Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

This is a sort of super-spy play, but it contains elements, not found in the usual plays of its kind, which need careful consideration. So far as its effect goes it is calculated to increase vague popular suspicion about German agency in high places, which is not a useful thing. It is theatrically good, and better written than most popular plays. The prologue is in Berlin, where we see Sir Charles Rosenbaum, an English privy councillor and so forth, in close association with the Kaiser just before the War. The Kaiser indulges in hypocritical vapouring’s about God and the destiny of Germany. Rosenbaum is, of course, a naturalized German Jew. In act I we are in July, 1915, and the scene is Strathspey Castle, recently bought by Sir Charles Rosenbaum, who has changed his mane [sic] to Strathconnel. Besides being a baronet and MP and PC he is a partner in a big shipping business. Another partner, Marshall, has a daughter, Mary, in love with a naval lieutenant, Stephen, and desired by Sir Charles himself. The latter pursues various machinations on behalf of Germany. He secretly support a strike in his own works on the Clyde, while openly inducing the directors to resist the men's demands. He brings pressure to bear on a foreign office clerk (in debt) to give him official secrets, ostensibly for commercial use. Towards the end of the act there is introduced a padre called St. George, wounded from the Front. This personage has immense influence in arousing patriotic enthusiasm, and it is vaguely suggested that there is something supernatural about him. He harangues the others, saying 'Damn the navy' - in the sense that he would like us to be invaded and so realise the war better - and using other strong language; not perhaps out of character in these days. In act II St George addresses the strike leaders and prevents the strike by a realistic description of horrors he has seen in France. After this the play becomes more melodramatic. Sir Charles entertains other Germans; they communicate by a secret cable with the Kaiser; arrange to signal to zeppelins to destroy the fleet and to spread disease over the country as well as blowing up munition works and so on. There is business with a submarine, which I need not go into. Mary the heroine, discovers the plots. In act III after a violent scene between her and Sir Charles, the latter is defeated all round by Mary's heroism and the timely arrival of Stephen and St George. The foreign office clerk, by the way, influenced by St George, has 'sold' Sir Charles. In the end Sir Charles is advised by St George to shoot himself and does so. I have left out minor villains and other characters. I think this play with its suggestion of a man in high position and wide influence working for Germany, unwholesome in its effect. But I do not see that it can very well be disallowed. (The author in that case would certainly, by the way, see the 'hidden hand' in this Office!) I suggest points of detail which might be modified. (1) Sir Charles Rosenbaum is a Privy Councillor. Whether or not the author intends to point at an actual person, this may be going too far. The author probably felt that he might go too far, as he has himself cut out (III, 2) references to cabinet ministers. (2) Prologue, p.3, he is in the 'confidence of leading men of both parties'. The same objection. (3) Act II, p.2 he owns a portrait of the king 'presented to me by His Gracious Majesty himself'. I think this should be cut out. (4) Talk about a list of German agents with 'important positions'. Possibly objectionable, but the idea is very common, II, 39. (5) II, 36. I do not like the insult to the King's portrait described here; however it is done by villains. Lastly (6) III, 7, our old friend 'bloody', but I should leave it in this connection. I may have taken the Play too seriously, but I thought it well to be on the safe side. Recommended for Licence. G. S. Street

Licensed On: 27 May 1918

License Number: 1588

British Library Reference: LCP1918/10

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66192 A

Performances

DateTheatreType
27 May 1918 Royal Court, LiverpoolUnknown Licensed Performance
27 May 1918 Royal Court, LiverpoolProfessional
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Cast: Jesse Winter, Saba Raleigh, Maud Shelton, Molly Terraine, William Stack, Michael Sherbrooke, Stanley Drewitt, D Lewin Mannering, Leonard Shepherd, Kenneth Kent, George Lestocq, James Howard, Lionel Wilson, Howard Ringe, Horace James, Alexander Lubimoff, Frederick Boyce. 'a propaganda play, and its mission will be to assist the sale of War Bonds; while it is also hoped that it will prove a strong deterrent to strikes among war-workers, and generally brace up the nation to bring every ounce to bear on the winning of the war.' ( Aberdeen Press and Journal, 27 May 1918).
10 Jun 1918 Theatre Royal, ManchesterProfessional
17 Jun 1918 ?, BrightonProfessional
4 Jul 1918 Strand Theatre, LondonProfessional
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'It would be easy for the critic to damn the plot of 'The Hidden Hand' and to damn its people ... but he must not damn its sentiment, so salutary and so opportune in expression, so eagerly welcomed, and so wildly applauded by a vast audience of outraged English citizens' (The Globe, 5 July 1918) The play was performed at The Strand Theatre until December 1918 but also went on tour.
5 Aug 1918 Theatre Royal, HaltonProfessional
26 Aug 1918 ?, ColchesterProfessional
16 Sep 1918 Grand Theatre, DerbyProfessional
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Cast: George Butler as Sir Charles Rosenbaum, Slaine Mills as chaplain, Walter E Wallis as Rosenbaum's secretary, Jack Levey as Fortescue Curzon, Christine Wilde, Millicent Granville, May Ward, C F Lloyd, T H Hudson, M Daniell.
23 Sep 1918 Empire Theatre, PrestonProfessional
10 Oct 1918 Royal Theatre, St Helen'sProfessional
15 Oct 1918 Royal Court Theatre, WarringtonProfessional
21 Oct 1918 Theatre Royal, RochdaleProfessional
7 Nov 1918 Royal Theatre, HanleyProfessional
25 Nov 1918 Grand Theatre, SouthamptonProfessional
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'There seems to be a generally prevailing opinion that now peace has come on the scene spy-plays will retire from the stage. That remains to be proved ... One which the Armistice caught in mid-career was 'The Hidden Hand' ... Although there is nothing about it of a specially novel character ... it is strongly sensational and some of the acting is eminently effective.' (Southern Daily Echo, 26 November 1918)