Wednesday, March 2, 2022



THE HOME FRONT by Hal D. Stewart

Although this play was written after World War One ended, it focuses on what life was like during the war for women living in Scottish farming communities. It premiered on January 27, 1931 in a production created by the Ayrshire Federation of Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes in the city of Dunlop. The next production was staged by the Scottish Players in the Lyric Theatre in Glasgow on the 24th of March of the same year. Following those two productions, The Home Front became a very popular play with Scottish women’s drama groups.

The cast is comprised of seven female characters.  It is set in the light and airy kitchen of the Murdoch’s farm. The year is 1918. Billy Ashmore is an enlisted member of the “Land Girls.” She is from Glasgow but was assigned to work on this farm.  Billy is in her early twenties and dressed in her uniform of khaki tunic and breeches. When she first arrived on the farm, Mrs. Murdoch’s son John was still at home. John and Billy became engaged prior to his leaving to fight in France.  


                                                               A LAND GIRL AT WORK

On the day when the play begins, Mrs. Murdoch and her two daughters are expecting John to come home for a brief furlough. A problem suddenly develops among the town busybodies. Billy had gone to a dance the previous evening that was held for the British soldiers stationed in town.  She danced with the officer who is billeted at the Murdoch farm and the local farm ladies believe that was not appropriate behavior for an engaged woman. It was much ado about nothing, however, the play ends sadly with word of John’s death in France.

When Stewart wrote this play, there was a need for scripts with roles only for women.  This casting underlines the fact that so many men had either died or been severely wounded. Thus, males were in limited supply for every type of work.  The Home Front also clearly depicts how the local women frequently needed help in the fields to produce food for market as well as coping with the business responsibilities of running the farms. The British Women’s Land Army of 23,000 females took the place of the 100,000 workers lost to the armed forces. This play is a tribute to these women and a remembrance of their service.

Hal D. Stewart (1899-????) is remembered as a Scottish stage producer and director; however, he also established a reputation in London theatre.  His playwriting seems to be mainly focused during the years between 1930 through 1950s.  The Home Front continued to be produced regularly for Drama Festivals in Scotland into the middle of the 1980s.


SYMPHONY IN ILLUSION by James Wallace Bell

Symphony in Illusion was written in 1931-32. Like The Home Front, it was written for a female cast of seven women. This unusual play has a strong anti-war message, and it was a unique script for the women’s drama clubs of Scotland. James Wallace Bell (????-1984) was known as a theatrical producer as well as the acclaimed author of “Symphony.”

Symphony in Illusion is a drama that was conceived in the format of a symphonic composition.  It is divided into three movements instead of acts.  Each movement is assigned a musical term to designate the pace of the speech and movement.

First Movement: Allegro.  Scene---A bare stage. One quickly recognizes this play presents a contrast between reality and illusion since the seven actresses engage in preparing the stage for the play.  “SHE-WHO-PLAYS-THE-MAD-GIRL” is designated by the playwright as the director of the play. The actresses argue over trifles as they set up the scenic elements utilizing a brisk and lively pace. When the scenery and props are in place, the actresses take their positions on the stage as the lighting darkens to a black-out.

Second Movement: Largo. The characters:  A Woman, A Widow, A Girl, A Wanton, An Old Woman, Mary, and A Mad Girl.  The Scene—it is night. This segment of the play is the war interlude. The major scenic elements include the broken steps leading to the portal, without doors, of a war-ruined church. “The muffled rhythm of distant guns is heard in the darkness; not loud, but terribly insistent.” The women are weary and listless. They all wear drab peasant dresses, and have shawls covering their heads and shoulders, except A Girl and the Wanton. The characters are highly strung and nervous to the point of hysteria.  The war has been in progress for four years.

This play shows how these females relate to each other during these trying circumstances. The older characters continue to harangue a young woman who had married a man from the enemy country, before the war had commenced.  They do not let her have any food since they treat her as an enemy. She and her baby starve to death despite the character named Wanton, who pleads for the young mother’s life. As the act concludes and the sounds of war cease, dawn rises and Mary, the voice of reason in this drama, goes to bury her son.

Third Movement: Andante non troppo. “All the lights click on, white and hard; the dawn becomes merely a back-cloth.”  Mad Girl (with a sigh of relief) announces “And that’s that.” The other actresses start talking about their characters and the ideas in the play as they begin to clear the stage of the props and scenic elements. Shortly the overhead lights are switched-off. Only the foot lights illuminate the stage. “Girl” continues to stare out into the distance before running off.  Mary and Wanton continue to collect the crosses left on stage and exit as the footlight “quickly dim out.”

This play was published in 1933 by Samuel French, Ltd., London. Like The Home Front, Symphony in Illusion was also produced by many universities and Dramatic Societies throughout Scotland during the 1930s and 1940s. It won first prize for those groups who mastered the style of production and the truth of its message. It was a well-known play during the period between World War One and Two. It is an unique script.

NOTE: To see more of The Women's Land Army in Pictures visit                               womens-land-army-in-pictures


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