Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

There is a difficulty about this play, but it is in the inevitable application of it and not in the play itself, which is merely a clever and effective melodrama. In the prologue war is declared between England and a 'neighbouring state', the period being professedly a future one. The scene is in the Prime Minister Sir Robert Temple's house. His sister-in-law who keeps house for him reminds him that his beloved and dead wife was interested in a young Swiss girl and intended to offer her the post of nursery governess to his little girl when it could be arranged: she thinks it wise to send away the present nurse and engage this girl, Freda. Act I is in the house of Dr Schiller. The war has been going on for three months; aliens are being strictly dealt with; Schiller has been turned out of his professorship at the London College of music and the family is very bitter against England, especially Margaret, a niece. Freda arrives on her way from Switzerland to the Prime Minister’s: she is an old friend of Margaret's and her brother Otto. Margaret persuades her to let her, Margaret, take her place at the Prime Minister’s, with the object of doing any harm she can as a spy. In Act II the Prime Minister - through the police commissioner - detects her identity, but is so moved by her entreaties that to prevent her and her family's prosecution he lets her stay on in the character of Freda, on her solemn promise to be faithful to him and to have nothing to do with her own people. In Act III Schiller and his friends are plotting the assassination of the Prime Minister and Otto is chosen as the assassin. Margaret appears. She refuses to assist in the murder by opening a window, and insists on the virtues of the Prime Minister and the wickedness of murder. It is pointed out to her that if Otto, her brother, fails in the attempt, he himself will be killed by his co-conspirators. Poor Margaret is torn by conflicting emotions. Her solution appears in Act IV. There is a painful scene, in which the Prime Minister, who has heard of her going to the Schillers accuses her of betraying him and dismisses her, and in which it is clear that Margaret has fallen in love with this magnanimous statesman. Then Margaret lets in Otto, goes out, comes back as the Prime Minister - it is dark and Otto had been told it must be his man who comes in - and is at one shot. Otto escapes. So Margaret has saved the life of the man who had befriended her. Whether Otto would not be killed himself for killing the wrong person does not seem to have occurred to her or the author. The play is improbable melodramatic stuff, but it is fair to say that it is well-written. The Schiller family is good, and the pathos of Margaret's unhappy position is well brought out. As to the difficulty, the author states in a note that 'in casting the action of his play into the future he particularly desires to show that no reference of any kind is intended to illustrate living personages.' Also the war of 1914 is referred to as in the past, and he avoids naming Germany directly. That is all very well, but the audience would most certainly think of the present war, and therefore of the present Prime Minister. Moreover, Mr Hall Caine points this by referring to the answer to our Ultimatum coming at midnight and to the difference of time being discussed - a matter spoken of in August 1914 and mentioned by himself in a Daily Telegraph article, if I remember rightly - see prologue, p.14. And no one would think of the scholars and their friends as other than Germans. It is also unfortunate that the play would revive in people's minds the story about a German governess in Mr Asquith's house – I forget the alleged details. On the other hand it may seem hard on Mr Caine that his play should be forbidden because it may have been suggested by a cock-and-bull story. His melodramatic story is unlike anything alleged. Then, his Prime Minister, except for a foolishly dangerous magnanimity, is a very blameless person, and it is not suggested that he returned the governess's love for him. His circumstances are not like Mr Asquith's. The point is then if the Lord Chamberlain, in spite of Mr Caine’s disclaimer and without refusing to accept it, should still think it as desirable that a play so certain to be applied to an actual statesman should be allowed. I should think not, if it were a more probable sort of thing, but being so much on the lines of ordinary melodrama and so obviously not really reflecting any real event - so far as the private affair is concerned - I doubt if it could be forbidden. It is very dubiously, however, that it is Recommended for license.

Researcher's Summary:

The play premiered in Atlantic City, U.S.A in mid-January 1916 under the title 'Margaret Schiller'. The Globe declared that it 'has not the London look, in the temper of the time, even if the Censor should approve' (16 February 1916). It was not produced in London, although in 1918 a second play by Caine also with the title 'The Prime Minister' was submitted for licence and was performed under that title at the Royalty in early April 1918.

Licensed On: 18 Feb 1916

License Number: 66

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British Library Reference: LCP1916/3

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66124 N

Performances

DateTheatreType
N/A Globe Theatre, LondonUnknown Licensed Performance