Remembered largely today as the creator of Peter Pan, James Matthew Barrie wrote a number of plays during the First World War. In autumn 2016, his 1918 play A Well-Remembered Voice will be brought to life by IO Theatre.
By the end of the First World War, most people had suffered the experience of loss – be it a friend, family member or neighbour. In A Well-Remembered Voice, a mother believes that her recently deceased son will speak to her in a séance. Dealing with themes of loss, mourning, and remembrance, Barrie’s play explores the popularity of spiritualism in the early half of the twentieth century. Widespread, national bereavement during gave spiritualism an audience. Arthur Conan Doyle – writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes – similarly sought solace in spiritualism following the death of his wife in 1906, and the death of his son shortly before the end of the war.
A Well-Remembered Voice premiered in June 1918, and was considered the highlight of a three piece show. The plays were presented in order to raise money for Countess Lytton’s Hospital for wounded soldiers in Mayfair, and Barrie’s influence in the world of theatre meant that a well-known cast were hired – including Lillian Braithwaite and Forbes Robertson.
“I didn’t know you were the one who would miss me most, but I know now.”
– A Well-Remembered Voice
Der Tag (1914), The Last Word (1915) and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals (1917) are also examples of Barrie’s WW1 era plays. The latter was adapted as the American film Seven Day’s Leave (1930), in which a young Canadian soldier in London comforts a Scottish widow by pretending to be her son. He is later killed in battle and the widow receives her ‘son’s’ medals for bravery.
As part of an AHRC funded project, After Tipperary: Theatrical Entertainment in Richmond in the First World War, IO Theatre will tour productions of A Well-Remembered Voice in venues across the Borough. Before IO Theatre’s performance of the play in 2014, as part of the launch of the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Everyday Lives in War, it had not been seen on the stage for almost a century. The Company will bring J. M. Barrie’s play once more to life this autumn. Further information will be released at www.richmond.gov.uk/ww1.
See an extract from IO’s performance of A Well-Remembered Voice here.