I’ve been continuing my investigations into the reception of Journey’s End by reading Too Late to Lament, the rather egotistical memoirs of Maurice Browne, the producer who snapped the play up after its club performances, and turned it into a major international event.
Harold Monro (of the Poetry Bookshop) alerted him to the play. All the managers of London were after it, apparently, but Browne, without having seen the play or read the script, went in search of Sherriff, found him and persuaded him to sell the rights.
He then organised a massive advertising campaign; the slogan “All Roads Lead to Journey’s End” was soon on “every road, train, ‘bus, in and around London.”
Great care was taken over the verisimilitude of the production. There were yacht- cannon backstage because “by long and patient experiment the noise of their firing within four walls had been found to duplicate that of a bursting shell.”
Browne gives little idea of what happened on stage – except that at the end of the play, “the curtain rose again for a moment on twelve figures clad in uniform, standing stiffly to attention and dimly seen against a darkness amid the swirl of smoke.” (Some of the actors would have preferred to take the usual bows.)
The critics were immensely enthusiastic about the play, though Browne recalls that:
An angry general sent a letter to the press, an even angrier cleric preached against the play: young captains in the front line never drank.
After three months the play moved from the Savoy to the larger Prince of Wales Theatre. It was a huge popular hit, and what comes through Browne’s recollections strongly is the way in which it was seen not as subversive or oppositional, but as an event that could integrate easily with existing ways of remembering the war. The production company made a contribution to the Haig Fund, and Lady Haig gave a luncheon in Browne’s honour. A private performance was arranged one Sunday, to which every V.C. in Britain was invited. The Prince of Wales was there too (though he turned up late).
It was not only the British Establishment that welcomed the play. Within a year of its opening, the play had been performed by seventy-six companies in twenty-five languages, including every major European language and Japanese. In Germany alone over forty companies performed it. Four touring companies covered the British Isles and ten the rest of the English-speaking world. This immense international success was used in British publicity. “Daily and daylong outside the theatre a crowd gather, studying the large map of the world which hung there. The little flags which indicated where each company was playing were rearranged weekly.”
Browne estimates his net gains from the play at £80,000 – an immense sum in those days. Soon he was able to buy the Globe and Queen’s Theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue.
I wonder how much Sherriff made?