Monday, 23 May 2011

Benn W. Levy’s This Woman Business

While in London on no account miss seeing a play called “This Woman Business.” by Benn Levy, whom I wish I knew. Letter to Carol Brown June 1926

The above photo from The Theatre World and Illustrated Stage Review shows Fay Compton and Frank Cellier as Crawford and Addleshaw with Leon Quartermaine as Hodges in a scene from Benn W. Levy’s comedy, This Woman Business, Haymarket, London, 15 April 1926.

‘A Witty Comedy.

‘The theme of this amusing comedy is woman, and the five characters who occupy the stage for most of the time are, professedly, woman-haters. They spend their time in theorising about woman, in the abstract, and avoiding her, and escaping from her society, individually.

‘In the delightful seclusion of a country house in Cornwall, where four of them are guests of the most extreme misogynist of them all, one Hodges, they air their views about this disturbing creature, woman. The only member of the much-maligned sex who is there to disturb the serenity of the purely masculine atmosphere is Nettlebank, the parlour-maid [played by Evelyn Culver]. But even in Nettlebank, unimportant though she is, feminine appeal is so strong, that Honey, the youngest member of the party, finds himself compelled against his will to kiss her.

‘In the midst of a discussion between these five men as to the manifest defects of this lower order of being, who, yet, has such an unfortunately magnetic effect upon them, a girl appears on the scene. She is a typist, who has run away from her employer’s office, having first stolen some money. She had come to find shelter with her old nurse, whose cottage used to stand on the site of Hodges’ country house.

‘The Story of the Play.

‘How the woman-haters shelter her, in spite of the fact that she is a thief and has but the shadowiest ideal of truthfulness, is the plot of the play. How Crawford, the typist, two-thirds true woman and one-third minx, mothers them all in turn and charms their critical theories into nothingness, is the oldest story in the world, but so wittily and amusingly told, that we seem to be listening to it for the first time.
‘Hodges, not recognising a symptom of the malady that has seized him - extreme exasperation with the object of his devotion - finds, with a shock, that he is in love with Crawford, and, finally, throws his essay on woman at her feet, and she tears it up with a smile of triumph. This is the end of the play.

‘Fine Acting.

‘Fay Compton, as Crawford, is as delightful as ever, although the part does not make a great demand upon her powers.

‘As the Judge, O.B. Clarence adds yet another picture to his gallery of masterpieces. Leon Quartermaine, as Hodges, is successful. Bromley Davenport as Crofts, and Frank Cellier as Addleshaw, are both excellent. Clifford Mollison as Honey, and Sebastian Smith as Brown, give good performances.

‘The characterisation throughout is amazingly good. The dialogue is witty and clever, and the humour is real.

‘Another point upon which one may congratulate the author is that none of the characters are unduly exaggerated. They might so easily have been, specially, perhaps, in the case of Addleshaw, who is accused, though with some unfairness, of having persecuted his typist. But the refreshingly unhypocritical remarks that fall from his lips, and the admission that Crawford herself is not wholly blameless in the matter, bring the whole scene to a common-sense level, very different from the stereotyped treatment of such things to which one is too often accustomed, on the stage.

‘The fundamental truth, round which the whole situation in this amusing comedy is woven, emerges as the play proceeds, and gives the average audience what they so insistently clamour for, like children at a school-treat, "something to take away."’

(A.G., The Theatre World and Illustrated Stage Review, London, June 1926, p.29)

Benn Wolfe Levy (7 March 1900 – 7 December 1973) was a Labour Party Member of Parliament in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He was educated at Repton School and University College, Oxford and served in uniform in both World Wars. Outside politics, Levy was a successful playwright who also wrote (and on occasion directed) for the movies. He was married for more than 40 years to the American-born screen and stage actress Constance Cummings; they had one daughter and one son. As an MP, Levy made an unsuccessful effort to abolish theatrical censorship in Britain, and towards the end of his life, he was the principal author of a report opposing the arguments for censorship made by Francis Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford. Read more on Wikipedia

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