Great War Theatre

Examiner of Plays' Summary:

This is a sensible and well-written, if rather commonplace, little study of the outbreak of war, as it strikes and affects the various members of an ordinary middle-class suburban family in England. There is the father, anxious about the commercial trouble which will ruin his business; there are the daughters, eager in their longing to smash the Germans - on the map by the aid of flag pins - there is the loafer son, urging the chauffeur and gardener to enlist. The central figure is that of the eldest son, learned philosophic author of 'the growth of moral courage', and theoristic advocate of the abolition of all warfare as brutalising and wasteful. After the declaration of war we are shown the comedy of a panic-stricken household laying in tons of provisions and trying to do the work of discharged servants. Then the loafer-son enlists, the invalid son grieves over his uselessness, and the philosophic son abandons theory for practice and goes to the front encouraged by the pluck of the mother of his newly-born child. The humour and serious sentiment of the family party are skilfully blended, and lead neatly, if not very dramatically, up to the climax in which, seven months later, the brave philosopher is seen returning home, wounded in the head. He is unable to continue his famous ethical disquisitions, but is equal to the delivery of an improvise little 'tag' to the effect that is not 'War' which is to be blamed, but the unreadiness for it caused by the substitution of voluntary amateurs effort for the business-like work of compulsory service. Wholesome and sound. Recommended for license. Ernest A. Bendall.

Researcher's Summary:

Many reviewers clearly found it difficult to know how to respond to a play about the war at this early stage. One writer, only a few months later, doubted that the war would be a productive theme for authors: ‘Books About The Great War. The effect of the war on the novel is discussed by Mr. Guy Rawlence in the current issue of the “Book Monthly.” He thinks that the war will not be reflected in fiction, and cites the small success of Mr. Temple Thurston’s war play, “The Cost.”’ The Graphic, 9 January 1915. A different perspective is evident in the view taken by a reviewer who wrote, three years after "The Cost" was performed, ‘Undoubtedly the war play has grown in popularity since Temple Thurston wrote “The Cost,” which was produced at the Vaudeville in the October of 1914. Both critics and playgoers were then agreed that the war should not be touched upon in the theatre until the piping days of peace were with us again, and “The Cost” had but a brief run. To-day, however, three of the most popular plays running in London are concerned solely with the war, and I learn yet another is soon to be added to their number. It will be produced on Nov. 21 by Messrs. Vedrenne and Eadie, and its title is “Loyalty.”’ The People, 4 November 1917.

Licensed On: 29 Sep 1914

License Number: 2960

British Library Reference: LCP1914/30

British Library Classmark: Add MS 66078 J

Performances

DateTheatreType
N/A Vaudeville Theatre, LondonUnknown Licensed Performance
13 Oct 1914 Vaudeville Theatre, LondonProfessional
Read Narrative
‘The latest recruiting play is “The Cost,” to be produced at the Vaudeville in the middle of this month ... The play deals with the changed conditions of London life brought about by the outbreak of war, and emphasises the need for recruits’. Leicester Daily Post, 3 October 1914. ‘Messrs. A. and S. Gatti will produce E. Temple Thurston’s play, The Cost, at the Vaudeville on Tuesday next, October 13. The cast of The Cost is as follows:- Samuel Woodhouse ….. Mr. Frederick Ross John Woodhouse (his eldest son) ….. Mr. Owen Nares Percy Woodhouse (his second son) ….. Mr. Jack Hobbs Lionel Woodhouse (his third son) ….. Mr. Hayford Hobbs Dorothy Woodhouse (his eldest daughter) … Miss Dora Harker Mabel Woodhouse (his second daughter) ….. Miss Dorothea Desmond Katherina Woodhouse (his third daughter) ….. Miss Agnes Glynne Mrs. Woodhouse (his wife) ….. Miss Mary Rorke Judith Woodhouse (John’s wife) … Miss Barbara Everest Mrs. Pinhouse (the cook) ….. Miss Hannah Jones Moffat (parlourmaid) ….. Miss Gladys Preston Major Paget … Mr. Athol Stewart Tradesman ….. Mr. Val Gurney'. The Stage, 8 October 1914. ‘At the Vaudeville Theatre a play was presented this evening called “The Cost,” of which the author is Mr. E. Temple Thurston. The work is described as a play of the moment, and, in fact, turns to a large extent on the present war, the last act being apparently supposed to take place at some future date. It is not easy to guess what is the theme of the play, yet the plot is so slight, the characterisation so simple, that one may assume it to be to some extent a drama of ideas ... Incidentally, we see that the war has an ennobling effect on various members of the family. It may be that Mr Thurston wishes to show that, war, despite its wickedness and horrors, is a blessing in disguise by its elevating effects upon the soldier, and also the civilian, who makes sacrifices for it voluntarily. The play has its effective scenes, and there were passages of obvious comic relief which caused a great deal of laughter. Its reception was decidedly favourable'. The Scotsman, 14 October 1914. ‘It seems rather a superfluous effort to make already a play out of the thoughts and events of the war. There is surely enough that is poignant and real, enough that carries with it all the power and dignity of drama, in the vast battle lines stretched across Europe to occupy our minds to render it unnecessary to offer us a “play of the moment,” as it is termed, in which the humour often jars, and the arguments are too obvious to need statement. Somehow it was impossible not to feel that all we were listening to was just the reading of yesterday’s newspaper - moralisings from the leader pages and the latest war news ... It must be said in fairness to Mr. Thurston that apart from his straining after comic relief, “The Cost” offers a normal and unexaggerated picture of “the moment.” But when we are so near to the stern realities, there is something incongruous in the make-belief. Yet we willingly credit Mr. Thurston with a desire to do something more than merely to profit by the national sentiment. His” play of the moment” is presumably an attempt to stimulate the war spirit and further to arouse the national conscience' ... “The Cost” was well received, but the author was not present to take a call’. The Globe, 14 October 1914. ‘The chief justification of the theatre at such a time as the present, when the higher realities of life imperiously press upon the public mind, is its capacity - its unique capacity - for providing a wholesome and cheerful change of thought for those who go to it; and, on the whole, the playhouses of London are realising and acting up to this responsibility. At the Vaudeville last night, however, the new play, “The Cost,” by Mr. Thurston, described on the programme as “a play of the moment,” proved to a discussion on the present war, carried on, for the most part, by the members of a sort of suburban family, and sprinkled so thickly with platitudes that at any time it would, we think, have been a little tiresome, while at such a period as the present, it has the further demerit of being curiously untimely. Is it quite worth spending an evening in a theatre to hear an alleged intellectual young man denouncing, through three acts, war as barbarous, soldiers as murderers, and the effect of war as destructive of the soul of a nation, and then, in the fourth, admitting that it is a necessity of life, the basic element of which is strife? We had comic relief - an insincere head of a family preparing for “family prayers,” a discussion over laying in stores of provisions against a rise in prices, getting rid of servants and doing the housework in their place, and so forth. It all seemed very small. Then that conception of the soldier as a brute. Was Charles George Gordon such? Was that fine German soldier, Field-Marshall Schwarzenberg, of the early nineteenth century, such? And that idea about war benumbing the soul of a nation. Have the professors in the school of history at Oxford University lately shown any sign of having been benumbed? Indeed, as we have said, Mr. Thurston admits in the concluding speech of his play that most of what has gone before has been folly. The question therefore arises: Why have troubled to write it? And why have it produced. at such a time as the present?'. Pall Mall Gazette, 14 October 1914. '... though quite half of the dramatis personae of The Cost have been treated by the author in the lighter vein, his purpose, however, in writing the play seems to have been emphatically a serious one, and his main thesis appears to be the endeavour to show how the waging of a great war may tend to induce a spirit of unselfishness and self-sacrifice, quite apart from the essential element of strife, of minds as well as of bodies. This attempt may be held to make up for the obvious fact that much of the piece, in business and dialogue, is more or less a réchauffé of what we have been reading in the papers or hearing every day for a couple of months past ... Mr. Owen Nares, who had sustained the character of John with great sensibility and full appreciation of its emotional points, announced that he would convey to Mr. Thurston, who was not in the house, the news of the kindly reception that had been given to his piece and its performance. Perhaps this “Play of the Moment” would have had more value as good work had not its topicality been so very patent indeed ... The Cost should at any rate have a success of curiosity at Messrs Gatti’s house in these trying times’. The Stage, 15 October 1914. ‘“The Cost,” Mr. E. Temple Thurston’s new play at the Vaudeville Theatre, deserves to be a great success. It touches the problems of the moment: war, peace, recruiting and commerce with an illuminative sense of drama. Mr. Owen Nares plays a rather doctrinaire character very happily.’ Daily Mirror, 15 October 1914. ‘Most certainly Mr. Temple Thurston is right to call his new work “a play of the moment.” Why, it turns on and reproduces all that we have been thinking and feeling and hoping and suffering during the last few weeks - the weeks of war. Everything the newspapers have said and reported, all the emotions of the man in the street and all the futilities of the critic in the arm-chair, all the conflict of mind of such of our citizens as are checked by home ties or the call of some particular profession from volunteering in their country’s cause, are reflected in Mr. Thurston’s story, and therefore, in so far as it deals with the rather obvious side - with the commonplaces, more or less - of its subject, it must be rated as a piece of journalism ... . “The Cost” should have a vogue because it is so entirely of the hour, but it will scarcely be remembered, save for its acting, beyond the hour’. Illustrated London News, 17 October 1914. ‘We are all thinking and talking and dreaming of the war. Mr. Temple Thurston has gone one better and written a play about it ... We liked best the serious elements in the play, for the humour somehow seemed not only strained but ill-timed, and we liked, too, the picture of this typical English family, every member of which revealed his or her own true character under the stress of the great emergency'. The People, 18 October 1914. ‘Apart from the fact that Mr. Temple Thurston’s new play, “The Cost,” which Messrs. Gatti produced the other evening at the Vaudeville, is all about the war (and we have, alas! more than enough of its tragedy during the daytime), it makes quite an interesting evening’s entertainment - if you can speak of it as an entertainment when it deals with the effect of war upon the family of an ordinary city worker. In a way, it is somewhat reminiscent of “An Englishman’s Home”. You have a picture of the usual futilities with which a family, who have not the least idea of what war really is and have never been prepared to learn, face the situation. There is a tremendous amount of selfishness, a saving of one’s own skin at the expense of the community, and a great deal of mistaken energy to appear patriotic before the neighbours. But there is also a more serious theme. This is the one in which a young intellectual man sacrifices his intellect for his country. He returns from the war a mentally ruined man. That is the price he has to pay for serving his country, for fulfilling that duty towards his homeland which we all must fulfil in some way or another. It is the cost of war. It is the price of liberty. It is one of the sacrifices which goes to the foundation of a great empire, and this is the lesson of Temple Thurston’s play. Perhaps we shall appreciate it better in those blessed times of peace which will dawn on old England sooner or later. At present, the lesson of war is quite severe enough without having its moral put before us on the stage. One leaves the theatre rather depressed - depressed, because the picture is but, alas! too true and because, being true, one fears that England may have begun to realise the truth too late. But these, of course, are unwise thoughts, and for such thinkers has been organised the Woolf bureau. It is better to be optimistic and cock-sure. The Cost leaves us confident, but chastened. It must be revived again after the war is over or whenever we seem to forget - if ever we do again’. The Tatler, 21 October 1914. 'Whether plays concerning the war should be written during the war is a good subject for debate. “The Cost” shows no signs of having been “inspired” by the war. Apparently it is meant to act as a recruiting piece, but is of doubtful value in this respect - indeed, the good old “Englishman’s Home” was vastly better'. The Sketch, 21 October 1914. ‘“The Cost,” at the Vaudeville, is a good example of the “literary man” (Mr. Temple Thurston) coming up against the fierce fact of war. We get the intellectual John Woodhouse (Mr. Owen Nares), ‘listing to fight in the present war and coming back ruined in mind, to deliver platitudes about the necessity of conscription. But conscription would make him no more fit to soldier than our existing system. It would only fill the trenches with dead heads. Despite some careful acting, “The Cost” does not help us to foot the bill’. The Graphic, 24 October 1914. '[The play] has all the virtues of the stop-press paragraph, its concentrated essence of up-to-dateness, its haste to let you know what has just happened without waiting to fit the news into any thought-out scheme, its general air of something to be read in a hurry and then thrown aside till the morning papers come and tell you a more coherent story. Would you have first thoughts on the war - well, here they are from every point of view ... they are all here, collected in the country house of the Woodhouses on the morning when the ultimatum to Germany sprawls across the headlines of the papers and England is in for it now. And all in their stop-press way work out their little stop-press characters ... Just because these things are so large and so deep one feels a little impatient when they appear in the stop-press column treated by a writer who, despite his excellence as a novelist, has not yet quite found his way about the theatre. For Mr. Temple Thurston, though he evidently has a pretty gift for writing farce, has not discovered how to keep it in its place; and, though his views are obviously earnest and sincerely held, he has not been able to subdue propaganda to art, and even his propaganda leaves it curiously uncertain what he intends to propagate.His young philosopher, the brilliant writer whom even the soldier bids stay at home and leave soldiering to those of whose brains the world has less need, feels the spirit of war come over him as the play goes on (a touch of truth there is in this), goes to the front and returns, after an injury to his head, physically recovered but forbidden by his doctor ever to write again; from which Mr. Temple Thurston appears to deduce the conclusion that conscription is the only wear [sic]. Perhaps the conclusion is not intended to follow from the premises; perhaps his message is that there must be conscription, and brilliant brains must be smashed by shrapnel and we are bidden to see the pity of it; perhaps - but no doubt Mr. Temple Thurston will explain when his considered morning paper article appears. His first views on the point are interesting, but inconclusive and vague; it is not a subject which can be dealt with in such fiery haste'. llustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 24 October 1914.