A Most Disturbing Play: The Secret Agent

  • Richard J. Hand


The success of Basil Macdonald Hastings’s Victory evidently inspired Conrad for later in 1919 he started to work on an adaptation of The Secret Agent. The play was finally performed in November 1922, when it enjoyed a high-profile West End production at the Ambassadors Theatre directed by the American producer-actor-writer J. Harry Benrimo (co-author of the phenomenally popular play The Yellow Jacket in 1912) and featuring a number of major stage actors. The scale of the production and the fame of its playwright meant that the play received a substantial amount of coverage in the newspapers of the time.1 As Knowles and Moore reveal, “Conrad was actively involved in the production, and made pen-and-ink sketches of the five sets” (Knowles and Moore, 2001, 373).2 Although the play was not successful (but neither was it an unmitigated disaster), Conrad’s experience remains a fascinating part of his biography above all in what it reveals about his process of writing and his relationship with his own work. During the early stages of writing the play Conrad seems enthused and passionate — writing to Sidney Colvin in October 1919 “Have begun a play!!! 1st Act nearly finished!!!!!” (CL6, 505) — but as the process of adaptation continues his mood changes.


Direct Speech Chapter XIII Yellow Jacket Secret Agent Stage Direction 
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© Richard J. Hand 2005

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  • Richard J. Hand

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