Sunday, March 27, 2016


C. K. Munro (1889-1973) had two plays Wanderers (1915) and At Mrs. Bream’s (1921) successfully staged by London’s Stage Society (1899-1939). This group produced new and experimental plays with artistic merit.  Many of the plays produced by this organization were later successful in London’s commercial West End theatres. C. K. Munro was fortunate that this group recognized the merit of his early works. 

During this period of initial recognition as a playwright, Munro kept his day job as a Civil Servant in the Ministry of Labour. He eventually rose to the position of Under-Secretary at the British Ministry of Labour and National Service. Munro was born in Ulster, Ireland and educated at Cambridge. His surname was MacMullan, but he wrote under the name of Munro which was his grandmother’s maiden name. 

World War One had interrupted Munro’s playwriting career. After its Stage Society’s debut, At Mrs. Bream’s quickly became a commercial success in London and towns throughout the country as well as in New York when staged by the Theatre Guild, 1926.  His next play The Rumour is very different in style from his earlier plays. It is a serious piece concerned with the political, social and ethical problems of the era following the war. It has one-dimensional characters who work to manipulate each other. Their endeavors illustrate that war does not breakout spontaneously, but it is contrived by individuals who have a monetary interest in the resources controlled by another nation. The play is experimental in format and was frequently dubbed expressionistic. It borrows from expressionism, but it has its own individual style.

 The Rumour was staged in December, 1922 by the Stage Society. The Times (London) reviewer stated: “it is a clever piece of satire swamped by political oratory.” Later in the review he singled out young Claude Raines (1889-1967) for kudos. 

The Rumour was considered worthy of publication in 1923 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. of London.  A. Knopf of New York, in 1924, published another book edition of The Rumour. It was included in another publication titled Three Plays. By C.K. Munro. Victor Gollancz, Ltd. London: 1932.

The Rumour, a satire on international politics is designated by the playwright as “A Play in Two Parts.”  However, there is also a Prologue and an Epilogue. These two framing scenes are set in the London home of a man named Luke, who has major interest in financial operations in two small European countries—Przimia and Loria.  Luke’s greed is the trigger that sets the action of the play in motion, but he only appears in these two scenes.  This is a long play with many scenes and about fifty characters.  Part I, Act I has four scenes, Part I, Act II contains four scenes. Part II, Act I has three scenes while Part II, Act II also contains three scenes. 

The plot commences when a British diplomat in Przimia spreads a rumor that the poorer neighboring country of Loria is planning to start a war with Przimia in order to recover a territory taken from it fifty years before.  Many Lorians work in Przimia since they are less expensive laborers.  The impending war rumor accelerates when the daughter of a British workman is killed accidentally by a stray bullet while she is attending a meeting in Przimia with her Lorian boyfriend. This incident is magnified in the British press and a war ensues in which both small countries lose.  The peace treaties advantage the British and French business interests.  Munro used “England” and “France” to represent any powerful modern governments—he did not intend them to be specific references.

The Rumour is a script characterized by many, long speeches and lots of characters, but it clearly delineates the insincerity of political and diplomatic discussion because the outcome is determined long before the war begins. The two powerful countries support the outcome desired by their own rich commercial financiers. Munro wanted to delineate a realistic view of the world as it emerged following World War One.

The Rumour received a second major staging opportunity by Terence Gray in 1927 at the Festival Theatre in Cambridge, England.  This theatre founded in 1926 was experimental rather than following the more conventional West End theatres. Gray produced plays to provoke unexpected and unanticipated audience reactions. He wanted the plays to portray a readjustment of the accepted values to his audiences.  This production featured a young Maurice Evans (1901-1989) as the Honorable Algernon Moodie, British Attaché in Przimiprzak.

The Rumour eventually was successfully staged at the Court Theatre, London, opening during February, 1929 and it ran for sixty-seven performances. The cast included Jessica Tandy (1909-1994) in her first West End production.  The success at the Court helped to spread interest in this play throughout the United Kingdom. Also the script was reworked and shortened by the Court Theatre Company.  Numerous local productions of The Rumour were staged throughout Great Britain during the 1930s.  It was also adapted into a one hour radio play and broadcast on the National “wave” throughout 1930 and 1931. 

Another production of The Rumour was mounted in early 1930 by the English Players headed by Edward Stirling (1891-1948). This company toured Munro’s play to Frankfurt, Germany and Vienna, Austria. 

This is an unusual play with a topic that is still relevant.  It is worth one’s time to read The Rumour.

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