Sunday, August 30, 2015


The Conquering Hero written in 1923, produced in 1924, belongs to two categories of World War One dramas.  It is an anti-war play and a remembering the war play written during peace-time.  It was penned by British playwright Allan Monkhouse (1858-1936), who was too old to have been an active military man during the war; however, he set Act Three in a battlefield zone.  The play’s message would never have been acceptable to censors and audiences during the war, since it discusses a range of objections for joining the military. 

The older son of a retired military man does not want to go to war and refuses to do so despite his family’s and fiancĂ©e’s disapproval.  He finally enlists in the army, although he is unenthusiastic.  He has a shattering combat experience. When he returns home after the war, he is surprised to learn that he is the only male family member to survive.  His return is celebrated locally with a hero’s welcome, but he resents it and manages to miss the event.  The play is filled with discussion regarding duty to one’s country and family plus the glory of victory, however Monkhouse illuminates the returning soldier who has been through traumatizing experiences and does not regard his experiences as heroic. Monkhouse dedicated this play “To those who hate war and went to the war.”

Allan Monkhouse joined the editorial staff of the Manchester Guardian in 1902 and became highly regarded as a literary and drama critic.  In 1908, Monkhouse and his newspaper supported Annie Horniman’s newly launched repertory company—the first repertory theatre to be established in Great Britain.  Horniman’s company performed in Manchester’s refurbished Gaiety Theatre.  This repertory company introduced a group of young playwrights, who wrote realist problem plays fashioned after Ibsen. These playwrights became known as the Manchester School and Monkhouse was one of the early members.  Monkhouse’s plays were produced by this group until its demise in 1917, his plays were was always associated with it.

The Conquering Hero opened in London at the Queen’s Theatre during the spring of 1924.  It was transferred to St. Martin’s Theatre on April 28th.  A London Times article, at the time of the transfer, mentions that the play “was highly praised when it was performed by the Play Actors last Sunday night.”  The play was also produced in Leeds and Liverpool that same year.  

An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced on June 8, 1924 that the Theatre Guild in New York was planning to present The Conquering Hero sometime during its 1924-25 season. It mentions that the play “has already won a place for itself on the London stage.”  The Theatre Guild’s list of productions for that specific season does not indicate that its option on the play was ever fulfilled. So there was no American production of The Conquering Hero.

Since the initial run of this play in 1924, there have been several significant revivals of The Conquering Hero.  The London Times discussed a revival of the play in its May 13, 1934 edition. The “G” Club, a play-producing society in London, “made a bold choice in reviving Mr. Allan Monkhouse’s play The Conquering Hero at the Royalty Theatre.  We are now ten years farther away from the War, than we were when it was first produced, but the problem of pacifism remains as difficult and complex now as it was then.”  

The next significant revival of The Conquering Hero occurred on February 28, 1960.  The London Times reported on the BBC television’s production of this play aired on the previous evening.  The title of the column is “Deep Nobility of War Play”. The unsigned column states: “There is deep nobility in its analysis of the compulsions that drive men to take part in war.”  It is this aspect of the play that makes it different from the other plays I have discussed in my previous posts. It is a topic that made this play significant enough to revive it nearly four decades after it first appeared on stage. The BBC presentation made the play available to a larger audience than it previously had during all it staged performances combined.

There are two recent productions of this play.  The first one was produced by Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond located in south west London. It is a 168 seat theatre in the round.  It stages new plays and neglected classics.  The Conquering Hero was presented April 25 through June 9, 2012.  

The second production was staged by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and the University of Bristol. This production ran from October 6 through 12, 2014.  Stage Talk Magazine raised the question after seeing the production: “Why is this play not better known? Like Sherriff’s much more familiar Journey’s End, Monkhouse’s The Conquering Hero seeks to expose the sordid reality of warfare and attack the shallow ignorance of jingoistic, death-or-glory patriotism, and does so with great conviction.”  The review concludes: “The Conquering Hero is a fine, brave play, . . .” 

 The Conquering Hero raised controversial issues in 1924 and it continues to be a brave play into the twenty-first century.  It is gratifying to learn that new productions of this play continue to be presented for contemporary audiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment