Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

This is one of Sir James’s typically intimate and sympathetic studies of the tender commonplaces of daily domestic life. Its central figure is a reserved and self-conscious young fellow who, to the great and outspoken pride of his mother and sister, presents himself for the first time in his uniform as Second Lieutenant K.R.R. Its subject is the shyness which prevents the father - proud and fond though he is of his soldier-boy - from joining in the demonstrations of his wife and daughter. Left alone together the father and son soon come to a mutual understanding of the attitude which puzzles their women folk, but is absolutely true to the natures which the playwright so faithfully depicts. Recommended for license. Ernest A. Bendall.

Researcher's Summary:

'The New Word' was published with three other one-act plays by Barrie (‘The Old Lady Shows Her Medals’, ‘The Well-Remembered Voice’ and ‘Barbara’s Wedding’) as ‘Echoes of War’ in November 1918. The play's first performance was originally planned for 11 March 1915 but was deferred until 22 March (Gloucester Citizen, Wednesday 17 March 1915). The play's emphasis on the relationships between family members of different generations is reflected in the fact that The Times (23 March 1915) and The Stage (25 March 1915) both published cast lists which identified the characters, not by their names, but by their positions within the family as ‘Father’, ‘Mother’, ‘Son’ and ‘Daughter’. The 'new word' of the play's title is revealed in the play itself. The Father says to the Son, ‘Till the other day we were so little of a military nation that most of us didn’t know there were 2nd Lieutenants. And now, in thousands of homes we feel that there is nothing else. 2nd Lieutenant! It is like a new word to us - one, I daresay, of many that the war will add to our language’. The play was broadcast on television on 4 July 1973.

Licensed On: 4 Mar 1915

License Number: 3224



British Library Reference: LCP1915/5

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66091 L


Date Theatre Type
11 Mar 1915 Duke of York's Theatre, London Unknown Licensed Performance
22 Mar 1915 Duke of York's Theatre, London Professional
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‘The new Barrie programme at the Duke of York’s Theatre began very well with a one-act play called “The New Word.” This is a charming work, full of tender humour, and exhibiting throughout the real Barrie touch. The purpose is to show the curious restraint of feeling often displayed by British fathers and their grown-up sons to one another. At first it seemed entirely comical in a rather cruel way, the father being sarcastic about the first appearance of the son in his uniform as Second Lieutenant, but afterwards came a scene Between the father and son, in which it appeared that the war had broken down the barrier between them. So, in a strange, timid way, the hearts of the two men groped towards one another, and the piece ended on a touching note of tenderness. Mr O. B. Clarence played the part of father very finely; Mr. Geoffrey Wilmer acted excellently as the son; and the mother was represented beautifully by Miss Helen Haye’. The Scotsman, Tuesday 23 March 1915. ‘we had half an hour of the real Barrie in “The New Word.” It was the Barrie who exaggerates even the plain domestic emotions, and who somehow manages to strike jarring notes when he would be most tender and human. But nevertheless “The New Word,” which presented us with a scene in “Any Home Nowadays,” touched a very true and emotional note. A father proud of his second-lieutenant son and the son of his father, yet each hiding feelings under a veneer of indifference, and finally admitting with a shyness only men can understand how much they were to each other - that was the real Barrie, and the audience so acclaimed it. Mr. O. B. Clarence and Mr. Wilmer were very natural as father and son’. The Globe, 23 March 1915. ‘The Barrieishness that is absent from “Rosy Rapture” is to be found in full measure in “The New Word”, described by the author as a “fireside scene.” Each one of the four characters in this perfect little play is a real, living, breathing person. We have met them all, the adorable, fond, foolish and yet very wise mother, the enthusiastic hero-worshipping little flapper sister, and the menfolk of the family, father and son, utterly British, what the frankly emotional Jew calls “Goy,” which, being translated, is inarticulate, loathing to display emotion, veiling feeling under an assumption of “chaff.” The son is a “second lieutenant” (that is the new word that has become a household term since the beginning of August, 1914), and he has put on his new uniform for the first time, and is going off early the next morning. Mother and flapper sister are overflowing with love, solicitude, and admiration which the second lieutenant, nineteen years of age (“it is the great age to be to-day”), bears with half-shamefaced pride. Mother leaves husband and son to have a little talk. Admitting the “awkward relationship” that exists between them, they acknowledge “that they have often wondered what sort of a fellow the other was,” and with many jerks and pauses the father blurts out that he is “fond of” his son and the son that he has “bragged about” his father at school. They are so much alike fundamentally that they understand one another without clumsy speech. The war has unsealed their lips; the war has made the father realise that he is a middle-aged man envying the “lucky dogs who are damned twice a day on parade.” With a tremendous effort father and son manage to show a little of the deep emotion that is swaying(?) them – a very little, but just enough to satisfy both. It is impossible for this gem of a play to be more exquisitely acted than it is at the Duke of York’s Theatre at the present time. It is enough to say that Mr. O. B. Clarence is the Father and Miss Helen Haye is the Mother. More perfect Barrie actors than these two cannot be found. Mr. Geoffrey Wilmer is admirable as the Son, and Miss Gertrude Lang is an enchanting little Sister’. The Era, 24 March 1915. ‘In the new programme which Mr Frohman offers at the Duke of York’s there is both the real Barrie and the imitation article. “The New Word” is the real Barrie, and no one who listens to the conversation between the 2nd-lieutenant son and the curiously nervous father in what is described as a “fireside scene” can fail to be touched by the sentiment and the humour. Sir James has a genius for putting into language that which we all are thinking and feeling. Here we have an episode which must have been witnessed in thousands of homes since war began. Sons who were held of little account by the stern parent have become, because of their uniform, the master of the house. Everyone submits to the hero in khaki; he is the adored of mother and daughter, while father, if with a struggle, yields to him pride of place. The war has meant the emancipation of the young man, and to listen to the talk between this particular father and son is to understand how the hardness and the restraint which too often grow up between them is broken under the stress of these new conditions, and how the affection of the one and the love of the other well up at the right moment until the new word is heard bringing joy to him who at last is addressed as “dear father.” Dear we take to be the new word. The trifle, very human and very tender, was admirably played by Mr. O. B. Clarence and Mr. G. Wilmer; Miss H. Haye and Miss G. Lang appearing as mother and daughter’. The People, 28 March 1915. ‘we had the real Barrie in the little gem called “The New Word,” … Here, with the nicest humour and delicate tenderness, the author made fun of our English reticence, and the difficulty of a father and grown-up son in showing to one another their mutual affection. Then, with the finest art, Sir James showed how the war and the son’s uniform had broken down the barrier, and their affection became articulate - very timidly articulate. Nobody else could have written this delightful short play. Barrie at his best … Mr. O. B. Clarence presented the father quite perfectly, and Miss Helen Haye acted the mother’s part beautifully’. The Sketch, 31 March 1915. The Globe, Saturday 29 May 1915, advertised for that day the last two performances of ‘Rosy Rapture’ and ‘The New Word’ at the Duke of York’s Theatre. ‘Although [Barrie’s] revue [Rosy Rapture] was given an unfavourable review from The Times, The New Word was well received, running for seventy-eight performances’. Jenna L Kubly, ‘J. M. Barrie and World War I’ in Tholas-Disset C. and Ritzenhoff K. A. (eds), Humor, Entertainment, and Popular Culture During World War I, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2015, pp. 197-208 at p. 198.
19 Jul 1915 Empire, Liverpool Professional
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At the Empire, on a bill which included George Robey, ‘a pleasing novelty will be the presentation of Sir James Barrie’s latest music hall sketch, “The New Word.”’ Liverpool Daily Post, Friday 16 July 1915. Also the Liverpool Echo, Saturday 17 July 1915. ‘The tit-bit at the Empire this week is a playlet by Barrie, “‘The New Word.” It deals with the standoffishness which often exists between father and grown-up son, and is worked out to a delightful conclusion. Mr. O. B. Clarence, the father, and Miss Helen Haye, the mother, get good assistance from Mr. Geoffrey Wilmer and Miss Ethel Wellesley’. Liverpool Echo, 20 July 1915.
16 Aug 1915 Empire Theatre, Ardwick, Manchester Professional
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‘A play by Sir James Barrie, entitled “The New Word,” will be presented at the Ardwick Empire, and the cast will include Miss Helen Haye and Mr. O. B. Clarence, two perfect Barrie actors. The play is described by the author as a “fireside scene,” and it deals in touching manner with an episode of the war. Nothing so pleasing of its kind has been seen on the music-hall stage for some time’. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 14 August 1915. ‘The Ardwick Empire. - The feature at the Empire is undoubtedly Sir James Barrie’s one-act piece, “The New Word.” It contains the Barrie touch all the way, and losing nothing in the representation the performance is one to remember. A father and son endeavouring to stifle all emotion to how the war will hit them, the mother lifted to heights of emotion, and the daughter frankly joyous constitute a theme that naturally goes right home to a big proportion of any present-day audience. The mixture of comedy and pathos is deliciously worked out. The acting is quite first-class, Mr. O. B. Clarence, in particular, being great as the father. The rest of the programme is of a good average class’. Manchester Evening News, 17 August 1915.
30 Aug 1915 Hippodrome, Bristol Professional
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‘A programme of exceptional brilliance is presented at the Bristol Hippodrome this week. Sir J. M. Barrie’s playlet “The New Word,” forms an attractive feature. In it we are introduced into a home, where the son has donned khaki to the demonstrative pride and joy of the womanfolk, pater-familias concealing his satisfaction as becomes a true, solid Briton. But in a heart-to-heart talk with his boy the old gentleman unbends, and the son’s British buckram is not proof against the father’s new-found cordiality. The New Word is ‘“Second-Lieutenant.” Helen Haye, O. B. Clarence, Geoffrey Wilmer and Ethel Wellesley are the actors concerned’. Clifton Society, 2 September 1915.
6 Sep 1915 Alhambra, Glasgow Professional
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‘Sir James M. Barrie’s play, “The New Word,” which is to be seen at the Alhambra this week, is specially interesting as typical of the present day. It shows with unerring genius the parental restraint between father and son, the second-lieutenant the eve of his appointment, who has been fussed over by an adoring mother. That gifted actress, Miss Helen Haye, plays the mother to perfection; the role of father is in the capable hands of Mr. O. B. Clarence; while Mr. Geoffrey Willard [sic – Wilmer] as the hesitant son acts cleverly’. Daily Record, Tuesday 7 September 1915.
13 Sep 1915 Palace Theatre, Leicester Professional
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‘Leicester Palace. What a wizard of the drama is Sir J. M. Barrie! How well he knows the ventages of human emotion, and how artfully he call manipulate them! In “The New Word,” the star item in next week’s Palace Bill, he blends the tear and the laugh so cunningly, that one is unable to name with precision from one moment to another the feeling which is moving one. This playlet is a homily on one of our national weaknesses - our dislike of displaying in the slightest degree, even in our homes before our own folk, our affections. In “The New Word” we are introduced into a home where the son has donned khaki to the demonstrative pride and joy of the women folk, paterfamilias concealing his satisfaction as becomes a true, stolid Briton. But in heart-to-heart talk with his boy the old gentleman unbends, and the son’s British buckram is not proof against the father’s newfound cordiality. The new word is “Second-Lieutenant.” Helen Haye, O. B. Clarence, Geoffrey Wilmer, and Ethel Wellesley are the actors concerned’. Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News, Thursday 16 September 1915. ‘Miss Helen Haye, Miss [sic!] O. B. Clarence, and company appear here [the Palace, Leicester] in “The New Word”, and are received with approval’. The Stage, 23 September 1915.
4 Oct 1915 Coliseum, London Professional
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‘[A] Barrie play will be done at the London Coliseum to-night - “The New Word” - in which Mr. O. B. Clarence and Miss Helen Haye will appear’. The Globe, Monday 4 October 1915. ‘“The New Word”. Mr. Oswald Stoll knows the value of a Barrie play , and it is not surprising, therefore, to find the distinguished author’s latest piece making its first variety appearance at the Coliseum this week. It is comparatively recently that the sketch was first seen at the Duke of York’s, so that there is no necessity to go into detail regarding the story, nor need one emphasise the excellence of the work of O. B. Clarence, Helen Haye , and Geoffrey Wilmer, who are responsible for the principal parts. “The New Word” is essentially a human piece, with sentiment and humour intermingled, and it is sure in its appeal to a popular audience’. The Stage, 7 October 1915. Helen Haye, O. B. Clarence and Co. in “The New Word” were still being advertised at the Coliseum, Charing Cross, in The Globe, Thursday 21 October 1915. The closing date of 23 October is a conjecture.
22 Nov 1915 Victoria Palace, London Professional
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‘Revue will be banished from the Victoria Palace next week, and a real variety programme will be presented. Sir James Barrie’s “The New Word” will be played by a company headed by Helen Haye and O. B. Clarence’. Pall Mall Gazette, Saturday 20 November 1915.
29 Nov 1915 Empire, Chiswick Professional
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The West London Observer, Friday 26 November 1915, advertised Helen Haye and O. B. Clarence in “The New Word” at the Chiswick Empire from Monday 29 November.
14 Apr 1916 Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London Professional
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‘The Munitions Matinée. An exceptional matinée is to take place at Drury Lane Theatre this (Friday) afternoon in aid of the appeal which is being made by the Young Women’s Christian Association for £25,000 … The programme includes … Sir J. M. Barrie’s “The New Word.”’ The Graphic, Saturday 15 April 1916. The Era, 19 April 1916, reported on the event which took place on the afternoon of Friday 14 April in aid of the national appeal by the Y.W.C.A. for the Munition and other Women War Workers’ Fund. ‘After a fine overture the programme started with Sir J. M. Barrie’s fireside scene, “The New Word,” “just the father and son business” which takes place at “any home nowadays,” beautifully played by Mr. O. B. Clarence and Miss Helen Haye in their original parts, Miss Gertrude Lang as the daughter, and Mr. Owen Nares as the nineteen-year-old son’. The Era, Wednesday 19 April 1916.
13 Aug 1917 Alhambra, Glasgow Professional
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The Daily Record, Friday 10 August 1917, advertised Helen Haye & Co. in the sketch “The New Word’ at the Alhambra the following week. ‘Helen Haye, actress, and Sir J. M. Barrie, author, make a charming combination at the Alhambra. “The New Word,” the sketch which the clever lady is featuring, has that delightful Barrie touch that commands appreciation’. Daily Record, Tuesday 14 August 1917.
20 Aug 1917 Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen Professional
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‘After the spring and summer recess, the Tivoli will open for the autumn and winter season on Monday next week … The first attraction is a masterpiece sketch by Sir J. M. Barrie, a playlet that will be presented for the first time to an Aberdeen audience. The sketch, which is entitled, “The New Word,” is said to be written in Barrie’s best vein, and is produced by Miss Helen Haye and her London company’. Aberdeen Evening Express, Saturday 18 August 1917. ‘The playlet, “The New Word”, by J. M. Barrie, is excellently played by Helen Haye and company’ at the Tivoli, Aberdeen. The Stage, 23 August 1917.
8 Jun 1925 Playhouse, Liverpool Professional
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The Liverpool Echo, Wednesday 10 June 1925, advertised that ‘The New Word’ was being performed to precede Frederick Lonsdale’s three-act comedy ‘Aren’t We All’ at the Playhouse; the last night would be Saturday 20 June. ‘The final production of the season [at the Liverpool Playhouse] again took the form of a double bill, Frederick Lonsdale’s “Aren’t We All” being given with Barrie’s playlet, “The New Word,” on Tuesday evening, June 2 [sic]. The Barrie piece can hardly be called Sir James in one of his most inspired moments, but it is very interesting and contains much that is characteristic. It exploits the embarrassment many fathers and sons feel in each other’s presence, and respective parts were excellently played by Messrs. Herbert Lomas and Godfrey Winn. Miss Elsie Irving as the mother whose son has joined the Army (it is unfortunate that this part of the play dates so badly) gave a particularly good study. Miss Primrose Morgan was a very charming sister’. The Stage, 11 June 1925.
8 Feb 1926 Little Theatre, Bristol Professional
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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.” The first of the plays gave Little Theatre patrons … an excellent idea of the possibilities of casting under the new régime, for Edith Sharpe, as Roger’s mother; Peter Taylor Smith, as his father; Merle Tottenham, as his sister; and William Freshman, as Roger Torrance, were each well placed, and did credit to their respective parts’. Western Daily Press, Tuesday 9 February 1926.
10 Dec 1926 ?, Bath Amateur
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‘The New Word’, ‘The Old Lady Shows Her Medals’ and ‘Barbara’s Wedding’ were the three one-act plays by J. M. Barrie that were chosen for a reading by the Bath Playgoers’ Society. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Saturday 11 December 1926. The date shown for the reading is a conjecture.
28 Nov 1932 Bankside Theatre, Ealing, London Unknown
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‘The most interesting of the four plays given in the Remembrance Programme at the Bankside Theatre, Ealing, this week, was Richard Newcombe’s “D.S.O.,” a first effort … Barrie’s one-act; “The New Word,” was as delightful as ever; so subtle, so sure, so full of finesse’. West Middlesex Gazette, Saturday 3 December 1932.
6 Jan 1975 King's Head, London Unknown
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‘Jon Plowman has put together an impressionistic portrait of J. M. Barrie from accounts of the dramatist’s life and extracts from his plays … We get an extract from The New Word, a short play which clearly should be restored to the repertoire, and which amusingly dramatizes an Englishman’s fear of expressing affection for a son over the age of 10. Though a farce, it clearly deserves more subtlety than it receives from Matthew Francis, who over-projects through the whole production’. The Times, Wednesday 8 January 1975. The dates shown are a conjecture.
19 Feb 2017 Theatre Royal, Brighton Professional
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This was a one-off performance starring Andrew McDonald and Matthew Winters, directed by Lucy Linger for Threadbare Theatre Company at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.