Friday, September 4, 2015


When I finished writing the last post, I was interested in reading Monkhouse’s book titled War Plays.  It was published in 1916 and contains three of his one-act plays. I wondered how these plays differed in theme, characters and situation from The Conquering Hero.  Also these three plays represent some of his earliest dramas. So here is what I found and think about Monkhouse’s three war plays.

Monkhouse informs the readers that The Choice was presented in 1910 by Miss Horniman’s Company in Manchester. Subsequently it was staged by the Liverpool Repertory Theatre that was founded in 1911. The other two plays Shamed Life and Night Watches had not been staged by the time the book was published. 

 The Choice is set following the second Boer War (October, 1899 through May, 1902), but the situation lends itself to any armed conflict.  While this play represents one of Monkhouse’s early dramas, it carefully follows the elements and dictates essential to the creation of a competent one-act play. The setting for this play is specific: “The sitting-room of a country cottage.  There is a French window leading into the garden at the back, and a door at the side of the scene.” It immediately creates the mood of country life as the ingĂ©nue, Ella, enters holding a bouquet of cut flowers.  The other three characters help create a range of diverse ages and social classes.  Anne, a middle-aged servant. Mrs. Lilley, a widow and the mother of the deceased soldier named Walter, who was engaged to Ella. Major Greig, Ella’s current admirer. Ella had persuaded Walter, a sensitive young man, who was clearly not a courageous individual, to join the military.  He was killed in battle. 

Ella is visiting Mrs. Lilley and seeking the older woman’s approval to move beyond her dream about a life with Walter.  Major Greig, Ella’s current love interest unexpectedly arrives at Mrs. Lilley’s home.  During the conversation with Ella, Greig realizes that Walter Lilley was the soldier in his unit that he killed during an enemy attack.  This well-made play focuses on a specific moment in Ella’s life when her past meets the present. Ella is forced to realize her role in Walter’s death and to reconcile her feelings relating to Major Greig before the curtain comes down on this short drama since a one-act play is expected to end with a reconciliation of the situation. 

World War One was being fought while the Shamed Life was written, but I have not found a reference to the exact year. This play has all the basic attributes of a well written one-act play.  What is of particular interest to me is that while the village cottage setting is similar to The Choice, the male character named Claude Plassey, seems to be a study for Christopher Rokeby in The Conquering Hero.  Claude has not joined the military despite the fact that most of the young men his age have. He is an only child who lives a comfortable life with his widowed mother. He believes his mother does not want him to join the military. He claims he is not a conscientious objector. He defends his position: “Why should I die? I love my life.”  Later Claude states: “I hate war.”  He continues to defend his position when his female opponent, Isabel states “It is better to die young than to live a long, mean life.”  Claude responds “Death is to fall down and rot.  To rot in the twinkling of an eye.”

The military recruiters are visiting the village since the drum and fife band is heard in the background. Claude eventually responds to the call of the drum and fife and its song:
                                             “Hark! It’s the call of the drum and fife
                                             To the great adventure—death or life;
                                                                      One and all
                                                                      Hark to the call.”
Like Christopher Rokeby, Claude goes to war.  Shamed Life is a recruiting play and its title confirms its intent, but it is understandable why Monkhouse may have decided many years later to wrestle with a similar character who survived the war.

Night Watches is a very different play from the first two.  It was written in 1916 and labeled a comedy.  The play is set in “An anteroom to two wards in a small Red Cross Hospital.”  It is after ten at night and a middle age NURSE enters with the new NIGHT ORDERLY. The Nurse tells him that the small ward with two men will be his problem. One of the men had a shell burst near him and he can’t speak or hear.  At 2:30 AM the FIRST SOLDIER enters the anteroom and wakes the Orderly.  He complains about the second soldier who is disturbing his sleep. The situation is that the deaf and dumb soldier speaks in his sleep. He believes the second soldier is “shamming” his illnesses. Eventually the SECOND SOLDIER enters and writes his complaints on a small slate. The Nurse is summoned to end the mayhem. Night Watches was popular with amateur drama societies throughout Great Britain.  I have read reviews for this play into the early 1930s.

These three plays, written early in Monkhouse’s career, demonstrate his 

playwriting skills. They also give insight into how the war related to the 

thoughts and concerns of a diverse group of individuals who lived in the British

countryside rather than a major city.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi, "Night Watches" was presented in London last year as part of a selection of plays written by the playwrights made famous at Miss Horniman's Gaiety Theatre.

    best wishes,