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leisure — the arts


Ingenious sets

in fine musical

From JEAN BATTERSBY ui Melbourne

ROBERT AND ELIZABETH, by Ronald Millar and Ron Grainer; Princess Theatre.

IT is really better

to forget about the protagonists of

Robert and Eliza beth. The musical

play based on their lives pays only fleeting deference to the poets Robert and Elizabeth

Barrett Browning.

They are little more than an unusual hook on which . to hang a fairly conventional musical plot. In this case the Boy, a

tempestuous Robert Browning, meets Girl, bed ridden Elizabeth Barrett. Their love, thwarted at first by her dominating father Edward Barrett, conquers everything, and they prepare to live hap pily ever after.

This very pleasant musi cal by Millar and Austral ian composer (famous themes for Grainer Steptoe and Maigret), be longs to the Lerner and Loewe school ... a com bination of sl'?ck, staccato numbers, spoken as much as sung, interspersed with 1 i n g e r ing mel odies for the romantic leads. The large Victorian family of Edward Barrett provides a ready-made I chorus for clever and

amusing ensemble numb ers, and the street scenes ! of. 19th century London

i fill out the chorus.

June Bronhill, as she said in her curtain speech, knows the produc tion backwards and in side out from her .long experience with it in England. She sings the role of the romantic in valid with warmth and pathos and assurance, without delving too deeply into the hypochondriacal




Dennis Quilley, whom Australians last saw on television in one or those


Durbridge serials, is a good and attractive foil to her, playing Robert Browning with confidence and charm, and an ap propriate flourish. And, since most of the humour in any Nice Nights Enter tainment is predictable, tne other characterisations are comfortably smooth . • • Elliott Cairnes as the- in articulate Guards Officer, Judy Banks as the g i g g [y> flirtatious young cousin, Valmai Johnston as tne sympathetic younger sister and so on. AH

Frank Thring, who p 1 a ys the grimly tyrannical father in a full Freudian d'This is an awkward and heavy role, explored in greater depth than any of the others, m or e suited to drama or -.a novel than . a musical.

June Bronhill and Dennis Quilley in the lead roles as Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning in the musical

Robert and Elizabeth at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne.

Edward Barrett is not merely a sarcastic Victor ian despot, selfish, posses sive and indifferent to his children's happiness. He is revealed as a mass of sexual and moral inhibi tions. Whenever the turgid depths are stirred, some new complex comes to light . . . which is right and proper in serious

drama but an invitation to embarrassment in a musi cal, unless handled with considerable finesse.

His possessive control of Elizabeth is interpreted as heavily incestuous: his rigid disapproval of his provocative little niece :s shown as no more than a tight rein on his own lech erous impulses. It is all quite fascinating, but it

needs to be treated with a certain restraint if the transition from m u r k y soul - baring to zippy little musical numbers is to remain credible, and if Robert and Elizabeth are

to have their proper share of the limelight.

The production, using Malcolm Pride's London costumes and settings, fol lows the current trend for period atmosphere and mechanical ingenuity. Lon don street scenes; Cre morne Gardens at a fancy dress ball, sombre interiors at 50 Wimpole Street, a rehearsal at the Theatre Royal, Vauxhall Station, Florence, are all reproduced in elaborate detail, from mantleshelf clutter to trains puffing out of stations.



There are 15 scene changcs but. only two cur tains. During the briefest of blackouts a crowded street gives way to a solid entrance hall; a bedroom (complete with patient) glides into place; smoky London becomes dazzling Florence. Modern audien ces seem required to ap plaud the technical virtu osity of the set designer as much as the talents of the cast.

I find this rather dis tracting. I would rather concentrate on where I am than marvel at how I got there ... or thank heaven that I got there at all. There is one scene change

in Robert and Elizabeth which is handled more like a film dissolve than any thing.

Frank Thring carries June Bronhill downstairs and across the hall. It is the beginning of her re covery. As he goes out through the door every thing turns inside out. The room becomes a sunlit garden; walls and staircase vanish; trees sprout, houses and fences marshal! into place. Relief that the patient at last has some fresh air battles for sup pemnfcy with relief that everything worked all right.

This is a smooth, pro fessional production with an attractive cast and fine voices. It will not break My Fair Lady's records, but it seems set' for a very successful run.