N(orman) F(rederick) Simpson

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Louis Calta

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Apparently, not all of Britain's young, angry and social-minded playwrights write in anger. At least one of them, N. F. Simpson, a London school teacher, regarded abroad as a new and original talent, can be downright amusing when directing shafts of satire at modern man.

On the evidence of "The Only Sense Is Nonsense," the collective title for two one-acters by Mr. Simpson ["A Resounding Tinkle and "The Hole"],… an author need not be resentful or wrathful to get his views across. A little humor, even if at times it becomes tangential, can go far.

Basically, Mr. Simpson is a serious writer, but his mood is nonsensical. His playlets … are not of the conventional type. They often verge on the ridiculous and on the inane. While he clowns, however, he is taking indirect jabs at society. His criticism is no less the sharp for it.

The most effective of the two pieces is "The Hole."… Its title refers to a hole in a street, where workmen are busy either with electrical or sewage problems.

A bearded person sits watching it as if observing a vision. He wears an electric blanket, for which, he explains, he generates his own electricity. From time to time, he is joined by a representative group of people—three men and two women—who stop and comment on the things they behold.

Through the chatter and gossip of his characters, Mr. Simpson points up the intolerance of man, the moments of hypocrisy, the perennial concern with the inconsequential, the delusions and falsehoods of life and man's inhumanity to man. Indeed, it is an ambitious and self-contained work, touching as well on public attitudes toward colonialism, capital punishment, the Mau Mau, the Communist threat, science and religion.

What Mr. Simpson appears to be saying in "The Hole" is that people, for the most part, are gullible. And, that these pose the threat to humanity. The author's sympathy seems to lie with the virtually silent visionary who hopefully watches the hole. He unquestionably is the man of faith. He views the bottom of the hole as a cathedral in construction, and its inhabitants as the congregants….

Mr. Simpson, however, fails to invest "A Resounding Tinkle" (which serves as the opening phase of the double bill) with the acuity of "The Hole." It is a tedious, repetitious little tale of a young couple confronted with the problem of getting rid of an over-size elephant. They ordered a dwarf elephant, but the one delivered is too big to keep indoors. They bicker interminably until they decide to exchange it for a snake, which is erroneously delivered to a neighbor. Again, the author is hitting at the foolishness of people. But, the humor falls flat.

Louis Calta, "Cloaked in Humor," in The New York Times (copyright © 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 4, 1961, p. 42.

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