(Patricia) Ann Jellicoe Harold Clurman - Essay

Harold Clurman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Knack] is a ripple in that "new wave" of English writing which has enlivened the London stage since 1956. To say the least, it is fun.

I identify it in this unassuming fashion because, as with many plays of its kind, there is a temptation to treat it as esoteric. It might be preferable, to begin with, to view The Knack strictly as entertainment—as one might judge an extended but on the whole well-sustained revue sketch. (p. 88)

The play is what the French might call a clown show; it never states a case. It is "crazy"; yet its characters' eccentricity—for example, when three of them enact the playing of a piano on a bedspring—is not so remote from the actual behavior of young folk today who will beguile themselves in some such way to fill the emptiness of the hours.

The talk is both terse and loose, epigrammatic and repetitive, extravagant and dry, pointed and inane. We laugh and at the same time ask ourselves, "Where are we?" We are here and now, very much in the midst of today's bewilderment (especially in certain English circles): sportive, "civilized," spiritually null and void. There is a faint odor of homosexuality on the premises.

The play has something of Harold Pinter's weird bleakness, together with the variety-hall travesty of London's "Crazy Gang." It hovers about the Theatre of the Absurd but never really enters.

Finally, it is a clever stage piece. It lives on action—sound, speech and movement—all of it zany yet never less than lucid. One need not concern oneself with how "good" the play is nor how seriously one has to take it. As spoof or symbol it has unmistakable merits. (p. 89)

Harold Clurman, "The Playwrights: Ann Jellicoe" (1964), in his The Naked Image: Observations on The Modern Theatre (reprinted with permission of Macmillan Publishing Company; copyright © 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966 by Harold Clurman), Macmillan, 1966, pp. 88-9.