20 MARCH 1942, Page 18

A Theatre Pioneer

The Scene Is Changed. By Ashley Dukes. (Macmillan. 12s. 6d.)

"How lucky we were,. we men now in the fifties, to have known what the world was like before 1914." So Mr. Ashley Dukes argues while sympathising with those born into one cataclysm of our social life and now facing another " without real ex- perience of the first." Is there more in this than a brave gesture? Some lives among what he terms " the legion of the frustrated " are blessedly simple, while some belonging to the legion of the lucky have been hopelessly involved in the cataclysms.

Yet the period we used to call " pre-war " does possess a peculiar importance. Without at least some glimpses of it the panorama of our times must be incomplete. This is true of all that concerns the change of the old and settled world into the new and unsettled one. The main aspect must now be ignored since Mr. Dukes, after his provocative statement, puts on the blinkers of an " exponent of the modern theatre idea as a European understands it."

The London of 1910 still regarded Ibsen as a startling novelty. Everything that conformed to his standard was praised (notably Brieux, whose Damaged Goods came under the same ban as Ghosts). All other movements in Continental theatres were ignored. Then Mr. Dukes wrote Modern Dramatists. Simply by proving that the outside world was not standing still he breathed a new spirit. On joining the Stage Society he intro- duced modern dramatists to London playgoers. Their em- barrassed giggles were a phenomenon that must be recorded.

There ought to have been a foreword to The Scene Is Changed. Its readers ought to know what Mr. Dukes meant to the coming generation of his day and how his first-hand experience of foreign theatres was admired. Then the account of how he gained that experience could be enjoyed. In one year the entertainments of a German provincial city had given him a wider knowledge of modem drama than Londoners could acquire in a lifetime. The theatre abroad had become the exchange and mart of ideas. The range from Claudel to Wedekind was vast and invigorating. Ye; Shaw was still regarded here as a freak and Chekhov excited giggles. Stronger proof of reactionary power occurred when C. K. Munro's first play was presented. When the last war ended Mr. Dukes, on returning from active service, had only to begin again where he left off in order to win the credit for his early labours. But when players and playgoers had caught up to his 1910 level, he was abroad again in search of dramatists, such as Toiler in prison, who were actually modern. Once more he embarrassed the time-lag. ExpressiOnism could not be suffered until it was no longer new. Ideas' are not welcome on our stage until, as The Insect Play suggests, too late.

In Old Germany the modern theatre idea flourished; from England, France and Russia were given a kindly haring. But the exchange and mart had a very brief existence. And if culture in the Munich that Mr. Dukes knew was ineffective, what is there to be said of the modern theatre idea he witnessed more recently in Berlin? In the smaller theatres, he records:

One could easily stumble on some naive piece of dramatic journalism where a Jew, the villain of course, was beaten up before vanishing from the scene. This would be played before an audience largely made up of " Strength through Joy " mm- bers at reduced prices ; and the masochistic artist concerned was able to get home early with his bruises, for the public would never wait longer than a couple of acts to see retribution over- take him. There were no demonstrations in the house, and one heard very little applause. Everything was taken for granted with appalling calm.

Take that as the picture of a theatre entirely free from any " taint " of internationalism and you will at once take kindly to the idea of entertainment cherished by the Old Germany where our exponent studied.

" In my rosy imagination there were many to follow," says Mr. Dukes of the first play he wrote after the last Peace. Between wars he saw a dozen of his works staged. It is a notable achieve. ment, and yet why should it be? The time-lag held him and others back. In the London theatre it is so thorough as almost to seem deliberately organised. Nothing new will be suffered until it is out of date. To combat that he began a career in management which adds adventure to the interests of his career. "I feel it too personal," he says, "to be considered a career