Enid Bagnold Clive Barnes - Essay

Clive Barnes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

They say that to understand is to forgive, but I am not sure that I understood Enid Bagnold's new play "A Matter of Gravity."…

An eccentric Englishwoman, with bird's-nest hair, glittering eyes, a forthright tongue that can never quite decide whether to be blunt or forked, and a style of dress that froze immediately after World War I and never thawed—we know the type. We know also the fat cook with a taste for liquor and an ingratiating manner, but there are differences….

Mrs. Basil is, for all her vigor and animal vitality, an old woman and she fears death as passionately as she has embraced life. She does not believe in God, or in a future. She is a materialist with humor. But suddenly she sees a miracle. She sees, with her own eyes, Dubois rise in the air as stately as a zeppelin, and bounce off the ceiling with plaster in her hair. Now she knows. As she puts it: "If only there were a mystery it would be the ladder to all mysteries." Mrs. Basil and Miss Bagnold are absolutely right. But do you believe in Mary Poppins?

Mind you, some might have literal doubts about the Ghost of Hamlet's father, but there is more in Shakespeare than has ever been dreamed of in Miss Bagnold's philosophy. Her play—which has a bittersweet ending by the way—is full of cross-currents of motivation and whirlpools of thought.

There is a lot of levitation offstage and a certain amount of levity on, but it never adds up. The characters are all equally unlikely, and apart from Mrs. Basil equally disagreeable. The writing consists chiefly of maimots, semi-epigrams and portentously ponderous sayings such as: "The State of the world depends upon one's newspaper." What havoc Oscar Wilde wreaked on the British playwright attempting cultivation!

Clive Barnes, "'A Matter of Gravity' Enshrines Hepburn," in The New York Times (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 4, 1976 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, January 26, 1976, p. 374).