Plays

The Apple

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

The Apple is a powerful indictment of inequality between the sexes and its economic consequences. It explores a family in which the grandfather has left his money to all his grandchildren, but it has been spent on the favoured son, Cyril, the ‘apple’ of his father’s eye, to establish his position in the world. Meanwhile his sister Ann acts as unpaid housekeeper and Helen works as a typist, about which Cyril is duly superior. When Helen is subjected to sexual advances at work from her father’s friend Nigel Dean, Helen determines to use her share of the money to go to Canada to make a better life. But Cyril has already made his claim for the money to buy the partnership which will allow him to marry. Where many of the AFL plays are propaganda pieces which use a comic mode to defeat anti-suffragist arguments, The Apple addresses larger grievances of women’s lives frustrated by lack of economic independence, the narrow options open to women in the workforce and the issue of sexual harassment. In its account of economic drudgery it has similarities to the work of Elizabeth Baker or Cicely Hamilton. It powerfully, and still unusually for its time, creates a heroine in Helen who gives unapologetic voice to her anger at the limitations imposed on her. The author juxtaposes her with her downtrodden, self-sacrificing sister, Ann, whose only access to money, is by pawning her possessions. It remains moving and resonant in its account of the frustration and oppressiveness of family structures in which Helen demands “a glimpse of life, a taste of the joy of living, a few pence in my pocket, my rights as an individual” but remains entrapped within a scenario, dictated by her boss, which alone seems to offer any chance of these. Inez Bensusan wrote three other plays, all unpublished: the duologue, Perfect Ladies (1909, now lost), Nobody’s Sweetheart, 1911 (produced at the Little Theatre) and The Prodigal Passes, 1914 (Cosmopolis).

‘I’ll Leave it to you’

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Described by Coward as an ‘amiable, innocuous and deeply unpretentious little comedy’, ’I’ll Leave It To You’ was the first of Coward’s plays to be produced, in 1920. It is the neat and energetic story of an uncle who privately promises each of his idle nieces and nephews that he will leave them his entire fortune if they make something of themselves. When he returns to London a year later, the children are no longer moping around the house and, inspired by the promise of a grand inheritance, have turned themselves into highly successful composers, writers, actors and prize-winners. But it’s difficult to pin Uncle Daniel down on how exactly he made his money, and whether he really has three years to live before succumbing to an elusive malady. Showing little sign of having been written in just three days, ’I’ll Leave It to You’ is nimble, light-hearted and quick-witted.

In the Workhouse

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

In the Workhouse was one of the most controversial plays produced by Edy Craig’s Pioneer Players as part of a triple bill with Chris St John’s The First Actress and Cicely Hamilton’s Jack and Jill and a Friend (King’s Hall, 1911). It is an exposé of the iniquities of the Coverture Act, which decreed that a married woman had no separate legal existence from her husband and therefore meant that if her husband entered – or left – the workhouse, she and her children were obliged to go with him. Set in a workhouse ward, where a group of mothers, married and unmarried, look after their children, it exposes the contradictions of a system where Penelope, a respectable, secure, mother of five and unmarried is freer than respectable Mrs Cleaver who returns from her appeal to the Board of Guardians to announce that legally she has no right to leave the workhouse, even though she has work to go to and a home available for herself and her children. The play, with its refusal to condemn vice and the unmarried mother, was either condemned for offensiveness or acclaimed for its importance. The Pall Mall Gazette compared it to the work of Eugene Brieux “which plead for reform by painting a terrible, and perhaps overcharged, picture of things as they are . . . Such is the power of the dramatic pamphlet, sincerely written and sincerely acted. There is nothing to approach it in directness and force. It sweeps all mere prettiness into oblivion”. Two years after the play was produced, the law was changed, in large measure due to Nevinson’s and other suffragists’ campaigns. The play was revived in 1979 by Mrs Worthington’s Daughters, a feminist theatre company, directed by Julie Holledge in a double-bill with Susannah Cibber’s The Oracle (1752).

Jim’s Leg

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Originally published in Votes for Women, 29 Jan 1911, Jim’s Leg is a comedy of reversed sex roles. This device is a familiar one, most often enacted in the political realm in fantasy pieces where women are in control of the machinery of government and men struggle for respect and representation, such as Mary Cholmondeley’s Votes for Men or Alison Garland’s The Better Half. In Jim’s Leg the role reversal is anchored in believable social reality as the speaker recounts how her husband’s losing his leg in an accident with a motor bus has been the best thing to happen to her. Whereas before he used to belittle her work in the home, go out drinking and come home and hit her, now, having had to stay home and look after the children while she did his job as a bottle washer, he has gained an immediate appreciation of what’s involved and even converts to the belief that women should have the vote. While somewhat stereotypical in its representation of East End life, as an account of domestic grind it is vivid and believable. It also acknowledges the devaluation of women’s work outside the home – when the speaker takes over Jim’s bottle washing job, she is paid less than him for it – an issue on which the AFL was particularly active. This was largely due to their own experience as women in the acting profession, where pay was based on an individual’s standing as a performer rather than on gender bias, a situation that was highly unusual in the Edwardian workplace (though unemployment was high throughout the profession). The monologue recognizes the draining nature and thanklessness of domestic labour and childcare in a way which remains immediate and contemporary. A short radio version was aired on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour in November 1999 as part of an item on the 90th anniversary of the AFL.

La Ronde

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Schnitzler’s comic masterpiece shows a spectrum of social class from prostitutes to noblemen in a series of drily observed sexual encounters. It is a cycle of ten dialogues, retaining one character from each scene into the next one, so that a prostitute picks up a solider who then seduces a housemaid who then falls into bed with her master. The cycle is completed by a return to the prostitute of the first scene. Famously, each scene features a set of dashes, denoting sexual intercourse. It is a witty, knowing examination of the rituals of seduction and shame and the hollow sounds of courtship.

La Ronde formed the basis of a famous film in 1950, but its real notoriety goes back to 1900 when it was privately printed and subsequently banned. It was not performed until 1920 in Berlin, where anti-Semitic riots broke out, resulting in the arrest and trial of the cast and director, allegedly for obscenity. The controversy continued with David Hare’s 1998 adaptation, The Blue Room.

Frank Marcus’s translation was aired on the BBC in 1982.

The Light Burns Blue

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Silva Semerciyan's The Light Burns Blue is a play inspired by the true story of the Cottingley Fairies: the case of two young cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, who in 1917, having purportedly taken photographs of real fairies near their home in Cottingley, Yorkshire, were invited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes) to speak at a conference in London about their supernatural encounters.

The play was commissioned by Tonic Theatre in partnership with Nick Hern Books as part of Platform, an initiative comprising a series of big-cast plays with predominantly or all-female casts, written specifically for performance by school, college and youth-theatre groups, with the aim of addressing gender imbalance and inequality in theatre.

The Light Burns Blue was published on 11 June 2015, along with two other plays inaugurating the Platform series: by This Changes Everything by Joel Horwood and Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy.

The play's action takes place over the summer of 1917 in the village of Cottingley and in London. The scenes flash back and forth between Cottingley around the time when the photographs were taken, and the London hotel where excited supporters have gathered to hear for themselves about the supposed evidence for another world. Winifred, a sceptical reporter from a local newspaper, has disguised herself as an adolescent girl in order to infiltrate the Cottingley coterie, and is now about to expose Elsie and Frances as frauds. But as she looks at the facts, she begins to think there's more to Elsie's story than a simple hoax.

The play was first performed at the Bristol Old Vic on 15 April 2015 in a production directed by Lisa Gregan and designed by Max Johns.

Miss Appleyard's Awakening

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When trying to gather signatures for an anti-suffrage petition, Miss Appleyard is invited into a potential signatory's house, a woman who shares Miss Appleyard’s anti-Suffrage stance. However, as their conversation continues, Miss Appleyard cannot help but notice that her hostess’s arguments are weak and contradictory. She leaves the house quite convinced of the opposite beliefs than those she had entered with.

In her introduction, Naomi Paxton writes: ‘It has humour in the text . . . and in the playing and is a great piece to introduce an audience to the arguments surrounding the suffrage debate in this period.'

Miss Appleyard’s Awakening was first performed at the Rehearsal Theatre, London, on 20 June 1911.It was published by the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL) in 1911.

The Mother's Meeting

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In her introduction to the play, Naomi Paxton writes: ‘While attending what she believes to be a Mothers Meeting Mrs Puckle finds herself having an unexpected reaction to what she hears. A joyful, entertaining monologue, the piece uses a working class character to expose the inconsistencies in the Anti-Suffrage arguments. Interesting because it paints a picture of Mrs Puckle’s home life and family; it also is another monologue directly spoken to the audience that allows for interaction between audienceand performer.'

The Mother’s Meeting was published by the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL) in 1913.

audio Pygmalion

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

One of Shaw’s most enduring works, Pygmalion is an insightful comedy of class relations and perceptions, as played out between a Cockney flower girl and the irascible speech professor who has taken her on as a pet project. Described by critics as “a play of great vitality and charm,” Pygmalion inspired the award-winning stage and film productions of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, My Fair Lady.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Roslyn Alexander, Shannon Cochran, Denise du Maurier, Rebecca MacLean, David New, Kenneth J. Northcott, Nicholas Pennell, Nicholas Rudall, Ben Whitehouse and Laura Whyte.

Featuring: Roslyn Alexander, Shannon Cochran, Denise du Maurier, Rebecca MacLean, David New, Kenneth J. Northcott, Nicholas Pennell, Nicholas Rudall, Ben Whitehouse, Laura Whyte

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Roslyn Alexander, Shannon Cochran, Denise du Maurier, Rebecca MacLean, David New, Kenneth J. Northcott, Nicholas Pennell, Nicholas Rudall, Ben Whitehouse and Laura Whyte.

Featuring: Roslyn Alexander, Shannon Cochran, Denise du Maurier, Rebecca MacLean, David New, Kenneth J. Northcott, Nicholas Pennell, Nicholas Rudall, Ben Whitehouse, Laura Whyte

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Roslyn Alexander, Shannon Cochran, Denise du Maurier, Rebecca MacLean, David New, Kenneth J. Northcott, Nicholas Pennell, Nicholas Rudall, Ben Whitehouse and Laura Whyte.

Featuring: Roslyn Alexander, Shannon Cochran, Denise du Maurier, Rebecca MacLean, David New, Kenneth J. Northcott, Nicholas Pennell, Nicholas Rudall, Ben Whitehouse, Laura Whyte

Rococo

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A masterful short comic drama from Harley Granville Barker, Rococo is a chamber piece that trains its lens on family conflict, inheritance law and objets d’arts, refracting these issues through the prism of a Rococo vase which has made its way into the possession of the family via the Emperor of Germany and a recently deceased relative.

Rococo was given four matinée performances at the Court Theatre, London, in February 1911, then was presented at the Little Theatre, London, in October 1911, in a production directed by the playwright.