N(orman) F(rederick) Simpson Alan Brien - Essay

Alan Brien

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. N. F. Simpson in [A Resounding Tinkle and The Hole] triumphantly demonstrates that it is possible to combine UNESCO and Ionesco, and juggle hilariously with hand grenades. In A Resounding Tinkle a prematurely middle-aged young couple tick away in their stuffy living-room isolated from each other like Victorian clocks under glass. For all they know their villa might be outside the gate of Belsen, inside the gate at Aldermaston, or on the slopes of Etna. Embalmed in habit, they interweave their wildly surrealist monologues as though they were the platitudes of Mrs. Dale's Diary. They bicker passionlessly about the right name for their elephant. The husband answers a knock at the door and discovers a man who wants him to form a Government. ('That's the Prime Minister's job,' complains the husband mildly. 'Anyway we don't know anybody.') A pretty relative drops in and livens up the dull domestic evening. ('Why, Uncle Ted, you've changed your sex,' gushes the wife. 'You look lovely.')…

The author, N. F. Simpson, and the director, William Gaskill, resist the temptation to inflate the farce to bursting point. They do not suddenly pull the rug from under their characters—they quietly and burglariously steal the furniture they are sitting on.

The Hole is more ambitious—it is a short history of philosophy as glimpsed by a variety of passers-by through an opening in the pavement. Once again it is laughter Simpson is after. But laughter involves recognition of impossible connections between opposite ideas. And as the electric spark of wit crackles across the semantic gap, we find ourselves accepting dangerous thoughts which we might reject in any logically argued speech. In The Hole Simpson sometimes overplays his hand and repeats the same comic devices too often. But both plays are brilliant intellectual comedy—head-splitting as well as side-splitting—and if they are not a box-office success then we do not deserve to have a drama in Britain.

Alan Brien, "Laughter in Court," in The Spectator (© 1958 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 200, No. 6772, April 11, 1958, p. 455.∗