Lost Plays of World War One

Lost Plays of World War One (ACE) 

In 2017 the Kings Theatre received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to carry out a research project looking the Theatre during the First World War – Theatre of War.

HLF put us in touch with the AHRC funded project Gateways to the First World War: Great War Theatre, an ongoing project recovering the history of theatre during the First World War. Led by Dr Helen Brooks, a Theatre Historian and Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent, they have identified over 3,000 new plays performed between 1914 – 1918, around a quarter of which directly address the war.  It was through Dr Brooks that we learnt that six of these plays premiered at the Kings Theatre. Being a busy naval port it was considered a primary location to try out new plays.  During the war, more people went to the theatre than any other form of entertainment. Theatre and live performance helped shape people’s understanding of the conflict and was used as a propaganda tool for recruitment and raising the population’s morale.  

With this in mind, we applied to the Arts Council of England (ACE) for a project grant, with a successful bid we launched Lost Plays of World War One, which brought to life the power of theatre through a series of projects to re-stage and re-imagine WW1 plays.   

  1. A Community Play: re-stagingLads of the Village which premiered at the Kings Theatre on the 4 June 1917. 
  2. A School-Based Project: working with Twisted Events Presents, three groups of Year 10 students from Mayfield Secondary school devised their own short WW1 plays.  
  3. ARadio Play: Twisted Events Presents produced a radio version of a WW1 play, The Devious Hun and the Plucky Ex-Corporal.  
  4. Early Years Story Telling: Pip, Squeak and Wilfred  

The Community Play and the plays were performed at a Gala Event at the Kings Theatre on 12 July 2017. The radio play was broadcast on local radio stations and during the Gala day. 

Lads of the Village Community Play  

With a cast of 16 local actors with a varied range of abilities from complete beginners, through semi-professional, professional and emerging actors, this WW1 musical melodrama was re-staged by director Jack Edwards, with Andrew Woodford as Musical Director.   The original stage revue was written by Clifford Harris (writer) and featured 14 new songs by Valentine (lyrics) and James Tate (music). As most of these songs have been lost, our production featured popular WW1 music hall songs, performed with a four-piece band.  The original stage directions also featured filmed inserts and in the spirit of this, the production featured both newsreel footage and newly filmed sequences. These were filmed by Millstream Productions on location at WW1 Remembrance Centre and at the Barn in Milton Park.  

A short documentary film ‘The making of the Lads of the Village’ was filmed and produced by Millstream Productions. It offers insights into the importance of plays like this.

School-Based Project 

30 Year-10 students from Mayfield Secondary School developed, wrote, produced and perform their own ten-minute plays.  The students began by visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where they had a tour of HMS M.33 and the Jutland Exhibition. This was followed by a session in school with a storyteller where they looked at issues surrounding WW1 including conscientious objectors, boy soldiers and spies, which became the subject of their plays. Working in three groups of 10, the students had one week, working with three Dramaturges (from Twisted Events Presents) for two hours each morning Tuesday to Friday, to develop their material. The following Monday they had a dress rehearsal at the Kings Theatre, followed by performances at the Gala Event the following day.  

Radio Play 

Ex-Corporal Stubbs, Investigator by Horace Hunter premiered at the Kings Theatre on 23 September 1915. Using this comedy melodrama as a starting point, Andrew Baguley and Janet Rawson from Twisted Event Presents re-wrote it as a radio play, The Devious Hun and the Plucky Ex-Corporal.  Listen to it here:


Early Years Story Telling: Pip, Squeak and Wilfred 

A local storyteller developed and delivered a short accessible story about the First World War through the eyes of the animal puppets, which was delivered over the summer period at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Kings Theatre Open Day and Victorious Festival.  

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