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"Dodo" the play, a review
THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
A generation ago T.W. Robertson was said to have created the 'teacup and saucer ' school of comedy. In the interval the consumption of tea in these islands, as the Customs statistics prove, has enormously increased; and it is therefore only in accordance with arithmetical fitness that Mr. E.F. Benson's 'Dodo', a comedy produced this week by the Stage Society, should display in three acts more teacups and saucers than you will find in the whole Robertsonian theatre. Unlike Great Anna, Mr. Benson's people never counsel take, but always tea. There is tea in the first act with cake; tea in the second with toast; tea in the third with bread-and-butter. Why not a fourth act for Swiss roll and a fifth for "petits fours"? This is not a flippant question, for the play, so far as we can make out, really seems to have been written to exhibit the inanities of idle people under the influence of tea and its various accompaniments. Dodo has apparently been appointed to the post of heroine because she, out of all the company, is momentarily able to escape from the tea habit and to drink half a glass of champagne instead. Dr. Johnson and William Hazlitt and Dr. Thorne, all noted tea-drinkers, would have liked this play. Play? Say rather "infusion." Unfortunately it is allowed to "draw" for more than the orthodox three minutes. Tannin is precipitated. We wish Mr. Benson had written his play round coffee or cocoa or some other comparatively harmless beverage, Our brain might still have reeled under his nonsense, but at least we should have preserved the coats of our stomach.
Act (or rather Brew) One, Miss Grantham and Mr. Arbuthnot, a pair of sweethearts who have not yet made up their minds to become man and wife, call upon Dodo and, finding her out, order tea. Mr. Arbuthnot steals Miss Grantham's cake and proposes marriage. (We seem to remember similar cake-stealing in "The Importance of Being Earnest.") Miss Grantham drinks tea and postpones her decision, Miss Staines calls and orders more tea. They discuss Dodo. It seems that Dodo has thrown over penniless Jack Broxton, whom she loves, for the wealthy Lord Chesterford, whom she does not. Dodo enters, followed by both the accepted and the rejected lover. Chatter and cigarettes. More tea.
Dodo, we believe, is the heroine of a book by the same name, published some years ago by the same author. Whether the book was published in the interests of the tea industry or not, we cannot say, as we do not happen to have read it; but the point (except for the tea trade) is of little importance, for Dodo has been the heroine of innumerable works of fiction. She is the butterfly woman who became the child wife, called Frou-Frou in Paris and Nora in Christiania. Probably she first emerged in the early Chinese theatre; at any rate that would account for the tea. She is a chatterbox who mistakes volubility for wit. She lives for social excitement - not the excitement of passion, for she has neither heart nor senses; not mental excitement of passion, for she has no brain, only a talking apparatus and a ready vocabulary; but the excitement of ball-rooms, garden-parties, and five o'clock tea-tables. Alone, she ceases to exist. Her keenest delight is to shock dull (i.e., not voluble) people by saying "damn," smoking cigarettes, and reading naughty French novels. In her flashes of self-recognition she calls herself a little beast. All the time she is assumed to be irresistibly fascinating. She fascinates Chesterford and Broxton and Arbuthnot, who follow her about with open mouths and fixed gaze. What is the secret of this strange fascination? Surely it cannot be the woman herself? We believe it is the tea.
Brew Two. Dodo has been Lady Chesterford for twelve months and has a baby. She yawns, because there is no "company," and abuses her husband, because he has discovered a coal mine on his estate (like the noble lord in "The Perfect Lover") but will not work it. Miss Grantham and Bertie Arbuthnot call and drink tea. Broxton, who has been to Madagascar to heal a wounded heart, comes back and drinks tea. Miss Staines arrives on a visit and drinks tea. Then Dodo's baby is taken seriously ill. Had they been giving it tea?
Brew Three. Baby is dead. This we learn from Miss Grantham and Mr. Arbuthnot, who, being now plighted for good, are drinking tea out of one cup. The bereaved mother has come up to town and gone in for a round of balls, to cheer her spirits. Her husband arrives to take her back to dismal solitude in the country. Dodo defies him and asks Jack Broxton to elope with her. Jack nobly refuses, reconciles husband and wife, and the curtain descends upon a play which will make us loath the scent of Orange Pekoe for months to come.
Dodo was brilliantly played by Miss Sarah Brooke, an actress whom we seem to have seen in this part, under other names, over and over again. As a tea-drinker of quite superior staying powers Mr. Lawrence Grant was amusing; and Miss Margaret Bussé put in some clever cup-and-saucer work as Miss Grantham. This young lady, by the way, went through life sighing for a dramatic "situation" and never finding one. That is what we felt about 'Dodo'. It is a story of puerile commonplace handled without a trace of theatrical skill. The meaningless "patter" of its dialogue amused for five minutes and then became wearisome. Dodoism is that coldest of dead things, a discarded fashion - not to be warmed up again into life by any number of cups of tea.
Perhaps we should have found the
empty chatter of "Dodo" less teazing if it had not had the bad luck to
follow a little play of human feeling,
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