Plays rediscovered by Herts researcher are performed in London for the first time in 100 years

8 August 2023

Three plays that lay forgotten and unperformed for over 100 years are returning to the London stage this week, as part of a project led by the University of Hertfordshire’s Head of Humanities, Dr Andrew Maunder.

A triple bill of Makeshifts and Realities by Gertrude Robins, and Honour Thy Father by H. M. Harwood, opens at the Finborough Theatre in west London on Tuesday 8 August. Dr Maunder came across the one-act plays at the British Library during his research into early 20th century theatre.

His research was delving into well-known playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw and J.M Barrie, as well as authors who were popular in their time but no longer hold such renown.

Gertrude Robins was one such author. A writer, actor and one of the country’s first female pilots, she wrote at least 14 plays and was acclaimed as a ground-breaking talent before her death in 1917 from tuberculosis at just 37. Makeshifts was performed thousands of times around the world, but it stopped being performed soon after World War I. The play and its sequel Realities, set in 1908 and 1911 respectively, explore social conventions and sexual double standards in the story of sisters Caroline and Dorothy, torn between their potential suitors and the possibility of an independent life.

Completing the triple bill, M.H. Harwood’s Honour Thy Father was one of the most controversial plays of the era, also examining gender roles in its unflinching exposure of male hypocrisy, blackmail and women’s fight for independence. It premiered at a private performance in 1912 directed by Edith Craig, but was banned from public performance until 1934 and fell out of favour over the decades.

Dr Maunder, who is also producing the four-week run at the Finborough, said:

“I’ve been researching First World War and early 20th century theatre for the past few years, and it’s fascinating to look at the kinds of entertainments our theatre-going ancestors were offered. It’s fantastic work with these little-known plays and bring them to life, but the most extraordinary part of it is how little they need editing for a modern audience.

“These are far from historical artefacts – they really speak to a contemporary audience, particularly in their emphasis on the pressures and expectations placed on women in regard to their romantic relationships and social status. I’m particularly pleased to help reacquaint a modern audience with Gertrude Robins, who is one of several female authors whose work has not been remembered or preserved on a par with their male peers”.

The plays are directed by Melissa Dunne and the project is supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Impact Accelerator Award.

Makeshifts and Realities runs at the Finborough Theatre from 8 August – 2 September. More information and tickets are available on the Finborough Theatre website.

Contact

Press Office news@herts.ac.uk +44 (0)1707 285 770