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Staging England's Decline

- Abstract

THE English theater’s formula for success seems to be a cormbination of modest plays and superb acting. It takes relatively little dramatizing to bring a subject to the London stage: history, autobiography, memoirs, and letters serve quite as well as formal plays do, thanks to the actors. During a week spent going to the theater in London this past winter, for example, it was possible to see dramatized versions of Sarah Bernhardt’s life, Groucho Marx’s letters, Robert Lowell’s poems, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, two Agatha Christie mystery novels (in addition to the famous Mousetrap), and a dramatic version of a recent London strike. Together with revivals, which are also carried mainly by the skill of the actors, such dramatizations make up the staple of the London theater.

But if British plays lack the ambition to be great, they do have a way of reflecting the social and intellectual currents of the day-and from the choice of plays being revived out of the past, together with the talk of characters in contemporary plays, we may learn a good deal about how life looks to the highly educated Englishman at present.

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