Monday, January 30, 2017


Muriel Box, born Violette Muriel Baker (1905-1991), began in 1933 writing dramas with Sydney Box. Sydney had the inspiration to write plays for the British Dramatic Societies. It is estimated that 20,000 amateur groups with approximately a million members constituted these societies. The majority of the members were women, but the plays written for these groups had the majority of the roles for men. 

Stanley sold his idea of writing one-act plays for women to Harraps Publishers.  The first plays written jointly by Sidney and Muriel were highly successful and they continued writing one-act and full-length plays for women into 1939.  These plays were never written to be produced by London’s professional theatre companies. However, Muriel and Sydney Box became the playwrights whose plays were the most performed across Great Britain.

In spring of 1935, Sydney’s and Muriel’s book titled Five New Full-Length Plays for Women was published. Each play is credited to a different playwright, however Leslie Rees, the drama critic for Era, commented in a review dated April 24, 1935 that despite the fact each play is credited to a different dramatist there is “a similarity of viewpoint and material running through the entire book.” 

The first play in this volume is Angels of War by Muriel Box. Sidney is credited with The Women and the Walnut Tree and the other three plays each have a different woman’s name as dramatist. It is obvious the entire volume was written by the Box team as were their other volumes.

Angels of War, a three-act play, is divided into scenes in Acts Two and Three. The entire play “takes place in a cottage behind the British lines in France, during the year 1918.”  It has a cast of ten females.

Act One takes place in March, 1918. Six members of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxilary Corps called the “Waacs” –Women’s Army Auxilary Corps (1917-1919) live in the cottage. These young women serve as ambulance drivers picking up wounded soldiers on the battlefield and delivering them to a triage location. Act One introduces a new recruit into this setting.  She is Edna Clarke who is quickly nicknamed Nobby. This act serves primarily as an introduction to the characters, the situation and the peril that surrounds them on a daily basis.

Act Two, Scene One takes place on a Sunday evening in November, 1918. The contrast in attitude and behavior between Nobby and the other young women no longer exists. The rest of the conflict in the play rests on the fact that two of the women exchange shifts and the one who goes on duty is killed. Act Two, Scene Two is an hour later and the Commandant questions the Waacs.

Act Three, Scene One is set at half-past seven on the following morning. The Commandant continues her interrogation until she is interrupted by her assistant who announces the war is over. Scene Two is one month later. The women are about to be sent back to England and they discuss their futures. It is in this segment that the major message of the play is strongly stated—the women discuss that were willing to sacrifice their futures, which many of them did, since this “was a war that was going to end wars.”

Angels of War was of interest to many women in dramatic societies when it was published.  Their curiosity went beyond the fact that it had strong roles for actresses. British theatre audiences had become interested once more in World War One battlefront stories that were being dramatized in the late 1920—Journey’s End (1928) being the most well-known one.  Angels of War was the female version of what women in the military experienced at the battle-front. Another significant reason that this play resonated with its original audiences was that in the second half of the 1930’s the potential for another major war was becoming obvious. Angels of War addressed the feelings that many women had about this brewing situation. 

Angels of War was produced by women who belonged to the British Dramatic Societies. I have found several newspaper articles that mention productions of this play. In March of 1937, The Stage reported that the Birmingham Girls’ Old Edwardian Club presented Box’s Angels of War for a dramatic competition and the group won second place.  The Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News reported on April 28, 1938 that The Good Companion’s Drama Club “firmly entrenched itself in the mud and blood of wartime with a performance of ‘Angels of War’.”

This play continued to be presented during the 1940’s. A few examples from newspaper articles included one from the Derbyshire Times and Chester Herald that reported the Hasland Village Playgoers presented Angels of War the third week of January, 1944. There were several mentions in different publications about the Bristol Guild of Players Annual Festival featuring a production of Angels of War performed by Thirteen Players. The Stage ran its story on March 17, 1949. A short review of this performance appeared in the March 16, 1949 edition of the Western Daily Press.

A 1981-82 production of Angels of War was staged by Mrs. Worthington Daughter’s. This company, based in London, was dedicated to producing plays “by and about women of the past.”  Neil Chaillet (1944-    ) of the London Times reviewed Angels of War in October, 1981 when it was performed by Mrs. Worthington’s Daughter’s at Essex University during the Festival of Contemporary Arts. The production toured Great Britain and it was performed in London. The performances continued into 1982. Chaillet concluded his review with a comment about the play itself: “but the brisk writing and unusual insight is absorbing.”

1         Information relating to the British Societies:
    Cooke, Rachel. Her Brilliant Career. Great Britain: Virago Press, 2013
  and New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2014. Page 187.

2       Biographical Information:
    Gale, Maggie B. West End Women. London: Routledge, 1996.

3       Script for play:
    Tylee, Claire M. War Plays by Women. London: Routledge, 1999.

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