Enid Bagnold Howard Taubman - Essay

Howard Taubman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Grow old along with Enid Bagnold. The last of life, like the first of it, is full of crotchets and ironies as she contemplates both parts in "The Chinese Prime Minister."

In this new comedy,… the author of "The Chalk Garden," that model of elliptical humor and wisdom, is writing again with civilized wit and the kind of mature understanding that forgets little and forgives nearly everything. In a theater accustomed to simplemindedness, if not downright barrenness, it is exhilarating to hear an urbane, yet affirmative voice that can be both teasingly subtle and joyously direct.

There are eight characters, and they have, after a fashion, identities. All but one, the main one, have names; she is simply She. And there, one suspects, is a clue to Miss Bagnold's intent. For she has not written a conventional comedy of manners, but using the form, she has composed a delicious fantasy on the nature and promise of old age, which should amuse any age.

"The Chinese Prime Minister" is short on action. If you do not find stimulation in the good talk of spirited minds, Miss Bagnold's play, particularly part of its second act, may seem drawn out. But if you rejoice in the unexpected turn of thought felicitously phrased, you will not be troubled by the fact that little is happening and a lot is being said about it….

"The Chinese Prime Minister" cares most about the interplay of good talk. Age has no terrors when looked at with such musing speculation and such amusing, vital maturity.

Howard Taubman, "Theater: 'Chinese Prime Minister'," in The New York Times (© 1964 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 3, 1964 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XXV, No. 1, January 20, 1964, p. 393).