Page 10, 24th February 1939

24th February 1939
Page 10
Page 10, 24th February 1939 — if I Would I Could Not Stand Apart"

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Organisations: Group Theatre Club
Locations: Geneva


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if I Would I Could Not Stand Apart"

The Untenable Pacifism of the Group Theatre

On the Frontier

VVH. AUDEN and Christopher Isher

• wood plead pacifism with violent hatred and a bitter, hard despair. Believing desperately in " the far and unsuspected island " where sacred personal things are safe from the universal destruction of warmongering, they know that they cannot reach it; cannot isolate themselves from the general flood when it comes.

" Believing it was wrong to kill, I went to prison, seeing myself As the sane and innocent student Aloof among practical and violent


But I was wrong. We cannot choose our world,

Our time, our class. None are innocent, none.

. . . . . . This struggle

Was my struggle. Even if I would I could not stand apart."

AND built on this theme, the playwrights of On the Frontier have written passionately what G. B. Shaw wrote impassionately . in Geneva—an indictment of dictatorships and capitalist democracies and usurer's armament races. Mixing political platform with proscenium arch is a recipe well used by the Group Theatre, but perhaps never so effectively or so subtly or so unoffensively before this.

For On the Frontier is the most regular, tidy, easy play yet written by the Auden-Isherwood twins. It is clarity itself.

Among the nebular heights of The Ascent of F.6 there was poetry and tense drama and a lot of lovely prose which no one really understood. On the Frontier is still tense, still faintly poetic, too, still written in words that sound good, especially those sung to Benjamin Britten's music, but there is less real poetry, less imagination, less constructive truth—instead, more destructive grumble, more success, more popularity, bigger sets, better casting, West End theatre and all the rest. . . .

SINCE, however, only one Sunday al night saw the first and, at least temporarily, last performance of this play, reading is the only immediate future for On the Frontier. Faber & Faber publish the text (with interesting additions not part of Sunday's production) at 6s.


Group Theatre Club

order reigned—the while creating disorder. He asks only for unity of purpose -progress through duty. The progress of mankind, of which we are but one brief generation; and he makes his point thus and thus. . . .

The Mother, the widow of a soldier killed in an outpost of Empire 17 years before, has borne five sons. These she has stinted to educate to be anything but soldiers, fearing that they too would be taken from her. The eldest, Andrew, becomes a doctor and gives up his life for progress, fighting yellow fever. The second, George, becomes an airman and crashes in breaking the altitude record.

Christopher and Peter are twins; but Christopher is a staunch upholder of one political tenet and Peter of the opposite. Civil war breaks out and Peter is held as a hostage and shot. Christopher is shot in the streets.

But there is also Tony, born after his father's death, a delicate boy, a poet, a hater of violence; and him his mother schemes to keep from harm and to herself. But when invasion comes she bids him go—to his duty; and faces—nothing.

To me this play was like the beautiful sound of all the violins playing in a great symphony orchestra; throbbing, vibrant—wailing. For it is a wail. The wail of eternal motherhood as she sees her children sacrificing themselves for causes for which she cares nothing. But all the time in the background can be heard the rhythmic beat of the drum's progress, the clear sweet notes of the flute of unselfishness, and finally the clarion trumpet call—of duty. And the wailing sinks to a whispered prayer.

I will not mention the caste except to say they all gave beautiful performances. They must have done, for I never looked upon them as other than their characters.


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