REVIEW: Duel of Angels

  • Presented by H.M. Tennent Limited and L.O.P. Limited.
  • British Tour 1958/59
  • American Tour 1960 (selected theatres):
  • Helen Hayes Theatre, New York
  • Huntington Hartford Theatre, Hollywood
  • San Francisco
  • Denver
  • Washington

PETER’s Character – Count Marcellus

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PETER as Count Marcellus and Vivien Leigh as Paola

 Act I

The Terrace of the café

Act II

A room at Marcellus’ house

Act III

Mr. Justice Blachard’s study

STORY SYNOPSIS:

Christopher Fry’s ‘Duel of Angels’ – translated from Jean Giraudoux’s ‘Pour Lucrece’ – juggled vice and virtue until it was difficult to tell one from the other, or to say whether purity or evil does the most harm. Set in Aix-en-Provence in 1868, it was a chilling play suggested by the legend of Lucrece – the Roman lady who preferred death to dishonour. Not her own death of course, but that of the man she believed had raped her. Neither comedy nor tragedy, but in a dramatic category all of its own, it confronted pitiless purity in the form of Lucile, a priggish magistrate’s wife, and proud promiscuity in the person of Paola (Vivien Leigh) – an adulteress whose husband knows nothing and worships her. Lucile (Claire Bloom)* cannot and will not, conceal her recognition of “vice” in others, whilst Paola cannot suffer the disclosure of her infidelities. She must therefore take revenge by humbling her adversary. To this end she drugs Lucile and has her taken to the bedroom of the handsome Count Marcellus (PETER) – a man who lends credence to Paola’s remark that “There is nothing more impressive as a good horseman climbing the stairs”.

Believing that the Count has raped her, Paola orders her husband, Armand (Basil Hoskins),** to restore her honour by challenging Marcellus to a duel. The resulting confrontation leaves Marcellus dead and her husband a fugitive, but for Lucile this is not quite the worst. In the final scene, finding immorality all around her, she takes poison in order to claim her final victory of virtue over deceit and degradation.

*Mary Ure played Lucile on the American tour. ** John Merivale played Armand on the American tour.

 IN RETROSPECT:

‘Duel of Angels’ was not a violent play. It concealed its claws under clever epigrams, disguised its sadness in measures of stylized wit, and covered all inquiry into men’s questionable nature.

 POINT OF INTEREST:

 All the costumes in the play were designed and made by Christian Dior.

 CRITIC’S COMMENTS:

PETER WYNGARDE cuts a cynical, bright figure as Count Marcellus, flamboyant libertine who unwittingly becomes Miss Leigh’s accomplice in deluding Mary Ure as Lucile. He has a distinctive stage voice, reminiscent of Jose Ferrer.”

The Times – July 18th, 1958

“Marcellus, the supposed seducer, was admirably played by PETER WYNGARDE, who gave just the right impression of an outwardly careless Don Juan with hidden reserves of strength.”

The Guardian – July 17th, 1958

PETER WYNGARDE is handsome and adept in a finely-delivered performance as Count Marcellus…”

News Herald & Journalist – July 17th, 1958

Mr WYNGARDE’s rake has the period aura about him, and an enormous charm. If his death were not a charade it would seem a fearful waste.”

Evening Standard – July 18th, 1958

“The stage is bright when PETER WYNGARDE, the male counterpart of evil is working. He is a virtuoso actor with a mesmerizing sixth sense for timing.”

Chicago Herald – September 13th, 1960

 AWARDS:

While playing Count Marcellus in Duel of Angels on Broadway, PETER won a Tony for being ‘The Most Promising Newcomer’.

He also picked up another award that same year – The ‘San Francisco Award for Best Actor in a Foreign Play’, again for his portrayal of Count Marcellus.

The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

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