Category Archives: Theatre

Discussing ‘Oh What a…’

Radio 3 discussion of Oh What a lovely War fifty years on. Good account of the play’s impact at the time, and Murray Melvin very interesting on how scenes were improvised. Also good on Littlewood’s delicacy of touch. She was a marvellous director. The programme touched only slightly on the play’s sometimes-dodgy and simplistic version […]

Toller’s ‘Draw the Fires’

Ernst Toller’s Feuer aus den Kesseln was written in 1930, and a translation (as Draw the Fires) was performed in Manchester in 1935 (by the Theatre of Action company, directed by Joan Littlewood). I’m something of a connoisseur of shot-at-dawn narratives, and what I find interesting about this one is that it is quite unlike […]

Lawrence’s ‘The Daughter-in-Law’

Seeing a first-rate production of The Daughter-in-Law at the Sheffield Crucible has reminded me of what a very good writer D.H.Lawrence could be before the War threw him badly off-kilter. The play was written in 1912 and its premise is simple. Luther Gascoyne, coal-miner and mother’s boy, has finally got round to marrying Minnie, a […]

‘The Accrington Pals’ at the Royal Exchange

Peter Whelan’s The Accrington Pals was first produced in 1981, when the expected mode of First World War Drama was something like Days of Hope or The Monocled Mutineer, sagas of class oppression and futility. Whelan’s play (now revived in a very good production at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre) could have been more of the […]

Charles Chilton

Sad news – the death of  Charles Chilton, whose BBC work on soldiers’ songs was taken up by Joan Littlewood and turned into Oh What a Lovely War fifty years ago. He was not just a scholar of popular culture, but also the creator of two institutions important to my childhood -  the Journey Into […]

‘The Title’: Arnold Bennett and the censor

Arnold Bennett’s 1918 play The Title is very much a play of the War years, but is not a play about the War. Written at the time when Bennett had an important role at the Ministry of Information, as Director of Propaganda for France, I see the play as one of the ways in which […]

Oh What a Lovely Programme

I’ll be moving house next week, so have been doing the final stages of an attic clear-out. Today I found something I never realised I’d kept, the programme of Oh What a Lovely War from Wyndhams Theatre, where I first saw it in 1963. It reminded me of  a thrilling evening, and the first time, […]

P. G. Wodehouse on Maud Allan’s ‘Salome’

A major scandal of 1918 was the Pemberton-Billing libel case. In February 1918 Maud Allan, an expressive and sensuous dancer, presented her version of Wilde’s ‘Salome’ to a select audience. Noel Pemberton-Billing fumed about her in his paper, The Imperialist, suggesting that she was a lesbian, and that her audience was packed with the sexual […]

‘The Conquering Hero’ at Richmond

Allan Monkouse’s The Conquering Hero is one of the most interesting plays of the twenties, and the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond have given it a production of their usual high standard. Allan Monkhouse (1858-1936) was himself too old for military service in the war, but here, as in his 1919 novel True Love, he […]

‘Journey’s End’ at Milton Keynes

Last week I saw Journey’s End on stage in Milton Keynes, in a production that will be travelling to several other cities. It was not a perfect production, but the play came through strongly and impressed me more than ever. I was annoyed at the beginning, by a drop-curtain of Lord Kitchener pointing his famous […]


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