Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

Both in conception and execution this is by far the finest work, with the possible exception of Mr Barrie’s play, which the war has inspired. It is, however unequal, being sometimes commonplace, especially in the prose dialogue, while in some of the blank verse passages, notably in scene IV, the poet rises splendidly to (or at any rate towards) the height of his theme. The prologue is in hades, where Satan presides over a sort of council of Beelzebub, Belial, Moloch, rumour, etc., and it is decided to send the shade of Attila back to earth. It is not definitely stated into what human frame he should enter, but of course, the Kaiser is understood: however, that is left vague of any possible offence, I think. Nor do I think there is any possible offence in the supernatural or allegorical business, and the person of Satan has been introduced in far less dignified shape in other plays. Here he merely reminds me of Milton. Scene I is in a French Chateau overlooking Rheims. The first part is much as other scenes of German brutality. General von der Trenk condemns a Frenchman to be shot as a spy for refusing information and his sweetheart to be his own paramour, but the girl shoots herself. This seems a fair picture. A finer vein is reached with an argument between Trenk and a priest about the bombardment of Rheims Cathedral. At the end, when the bombardment is decided on, a Turpinite shell leaves the Germans dead and rigid in their living attitudes. Scene II is a sort of sad idyll of a mother in England mourning for her son and a girl for her lover. It is genuinely touching and all that is to be said against it is that it would be intolerably sad for those who have suffered such bereavement to see. Scene III is lighter, an amusing scene of the Berlin press bureau manufacturing lies and its director dismissed for accidentally passing the truth. In scene IV the allies enter Berlin. There is here half a page (p.29 and 30) I have marked as regrettable. The English general, Murdoch, promises the daughter of the burgomaster to use his influence to spare the Cathedral, and for a moment is tempted to make - or half make - a condition suggested by her beauty. That is dismissed at once from his mind and I hesitate to advise that a poet of Mr Philip’s repute should be told to cut it out. Moreover, the instant dismissal of the idea is perhaps a better contrast to German practices than no suggestion at all, still, I think it a pity. Afterwards the best thing in the play is reached in the argument of the French general, Larrier, and the Belgian, LeBlanc, on the one side and Murdoch on the other about the destruction of the cathedral. I cannot see anything to offend French or Belgian in this. Larrier, left alone, sees Joan of Arc in a vision and she exhorts him to spare. In the epilogue Attila goes back to hades and reveals his sensation of an 'influence' opposing force in him, and that, too, touches Satan himself who, as the curtain descends 'spreads out his arms as in crucifixion'. How much this gesture is meant to convey I know not, but in an allegorical passage of serious poetry it could hardly offend the religious. Recommended of literature. G. S. Street.

Licensed On: 21 May 1915

License Number: 3411



British Library Reference: LCP1915/12

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66098 T


1 Jun 1915 New Theatre, LondonProfessional Licensed Performance
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Performed until 12 June. All proceeds donated to the Wounded Allies' Relief Committee. Performed by Martin Harvey and Charles Glenney as the German villain. 'a crowded and enthusiastic audience. If Mr. Stephen Phillips failed to rise to the height his great argument, the applause and frequent calls seemed to ignore the fact. He has set himself stupendous task.' (Liverpool Daily Post, 3 June 1915) 'We are still of the opinion that he is the wise dramatist who makes no attempt to build a play upon this world-war. Sir James Barrie made effort in miniature in 'Der Tag' and failure was the result; Mr. Stephen Phillips has put his colours upon a larger canvas, but has not succeeded in giving the great play, destined some day, perhaps, to link the drama with the fields of Flanders. Both Sir James Barrie and Mr. Philips have realised that only by loftiness of theme and treatment is it possible to give expression to the thoughts and emotions that are sweeping across Europe. But the latest as in the earlier essay the theme is too great for expression, and only in transitory moments do we get a suggestion of that epic drama which the author has sought to unfold. It seems to us that Mr. Phillips has overweighted himself by the form in which he has cast his play, for while he gives us prologue in Hades, by no means lacking in dramatic strength, he carries us from the Shades to scenes contrast of banal melodrama. Mr. Phillips shows his mastery of the written word in this as in other of his and the address of Satan to Attila, Moloch, Beelzebub, and Belial not without its fine phrases. [...] . But while we applaud the author in his bigger moments, his treatment of what we can only describe as incidents and episodes the war itself add nothing to the vigour or dignity of his effort. The scene in French chateau overlooking Pdieims a bullying German officer, a brave Frenchman who dares to keep silence under brutal threats, a peasant girl, insulted who averts the worst with a pistol shot, and an asphyxiating bomb which “petrifies” the enemy, has little about it of epic. Nor can we applaud the succeeding episode," entitled An English Orchard,” where a mother and a lover learn of the death of a lad in the trenches. There is so much of the real poignancy bereavement that such cardboard emotions were offered last right jar upon the senses, and seem to be of the nature of theatrical impertinence. As for the satire on the German Press Bureau, it seemed to us but poor fooling, and it was not until we reach Cologne, where the victorious Allies tread at last the soil of Germany, that the author came anywhere near to that fine seriousness which is the only proper treatment for a vast and dreadful theme. Three commanders of the Allied forces discuss the fate of the great cathedral. France and Beltrium in burning words claim the reward that only a great revenge can give, and last night’s audience was moved by the pleadings of the French commander, admirably offered Sir. Edward Sass, and even more by the eloquence of the spokesman for ravished Belgium in the person of Mr. Fisher White. [...] The piay was well received. (Globe, Weds 2 June 1915)
3 Sep 1915 Grand Opera House, MiddlesboroughProfessional
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Performed on the Friday and Saturday within a week's residance of plays which also included 'Hamlet', 'The Only Way', and 'The Breed of the Treshams'
9 Sep 1915 Lyceum Theatre, SheffieldProfessional
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The company were at the theatre for a week and performed it within a repertory of plays which also included 'Hamlet', 'The Only Way', and 'The Breed of the Treshams'
16 Sep 1915 Theatre Royal, NewcastleProfessional
23 Sep 1915 Theatre Royal, GlasgowProfessional
30 Sep 1915 Lyceum Theatre, EdinburghProfessional
7 Oct 1915 Court Theatre, LiverpoolProfessional
21 Oct 1915 Grand Theatre, LeedsProfessional
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'Such splendid house furnished a striking refutation of the oft-repeated statement that British theatre-goers are chary patronising plays that deal with the war in a serious spirit. Whether " Armageddon ” be described as an epic drama or a serious war revue, it is at least worthy respect.' (Leeds Mercury, 22 October 1915)
28 Oct 1915 Grand Theatre, HullProfessional
11 Nov 1915 Theatre Royal, BirminghamProfessional
15 Nov 1915 Theatre Royal, BradfordProfessional
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As at other venues, performed one select nights this week as part of the repertory.
26 Nov 1915 New Theatre, CardiffProfessional
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Performed Friday night and Saturday matinee only. 'Mr Martin Harvey also requests that his patrons will seated for the prologue of Armageddon by 7.30 on Friday night, as no late-comers can admitted during the presentation of the prologue, during which it is essential that the auditorium is kept in perfect darkness' (Western Mail, 24 November 1915)
27 Jan 1916 Theatre Royal, BournemouthProfessional
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Performed on select night(s) as part of the repertory. The company had begun the tour two weeks earlier but this was the first time that Armageddon was given as part of the repertory.
3 Feb 1916 Theatre Royal, BrightonProfessional
18 Feb 1916 Opera House, LeicesterProfessional
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Performed on Friday and Saturday matinee.
2 Mar 1916 Theatre Royal, YorkProfessional
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Performed as part of the week's repertory. No specific days given but likely around Thursday-Saturday on the basis of other performances during the tour.
17 Mar 1916 His Majesty's, AberdeenProfessional
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Performed Friday and Saturday matinee. ' The house was equally appreciative of the merits of the revue " and the power of the acting, and at the close the curtain had to be raised again and again amid enthusiastic cheering.' 'it is profoundly impressive, and in many passages positively thrilling...The brutality and mendacity of the Germans were vividly presented in two of the scenes, and nothing could have boon more diverting than the glimpse of the methods the official German Press Bureau...The house laughed as one of the reporters read his "copy" which described the panic in London, the people huddling in cellars, and the Royal Family, all in a tremor, being conveyed in a furniture van from Buckingham Palace to Sandringham' (Aberdeen Evening Express, 18 March 1916)
24 Mar 1916 Her Majesty's, DundeeProfessional
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Performed Friday and Saturday matinee.
30 Mar 1916 Theatre Royal, HanleyProfessional
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Performed as part of the repertory this week. No dates given but likely to have been between Thursday and Saturday, on the basis of other performances.