Tuesday, April 14, 2015


·         POST WAR (1919-1935)

  •  It was not until after the war and soldiers returned home that plays about war in the trenches were written by men with first-hand experience.  The two battlefield experience plays most remembered are mentioned in my first post—Journey’s End by R. C. Sherriff played in 1928 and What Price Glory? by Laurence Stalling and Maxwell Anderson premiered 1924.  Journey’s End had several revivals starting in 1934. The initial Broadway revival was in 1939. Later productions were staged in Great Britain during 1950 and 1972. This play seems to have hit a chord with contemporary British audiences since it had been restaged, starting in 2004, and continued to be performed until 2014.

  •  The returning to civilian life plays recounted the soldiers’ experience of  coming home. I have not read many of these plays, but I found the most heart rending one to be The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey.  This play was rejected by the Abbey Theatre in 1927.  It opened in London in 1928 and was not a success, but the script seems now to resonate with current audiences.  The Druid Theatre Company from Ireland mounted a production in 2011 and it was included at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York that summer.  The National Theatre in London produced the play April, 2014 and it ran till July.

  •   Re-enacting a particular real life war incident plays.  This is also a smaller category than some of the others, but each drama provides specific insight into an unusual set of circumstances.  Playwright Friedrich Wolf of Austria wrote Sailors of Cattaro in 1934.  Once the subject of this play became known, he was unwelcome in his homeland.  He moved to Russia and was amazed to be welcomed there as a celebrity. “Sailors” was a major success in Russia prior to his arrival.  This play is based on a 1918 mutiny that happened in the Austrian navy.  “Sailors” was also produced on Broadway in 1935 and played for ninety-six performances.  

  •   Anticipating another war plays began to emerge in the late 1920’s and this topic burgeoned throughout the 1930’s. Bury the Dead and Miracle at Verdun belong to this category, but not all the plays take the approach of sacrificing young men.  Many discuss other ideas such as the development of new weaponry, how war can be initiated through political manipulation, and new political views that could potentially have a war agenda.    

 One example of these plays is Wings over Europe: A Dramatic Extravaganza on a Pressing Theme written in 1928 by Robert Nichols (British poet) and Maurice Browne (British playwright). The scientist in the play discovered a way to control the energy in the atom. He dreams of using his newly discovered powerful weapon to transform the current civilization into a utopian one. The scientist is willing to attain his vision by using the force of total destruction if necessary.  He presents his idea to British Cabinet members who do not want to deal with him or his fearful idea. This play anticipates the actual discovery of splitting the atom by four years. Up to the time of the play, authors of science fiction were the only ones using scientific discovery related to the atom as a basis for a plot.  Although both playwrights were British, the play’s 1928 world premiere was successfully staged in New York by the Theatre Guild. Wings Over Europe was not produced in London until 1932.

I consider this to be a working list for types of plays written during the three periods. Please suggest any other categories you believe should be included.  

Reading suggestions for more information relating to types of plays and titles of World War One British scripts.
    COLLINS, L.J.  Theatre at War.  London, England: Macmillan Press LTD, 1998 and New York, N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1998.
    KOSOK, HEINZ.  The Theatre of War: The First World War in British and Irish Drama. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2007.
   WILLIAMS, GORDON.  British Theatre in the Great War.  London, England and New York, N.Y.: Continuum, 2003.

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