Saturday, December 17, 2016


Four of James M. Barrie’s (1860-1937) one-act plays, relating to how people were dealing with the effects of war on the British home front, were published in 1918 under the title Echoes of the War.  This volume was published in London by Hodder and Stoughton and in the United States by Charles Scribner’s Sons. The four plays, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, The New Word, Barbara’s Wedding and A Well-Remembered Voice were readily available for readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

My post on April 20, 2015 titled “Two Sir James M. Barrie Theatrical Successes” discusses The Old Lady Shows Her Medals and The New Word.  This post focuses on the remaining two plays from the quartet.

Barbara’s Wedding is set in the sitting-room of a country cottage. The plot revolves around an aged Colonel, who fought in the Crimean War (1853-56). He suffers with dementia and has trouble separating the present from the past. He remembers young Barbara, the bride, from before the war, but he is unsure who she is marrying on this day. Billy, his grandson, had been in love with Barbara and planned to marry her. Billy was killed during the early days of World War One. Barbara, presently a nurse in the Red Cross, is marrying Captain Dering, who had been prior to the war, the Colonel’s gardener. The Colonel’s wife, Emily, explains to the Colonel the reality of the situation. This play represents both the past and the reality of the present after three years into the war. The conditions before the war are contrasted with those of rural Great Britain in 1917.

There is an interesting side issue in Barbara’s Wedding. The Colonel mentions a young German fellow named Karl, who was Billy’s friend at university prior to the war. The Colonel liked Karl and speaks of him to Emily. Emily tells the Colonel that Karl, who fought in the German army died in the same battle that Billy did. Understandably, it was unusual for a British play written during the war years to remark kindly about a German, particularly one serving in the German military. This provides a moment that illustrates the losses suffered by both sides of the conflict.

Barbara’s Wedding was not produced in London until August 23, 1927. It was the curtain raiser for August Strindberg’s The Father at the Savoy Theatre. The entire production transferred to the Apollo Theatre on September 19, 1927 and ran for a total of seventy-five performances.  The role of The Colonel was played by Robert Loraine (1876-1935) a successful London and Broadway actor, who received praise in the London Times review of his performance: “--the evening is a triumph for him—he gives a superb performance as the veteran.” (August 24, 1927)

A British production of these same two plays was produced by Lee Shubert on Broadway at the 49th Street Theatre opening on October 8, 1931. Barbara’s Wedding played for twenty performances before it was removed from the bill. Robert Loraine reprised his role as The Colonel.

The 1931 Broadway run was a long time after Barbara’s Wedding had been introduced to American theatre audiences. An article in the Washington Herald dated November 18, 1917 announced that Barbara’s Wedding, “which Barrie has just written” was scheduled to be included with The New Word and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals starting on November 26 at the Empire Theatre in Washington, D.C.  It also announced that Charles Frohman’s theatrical production company had scheduled a tour across the United States for this bill of three Barrie’s plays. There are numerous newspaper announcements from various cities about this successful tour.  The cast members were known Broadway actors.

A Well-Remembered Voice is set in the living-room of Mr. and Mrs. Don. A séance is being conducted by Mrs. Don who hopes to contact her dead son’s spirit. The son, named Dick, was killed in the war and both parents are grieving.  After the failed séance, Dick speaks only to his father, a veteran of a previous war. Dick tells his father that he can only appear to the parent who needs him most. Dick’s voice is the only evidence of him that the audience has of his presence.  The father and son talk about simple activities that they enjoyed. Their shared memories comfort the bereaved Mr. Don.  Dick explains to his father that he is content with death and Mr. Don should not grieve. This is a moving, wishful piece of theatre.

This play’s use of spiritualism as a means of contacting the dead was a popular topic and practice during the closing years of the war. Many authors incorporated it into plays and novels. Spiritual practices were attended by grieving people who lost love-ones during the war.

A Well-Remembered Voice premiered in London on June 28, 1918 at Wyndham’s Theatre. It was one of three plays presented as a benefit performance for a London hospital that served wounded soldiers. This play was not staged again in London even though it was published with other Barrie plays numerous times.

After nearly a century, A Well-Remembered Voice was finally produced during the spring of 2014. This production was developed in a partnership with Io Theatre Company and the University of Hertfordshire’s Everyday Lives in War Centre. Original music was created for this production. A Well-Remembered Voice has toured various cities including London, playing at Leicester Square Theatre in October, 2016. There is a short YouTube video of the play’s highlights with the 2014 cast that is worthwhile viewing.

As mentioned earlier in this post, A Well-Remembered Voice and Barbara’s Wedding were highly successful theatre pieces in the United States. Once the war was concluded and the first major tour of these one-acts ended, both plays continued to be presented by nonprofessional and educational theatres until the late 1940’s. Barbara’s Wedding and A Well-Remembered Voice evoke a comforting quality while being remarkably insightful.

Charles Frohman (1856-1915) was an American theatrical producer, 
who also partnered with British producers on London productions. 
He introduced the plays, playwrights and players of these two 
countries to each other. Frohman was on his annual trip
to England in May, 1915. He was a passenger on the Lusitania 
when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat.

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