Tuesday, October 3, 2017


When World War One began, Frederick Lonsdale (1881-1954) and Edward Knoblaugh (1874-1945) were well-known playwrights both in New York City on Broadway and in London’s West End theatres. Lonsdale was British and Knoblaugh was an American living in London. Lonsdale wrote entertainments during the war years which allowed his audiences a respite from the conflict. Knoblaugh’s dramas were slightly more serious. However in 1915, both of these men were motivated to write plays to help recruit men to join the British military services.

These plays were necessary for stimulating enlistments since Great Britain had a voluntary military. It is reported that over one million men enlisted by January 1915.  While that number seems enormous, it was not enough since casualties took so many individuals out of active duty. Throughout 1915 new recruits were desperately needed. The situation changed in January 1916. The Military Service Act was passed and all single men between the ages of eighteen to forty-one were compelled to serve. This legislation provided exceptions for clergymen, educators and man with medical problems. A second Act was established in May 1916 extending conscription to married men.

Londale’s play The Patriot (1915) and Knoblaugh’s The Way to Win (1915) were needed for the recruitment efforts only for the year of 1915. In Great Britain, both of these plays are categorized as “sketches.”  In the United States, these two plays are considered one-act plays. Each of these two plays portrays an individual reluctant to join the war effort. However, each script dramatizes the positive influence of an individual who effectively reverses the non-joiner’s attitude.

The Patriot is Lonsdale’s only play that relates to World War One. It is set in the home of the Collington family who live in a residential area located on the outskirts of London. They have not been directly affected by the war. Their son Edward has no intention of joining the military service even though he is constantly prompted to do so by his sister Mary. This complacent family suddenly has its world turned upside down when they are informed that a Private is going to be billeted in their home. The family feels that the war is suddenly a “beastly nuisance.”

Private Coates arrives and during his conversation with Mr. Collington, it is revealed that he is the son of deceased Sir John Coates. The family’s attitude does a 180 and nothing is too much for their titled soldier. It is Coates’s beliefs that influence Edward’s decision to join the Army. 

The Patriot premiered on May 14, 1915 at London’s Grand Palace Theatre. This large Music
Hall seated 3,000 persons. The Patriot was one segment of a patriotic program. I have not
found evidence that this play was ever produced elsewhere. It could have been specifically
written for this event.

The Way to Win was written as a special piece to star Gabrielle Dorziat (1880-1979) a popular French actress, who toured theatres in England during 1915. To raise money for French war refugees in 1916, Dorziat played in the United States.

The Way to Win is set in an artist studio of a sculptor located in Chelsea. Gerald, the sculptor, knows something is wrong with his current project—a statue of Victory.  He is enamored with a French woman named Marianne, who suddenly returns to England and shows up at his door. His spirits are lifted by her visit and she tells him about her current project of raising money for what she terms “my hospital.”  She does recitations in Music Halls to collect donations. 
Marianne sees Gerald’s current sculpture of Victory. She gives him a critique of the statue and tells him “This is a boy’s idea of victory - a student’s - not a man’s.” She tells him the only way to gain a man’s idea of victory is to live. She further elaborates by stating that she has seen victory “in the shining eyes of the men marching to battle – on the lips of the dead.”  Marianne’s prescription to remedy his dreaming is to go “and offer yourself body and soul to England.” She stirs him to join the parade of British soldiers in the street singing the Marseillaise as they go to war.

The Way to Win was first presented at the London Coliseum on June 14, 1915. The Coliseum was owned by Oswalt Stoll (1866-1942) and it was the largest theatre in London with 2,359 seats. The Way to Win appeared on a bill of sketches, musical presentations and other entertaining acts. The Way to Win was well received and Mlle. Dorziat’s performance was highly praised.

Stoll owned at least ten other theatres in addition to the Coliseum at this time. The Way to Win starring Gabrielle Dorziat toured to several other Stoll owned theatres including those in Manchester, Bristol, Leicester and Chatham. The Manchester Evening News reported on August 31, 1915 that The Way to Win “is enjoyable from beginning to end. Mlle. Dorziat’s acting carries it to an effective curtain.”  This production had a decent exposure in several cities of Great Britain.

        I read both scripts in British Literature of World War I, Volume 5, Drama.
                                         Edited by Andrew Maunder. London: Routledge, 2011.

       On July 28, 2016 I posted about Lonsdale’s The Maid of the Mountains.  This
            play was written to allow British audiences to escape from the realities of war.
           It was a box-office sensation.      

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