The Future of Poetic Drama
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[ 653 The Future of Poetic Drama1 Drama: A Monthly Record of the Theatre in Town and Country at Home & Abroad, 17 (Oct 1938) 3-5 I should consider it an impertinence to endeavour to instruct such an audience as this on the nature of poetic drama in general; or to discuss what can be done better, and what can not be done so well, in verse drama compared with prose. Nor do I wish to talk about the future of verse drama in all languages. With any of these arts, the material of which is words, its future depends upon the situation of a particular language at a particular time, and, I may add, in a particular place. Therefore I shall limit myself, in the time at my disposal, to the future of poetic drama in English, and in England. I would not even venture to discuss its future in America. I hope that, by confining myself within these limits, I may be able to make a few remarks of greater interest, and I hope of more usefulness, than if I roamed about a larger field. Assuming, therefore, that a flourishing poetic drama is desirable, its establishment depends obviously upon the happy concurrence of four classes of people: the authors, the producers, the actors, and the public. I will say at once that our deficiency is likely to be in the first and third – authors and actors – rather than in producers or public. To producers I need not devote much attention. We have actually a number of producers who are willing to experiment with contemporary verse plays, and several who would prefer to specialise in them: and among these producers are a few at least who are thoroughly competent. And I am speaking primarily of those who are willing to produce verse plays as a commercial venture: if we add the producers and groups of interested people who are eager for verse plays for occasional productions for religious and charitable purposes, the current demand for such plays is very considerable. There is always, in fact, a serious shortage of contemporary verse plays, from the producer’s point of view. As for the public, I think that the last few years have proved that there is less resistance to verse as a dramatic medium than was formerly supposed. There is, I believe, a small public which prefers, other things being equal, that plays should be in verse. These are the people who go seldom to the Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1938 654 ] theatre, except to performances of Shakespeare: they may not be very plentiful, but they are the nucleus of our public. There is a larger public which is quite glad of the occasional variety of a poetic play, and this public I think could be enlarged almost indefinitely, if we can break down the assumption – hitherto quite justified – that a play in verse is a play written by a man who does not know how to write plays. I am disregarding the accidental public which is attracted to one play or another by its subject-matter – religious or political – and which is neither interested nor competent to judge of anything but the soundness or congeniality of the ideas expressed or the causes advocated. I am only concerned with the public which is, or is capable of being, interested in dramatic poetry. I do not wish to exaggerate the avidity of the appetite for verse plays. It is certainly prudence on the part of producers at present to launch such plays in small theatres, and it is prudence for the authors to construct plays which do not require large casts or expensive setting. It is to the good when the plays are such as can also be acted by amateurs, without too much agony for the amateurs or for their audiences. But I believe that the public for verse plays is all that we are in a position to ask, and that the next thing necessary is to have more and better verse plays. And, at the same time, to educate more actors capable of acting in verse – and I say acting in verse, not merely declaiming poetry. I will pass on to the problem of the actor, in order to end with the problem of the author – that which I might be supposed to understand most fully. The position of the actor at present is very difficult. Assuming that he sticks to the stage, and does not divert...