampford), who don't believe in class distinctions. Monica's young man is the son of a yeoman farmer, personable, certainly, on horseback and of a blood older than the Sampfords', but an essential resilient, and altogether impossible when playing the concertina or after mixing his drinks (or both). Eva's follower is a brilliant raw young man from Glasgow, recently ordained, with professional ambitions as pronounced as his accent.

The parents try the now exploded method of direct opposition. St. George's weapons are smooth words and a heart chokefull of guile. Does his god-daughter Monica want to elope with her yeoman? By all means let love have his sacred way. But his lordship will contrive in the rôle of a strayed and bogged fisherman to be at Stonelands Farm before the young couple arrive en route for London and the registry-office, and he will see to it that Monica learns what the daily life of a working farmer is like, and what the beer (or bad champagne for festal occasions) and rabbit pie in the kitchen; with sudden frank explanations as to the imminence of the crisis in the interesting condition of Snowdrop the Alderney; what, too, is the Stonelands' notion of music and the dance, with Teddy's braying concertina and cousin Unity's quavering treble and the ragged bass and candid speech of old Caunter, the head man.... So much for Monica.

And Eva thinks she wants to tie herself to this crude Glaswegian. Well, here it will be best to insinuate to the young man how unfortunate it is that the vacant chaplaincy to the Bishop of Exeter is designed for a celibate, and to the young woman that to marry so brilliant (and ingenuous) a youth is to hang a millstone round his neck. For, after all, muses the prelate, revealing dreadful depths of low cunning and perfidy, it's easier to change a chaplain than a husband.

A thoroughly amusing affair. Of course Mr. Phillpotts shirks his problem, Teddy Copplestone need not have been a bounder (the odds indeed were against it), nor need his cigars, his champagne or his music have been so bad. But then we should have missed a diverting piece of fun and have been saddled with a solemn problem-play unsuited to the (alleged) gaiety of the hour.

The general level of the playing was high, and, after a somewhat nervous opening (and perhaps just a few affectations of the fourth-wall school), the piece swung into a pleasant rhythm.

Mr. Ernest Thesiger interprets with consummate ability Mr. Phillpotts’ amusing and original creation, this puss-in-gaiters Machiavelli, St. George Exon. Miss Lillah McCarthey (Monica), in the familiar rôle of beauty in revolt, had an easy task, which she fulfilled very agreeably. Miss Albanesi (Eva) put brains and fire and (not at all a negligible gift of the gods) precise enunciation into her work. Mr. Fewlass Llewellyn and Miss Mary Brough were quite delightful as old Copplestone and his wife. Mr. Claude King as Teddy Copplestone had perhaps the most difficult task, a part that by no means played itself, but needed a sustained skill, duly forthcoming. But I think the performance that pleased me most was that of Miss Evelyn Walsh Hall, a name new to me, in the small part of Unity Copplestone, played with a directness and sincerity which was quite distinguished.

Let me add that the flapping of eyelids (to which I have referred in my remarks on The Cinderella Man) is here also a feature. One member of the cast (of my own sex, too) gave a display of virtuosity in this genre which was technically superb.

Two insignificant details of management caused me some amusement. The solemn clang of a gong presaging doom as dire as Oedipus’s (and incidentally inaudible to cigarette smokers in the foyer) gives notice of the resumption of the play, while at the end of the Acts the curtain flutters up and down at a feverish pace as if the idea was to get in as many "calls" as possible before the applause stops. Are we as guileless as all that, I wonder? And, anyway, no such manoeuvre was necessary. The applause was hearty, the laughter spontaneous, and anybody who cares for plays made and played with brains should go and see this engaging piece.”


Punch, June 25, 1919