Serjeant Musgrave's DanceBy John Arden
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
English Stage Company
Royal Court Theatre, London - Opened 22nd October 1959 (28 performances)
Donal Donnelly ... Private Sparky
Alan Dobie ... Private Hurst
Frank Finlay ... Private Attercliffe
James Bree ... Bludgeon, a bargee
Ian Bannen ... Serjeant Musgrave
Richard Caldicot ... The Parson
Freda Jackson ... Mrs Hitchcock
Patsy Byrne ... Annie
Michael Hunt ... The Constable
Stratford Johns ... The Mayor
Jack Smethurst ... A Slow Collier
Colin Blakely ... A Pugnacious Collier
Harry Gwynn Davies ... Walsh, a collier
Barry Wilsher ... A Troop of Dragoons
Clinton Greyn ... An Officer of Dragoons
Critical reaction to the production was divided. The Royal Court seeing it as a landmark production put out a leaflet asking; What Kind of Theatre do you want?
This is Frank's copy and at the top is written: Lowndes Cottage, Lowndes Place, Karel Reisz.
Harry Saltzman the film producer set up the production company Lowndes Productions and had an office at Lowndes Cottage. Karel Reisz - the director of Saturday Night And Sunday Morning and The French Lieutenant's Woman - was a co-founder of Free Cinema along with Lindsay Anderson who directed Serjeant Musgrave.
This could have been a passing contact, or for a general meeting, or as this was October 1959 and filming began in April 1960 for Saturday Night this could have been for a meeting re the film.
WHAT KIND OF A THEATRE?
Every now and then there comes a play which by its originality, its boldness and complete lack of compromise, stands out like a landmark - perhaps a signpost. Such plays are seldom universally welcomed; nor are they likely to win immediate commercial success.
Such a play is SERJEANT MUSGRAVE'S DANCE
First performed ten days ago, this play had a confused press. But in spite of the criticisms, we believe it will be tragic if it ls allowed to slip into obscurity. That is why we are printing this leaflet.
This is not a bid for commercial success. The play is scheduled for a 3 1/2 week run. It will close as advertised on November 4th. But we are optimistic enough, and proud enough of our work to believe that there are enough people alive to the excitement of good theatre to justify a full run of 3 1/2 weeks at the Royal Court.
We agree with Philip Hope-Wallace in finding this play exciting, powerful and fascinating-"a highly original and challenging experiment". If this ls what you want from the theatre, come and see it. If on the other hand you believe the theatre ls not a place "to make men better" -then you had better stay away.
We add some further comments by other people who have seen SERJEANT MUSGRAVE'S DANCE, and whose opinion we respect, to help you decide -
Another frightful ordeal. It ls time someone reminded our advanced dramatists that the principal function of the theatre ls to give pleasure. It is not the principal function of the theatre to strengthen peace, to improve morality, or to establish a good social system. Churches, international associations and political parties already exist for those purposes. It is the duty of the theatre, not to make men better, but to render them harmlessly happy.
Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times
For the best part of three hours it has worked on my curiosity, and often put that ill-definable theatrical spell on my imagination . I think it is something short of a great play. But wild horses wouldn't have dragged me from my seat before the end. . . The play ls written with an acute sense of language ... It gives the actors every chance and Ian Bannen in particular, as the fanatical Serjeant, gives a magnificent performance.
Donald Donnelly, Frank Finlay and notably Alan Doble bring great conviction to the three other ranks, and Freda Jackson as the ale-wife and Patsy Byrne as the barmaid could hardly do better. Lindsay Anderson produces with great strength and economy in the earlier scenes, which are beautifully set and lighted (decor by Jocelyn Herbert).
. .. This is a highly original and challenging experiment in drama.
Philip Hope-Wallace in the Manchester Guardian.
What kind of a theatre do you want?Dame Peggy Ashcroft:
What did I feel after seeing SERJEANT MUSGRAVE'S DANCE? The best of all feelings - one of the deepest gratitude to author, director and actors. To me this Is the most exciting experience In the theatre since I saw the Berliner Ensemble In MOTHER COURAGE. It has passion, poetry, humour and humanity, and the actors fulfil au these demands. Can one ask for more?
Another nail In the coffins of drab realism and drawing-room unreality. The play Is an arresting study of the nature of violence and the disaster of a man frying to play at God. It Is as raw as onions, but what a flavour! - A rare kind of play that makes you think and argue, and leaves a set of compulsive pictures in the mind's eye.
Gripping, exuberant, moving! Sometimes exasperating, it Is alive from start to finish. I have not been more excited by direction and acting for years. It has scenes of Brechtian grandeur. What more do you want?
SERJEANT MUSGRAVE'S DANCE Is a good play by the highest standards. Its story Is powerfully and entertainingly told. Its songs are memorable. Its climax Is enthralling. Musgrave' s character is the most original and dramatic we have seen in London since Jimmy Porter.
The third act of John Arden's play SERJEANT MUSGRAVE'S DANCE contains the strongest anti-military material I have ever seen staged In the theatre.
The reception of SERJEANT MUSGRAVE' S DANCE Is the most Irresponsible for some time. John Arden's play has more riches to offer than a dozen successful, dazzllng critc-comforters. It Is courageous, theatrically adventurous and lt has startling Integrity. Every empty seat at the Royal Court is a reproach to all of us who pretend to reject the West End mTnt-product for theatregoers.
Sir Micheal Redgrave:
In years to come this play will be "re-discovered" as an Important early work of a remarkable playwright. Discover it now!
John Arden's ls the most challenging and poetic talent the Court has discovered. Sheerly as theatre this is thrilling, electric stuff. Its mixture of humour and violence, fine theatrical bravura and poetry has a truly Elizabethan sweep to it. And in Ian Bannen's Musgrave we are privileged to see a great actor In the making.
N F Simpson:
This is not a play for critics and verbalisers. It's a play for everyone else though. Positive, lucid, truthful, funny, moving, haunting. Those who settled for the notlces of the play Itself made a pretty bad bargain.
I was gripped. By the end of the third act my heart was thumping from sheer excitement. The acting, direction and sets are superb - the work of a devoted team. Arden stands alone. An extraordinary achievement.
Serjeant Musgrave's Dance by John Arden
The Royal Court Theatre Directed by Lindsay Anderson
with Ian Bannen, Freda Jackson, Alan Doble
Decor by Jocelyn Herbert
Music by Dudley Moore