Many poems, novels and essays written during and following World War One are well known today; however, the plays that were a major form of popular entertainment, as well as a means of communicating with the people on the home fronts, are mainly forgotten.  It is true that theatre is an ephemeral art. It lives in the minds of the viewers as well as leaving a scattering of newspaper and magazine reviews. Scripts for plays written during this period are frequently very difficult to locate.  Many of them were either not published or the initial publications are now hard to find.  There are exceptions such as the British play Journey’s End by R. C. Sherriff and What Price Glory? by American playwrights Laurence Stallings and Maxwell Anderson.

My search for World War One plays is limited to those that were performed by professional acting companies. Therefore, they received reviews by seasoned newspaper critics. Also records exist designating the length of the run each production had in major theatre cities such as London, Paris, Berlin and New York.  These professionally mounted productions tell a lot about what audiences wanted, needed and maybe just tolerated in the home countries of the playwrights. There is also information about the play when it was performed outside its country of origin.   

These plays reveal haunting portraits of the struggles, fears, emotions that the war had inflicted upon the people in every country where they were performed.  The plays speak with a direct voice of the times. They also expose many societal changes that the war was creating.  The war years were an era in which the styles of drama were evolving—realism, naturalism and even the final stages of romanticism were being slowly replaced by expressionism and other experimental “isms”.  We understand today how difficult change can be and many of the plays illustrate how fast paced change was during the war years and following.

Another area of interest for me associated with these plays is the major names in theatre that were involved with the productions. Some were innovators, others were old establishment and many were rising stars--individuals such as Max Reinhardt, Sarah Bernhardt, Charles Frohman, Lynn Fountanne, David Belasco and Gabriel Pierné.

During the years of the centenary commemoration for World War One, it is appropriate to have an exchange about these plays, to hear the voices of those who crafted them, to learn the audiences’ reactions, to know the criticism of the plays that were staged and to be open to all considerations relating to the topic. Readers of this blog are invited to ask questions and to contribute commentary about World War One theatre pieces, playwrights and artists who created productions relating to the war years and reflecting upon it afterwards between the years 1919-1934. 

You may be interested to read: HOW I THINK ABOUT PLAYS