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Edith Craig and the Pioneer Players: London’s International Art Theatre in a ‘Khaki-clad and Khaki-minded World’

  • Katharine Cockin
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Abstract

War-time theatregoers, and music hall audiences in particular, are often associated with the callously self-indulgent civilian population on the home front as described in Siegfried Sassoon’s poem ‘Blighters’ (1917). As other contributors to this book also note, this poem is often used specifically to highlight the dubious pleasures derived by large audiences from performances associated with comedy, dancing women and ragtime music.2 However, the question of taste — pleasurable performances delivered at the expense of the deaths of soldiers — also arose in response to some of the controversial wartime plays staged by the Pioneer Players discussed in this chapter. This relatively small theatre society, based in London, defies many generalizations offered about London theatre in relation to modernism, the First World War and women’s suffrage.3 The Pioneer Players had its most artistically successful years during the war in spite of (and to some extent as a direct result of) financial and other constraints. The society responded to the war by presenting plays that showed how it affected non-combatants and putting on fund-raising productions for war charities. Most explicitly addressing the experience of war were plays such as Gwen John, Luck of War (dealing with accidental bigamy during wartime), and Sewell Collins, The Quitter (desertion from the war zone) both produced on 13 May 1917 and George Bernard Shaw, The Inca of Perusalem (a parody of the German Kaiser) produced on 16 December 1917.4

Keywords

Annual Report British Library Theatre Society Female Dancer Britain 1880 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Siegfried Sassoon, Collected Poems 1908–1956 (London: Faber & Faber, 1961), 21.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Here Sassoon apparently drew on his visit on 4 February 1917 to the Liverpool Hippodrome revue. See Tim Kendall, ed., Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 254.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Katharine Cockin, Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The Pioneer Players 1911–25 (Basingstoke: Palgrave — now Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), 135–65.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Jane Tynan, British Army Uniform and the First World War: Men in Khaki, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 15.
    Rebecca Beasley and Philip Ross Bullock, eds., Russia in Britain 1880–1940: From Melodrama to Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 5.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    See Katharine Cockin ed., The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), xvii–xviii.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    Geoffrey Whitworth, The Art of Nijinsky (London: Chatto & Windus, 1913), 29–30.Google Scholar
  8. 23.
    Marjorie Patterson, Pan in Ambush (New York: Norman, Remington Co., 1921) , 5. Further references are given in parentheses in the body of the text. This publication refers to the first production in the United States having taken place at the Vagabond Theatre, Thursday 7 March 1918. No reference is made to any other production, including the London Pioneer Players’ production in 1916.Google Scholar
  9. 24.
    For example, ‘Faun’ was a term of endearment for Bernard Berenson in the relationship with the aunt and niece poets known as ‘Michael Field’. See Martha Vicinus, ‘Faun Love: Michael Field and Bernard Berenson’, Women’s History Review, 18:5 (2009), 753–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 26.
    Alexandra Smith has claimed that Pamela Colman Smith was responsible for designing this production. See A. Smith, ‘Nikolai Evreinov and Edith Craig as Mediums of Modernist Sensibility’, New Theatre Quarterly, 26:3 (2010), 203–16. Colman Smith designed the play programme for the December 1915 Shaftesbury Theatre production. A sketch of the lighting design for the heart is extant, unsigned and unlike Smith’s customary style. EC-N59, National Trust Ellen Terry and Edith Craig Archive, British Library.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 27.
    Christopher St John, ‘Introduction’ , Nikolai Evreinov, The Theatre of the Soul, trans. Marie Potapenko and Christopher St John (London: Hendersons, 1915), 11.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    Edith Sitwell, ‘The Dancers’, in Scars Upon My Heart: Women’s Poetry and Verse of the First World War, ed., Catherine Reilly (London: Virago, 2006), 100.Google Scholar
  13. See also Richard Greene, Edith Sitwell: Avant Garde Poet, English Genius (London: Hachette 2011).Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    Siegfried Sassoon, Collected Poems (London: Faber, 1947), 78.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    Leonid Andreyev, The Dear Departing: A Frivolous Performance in One Act, trans Julius West (London: Hendersons, 1916), 5.Google Scholar
  16. 37.
    Anna Kisby, ‘Vera “Jack” Holme: Cross-dressing Actress, Suffragette and Chauffeur’, Women’s History Review, 23:1 (2041), 120–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 38.
    Saint-Georges De Bouhélier, ‘Ode: À Nos Amis Des États-Unis’, The Art World, 1:3 (1916), 207–8. The poem was translated into English for the January 1917 issue of The Art World.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 39.
    Saint-Georges De Bouhélier, ‘Ode to Our Friends in the United States’, The Art World, 1: 4 (1917), 243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 41.
    Sybil Thorndike, ‘A Festival in the Barn Theatre, 1947’, in Edy: Recollections of Edith Craig, ed. Eleanor Adlard (London: Frederick Muller, 1949), 80.Google Scholar
  20. 42.
    A wheezing gramophone punctuates the epilogue to Vernon Lee’s Satan the Waster (1920), as Satan comments on the babel of voices calling for peace. The epilogue was published in the English Review in September 1919, just a month after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and nine months before the Pioneer Players’ production of The Children’s Carnival.Google Scholar
  21. See Richard Cary, ‘Shaw Reviews Satan the Waster’, Colby Library Quarterly, 9:6 (1971), 337.Google Scholar

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© Katharine Cockin 2015

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  • Katharine Cockin

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