Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

So far as I know, nothing like this play, which is in the main a conversation between a man and his dead son, has been seen on the stage before. In these times it is especially poignant, and if it were not done with essential reverence it would be intolerable. Mr and Mrs Don have lost a boy, Dick, in the war. The scene opens with a seance, in which Mrs Don, Laura Bell - it is odd that the name of Thackeray's heroine should be used - who was in love with the boy, and two men who do not count, take part. Don sits apart. It is supposed that mother and son loved each other passionately, and that the father was comparatively indifferent. He does not believe in these spiritualistic manifestations. Questions to the dead Dick are put by letters of the alphabet and 'love bade me welcome' is spelled out by the movements of the table. Then the table signifies that Don is 'antagonistic'. The seance ends. Don is left alone in the studio (he is a painter). Dick appears to him. The audience does not see Dick, but hears his voice. The ensuing conversation is naturally extremely touching. It seems that Dick may only appear to one person and had chosen his father as the one who in reality needed him most. He insists on his pater being cheerful, tells him how it is on the other side of 'the veil'. Mrs Don comes in but cannot hear Don's voice. Nor can Laura, though she feels something. It seems that Dick knew nothing of the seance, though when he has to go he explains that the password was 'love bade me welcome' - suggesting that there was something in it after all. As I said above, all this would be intolerable if done or accepted in the wrong spirit. As it is, it seems to me personally a beautiful and affecting play. Possibly someone may find it irreverent or some of it in dubious taste, but I do not think that anybody could question the reverent and sympathetic intention. It may possibly be questioned if anything so poignant in these times is wisely put on the stage. Personally I cannot imagine any effect but good from it.

Researcher's Summary:

A Well-Remembered Voice was published with three other plays by Barrie (The New Word, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals and Barbara’s Wedding) as Echoes of War in November 1918. The text is available online at https://classic-literature.co.uk/j-m-barrie-a-well-remembered-voice-play. The play was given a single performance at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, on 28 June 1918 at a charity matinée in support of the Countess of Lytton’s military hospital. It was well received but relatively few professional performances followed, the play often being performed by amateur groups. In addition, the Rev. Howard Partington read an extract from the play at a Remembrance Day service at the Addison Street Congregational Church, Nottingham on 11 November 1926, saying that ‘it would confirm them in the faith that we live till what we call death happens, and then we live on still doing God’s work. Life continues, and death is but a change of home for the spirit of man, so that those who fell, our loved ones, still lived’ (Nottingham Journal, 12 November 1926). The Rev. N. W. Calvin read the whole play (and Barrie’s The Old Lady Showed Her Medals) to members of the Co-operative Women’s Guild in Burnley on 6 March 1940, saying that ‘whenever he was feeling tired and jaded he turned to Barrie’s books and plays and found relief and relaxation’ (Burnley Express, 9 March 1940). And the play was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 11 November 2003 with Barbara’s Wedding; the cast included Jim Broadbent as Mr. Don and Joseph Fiennes as the voice of his son Dick (https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/01efc60635a94800b1b671262c864f20).

Licensed On: 24 Jun 1918

License Number: 1636

Author(s):

Genre(s):

British Library Reference: LCP1918/11

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66193 Q

Performances

DateTheatreType
28 Jun 1918 Wyndham's Theatre, LondonUnknown Licensed Performance
28 Jun 1918 Wyndham's Theatre, LondonProfessional
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The Tatler, 12 June 1918, published a photograph of the staff of The Countess of Lytton’s War Hospital Staff with the comment, ‘The Countess of Lytton opened her military hospital in Charles Street in 1914, and personally superintended its organisation and equipment. A matinée in aid of the funds of this hospital will be held at Wyndham’s Theatre on June 24, at which, amongst other items, three new plays by Sir J. M. Barrie will be produced’. ‘Three Barrie plays - two of them new - were produced at Wyndham’s Theatre yesterday in aid of the Countess of Lytton’s Hospital. Naturally there was a very big audience. The exact figure was not forthcoming, but not far short of £1,400 must have been obtained ... The Barrie pieces were: (1) “The Origin of Harlequin” (2) “La Politesse” (3) “A Well-Remembered Voice”' (Westminster Gazette, 29 June 1918). 'Art happened in downright earnest, an art of exquisite delicacy and reticence, an art which might be called quintessence of Barrie. It is art that interprets “the sense of tears in human things,” yet is never lachrymose, is, in fact, a resolute protest against tears, a quiet denial of the bitterness of death - art, in short, that, if the old Aristotelian theory were not now out of fashion, might rank as a real cathartic' (review of A Well-Remembered Voice in The Times quoted in the Westminster Gazette, 29 June 1918). 'The piece contains many of Sir James’s happy and ingenious fancies; but it all seems inquisitive, speculative; in short. conscious effort, whereas what is required in a theme of this kind is imagination; the subconsciousness that never argues but creates a world to which experience stretches out its hands and which the soul never questions' (Morning Post quoted in the Westminster Gazette, 29 June 1918). 'If the theatre would but give us more plays like the “Kiddies in the Ruins” and “A Well-Remembered Voice” it would be doing splendid work' (Daily News quoted in the Westminster Gazette, 29 June 1918). 'The wonder of that duologue, spoken by actors of such quality as Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and Mr. Gerald du Maurier, remains a precious memory … It is inconceivable that such a play should be limited in its scope to a casual matinée performance. Every father bereaved by the war should see it, and, like Mr. Don, he encouraged thereby to “keep bright.” That is Barrie’s war message to his fellow-men’ (Daily Express quoted in the Westminster Gazette, 29 June 1918). 'this poem of a play' (Yorkshire Evening Post, 29 June 1918). '“A Well-Remembered Voice” handles with gentle fingers the loss of young life at the front and the desire of the bereaved to know that all is well with their dead. It begins with table-rapping, the father sitting unbelieving while others try the machinery of spiritualism; it ends with a talk à deux between the startled father and the young voice he so much misses - just a talk about simple little domestic things, sport and dogs and father’s pipe, and cheery words of comfort and affection. Beautifully managed, it is beautifully played by Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, Miss Faith Celli, and Mr. du Maurier’ (Illustrated London News, 6 July 1918). 'Only a Barrie could have written such a beautiful little fantasy as The Well-Remembered Voice. It would have been so easy to have spoiled the whole idea. One false step, and such is the delicacy of this little piece, that the whole would have been ruined, and out of the ruins would have sprung something far worse than mere failure - a fairy tale of bathos and callous disrespect. But this false step was never taken. The whole lovely idea of this soldier-son speaking with his father from beyond the grave was preserved intact. It made The Well-Remembered Voice one of the most beautiful little one-act plays of our time, and with it I would bracket The Old Lady Shows Her Medals - another Barrie masterpiece in war sentiment ... There can be no doubt that The Well-Remembered Voice will be seen again - and seen again very soon. We cannot afford to lose sight of anything so perfect in its sentiment and in its theory of life after death’ (he Tatler, 17 July 1918).
5 Jan 1920 St Stephen's Hall, Belsize ParkAmateur
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The Era, 14 January 1920, reported that on the previous Wednesday and Friday the amateur company The Hampstead Players performed Barrie’s A Well Remembered Voice at St Stephen’s Hall, Belsize Park: ‘Mr. Gordon Seddon’s performance as the artist, Mr. Don, stood out as a most strikingly artistic, refined, and well thought-out performance, full of poignant meaning and grasp of the character. Dick, “A Well-remembered voice,” was convincingly and reverently expounded by Mr. Matthew Norgate, and minor rôles were well played by Misses Joan Dunsford and Evelyn Sharp, with Messrs J.M. Donaldson and Douglas Service also well in the picture'.
13 Mar 1920 Rehearsal Theatre, LondonAmateur
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‘The best thing the Hampstead Amateurs did at the Rehearsal Theatre on Saturday last was “A Well-remembered Voice,” a Mystery, by J. M. Barrie … [which] is a delightful “Barrie”-ish treatise on spiritualism, telling how a lost son appears, not to the practised devotees of the cult, but to the somewhat sceptic father. There are some clever lines, and the situations are good. Mr. Gordon Seddon acted well as Mr. Don, sincere and true, and Miss Joan Dunsford as Mrs. Don portrayed the character of the “believing” wife capitally. Messrs. J. M. Donaldson and Douglas Service as Mr. Rogers and Major Armitage were both responsible for some fine character acting. As Laura Bell, the lost one’s sweetheart, Miss Evelyn Sharp put in some fine work, and “Another,” as voiced by Matthew Norgate, if somewhat earthly, was nevertheless satisfactory’ (The Era, 17 March 1920). ‘On … March 13 … a triple bill … was presented at the Rehearsal Theatre … by the Hampstead Amateur Players. It opened with Sir James Barrie’s very Opportunist attempt to deal with the vested problem of the possibility of communicating with the dead. “A Well-Remembered Voice” … The moral of this piece, if one takes it, with all its trivialities, seriously, is that those bereft of dear ones should be bright and cheerful, not sad and depressed’ (The Stage, 18 March 1920).
8 Feb 1926 Little Theatre, BristolUnknown
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‘The [Bristol] Little Theatre Company this week are reviving three plays by Sir James M. Barrie, each of which bring back - to many at least - vivid recollections of those crowded days of campaigning. The mystery, the fantasy, the inscrutable, is each exemplified in these three pieces, and the infinite artistry of the master of stagecraft, and of diction, protrudes itself from practically very line in “The New Word,” “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals,” and “A Well-remembered Voice.” … In “A Well-remembered Voice,” Alfred Brooks gave [a] well-finished representation of Mr. Don; William Freshman is to be congratulated upon gathering the “atmosphere,” as the ghost of Dick; and Kathleen Alcock was sympathetically charming as Laura’. Western Daily Press, Tuesday 9 February 1926.
19 Feb 1929 La Scala, SaltcoatsAmateur
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The Kilmarnock Herald and North Ayrshire Gazette, Thursday 17 January 1929, reported that six Ayrshire entries had been received for the forthcoming festival of the Scottish Community Drama Association, including Barrie’s A Well-Remembered Voice by the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players, to be performed at Saltcoats on Tuesday 19 February. The Kilmarnock Herald and North Ayrshire Gazette, Thursday 21 February 1929, reported that at La Scala, Saltcoats, the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players were placed first.
9 Mar 1929 Athenaeum, GlasgowAmateur
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The Dundee Courier, 27 February 1929, reported that the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players were among the eight best teams selected to compete in the Scottish Final Festival in the Athenaeum Theatre, Glasgow, on 9 March. The Scotsman, 11 March 1929, reported that first prize went to the Edinburgh Elocution Club. ‘“A Well Remembered Voice” was very well staged, but considerably under played. It was much too dull and slow in the opening scene, and some of the cast gave the impression being uncertain in their work ( Aberdeen Press and Journal, 30 March 1929; similarly the Montrose Standard and the Carluke and Lanark Gazette, 5 April 1929).
23 Jan 1932 Northfield Church Hall, Northfield, BirminghamAmateur
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‘Three One-Act Plays Presented at Northfield. A triple bill of plays was presented at Northfield Church Hall by the Society of One-Act Players on Saturday night. The programme included J. M. Barrie’s “A Well Remembered Voice,” in which Godfrey Baseley gave a finished, accurate rendering of the part of Mr. Don. Mr. Baseley also produced this play. Lewis McFarlane took the part of Major Armitage, and James Holliday was the Voice’. Birmingham Daily Gazette, Monday 25 January 1932.
17 Sep 1934 Royal Lyceum Theatre, EdinburghProfessional
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The Scotsman, Friday 14 September 1934, advertised the Brandon-Thomas company in the first performances in Edinburgh of J. M. Barrie’s A Well-Remembered Voice at the Royal Lyceum Theatre the following week. Previewed in the Falkirk Herald, 15 September 1934, as ‘a little curtain raiser which no Barrie admirer should miss. It has so striking and unusual a theme that it provokes controversy, and grips from curtain rise to fall’. ‘It may seem strange that Barrie’s one-act play, “A Well Remembered Voice,” had not been seen in Edinburgh before its performance last night in the Lyceum Theatre by the Brandon Thomas Company. The chief reason is that the “curtain raiser” has been for a long time out of vogue. The Brandon Thomas Company have to be thanked for bringing the one-act extra into favour again. Their rendering of the Barrie playlet once more demonstrates the something else, the magic aura, that seems to attach to the author’s written word. Some credit is, of course, due to the production. This play, with its unusual theme, had most intelligent and skilful interpretation ... last night’s performance held the tense interest of the crowded audience, and the players are entitled to the full share of credit in the result’ (Scotsman, 18 September 1934).
1 Oct 1934 Theatre Royal, GlasgowProfessional
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‘Continuing their season at the Theatre-Royal, the Brandon-Thomas company this week present Frederick Lonsdale’s comedy, “On Approval,” which was seen in Edinburgh last week … As a curtain-raiser, Barrie’s lesser-known one-act play, “The Well-Remembered Voice,” makes an interesting contrast’. The Scotsman, 2 October 1934.
28 Mar 1935 Central Hall, AberdeenAmateur
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‘The Elrick Players are organising a dramatic entertainment which will be held to-night in the Central Hall. Aberdeen, in aid of St Martha’s Home for Girls. The entertainment, will consist of three one-act plays’ including Sir J. M. Barrie’s “A Well-Remembered Voice,” performed by the Elrick Players themselves (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 28 March 1935). Reviewed in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 29 March 1935: ‘This play requires sound understanding of stagecraft. The Elrick Players caught the right note from the start, and their performance was really excellent. The cast was: Mr Don, A. Burnett Whyte; Mrs Don, Avery Whyte; Mrs Rogers, Sheila Innes; Miss Rogers, Madeleine Douglas; Laura, Phoebe Douglas; Dick, Jock Whyte’.
30 Jan 1936 Town Hall, FalkirkAmateur
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The Scotsman, Wednesday 29 January 1936, reported that on the following night the Belmont Dramatic Association B Team would present J. M. Barrie’s A Well Remembered Voice at the Town Hall, Falkirk, during the Scottish Community Drama Association’s drama festival.
14 Feb 1939 Memorial Hall, LanarkAmateur
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The Carluke and Lanark Gazette, 17 February 1939, reported that the Douglas Guild Players (B Team) had performed J. M. Barrie’s A Well Remembered Voice on Tuesday that week (14 February) in the Memorial Hall, Lanark during the Lanark Drama Festival.
30 Sep 1946 Royal Lyceum Theatre, EdinburghProfessional
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The Scotsman, 1 October 1916, advertised the Wilson Barrett company in Alexander Reid’s Worlds Without End at the Royal Lyceum Theatre that week. ‘“Worlds Without End,” a new play by Alexander Reid, an Edinburgh author, … received its first performance last night in the Lyceum Theatre by the Wilson Barrett Company … Barrie’s “A Well-Remembered Voice,” and one of his most interesting one-act plays, beginning with a table-rapping episode and developing unexpectedly, was given an admirable presentation before the principal play, with Derek Walker in a completely sympathetic interpretation of the artist, Kitty de Leigh as his wife, and Michael Nightingale furnishing the voice from the unseen figure of the soldier son’ (The Scotsman, 1 October 1946). Noted also in The Stage, 3 October 1916 (‘Derek Walker gives an outstanding performance’).
8 Jul 1991 King's Head, IslingtonProfessional
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‘The rarely performed A Well Remembered Voice, by J. M. Barrie, is being given a lunchtime production at the King’s Head, Islington from July 8 to 27. Directed by Syd Golder, it has Will Ashcroft, Dena Davis, Syd Golder, Marianne Morley and Peter Stenson in the cast’. The Stage, 4 July 1991.
23 Nov 1998 King's Head, IslingtonProfessional
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The Stage, 19 November 1998, listed Crimes of the Heart (the play by the American playwright Beth Henley?) and A Well Remembered Voice as being performed at the King’s Head on London’s fringe the following week.
4 Nov 2002 Tabard, ChiswickProfessional
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The Stage, 31 October 2002, listed Barrie’s The Twelve Pound Look and A Well Remembered Voice as being performed at the Tabard on London’s fringe the following week. [See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tabard,_Chiswick, accessed 9 June 2020: ‘The Tabard (previously known as the Tabard Hotel) is a Grade II* listed pub in Bedford Park, Chiswick, London. It was built in 1880 by the architect Norman Shaw as part of Jonathan Carr’s development of Bedford Park. Notable features, along with its original street facade, include the swing sign which was painted by T M Rooke. The original arts and craft tiling by William de Morgan and the fireplaces with surrounds of tiles created by Walter Crane (an early example of Art Nouveau) are in view in the front entrance and the right hand bar. These tiles are such a fine example of the movement’s style that their counterparts are held by the British Museum ... On the first floor is the Tabard Theatre, an intimate fringe theatre which has been host to the likes of Al Murray, Harry Hill and Russell Brand‘.]