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Book Reviews ENGLISH DRAMA 1900 - 1930: The beginnings of the modern period, by Allardyce Nicoll . Cambridge University Press, 1974.449 pp. & Hand-List of Plays 4511053 + Index 1055-1083. $55; U.K. £18 IT IS A CLICHE to say that common sense is one of the most uncommon commodities in the world; but frequently a cliche is formed because it contains a truth that demands repetition. What an uncommon quality, for instance, common sense is in the realm of drama criticism, and how refreshing it is when we meet with it. Setting aside the scholarship, wide-ranging research and clarity of organization that distinguish Professor Allardyce Nicoll's great History ofEnglish Drama 1660-1900, how grateful we are for its commonsense judgements. But how much more grateful are we for this new volume which continues his work up to 1930, for it is a period in which common sense and the broad view have not often been met with. Professor Nicoll writes in a more lively style than usual, and his comment is spiced with experience as a play-goer during the era under consideration. At the turn of the nineteenth century drama began to take several new directions . From being an art pretty much dominated, in Great Britain, by the theatres of London's West End, where theatre artists worked solely to please their audiences , the theatre became in a short time the concern also of a body of theoretical writers, of experimenters and social critics. It was expected to be something more than a form of entertainment appealing to a wide range of society , and embracing everything from classics to the most trivial forms of stage fare; it came under the notice of great numbers of people who expected it to engage in disputes and demonstrate ideas that had never troubled it before. Apart from the West End, repertory companies in the provinces and stage societies in the capital began to take a part in determining the content and quality of the drama. The cinema, which began as something that one of Noel Coward's characters was later to describe as "a cheesy photograph" was quick to show its 317 318 BOOK REVIEWS strength as an art and, in most ofits manifestations, as a threat to the cheesy reality of much minor theatre work, for it had the power to be cheesier on a larger scale. In the theatre heartland a new sort of actor was appearing, better-educated and more integrated into society than his predecessors, who began to think of himself consciously and often self-consciously as an artist; the mechanical staff who put plays on the stage began to think in terms of trades-unionism and specialization . Gone were the paternal days when one of Sir Henry Irving's stagehands lost an arm throwing pinches of gun-powder into a candle-flame in order to produce lightning, and was pensioned by "the Guvnor" because of it; the day was approaching when no member of a theatre company might touch a piece of furniture, or a property, or a piece of scenery that had not first been placed for him by a unionized worker. The drama itself expanded beyond the imagination of old theatre hands. Plays of proven quality crossed the Atlantic between London and New York with bewildering speed. New plays from the Continent were translated and adapted under copyright regulations which astonished those who had been used to the genial thievery of the nineteenth century. The amateur theatre, a joke to the professionals of an earlier day, gained dignity, and plays - particularly oneact plays - were written with the amateurs very much in mind. There was a mounting impatience with the tyranny of censorship. There was an eager public for musical comedy and revue, and these forms produced their own writers, composers and stars. And perhaps most surprising of all, there arose a minority drama that did not conceal its contempt for the commercial theatre; it sought an audience of a finer taste, eager for poetry and refinements of dramatic nuance that could not be manifested in a large theatre, the doors of which might be open to unworthy persons who would not understand what they...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 317-320
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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