the Violet
J C Trewin
J C Trewin

J. C. (John Courtenay) Trewin (1908–1990) was a writer, journalist, literary editor, and anthologist probably best known for his regular theatre review columns. He wrote for a variety of publications, including The Western Independent, The Observer, The Listener, Punch, John O’London’s Weekly, The Sketch, The Illustrated London News, The Lady, and The Birmingham Post, and his books include biography, autobiography, critical monographs, theatre history, poetry, short stories, and plays for children.

After the first broadcast of the Third Programme adaptation of A Voyage to Arcturus, Trewin reviewed it in the BBC’s Listener magazine, making it clear he already knew, and was a fan of, the book:

Having been for years President, Honorary Secretary, and the entire membership of my own Arcturus Club, my heart leapt up at news of a radio version of ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’, much as Wordsworth’s did at his rainbow in the sky...

— from The Listener, 28th June 1956, p. 903

He went on to praise the adaptation, and concluded:

‘What do you mean to do?’ are the last words of [adaptor and producer] Mr. King Bull’s script. My answer is direct: to read the book again, and to keep it, as ever, at the bedside.

— from The Listener, 28th June 1956, p. 904

Trewin mentioned Arcturus several times in his theatre review columns throughout his long career as a drama critic. I’ve collected those I can find below.

The first, which occurs in a review of a 1956 production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, appeared less than a month after the Third Programme radio adaptation, which perhaps brought it to mind.

I cannot guess how many people read “A Voyage to Arcturus” in these days: I hope that numbers do read it. The late David Lindsay’s book was put on recently as a sound-radio play, to the pleasure of all who have taken that journey, with Maskull, across Tormance, and who have found themselves haunted permanently by the people and the appearance of an extraordinary world. I mention it now because, while listening to “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at Stratford-upon-Avon, I remembered oddly the region of Matterplay, the valley, fertile beyond belief, in which “it looked as if life-forms were being coined so fast by Nature, that there was not physical room for all.”

Similarly, on the lawns of Shakespeare’s Navarre one feels that there is not time for the dramatist to say what he wishes. Phrase passes upon phrase...

— from “The World of the Theatre: Spring and Autumn”, The Illustrated London News, July 21st 1956, p. 116

The next mention I can find is in 1963, shortly after Gollancz reissued Lindsay’s novel as part of its Rare Works of Imagination series:

Nobody in the near future is likely, I suppose, to dramatise one of my favourite books, David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus; it was done on sound-radio some years ago. If anyone does, the programme will look good. Its people include Maskull, Nightspore, Krag, Panawe, Joiwind, Oceaxe, Corpang, and friends, and the action passes in (for example) Poolingdred, Threal, Lichstorm, Matterplay, and Barey.

Merry Christmas!

— from “The Living Theatre: Titles and Orders”, The Birmingham Post, Dec 18th 1963, p. 8

Then two from 1964. The first occurs in a review of a production of The Tower by Hal Porter at the Hampstead Theatre Club:

If I speak especially of only two people [in the production], that is because I am likely to think of “The Tower” in their names. Mr. Roose-Evans has taken infinite care with the delivery of the dialogue so that it both comes naturally to the ear and keeps its elaborate shape. During much of the night I could not help remembering a few lines from David Lindsay’s “A Voyage to Arcturus”: “The rhythm of the atmospheric throb had become double. There were two separate pulses: one in the time of a march, the other in the time of a waltz. There first was bitter and petrifying to feel, but the second was gay, enervating, and horrible.”

— from “The World of the Theatre: Out of the Pigeonhole”, The Illustrated London News, March 7th 1964, p. 364

And one in a review of Anthony Shaffer’s Royal Hunt of the Sun:

As it is, the Inca, in Shaffer’s play, comes up astonishingly well: a remote, proud, curiously hermaphroditic figure who reminded me of what David Lindsay once called a “phaen” in “A Voyage to Arcturus.” ...

Among the actors, the night belongs to Robert Stephens. It is extraordinarily hard to bring to the modern theatre this remote and god-like ruler, the heir of all the ages, the Son of the Sun. But the actor never wavers. I said earlier that during the performance I was haunted by a memory of David Lindsay’s “phaen”. On reaching home I checked the reference:

“Of all the . . . . personalities he had so far met in Tormance, this one struck him as infinitely the most foreign — that is, the farthest removed from him in the face, yet beauty there was, though neither of a masculine nor of a feminine type, for it had the three essentials of beauty, character, intelligence, and repose. The skin was copper-coloured and strangely luminous, as if lighted from within. The face was beardless, but the hair of the head so long as a woman’s . . .”

— from “The World of the Theatre: Royal Hunt”, The Illustrated London News, August 8th 1964, p. 208

He brings up the same comparison the next year:

Robert Stephens’s proud patrician Inca, among the major creations of the decade, continuing to summon the lines, from A Voyage to Arcturus, about the figure that David Lindsay called a “phaen”: “[The face] had the three essentials of beauty, character, intelligence, and repose. The skin was copper-coloured and strangely luminous, as if lighted from within.” Robert Stephens in this part can command real awe...

— from “The World of the Theatre: Sight and Sound”, The Illustrated London News, January 2nd 1965, p. 30

In 1967, it’s Macbeth that recalls Lindsay’s novel:

But Macbeth is, in any event, a terrifying task; it is like the climbing of the tower in David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus. Scofield is one of the very few players of our day with the attributes of genius (how rarely we can use that word), and we are aware that soon he will seize Macbeth as he has seized much else. The time is not yet; I believe that it will come.

— from “Theatre: J. C. Trewin Looks Back at Stratford’s ‘Macbeth’”, The Birmingham Daily Post, August 26th 1967, p. 10

The final mention I can find, from 1978, recalls the first, as again it’s from a review of Love’s Labour’s Lost:

Eager though I am about Shakespeare’s sources, I must acknowledge one blind spot. It never excites me, at Love’s Labour’s Lost, to think of the characters in terms of, say, the Maréchal de Biron or the Duc de Longueville. The comedy needs no historical research. It is a fantasia in, presumably, the King of Navarre’s park… This is the most agreeable moonshine, and it is now directed and acted in that spirit: John Barton’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre revival is the happiest there since Peter Brook’s marvellous production in 1946.

To think of that is to remember Sir Barry Jackson’s favourite quotation at the time, from A Voyage to Arcturus: “It looked as if life-forms were being coined so fast by Nature that there was not physical room for all.” There is no room for all the young Shakespeare wants to say in a festival of words that has frequently suffered because directors have not trusted the text to do its own work...

— from “The stuff of history”, The Illustrated London News, January 10th 1978, p. 98

(The Sir Barry Jackson mentioned was a theatre director who, among other things, founded the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and was a director of the Royal Opera House in London. He also directed the Malvern Summer Festival from 1929 to 1937, and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 1947 to 1948.)

Trewin wrote, or collaborated on, almost a hundred books, and estimated that he had reviewed almost 7,000 theatrical performances by 1983. He was given an OBE in 1981 for services to the theatre.