The 1930s - The Threat of Fascism

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Nellie Rickie’s The Emissary, staged in 1933 when the New Guard was active, warned against the danger of fascism in Australia. In 1938 Freda Lewis directed The Home of the Brave, a burlesque on American fascism. Who’s Who in the Berlin Zoo, a sketch developed by the English agit-prop group the Red Megaphones, was part of a double bill in 1935.

The next year Clifford Odets’ Till the Day I Die, in which Nazi brutality was exposed, brought protest from Dr Asmis the German Consul General as insulting to a friendly foreign power and its second showing at the Savoy Theatre was raided by police. The NSW Chief Secretary then banned the play “for the preservation of good manners and decorum”.

Miles Franklin described the production as a gallant and lively effort, and protests from the Australian public and local and international press coverage meant good publicity for the NTL which shifted the venue to its clubrooms for “private” performances. Postcards were printed for opponents of the ban to send to the Chief Secretary. By the time the play’s run was finished an estimated 18,000 people from all political persuasions and professions had seen it, and the theatre was sufficiently solvent to buy a stage pistol instead of the real one borrowed from a NTL member who was a bank teller.

The ban on Till the Day I Die was not lifted until August 1941, after Australia had been at war with Germany for nearly two years. “Open the door. Secret police!” became the standard NT door knock greeting.

In 1938 Diana Gould, director of The Sword Sung, was arrested for obstruction when delivering a speech from the top of a motor car in George Street against visiting Count von Luckner, seen as a Nazi apologist. During a von Luckner event in Sydney Town Hall regular NTL audience member wharfie Stan Moran threw bent pennies and torn ‘phone books (the gay old sea dog‘s party trick) onto the stage.

In the months before the start of the Second World War Frederick Hughes directed German exile Peter Nikl’s Bessie Bosch in which a woman learns that her lover is to be executed by the Nazis, and Paul and Claire Sifton’s Blood on the Moon in which a Jewish family is destroyed. The setting is 1933 Berlin where the idealism of youth is debased and utilised by fascism which invents a philosophy to justify its brutalities: “It isn’t enough that they should kill us. They must drive us to kill each other”. Although “several Nazi officers and stormtroopers bawled their way through the action” the German consul did not protest on this occasion. In a program note Jessie Street urged Australian asylum for “these persecuted and tortured people”.

The NTL supported the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War through fundraising, agit-prop and mainstage productions, and invitations to the Spanish Consul to address audiences. In Ramon Sender’s The Secret prisoners are locked up in the Chief of Police’s office in Barcelona. The year is 1935.

First prisoner: I am thirsty.

General: Why are you thirsty?

Prisoner: I have been kept for three days without water.

General: Oh well, the same old story. Neither have you been fed, true?

Prisoner: Sardines and raw salt cod. It would have been better if I had not been given anything. Give me water … I am perishing of thirst. I believe I have the right to be examined by a doctor. I demand that the prison doctor be called.

General (laughs): The prison doctor. Don’t try to precipitate things.

Michael Blankfort’s The Brave and the Blind concerned the 1936 siege of Alcazar by Spanish government forces, “a particularly searing episode from the grim struggle in Spain”. Although the subject was serious, the cast was undisciplined, making their noisy and leisurely way onstage from the dressing room.

Remember Pedrocito was restaged several times and taken to Wollongong:

In 1936 in a town near Madrid a civilian sniper, Manuela, is brought into an abandoned house occupied by Juan, Pablo and Francisco, members of the Spanish Regular Army, a paid force. After their captain kills Manuela’s 10-year-old brother Pedrocito, Pablo shoots him and follows Juan as deserters to the Republican cause. Before he leaves Juan addresses the young woman:

Juan: All the fighting isn’t done with guns, little comrade. If they win, your mother and all the others that are fighting with her, they’ll need you to help them make a new Spain, where people can be happy and have enough to eat without stealing, and where men won’t be shot for trying to help their brothers. And if they lose – this time – they’ll need you to be ready for the next time, and to remember Pedrocito, and tell them how he died …

After Juan leaves the room Pablo fires. The Captain stands rigid for a moment, coughs and falls to the floor where he lies motionless. Pablo and Francisco regard his body silently. Pablo suddenly springs into action, gathering his equipment and firearms.

Francisco: Mother of God. Pablo, you must be crazy! What are you going to do now?

Pablo: I’m going with Juanito.

Francisco: God help you if they find you when they take Madrid.

Pablo (pausing at door): Madrid? Hm, yes. We’ll be waiting for you, Cisco! We’ll be waiting for you!

Pablo exits. Francisco stares after him, then looks at the Captain’s body and slowly crosses himself. Curtain.

Bertolt Brecht’s Señora Carrar's Rifles, a version of Synge's Riders to the Sea, was relocated to Spain during the height of the Civil War.

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