Wednesday, March 22, 2017


James M. Barrie (1860-1937) designated A Kiss for Cinderella a comedy.  It is a play that combines many elements to provide a splendid entertainment, but the script never allowed the 1916-18 audiences to forget that they were living during World War One.  This unusual play was a major success in London and New York.

Act One is set in Mr. Bodie’s London studio. He is a painter of limited talent who is spending a quiet evening at home. The action of the play is set in the year it was written—1916. A policeman arrives to warn Mr. Bodie that his skylight needs to be boarded-up due to Zeppelin-raids. However, the previously protected skylight had some of its boards removed. Mr. Bodie’s young domestic servant named Miss Thing, who goes by the name of Cinderella, has daily been snitching boards.

Act Two. Scene One. (The script I read is a volume from a set titled The Plays of J.M. Barrie published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1923. This script does not designate scenes by number, but the play is easier to follow if the different locations for the action are numbered as scenes.) It is later the same day and the Policeman followed Cinderella home.

Scene Two. The Policman enters her poor dwelling.  He sees four wooden boxes and several persons as well as Cinderella. She does odd jobs in her home and charges a penny per job. It is quickly apparent that a child sleeps in each box.  Cinderella is caring for children left by their fathers, who are fighting in the trenches. The odd penny jobs help Cinderella buy food to feed the children. She reveals to the Policeman her dream of going to a royal ball. The children are sure she will be invited.

Scene Three. Cinderella is outside in the street. She falls asleep and her Godmother appears wearing a Red Cross nurse’s uniform. She hears Cinderella’s three wishes and agrees to grant them. The first wish is to go to the Ball. The Godmother provides the means for Cinderella to attend her fantasized event.

 Scene Four is the Royal Ball. There is a long segment before Cinderella makes her grand entrance and the events of this splendid, glamorous Ball unfold. Scene Four returns to the street outside Cinderella’s door.  She is asleep, but very nearly dead from pneumonia.

Act Three. She has been saved from death by the Policeman. Cinderella was restored to health by Mr. Bodie’s sister, who is a doctor. Cinderella is staying in the doctor’s home. She also helps Doctor Bodie take care of wounded soldiers—wish number two. The Policeman becomes Cinderella’s Prince Charming and they shall live happily ever after—wish number three.

It is obvious, from my basic description of this play, that it combines an unusual mixture of elements. The well-known fairy tale of Cinderella allowed Barrie to present both the difficulties of everyday life during the war as well as to provide the audience an escape into a world of magical splendor. The plot includes war-time conditions that the British were facing such as food rationing, Zeppelin-raids, fear of spies, caring for wounded soldiers, displaced children, blackouts and other daily concerns. The issue of caring for the displaced children is pressed even further. The youngest of Cinderella’s four children is German. The Policeman says to Cinderella: “If her folk had been in your place and you in hers, they would have shown neither mercy nor pity for you.  CINDERELLA (stoutly). That makes no difference.” The play does not back away from every day war feelings and problems.

A Kiss for Cinderella also shares many elements with the popular British Christmas Pantomime that usually was staged during the Christmas and New Year season.  Basic characteristics of these scripts include no direct reference to Christmas.  The plot is often based on well-known children’s stories or fairy tales. There is frequently a Good Fairy or wise woman such as Cinderella’s imaginary Godmother. This character provides the obligatory transformation scene.  A Kiss for Cinderella shares the built-in requirement of a love interest. The typical Christmas Pantomime always included music and dancing. While my recount of the “Kiss Cinderella” plot does not mention music, it is obvious the Ball includes both of these elements. The happy ending and the special visual effects round-out how this script matched many of the basic requirements for holiday fare.

A Kiss for Cinderella opened in London on March 16, 1916 at the Wyndham’s Theatre. It was a success at this theatre and played for 156 performances at Wyndham’s before it was revived on December 23, 1916 at the Kingsway Theatre. The December 26, 1916 review in the Times London states: “In many ways this delightful fantasy makes an ideal Christmas entertainment.” The review also mentions how Barrie "sees things not through adult spectacles, but as a child might. . . " “The wonderful ball is not the ball of pantomime; it is a weirdly clever reproduction of the kind of thing that might be imagined by a child who has seen nothing more like a ball than a horse show.”

A Kiss for Cinderella opened in New York City on December 25, 1916 at the Empire Theatre. It ran for 152 performances until May, 1917. Following its Broadway run, the production went on an extensive tour of the United States.

My next post will discuss the production history of A Kiss for Cinderella in Great Britain and the United States.

Photograph appeared in The Graphic, 15 April, 1916.

No comments:

Post a Comment