Great War Theatre
Page from the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Office Stage Plays’ book at the British Library. The four volumes covering the war years list every licensed play in chronological order.

The Great War Theatre database contains an entry on every new play licensed for performance by the Lord Chamberlain between the end of August 1914 and the end of December 1918. This is just under 3000 plays, the earliest being the anonymous The Spy licensed on 21 August 1914, and the latest being G. Edgar’s Stunts licensed on 31 December 1918.

As of December 2020, the database contains data on 2,981 plays, 5,418 people (mostly playwrights and performers but also producers), and 1,816 theatres.

What information can I find on plays?

The amount of information on each play varies. As the project is ongoing, information is constantly being added. Detailed information on the types of data contained in the database and decisions made in designing the database can be found here.

At present there are a minority of plays for which the only data recorded is the author’s name, date of licence, and title of the play.

For the majority of plays you will find:

  • the title.
  • the date the play was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain’s office;
  • the number of the license;
  • the date, theatre and location of the licensed performance; and
  • the British Library classmark and reference. If you are interested in looking at the manuscript yourself in the British Library you will need this reference. You can find out more about viewing the play in person here.

For all plays identified as being war-themed, and a select number of non-war-themed plays you will also find:

  • a transcription of the Examiner of Plays’ notes including a summary of the play and any comments on censoring.
  • the genre of the play; and
  • any keywords.

For a large number of plays you will also find information on performances. The data recorded for these includes:

  • the date, theatre, and location of subsequent performances;
  • the type of performance (e.g. amateur, school, professional);
  • names of performers and producers; and
  • extracts from reviews.

If you would like to find out more about which plays are being researched and what we have found please get in touch. 

Where can I find out more about the database and the terms used?

When searching or looking at results, you may find it helpful to refer to understanding the database.  This explains what the different terms mean. It also explains any decisions made in designing the database, such as where we have had to standardise names to make to make the data searchable.

How do I search?

Start with a basic search. Try typing in a word such as ‘soldier’ in the search bar and the database will return any records which include that word. You can also refine your search with our advanced search function which enables you limit your search by fields, e.g. only searching for plays licensed within certain dates.

You can also limit your search to include only plays:

  • which are war-themed
  • with specific rights, e.g. plays which are in the public domain
  • for scripts available via the database (please note that the number of scripts available is constantly growing as we transcribe and digitise more scripts)

Try the Advanced Search, or learn how to understand the database.