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‘This Unhappy Nation’: War on the Stage in 1914

  • Steve Nicholson
Chapter

Abstract

According to The Era in August 1914, recent wars involving the British army had been ‘so comparatively small and far away from us that it was possible to treat them effectively as entertainments of the stage’. This hardly applied to the present conflict and, in any case, the appalling actions of the invading German army had made it difficult to combine war and amusement. For dramatists in Britain now, ‘The great difficulty in writing a war play’ was ‘to avoid boastfulness and brag’ while managing ‘to preserve a tone of quiet confidence and reliance’.1 A few weeks later, The Stage outlined what it believed audiences were looking for in a war-time theatre: ‘One may be sure that the public does not want anything that gives it furiously to think. It does not want the serious play.’ Rather, the public wished ‘to be taken out of itself’, through entertainment which was ‘stirring […] patriotic, romantic, or melodramatic’. Certainly, it was likely to shun anything ‘that adds at all to the burden of sadness that the War brings into the midst of us’.2 For the theatre industry, meanwhile. the fear was that audiences would vanish, finding the entertainment on offer to be unnecessary or distasteful; and perhaps even asking whether those still involved in creating it might not be better occupied in active service — especially as The Era itself acknowledged that ‘[t]he actor ought to make a smart soldier’, being ‘alert, intelligent, habitually obedient, and essentially energetic’.3

Keywords

Scarlet Fever British Library Daily Mail British Army Stage Direction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 6.
    L. J. Collins, Theatre at War, 1914–18 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, — now Palgrave Macmillan, 1998), 199.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Edmund Goulding, God Save the King, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/27. Licensed for performance at the Palladium on 17 August.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Kenelm Foss, The Hem of the Flag, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/29. Licensed for performance on 14 September.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Bertrand Davis, A Call to Arms, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914, Vol. 28. Licensed for performance on 7 September.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Arthur Wimperis and Hartley Carrick, By Jingo if We Do, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/31. Licensed for performance on 19 October.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Seymour Hicks and Edward Knoblauch, England Expects, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/29. Licensed for performance on 17 September.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    William Moore, The Supreme Sacrifice (Answering England’s Call), British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/35. Licensed for performance at Camberwell Empire on 30 November.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    Gertrude Jennings, The King’s Man, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/29. Licensed for performance at the Royalty Theatre, London on 23 September.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Mrs Cyril Morris, Heroes Every One of Them, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/36. Licensed for performance at the Court Theatre on 21 December.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Ernest Temple Thurston, The Cost, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/30. Licensed for performance at the Vaudeville Theatre on 29 September.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    Heinz Kosok, The Theatre of War: The First World War in British and Irish Drama (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 15–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 31.
    Frederick. Melville, One Way of War (’What We Are Fighting For’), British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/30. Licensed for performance at Brixton Theatre on 12 October.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    Henrietta Schrier and Lodge-Percy, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/34. Licensed for performance at Stockton-on-Tees Grand Theatre on 28 November.Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    Leonard F. Durrell, Kultur: A Propaganda, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/37. Licensed for performance at Manchester Hippodrome on 21 December.Google Scholar
  15. 35.
    Chris Davies and A. Lieth, The Enemy, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/34. Licensed for performance at Bedford Palace, Camden Town on 30 November.Google Scholar
  16. 37.
    John Patrick Forman, To Arms, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/29. Licensed for performance at Assembly Rooms, Malvern on 5 October.Google Scholar
  17. 42.
    James Barrie, Der Tag, British Library, Lord Chamberlain’s Collection of Plays, 1914/36.Google Scholar
  18. 44.
    James Barrie, Der Tag (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914). Licensed for performance at the Coliseum, 21 December 1914.Google Scholar
  19. 46.
    Gordon Williams, British Theatre in the Great War: a Revaluation (London: Continuum, 2003), 179.Google Scholar

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© Steve Nicholson 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steve Nicholson

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