A: James Saunders Pf: 1962, London Pb: 1963 G: Drama in 2 acts S: A theatre, c.1960 C: 4m, 1fMeff, a casual joker, and Dust, more serious and pedantic, have arrived for the rehearsal of a philosophical play, but the director Rudge is late. They are joined by Lizzie, who claims that she is standing in for her identical twin sister, also called Lizzie. Rudge eventually arrives and plays a game of ‘verbal cricket’, while Lizzie wonders what she is doing amongst these eccentrics. When the Hermit arrives, the rehearsal can begin. The play is based on the life of Alexander James Mason, the Hermit of Great Canfield, Essex, who spent the last 36 years of his life alone in a hut almost without human contact. The Hermit wants to know more about his character, but Rudge's point is that his mind is unknowable. The Hermit insists that at least his story should be told with understanding. As the Hermit identifies more and more with his role, he turns Mason into a latter-day St Francis of Assisi, even though Mason had a pathetic long-distance relationship with Fanny Bell, an exploitative young girl many years his junior. Rudge denies that the Hermit's existence had any meaning: ‘Its name is grief and it signifies – nothing.’ The Hermit sobs himself into total silence.
A: James Saunders Pf: 1962, London Pb: 1963 G: Drama in 2 acts S: A theatre, c.1960 C: 4m, 1f
Based on Raleigh Trevelyan's A Hermit Disclosed, this was James Saunders's most significant play. However, nothing dates so quickly as the avant-garde of yesteryear. Considered at the time to be audaciously metatheatrical (the critic Kenneth Tynan dubbed it ‘Actors in search of a character’), it now seems wordy and self-conscious. Nevertheless, some of the dialogue is beautifully written, and its search for elusive identity remains of interest.