restricted access Religious Drama and the Church
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138 ] Religious Drama and the Church Rep [Magazine of the Westminster and Croydon Repertory Theatres], 1 (Oct 1934) 4-51 The possibility of a religious drama depends upon a kind of reciprocity. The dramatists must be able to provide a drama which will be really useful to the Church; and the Church must be ready to make itself useful to those who want to write drama. When I say the Church, I am thinking primarily of those in authority, but I imply also the goodwill of the laity. For the audience must be willing to learn from the playwrights, and the playwrights must be willing to learn from the audience. I do not think (with all due respect) that religious drama has much to gain from those dramatists, even if they are also poets, who have already established their reputation, and who occasionally consent, out of good nature or an efflux of piety, to write a religious play to order. Plays produced by such writers with such motives may easily have only a superficial varnish of religious interest, or may be sentimental embroidery on conventional Biblical themes, or may innocently present the most dubious theology . The development of religious drama depends upon its being able to appeal, as a task, to the self-interest of younger men who are anxious to write for the theatre. There are, among the younger poets to-day, several who are definitely interested in the theatre; I think there is even a tendency to regard dramatic form as the consummation of poetic activity. The causes of this tendency are probably complex and are to be found in the social changes which have taken place within our memory. I shall not attempt to explore them; but assuming that a poet to-day wants to write for the theatre, where will he find an opportunity? On the commercial stage there is obviously no opening. The commercial stage has to appeal to the lowest common middle -class denominator, to an audience with no dignified beliefs to give it cohesion, and with the smallest minimum of moral convictions of any kind. Even the plays of Mr. Shaw are too good to be nowadays really successful; I should imagine that Mr. Noel Coward has about all the intelligence and sensibility that a successful dramatist can afford to be encumbered with. A few years ago Mr. Aldous Huxley produced a play (The World of Light) which, although founded of course upon a thin and sandy philosophy, had [ 139 Religious Drama and the Church considerable intellectual and dramatic merit: it ran lamely for six weeks; it was taken off, that is to say, at about the moment when plays like Autumn Crocus or Escape Me Never (both written by women) are just beginning to show promise of triumphant longevity.2 Mr. Huxley made the mistake of trying to appeal to the “theatre-goers” with something much beyond their intelligence and sensibility. I doubt whether there is anything to be done with the contemporary theatre-going public: you have got to assemble new audiences. The young dramatist to-day, however, does not want to write a play merely to please a small audience of poetry-lovers many of whom he will know, and the faces of the rest of whom he remembers having seen before and is tired of seeing. The best opportunity that presents itself seems to be the opportunity to appeal to those who are interested in a common cause which the poet and dramatist can also serve. Only a cause can give the bond, the common assumptions between author and audience, which the serious dramatist needs. (This accounts perhaps for the relative importance of Mr. Shaw’s plays at a period which younger people to-day will not remember, and for the unimportance of a new play by Mr. Shaw now: he is no longer serving any cause which is actual for us). There are only two causes now of sufficient seriousness, and they are mutually exclusive: the Church and Communism. People are born, doubtless, with more or less dramatic talent; but it is certain that this talent will never come to anything without hard work, without a good deal of humbleness and readiness to learn from both producers and actors; without a good deal of give and take, and a willingness , within limits of conscience, to produce what is wanted even if it is not quite what one wants to produce. The writer with dramatic ambitions must be ready...