(Patricia) Ann Jellicoe THE TIMES, London - Essay

THE TIMES, London

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Whatever one expected next from the author of that strange and disturbing play The Sport of my Mad Mother (the piece itself permitted an infinitude of speculation) it would hardly have been a comedy of manners. And yet that is precisely what Miss Ann Jellicoe's new play [The Knack] is….

No dramatist depends less than Miss Jellicoe on the actual words used and more on the circumstances of their using. The texts of her plays are scarcely more than blueprints for the cast and director, for in the "theatre of demonstration" she has evolved what happens (emotionally as well as physically) counts for much more than what is said. This seems at first to make her works difficult and remote from the traditions of the British theatre (certainly it accounts for the mystification with which The Sport of my Mad Mother was greeted) but on reflection she turns out simply to be doing much the same as Mr. Noel Coward, for example, did many years ago when he allowed the hero and heroine of Private Lives to play what was in effect a passionate love scene while apparently discussing the possible resemblance of the Taj Mahal to a biscuit box. The only difference is that what in Mr. Coward was an incidental effect is here used continuously, to create a play beyond and virtually independent of most that the actors actually say.

What The Knack says, then, is often insignificant; what it is about is quite a different matter. Briefly (for it is a brief though close-packed play) it is about three men who do respectively too well, all right, and not well enough where women are concerned, and about the effect that the arrival in the house (rented by the least successful) where they all live of a jolielaide innocent looking for the Y.W.C.A. has on their relations with each other. The various tensions and jealousies set up are cunningly mapped out by Miss Jellicoe…. [The] whole evening is so funny that the audience forgets to think it advanced, which must surely be exactly what Miss Jellicoe always intended.

"Drama beyond the Spoken Word," in The Times, London (© Times Newspapers Limited 1961), October 10, 1961, p. 16.