Loam House. Home of the earl of Loam in London’s Mayfair district—one of the most expensive districts of London, where the cream of the English aristocracy maintained their town houses in the days before World War I. Loam House, like its eponymous owner, is apparently not of the highest rank. It contains several reception rooms of varying quality, some of which are to be “lent for charitable purposes,” while those reserved for private use are lavishly furnished. Act 1 takes place in the most luxurious of the rooms, which is lavishly equipped with a carpet, couches, and cushions. Its walls are decorated with paintings by well-known artists. A thousand roses are distributed in basins, while shelves and tables contain library novels, illustrated newspapers and, as the play opens, all the paraphernalia required for the serving and consumption of that hallowed English tradition, high tea.
By the time this room reappears in act 4, its decor has changed considerably. Various animal skins, stuffed birds, and the weapons used to kill them have replaced the paintings, and other items have been replaced by mementos of Crichton’s castaway experience. The tale tacitly told by these exhibits is, however, transparently false. Labels attached to the trophies on the walls emphasize the fact that all Crichton’s achievements have been rudely appropriated by the aristocrats, who are his social betters. However, the true story behind the sham can be perceived now, much more easily than in act 1.
Island. Desert island on which various members of the Loam household are shipwrecked, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Its shore is fringed by a thicket of bamboo. Trees, including coconut palms, are abundant, and its fauna includes monkeys, snakes, and wildcats. In act 2 the only edifice that the castaways have erected is a half-finished hut, and the only person working constructively on it is Crichton. When act 3 opens two years later, the castaways have moved to a larger log cabin, set on higher ground close to a stream. A mill wheel erected on the stream provides the cabin with electric light.
The furniture of the cabin’s main room stands in careful contrast to that of the reception room in Loam House. Improvised spades, saws, and fishing rods are placed on the joists supporting the roof. Cured hams are suspended from hooks, while barrels and sacks of other foodstuffs are lodged in recesses. The floor is bare save for a few animal skins. Although various pieces of wreckage have been put to new uses—the ship’s steering wheel is now a chandelier, and a life buoy provides a back for one of the chairs—most of the furniture is the result of “rough but efficient carpentering.” Its main door consists of four swinging panels, and its unglazed window is equipped with a shutter. There are several sleeping rooms and a work room.
At the first appearance of this miracle of improvisation, its architect, the butler, is conspicuously absent, while other cast members drift in and out, emphasizing by their conduct that they are now entirely subservient to his mastery. The meal that is eaten when he does appear is an extreme contrast, in terms of its constituents, its apparatus, and the roles of its participants, to the tea served in the reception room of Loam House. The spontaneity of the after-dinner dancing, to the tune of a makeshift concertina, contrasts sharply with the stiff formality of social intercourse at Loam House. What kind of social progress is it, the play meekly wonders, that has transformed one setting into another, and how can such perverse artificiality possibly survive?
The play opens in late nineteenth-century London, in a drawing room at the house of the Earl of Loam. Lord Loam has invited family members and guests to take tea with his household servants. The servants, ill at ease in the formal drawing room, sit or stand stiffly until the ordeal is over. The topic of conversation focuses on an upcoming trip aboard...
(The entire section is 1,767 words.)