Premiered: July 19, 1950, Coliseum Theatre, London
'Mister Roberts' Opens in London
W. A. Darlington, London
Mister Roberts is a going to have a success here or I'll eat my collar-stud. This the first straight play ever to be staged in that huge theatre, the Coliseum where "Annie Get Your Gun" has just finished and Joshua Logan has taken a chance to show us a bigger slice of the cargo ship, AK 603, than you are seeing in New York.
As a result, London's morning papers on the day after the opening laid unanimous stress on the size, elaborateness and expertness of the production. The probability is that these qualities plus the presence in the cast of the two film stars, Tyrone Power and Jackie Cooper, will carry it to a run comparable with that of the original.
About the play itself, opinions varied more widely. The Times of London liked it in moderation: "A slight tale told in fine theatrical style. If its language were less lurid it might grace the pages of a school boy's magazine." Your own correspondent, writing in The Daily Telegraph, was more enthusiastic than this, recalling how much he had enjoyed the play when he saw it in New York and testifying to the honesty of the writing and characterization.
John Barber in The Daily Express summed it up as "lusty, leisurely, expert, often outrageously funny"; perhaps I better add a word of explanation as a footnote to this. "Leisurely" is a footnote to this. "Leisurely" is justified criticism. The pace in London is very noticeably slower than in New York, no doubt in order to allow our ears time to catch familiar idioms and strange metaphors. Now and again there is a tendency to overdo the slowness. But I am bound to confess that I heard for the first time in London a great deal of dialogue which, in New York, had gone straight past me.
In The Daily Mail, Cecil Wilson regarded the production as "showing what brilliant American stage technique can do with a not very brilliant play"; this note of dissatisfaction with the authors' work was carried further in The New Chronicle, where Alan Dent said that its "crude" in humor and will seem to us over here rambunctious rather than robust." He also said of the central story that to the English point of view it was "too sentimental to be comfortably endured." p>
P.L. Mannock in the Daily Herald had the least favorable comment of all. He complained of being bored and said that he did not hear a single witty wisecrack.
As to the acting, there was no dissenting voice. Everybody agreed that Tyrone Power was excellent as Mister Roberts. Personally, I find him a shade less right for the part than Henry Fonda. In plays such as this, where accent is placed heavily on exact realism, it is high praise to say of a man that he never lets you remember he is an actor. Mr. Fonda never let me remember. Mr. Power reminds me now and then. All the same, he gives a very pleasant performance as a very likable character.
Jackie Cooper shares honors. He has the natural equipment, not so much of the deadpan comedian, as of the ventriloquist's doll, which will perhaps, stand rather in his way at beauty shows but enables him to be very funny without having to force. He makes full use of this as the amorous Ensign Pulver. George Mathews as the captain and Russell Collins as Doc do not fall noticeably behind their opposite numbers in the original cast.
Up to the time of this writing, then, nothing has happened to cause the least uneasiness to the management of the Coliseum. Both the public and press have given "Mister Roberts" a fine send-off. Yet I am not altogether sure that all will be plain sailing. On the opening night there was a god deal of shocked chattering going on around me in the stalls. This has not been reflected in the newspapers but then, journalists are tough people themselves and the critic who was easily shocked would be a very poor critic.
It may yet turn out that this play, with its insistence n the licentiousness of the frustrated male, runs violently counter to the taste of an important section of our playgoing public.
It is the American fashion in these matters to say outright things which English writers take for granted. In "Mister Roberts" our public is being asked to accept that fashion even if it has not consented to do so. But this is a point which only time can prove.
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NEW YORK TIMES
Tyrone Power, in Lead, and Jackie Cooper Win Plaudits?Massive Set Impresses
London July 19, 1950
"Mister Roberts" made its London debut tonight on a stage that was nearly as big as a ship's deck and really looked like one. It was an instantaneous success.
In his first stage appearance in more than nine years Hollywood's Tyrone Power duplicated Henry Fonda's New York triumph in the title role of the play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan about a United States Navy cargo ship in the Pacific during the recent war. Both Power's grandfather, a comedian, and his father, a tragedian, played in Britain, but Tyrone's current engagement is his first on the stage in this country.
Another refugee from movie lots, Jackie Cooper, also made a hit for himself. For his bouncy performance in the role of Ensign Pulver, Cooper received an ovation second to that of Power.
It was a brilliant first-night audience, glittering with silks and jewels. Their first applause was for the set itself, a gigantic reproduction of a ship's deck on the stage of the Coliseum Theatre, which is the third largest legitimate house in London and seats 2,160.
The set, designed especially for the London production by Jo Mielziner, was three times as large as that for the original showing in New York. It was constructed so that the bulkhead on the ship's deck could swing around on the coliseum?s revolving stage and bring into view the sets for scenes in the ship?s interior.
The scenery was so massive and solid that it could not be taken to the provinces for use in tryouts, so the tryouts were held right in the Coliseum, with proceeds going to charities. A sprightly usherette in the center aisle of the royal circle tonight had already seen the show several times and assured patrons on their arrival that it was "smashing."
Critics agreed?with some qualification. Cecil Wilson of The Daily Mail called it "another of those exciting Anglo-American first nights, showing what brilliant American stage technique can do with a not very brilliant play." Alan Dent of The New Chronicle, W. A. Darlington of The Daily Telegraph and the critic of The Times of London all found the story slight and simple "and sometimes vulgar" but they agreed that the staging was spectacularly impressive.
Darlington, the only critic who had also seen Fonda in the same title role, said Power was "a little more obivoulsy an actor," but his presentation was the same.
There were fifteen other Americans in the cast and thirty-four Britons. Some words in the text were anglicized for easier understanding here, and Logan added a little material for the sake of continuity because the revolving stage made possible continuous action except for one intermission.
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Globe-Trotting with Tyrone Power
Stephen Watts, London
When the London production of "Mr. Roberts" opened the drama critics were unanimous in one somewhat, backhanded, thought no doubt sincere, compliment?they noted with incredulous approval that the star was an actor.
This tone of surprise was, of course, caused by the belief deeply rooted in men of the theatre that the words film star and acting have no place in the same context. But the ticket-buying public has no such prejudice and they turn out to see Tyrone Power, "in person" as the billboards say, precisely because they are affectionately familiar with his handsome shadow on the screen. The result is such a success that there is no doubt of the play running the full six months for which the star has leave of absence from his film employers, thereby chalking up another triumphant venture for Mr. Power, whose recent years have been occupied with enterprises unusual for a Hollywood star.
wondering if it was by accident or design that he has spent so little time in Hollywood since the war, we went along to the Coliseum the other evening and asked Mr. Power. Still bronzed from the non-California sun of his last filmmaking journey, he answered our question with prompt decisiveness.
?When I got back to Hollywood after the war I at once tried to influence the studio to get out and about more for their films. Fortunately Mr. Zanuck, my boss, understands such things "knew that if that was how I felt I would probably do better work if he let me have my way. The result is that I have been two months in my Hollywood home in just over two years, yet I have made my full quote of pictures."
The first venture was rather a fiasco. For "The Luck of the Irish" Power traveled to Ireland to make location scenes but after sitting on hilltop outside Dublin for two weeks watching the rain fall the company packed up and went home.
Thereafter Power made "That Wonderful Urge" the last completely studio-made Hollywood picture he appeared in. For ?Captain from Castile? he went to Mexico. For "Prince of Foxes" he went to Italy, working in Rome, Florence, Venice, Siena, Rimini and the tiny republic of San Marino.
The supply of away-from-Hollywood subjects held up, and the star flew to Morocco, the most accessible place in which to simulate the Asian desert settings called for by "The Black Rose," a medieval adventure which Henry Hathaway came from Hollywood to direct and in which Orson Welles plays a Ghengis Kan-type warlord, a part which required him to spend weeks in thick, quilted garments with the temperature at least 120 degrees.
There followed, for Power, another hot stretch, in the Philippines, making "An American Guerilla in the Philippines." In this he impersonates Chick Parsons, the famous real-life American guerrilla in that war theatre. (Power, by the way, was not able to meet his real-life prototype for study purposes, which disappointed him, but since he began the run of "Mr. Roberts" in London he has had the delayed pleasure, for one night Mr. Parsons strolled unannounced into his dressing room.)
It looked as if the run of location jobs had ended when the studio called for Power to star in a Western, "Rawhide," but even in this he kept out of the studio, for the film was made on location, at Lone Pine, California.
By then it was time for Power to report to London for "Mr. Roberts" and it now looks as though the away-from-home record will be substantially lengthened, for his next film, not due to be made until next spring, is likely to be a remake of John L, Balderston's famous "Berkeley Square." Joseph Mankiewicz has prepared a new treatment and plans to produce it in London. But even looking that far ahead, Power still has hopes of yet more excursions. He would like to make a film in Scandinavia.
He feels his policy has worked out very well all around.
"I've been in Hollywood nearly fifteen years," he says, "and there is a terrible danger of getting into a rut. No matter how happy you are in your surroundings, and despite the variety of motion-picture making, there are certain static elements which have a dulling effect after a while. Every morning you drive along the same road, to the same studio, check in at the same dressing room, see the same faces around you. It doesn't matter what you're playing, a certain sameness is apt to get into your work.
"And then there's the question of authenticity. I think there has been a movement in films since the war toward greater authenticity, probably led by the Italians. It stands to reason that if you go to the place where your story is supposed to be happening it looks more authentic, and something gets into you personally, from the atmosphere, which tends to make your characterization and performance more authentic too. I thin you give something you wouldn't give playing the same part against a Hollywood backdrop."
As "Mr. Roberts" started to climb into his khaki tropical uniform he grinned and indicated his inch-short crew cut hair and said, "This is one argument for my doing ?Berkeley Square? next. I could wear a wig while this crop is getting back to normal." That is the kind of practical economy which might endear a star to any producer.
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