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The Times (23/Apr/1920) - Mary Rose: New Barrie Play at the Haymarket






This is a play about ghosts and our daily fire-side concerns, about an uncanny island in the Outer Hebrides and simple human things like the ways of young lovers and old cronies, about supernatural vanishings and acts so natural as thumping the ceiling with a fishing-rod for a playful signal to your sweetheart in the room above. It comforts you with the familiar Barrie notes about babies, the proud Scot, the motherliness of mothers, and then shakes you with a new disquieting thrill. It is like nothing you have ever seen and yet full of everything you have seen from a child up. Its ghosts are almost more human than its creatures of flesh and blood, so that you subdue your shiver to love them.

A young Australian soldier visits a dismantled house in Sussex. He had run away from it years ago and knows every nook and corner of it better than the trembling caretaker. Trembling, because it is haunted. But the cheery unemotional soldierman sends the woman away to make him some tea and sits down to wait. The door slowly opens of itself. Nothing appears, but you feel that something is there. Then all is darkness and the soldier has a vision of the past.

It is thirty years ago. Mr. Morland and his friend the parson are amicably "tiffing" about their hobby of proof-collecting. The parson thinks he has picked up a Gainsborough proof for 15s. until his friend points out that the paper is machine-made. Mrs. Morland keeps the peace and makes both disputants apologise for their "temper." It is a great day with the Morlands. Their daughter Mary Rose has just been sought in marriage by young Sub-Lieutenant Simon Blake. You have all the details of such things, the simple happiness of the boy and girl sweethearts, the surprise of the parents, just as they happen in life but hardly ever happen on the stage — until a Barrie puts them there. While Simon is mounting the table to thump the ceiling with his fishing-rod as a signal to Mary Rose up above, the Morlands stop him. There is something about Mary Rose they must tell him first — a strange adventure that happened to her some years ago in the Hebrides. They were on an island, which had a queer reputation with the natives. Its Gaelic name meant "the island that likes to be visited." Well, one day Mary Rose simply disappeared. For a whole month she was missing and was then found again on the spot where she had vanished — utterly oblivious that any interval had passed, Simon must never tell her, and he promises. He thinks somebody must have been dreaming.

Four years later, he and Mary Rose visit the island, with a two-year-old baby boy. They ask their gillie to show them how to cook trout in the Highland fashion, and he complies, but stands on his dignity. As he calls Simon "Mr.," he does not like being called plain "Cameron." The fact is. he is a student of Aberdeen University, making money as a gillie in the vac. to keep him in term-time. He is far more learned than Simon, with his Euripides in his pocket (a "Latin author," supposes the ignorant Simon). But, learned as he is, he is superstitious. He doesn't like the uncanny island. They stifle their fears, however, and cat their trout, when all of a sudden Mary Rose disappears again. Poor Simon is left perlustrating the island and vainly calling "Mary Rose! Mary Rose!"

A quarter of a century has now passed. The Morlands and their friend the parson are now old. They are still disputing over their prints, and the old lady is still making the peace between them. They have outlived the sharpness of their grief over the lost Mary Rose. So, indeed, has Simon, now well advanced in the Navy. Then they are all frightened, overjoyed, knocked endways, by a telegram from Cameron to say that he is bringing back Mary Rose! She has reappeared,where she was lost, and, what is more, what is terrible, just as she was when she was lost. Time has stood still with her. Her shock at seeing three strangers almost turns her brain. How can they tell her that her boy Harry ran away from home when he was twelve? She is looking for him as an infant of two! She is left looking for him, amid the speechless dismay of the people with whom tune has not stood still.

And now we return to the haunted house and the Australian soldier. The caretaker brings him his tea, and he awakes, dazed from the vision he has had of the past. What has become of the old people? They have gone away, too frail to live alone. Simon has come out of the war a great man in the Navy. And Mary Rose? She is buried out there in the churchyard. But it is, of course, her ghost that haunts the house. She is still looking for her baby. Her son, her baby come back, cannot make her understand who he is. So he seats her on his knee and does his best to comfort her with simple talk. Is she not tired of being a ghost? He supposes it must be as unpleasant to be a ghost as it is to see one. The man's efforts to find something tender to say to her — he is a plain, unsentimental, simple fellow — are painfully affecting. She is just the child that she always was. But she is released at last, going out into the night among the stars, and all is over.

Music is brought in to mark the supernatural happenings in the play, but it is really not needed, for the supernatural is so blended with the natural as to seem itself natural enough. It is all very beautiful, very strange, and yet of the inmost intimacy, leaving you finally with a certain benign heartache — which is the old sense of tears in human things given a Barrie-ish turn.

The acting is worthy of the play. Miss Fay Compton gives a beautiful childlike performance of Mary Rose, and Mr. Loraine is delightfully easy and natural, both as Simon and as son Harry. Delightful, too, are Mr. Norman Forbes and Miss Mary Jerrold as the old couple. Mr. Thesiger as the gillie, Mr. Whitby as the parson, and Miss Jean Cadell as the caretaker complete a perfect picture. The brilliant audience that filled the Haymarket called as vainly for the author as poor Simon on the island for Mary Rose, but were soothed with a pleasant little speech of thanks from Mr. Frederick Harrison.