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‘Escapism from the war? Hardly. London’s theatre-land is at the centre of the target’ – 75 years ago in The Stage

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August 17, 1944: As Britain approached the final 12 months of the Second World War, our editorial discussed the role that theatre had as a form of escapism.

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“Escape from what?” we asked. “If it is supposed to be an escape from danger, any such inference is obviously wrong. Instead of representing escape from a certain aerial menace, London’s theatre-land has been and is at the very centre of the target.

“On the contrary, the tale is one of heroic courage on the part of players, staff, and stagehands – not to mention cheery indifference to fear on that of the public. Is the escape meant to be from all thought of war? Hardly. People have shown a remarkable liking for really good plays about the war above all in times of good news. Of course, nobody has been too partial to dull plays about the war. But who wants to see a dull play about anything?

“The escape sought in the theatre has nothing exclusively to do with war or peace, danger or security. It is an escape from the boredom of imprisonment – mental and spiritual. The theatre lives by expressing individual thoughts, fancies and emotions shared with others, but individual nonetheless. It is the home and temple of individual freedom. It is an essential part of our imaginative life. So long as the Censor can be kept in order, the theatre is the only place where we can call our souls our own in company.”

If you’d like to read more stories from the history of theatre, all previous content from The Stage is available at the British Newspaper Archive in a convenient, easy-to-access format. Please visit: thestage.co.uk/archive

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