Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

This is a well-meant and naive little Play. It is a curious mixture of the old-fashioned and "emancipated." There are characters called "Old-Pride" "Hate Youth" and so on. These anachronistical aristocrats give a tea party to wounded soldiers in the first Act. It is not a success and Kitty, the daughter of the house, disgusted with the result, goes off disguised as a nursemaid seeking adventure. She makes the acquaintance of "Jack Nobody", a wounded soldier. In the last scene she is living in a little suburban house, having run away with Jack. They are not married. Jack is at the Front. Her aristocratic parents arrive and beg her to return to them. She says she will marry Jack to regularise things, but refuses to go back and makes a spirited speech against convention and all that. They go and Jack arrives invalided out of the army and they happily discuss plans for the future. There is nothing to shock anybody in these days in the girl's act of "emancipation," and the Play is delicately and prettily written. It is for a Charity matinee. I gather. Recommended or Licence. G. S. Street

Researcher's Summary:

The play was licensed on 9 April 1918 for performance at Wyndham’s Theatre, London on 30 April 1918. However, according to The Stage, 1 January 1920 ‘It was first produced at a matinée in aid of the Wounded Soldiers’ Social Entertainment Fund, at Wyndham’s, on May 14, 1918’. This is confirmed by an advertisement in The Stage, 9 May 1918 which advertised a 'Grand Soirée' for Tuesday 14 May at 7.30pm in aid of The Wounded Soldiers Social Entertainment Fund at which two plays would be performed: Kitty Breaks Loose by Kingston Stack, in which all the male parts would be taken by men who had been in the trenches, and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals by Sir J. M. Barrie. There is no obvious similarity between the ending of the play as summarised by the Examiner of Plays and as recorded in a review in The Stage, 1 January 1920. Was the play rewritten before being performed (in which case it should presumably have been resubmitted). The play was next seen briefly at Lowestoft and Yarmouth later in 1918. That seems - albeit several months later - to have encouraged the insertion of the following advertisement in The Era, 23 July 1919: ‘Theatres Wanted. Kitty Breaks Loose. A Comedy in Three Acts By Kingston Stack … Owing to the enormous success of the above production at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, which was maintained at Lowestoft and Yarmouth, the Management have decided, prior to London production, to send this delightful Comedy on Tour at once with a first-class cast. Will Managers of No. 1 and No. 2 Towns send in their vacant dates for October and on? A charming story of love and romance versus class prejudice. 12 in the cast. London Suburban Managers, who desire a good-class, clean, humorous comedy, are invited to send in their vacancies to C. Vivian Wallace, 21, Russell Gdns, Golders Green, N.W. 4’. There were apparently no takers and a major London production did not materialise either. Subsequently the play received a solitary matinee performance at the Euston Theatre on Boxing Day 1919 and eight matinee performances at the Duke of York’s Theatre in February 1920. On the latter occasions the leading male role was taken by Leslie Howard, in the early days of his acting career.

Licensed On: 9 Apr 1918

License Number: 1514

Author(s):

Genre(s):

British Library Reference: LCP1918/7

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66189 N

Performances

DateTheatreType
30 Apr 1918 Wyndham's Theatre, LondonUnknown Licensed Performance
14 May 1918 Wyndham's Theatre, LondonProfessional
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This was the play's first performance. The Stage, 9 May 1918 advertised: ‘Wyndham’s Theatre. Grand Soirée Tuesday, May 14th, 7.30pm., in aid of The Wounded Soldiers Social Entertainment Fund (Registered.) New Comedy – “Kitty Breaks Loose” [by] Kingston Stack. (All Male parts taken by Men who have been in the Trenches.) AND “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals” [by] Sir J. M. Barrie. (Jean Cadell – G. H. Mulcaster) Usual Theatre Prices’.
1 Aug 1918 Not known, LowestoftProfessional
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The performance date of 1 August is a purely nominal entry - the exact date is not known. An advertisement in The Era, 23 July 1919 referred to 'the enormous success of [Kitty Breaks Loose] at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, which was maintained at Lowestoft and Yarmouth'. The play was performed in the latter town on 30 August 1918.
30 Aug 1918 Regent Theatre, Great YarmouthUnknown
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Advertisement: ‘Book these in connection with the Gt. Yarmouth Hospital Saturday Fund, Friday, Aug. 30th – Regent Theatre, New Comedy, “Kitty Breaks Loose.” [plus other shows elsewhere on 31 August]’. Yarmouth Independent, 24 August 1918. ‘Hospital Saturday. We would remind our readers of the several efforts that are to be made at the week end and on Sunday, in aid of the Hospital Saturday Fund. To-night (Friday) [sic] the performance of the new comedy, “Kitty Breaks Loose,” should draw a big audience to the Regent Theatre’. Yarmouth Independent, 31 August 1918.
26 Dec 1919 Euston Theatre, LondonProfessional
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The Stage, 18 December 1919 listed a matinee performance of Kitty Breaks Loose at the Euston Theatre on Boxing Day, but it may have been performed twice according to The Stage's review below and a reference in The Stage, 19 February 1920. ‘On Friday, December 26, 1919, was presented here [at the Euston] a comedy in three acts and four scenes, by Kingston Stack, entitled “Kitty Breaks Loose.” ... The title of, and several of the scenes in, this comedy (which was played at two special holiday matinees at the Euston last week) raised expectations which were not always realised. The piece has the clash of class for its familiar theme and there is some more or less original and effective fun in the first act from a tea-party given by titled people to demobilised Tommies. But the good ideas in the comedy - and there are several - have not been sufficiently developed, with the result that more than one scene is allowed to run to seed. This is particularly noticeable in the last act, when one certainly expects that plebeian hero to turn the tables on his aristocratic companions. A simple handshake brings down an altogether too abrupt curtain, and the spectator is left wondering what really happens afterwards. According to the programme “Kitty Breaks Loose” was played at the Euston “prior to West-End production” - a statement which is scarcely correct ... It should be thoroughly overhauled before any definite bid is made for a West End run ... There was an attractive scene in Act 2 showing children dancing to a barrel organ'. The Stage, 1 January 1920.
16 Feb 1920 Duke Of York’s, LondonProfessional
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The play received a total of eight matinée performances on 16-18, 20, 23-25 and 27 February 1920 (source: https://lesliehowardsteiner.blogspot.com/p/kitty-breaks-loose-kingston-stack-duke.html). ‘In “Kitty Breaks Loose,” by Kingston Stack, at the Duke of York’s, we are presented with the problem of the well-intentioned rich who are constantly being disappointed that their efforts to entertain the ex-soldier merely result in mutual agonies. When at the end Act I. the heroine says that “the trouble is that we do not understand each other,” we rather hoped that the authoress might throw some new light on “the trouble.” But from that point she became more interested in the love affairs of this blue-blooded heroine, who, disguised as a nursemaid, is wooed and won by common soldier. In the end her father’s consent to the match is obtained in the name of “comradeship.” The plot is very and often rather inconsequential, but the dialogue is amusing, the characters well drawn, and the acting excellent'. Daily Herald, 17 February 1920. ‘Called a fantastical comedy and produced for matinées only at the Duke of York’s Theatre yesterday afternoon, “Kitty Breaks Loose” proved to be a mixture of flat-footed fantasy and conventional comicality. In order to emphasise the need of gratitude to our heroes, the author gives Kitty an impossibly snobbish stepmother. She, of course, personifies bad taste, while the girl represents good nature and the love that makes light of social fetters. Some old comrades, who treat an invitation to tea as a fatigue, were funny enough caricatures, and Mr. Leslie Howard was amusingly true to life as a smart young sergeant, who sets the enterprising heroine free from smart set. A band of jolly children romped round a melancholy old organ-grinder, whose music is supposed to be magical; but, as usual, the charm belonged to the little people themselves’. Daily Mail, 17 February 1920, from https://inafferrabileleslie.wordpress.com/theatre-3/kitty-breaks-loose-1920. 'There are pretty ideas and amusing lines in the play, but their effect is lost in the general vagueness and faintness of the handling'. The scene ‘in which Kitty dressed her sergeant in evening clothes, and tried to pass him off to her people as a baronet, was not to be justified on the grounds either of good sense or of good comedy; and to call your play “fantastical” is not to be relieved of all obligation to the laws of comedy and of sense'. The Times, 17 February 1920, from https://lesliehowardsteiner.blogspot.com/p/kitty-breaks-loose-kingston-stack-duke.html. ‘The performance clearly diverted a numerous audience, especially well pleased at the children’s gambols in the second act’. The Stage, 19 February 1920, from https://lesliehowardsteiner.blogspot.com/p/kitty-breaks-loose-kingston-stack-duke.html. 'Round the central figures of adventurous Kitty and her Mister Wilson revolve such minor characters as Lord and Lady Hartley, Lord Arthur Francis, a nut, Lady Eleanor Sinclair, aleni .le nut [sic], and Old Mad Pat, who owns a barrel organ and speaks in parables to a band of children. None of these characters can be said to possess any real life of their own. They are so many Aunt Sallies set up by Mr. [sic] Stack as targets for our wreaths and bouquets or for the brickbats of our disapproval'. The Athenaeum, 20 February 1920, from https://inafferrabileleslie.wordpress.com/theatre-3/kitty-breaks-loose-1920. ‘It is a significant sign of the times, indicative of the experimental instinct that is to be found everywhere, that the matinée as a method of trying new plays is on the increase. The latest example is a comedy entitled “Kitty Breaks Loose,” which was put on at the Duke of York’s on Monday afternoon ... but it cannot be called a very successful experiment, for if there are many clever points, the whole has not been welded into that unified form which the stage demands, and even players with the skill of Miss Helen Haye and Mr. Arthur Whitby, as Kitty’s papa, could hardly make the comedy a success. One of the best episodes showed children dancing to a barrel-organ’. The Graphic, 21 February 1920. ‘Young Leslie Howard, of Dion Boucicault’s Company, claimed my admiration in Kingston Stack’s simple little comedy called “Kitty Breaks Loose,” which has been put up at the Duke of York’s for series of matinées. Leslie was a lovable lad in khaki, to whom Kitty made a Leap Year proposal on the benches in the park. The kiddies in the piece gambolled and chattered amusingly, especially Theodore Stack and Theresa Gorringe. Kitty’s breaking loose is not an affair of palpitating importance’. Sporting Times, 21 February 1920. 'The name of the author, “Kingston Stack,” hides a lady, and for a few matinees at the Duke of York’s she is giving us some simple thoughts on the independence of the young and the wickedness of snobs. They are very simple thoughts. They reflect upon the impossibility in this brutal world of really bringing people of gentility and warriors from the ranks together in comfortable harmony at drawing-room tea-tables, and to console us for this they imagine that if a Kitty does break away from the deadening atmosphere of her baronial home and wander through the Park as a nursemaid, she may after all pick up a presentable young sergeant in the Engineers with whom to live happily without any final breach with her haughty (and ill-mannered) relatives. It is very nice to hear these things, and I am sure it does us good. But I fear that “Kingston Stack’s” way of delivering her message will cause no general excitement. There’s no harm in the little affair. The tea-party is as such things are in the hands of dramatists of experience, and the final scheme of bringing the young man to a dance and introducing him as a baronet would not have occurred to any girl who really wanted to smooth things down with her family as this Kitty seemed to do; but there was a pleasant little love passage, and two children acted cleverly, and such excellent people as Mr. Arthur Whitby and Miss Helen Have had been brought in to help with their experience of what real plays are. Also Mr. Leslie Howard played the young sergeant naturally, and one of the soldiers (whom I did not identify) went to the piano and sang a song quite well, though I fully expected from him a comic exhibition of what should not be sung in drawing-rooms. But I am afraid that “Kitty Breaks Loose” is merely a rather pathetic specimen of the unwanted babe’. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 28 February 1920. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 29 December 1920, looking back at the year’s London theatre, lists “Kitty Breaks Loose” as one of the new plays that failed to find support, taking success as a run of four or five weeks.