Category Archives: Theatre

Doctor Scroggy’s War

For his new play at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, Howard Brenton has chosen to tell the story of one of the most remarkable men of the Great War. Harold Gillies (a New Zealander) was the pioneer of plastic surgery in Britain, developing remarkable techniques to help men with broken faces. Among the most successful of these […]

Ethel Mannin on ‘Journey’s End’

Ethel Mannin This month at the Reading 1900-1950 reading group we’re looking at the work of Ethel Mannin. I’m reading her Confessions and Impressions (1930), an alternately fascinating and annoying book of memoirs. I was struck by her comments on Journey’s End: The reason why we have so little great art of any kind today […]

Arnold Bennett and a knighthood

There was an enjoyable programme about Arnold Bennett on Radio 4 yesterday (still available on iPlayer). Deborah Moggach and Giles Brandreth gave a lively account of his life and talked enthusiastically about his novels, agreeing that The Old Wives’ Tale was the best (which is fair enough, though I have an especial fondness for Riceyman […]

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, […]


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