Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

This is a crude and violent military melodrama of the day. Its hero is a gallant trooper who, while acting as secretary to a Colonel, just before the declaration of war, is falsely accused of the usual plan-theft, really committed by a German spy. The trooper, permitted to go to the front to redeem his honour, performs prodigies of valour in Belgium on behalf of the girl he loves and in defiance of her other admirers, the German spy, under whose orders her grandfather is shot in accordance with the new rules of Prussian warfare. Of this latter there is much denunciation in the newspaper style of the moment. There comes a moment when the eloquent Britishers and suffering Belgians seem likely to come to a disastrous end, which is, however, averted through the bravery of the hero in summoning, the peril of his life, a British 'armoured train' which, in the nick of time, saves the remarkable situation. The play is sound in patriotic purpose if weak in dramatic execution. The war-songs to be introduced in Act II should, if new, be forwarded for approval. Recommended for license. Ernest A. Bendall.

Researcher's Summary:

Only Balmain's name is listed on the licensed script, although Sara Mignon's name is listed as a co-author in newspaper advertisements (e.g. Era, 21 Oct 1914). Interestingly, this play is in fact, a re-writing of an 1899 play of the same name, attributed to Messers Perth, Condle and Collier, first produced at the St James's Theatre, Manchester on 11 December 1899 and produced by Balmain's company. Perth and Condle were, in fact, pen names of Balmain and Mignon (see Stage, 15 October 1914). The original play was set during the Boer War. The names of the British characters are the same in both versions, but the names of the villains are updated to be German, rather than Afrikaner names. On 14 October 1914, a letter from Hal Collier was published in the Era noting that 'During the Boer War, and at the suggestion of Mr Balmain, I wrote a military Boer War drama, entitled 'A British Soldier'. It was produced and toured by Mr Balmain. The plot is identical with last week's Walsall production'. (14/10/1914). In response, in the Stage, on 15 October, Rollo Balmain wrote, 'I do not see what Mr Collier has to grumble at. In '99, in conjunction with Miss Sara Mignon, I supplied Mr Collier with material from which a piece was manufactured. [...] After a lapse of nearly fifteen years, in negotiating some plays for presentation by the Walsall Repertory company, Mr John B. Shinten, the producer, mentioned that he wanted a war play to go up immediately, and I remembered the old Boer War piece and undertook to reconstruct and rewrite it to present needs, with new situations, etc. [...] I trust you will deem from all this that I Was not out of order in asking you specially to notice the play as a new production'. (Stage, 15/10/1914)

Licensed On: 22 Sep 1914

License Number: 2946

British Library Reference: LCP1914/29

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66077 R


28 Sep 1914 Her Majesty's Theatre, WalsallUnknown Licensed Performance
28 Sep 1914 Her Majesty's Theatre, WalsallProfessional
Read Narrative
"Plays innumerable dealing with the present War are, no doubt , destined to be written, and many will be produced, but whatever distinction may attach to the staging of almost the very first of them we believe belongs to the repertory company of Her Majesty's, Walsall. For obvious reasons, there will be no disposition to judge 'A British Soldier', the author of which is Rollo Balmain, by the ordinary standard. It is somewhat crude in structure and characterisation. But this drama has not been written to please the critical mind; it has been written to the unspoken order of the public, who 'want War' in news and picture, song and story, and, regarded from this limited point of view, it may be expected to achieve a fair measure of success." "The Stage", 1 October 1914
12 Oct 1914 Theatre Royal, DarlingtonUnknown
12 Oct 1914 Grand Theatre, PlymouthProfessional