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Lena Ashwell and The Starlight Express.


By the time actress/manager Lena Ashwell Lena Ashwell (28 September 1872 - 13 March 1957) was a British actress and manager, known as the first to organize large-scale entertainment for troops at the front, which she did during World War I.  (1869-1957) decided to produce The Starlight Express Starlight Express is a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Richard Stilgoe (lyrics), with later revisions by Don Black (lyrics) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics for the 2nd US tour, though much of his contribution was removed for the UK tour after Andrew Lloyd Webber , the stage version of Algernon Blackwood's The Prisoner of Fairyland (adapted from his 'Uncle' books series), at the Kingsway Theatre, London, in December 1915, 'as a piece of Red Cross work for the mind during the first agony of the war', (1) she was a well-known and much publicised theatrical personality and contributor to the war effort. While there were many ingredients for a potential success, she created many challenges for herself and others by giving her large creative team just over two months to put the production together at a time when war-time constraints were severe and her own resources were fully stretched. Ultimately, the production was unsuccessful and the question remains as to whether she was in some way responsible for the long-term failure of a work which, despite the prominence of its composer, Edward Elgar Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, OM, GCVO (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English Romantic composer. Several of his first major orchestral works, including the Enigma Variations and the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, were greeted with acclaim. , has never received a second fully-staged production.

Ashwell had signed a 99-year lease in 1907 when she took over the former Penley's Theatre and renamed it the Kingsway. Although initially successful in her management of this theatre, where in 1908 she won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Diana of Dobson's in Cicely cicely: see sweet cicely.  Hamilton's 'New Woman' play, Ashwell ran into financial difficulties. She was obliged to rent the theatre to Harley Granville-Barker Noun 1. Harley Granville-Barker - English actor and dramatist and critic and director noted for his productions of Shakespearean plays (1877-1946)
 from early 1912 to April 1915 and then to the unsuccessful Vedrenne/Eadie management for a few months. By the late summer of 1915 the theatre was dark with no potential hirers. Ashwell had to maintain the theatre and despite her many other activities, she considered the only way to deal with the overheads was to resume her actress/manager position.

On 10 October 1915 Ashwell put forward a positive explanation for her return to this demanding task:
   I will confess to you that not only am I looking forward to
   returning to the Kingsway, but this time I hope to stay a long time
   if the public will allow me. I have been devoting most of my time
   lately to the War Funds and other charities. Who can refrain from
   such splendid work at such a 'calling' time? Still, naturally,
   there comes, also, a 'call' to do what I can in my own profession.

The first production was to be a new play, Iris Intervenes, announced on 2 October 1915 in the Evening News. There was no mention as yet of any plans to stage The Starlight Express as a family entertainment immediately after Christmas. It was clear, however, that Ashwell was planning to return to the stage in a central role, giving eight performances a week, as well as continuing her strenuous war-time projects which had begun with the outbreak of war in August 1914. A week after the Kingsway re-opening was announced, she spoke at the London Central London Central is owned by Go-Ahead Group and is one of many operators of London Buses. They operate four bus garages in Bexleyheath, Camberwell, New Cross and Peckham. Garages
 in full Young Men's Christian Association

Nonsectarian, nonpolitical Christian lay movement that aims to develop high standards of Christian character among its members.
 at a fund-raising concert for the project closest to her heart--the Concerts at the Front initiative. This involved the audition and preparation of small parties of performers, engaged to entertain the troops, initially at YMCA huts in the war zones, which she had established in February 1915. By early October fifteen parties had spent up to four weeks each in France giving two or three concerts a day. As well as travelling to France and throughout Britain to speak at public fund-raising meetings, Ashwell was writing articles for newspapers, such as 'Concerts For The Army' and 'Music has a Vocation in Modern Warfare' (3), to promote the scheme. She was articulating many of her concerns about the impact of the war in interviews and through her involvement with organisations such as the Actresses' Franchise League:
   It is for us women to wage unremitting and strenuous war against
   all conditions of poverty and disease and misery that weaken the
   Empire at its heart. It is for us women to fight in dead earnest
   against the spirit of social apathy, indifference and despair; to
   stand by those who have lost their economic weapons, and to save
   them from the defeat that comes from loss of independence. (4)

This was the motivation behind the Women's Emergency Corps, which she had co-founded with the actresses Eva and Decima Moore Lilian Decima Moore (December 11 1871 – February 18 1964) was an English singer and actress, known for her performances in soprano roles with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and in musical comedies.  in August 1914, to help, in cooperation with the Government Labour Exchanges, as many women as possible find satisfying work and contribute to the war effort.

So, as the Kingsway turned on its lights again, it would seem she had a great deal to do. She maintained her previous artistic policy by presenting a new romantic comedy by a 23-year-old, John Hastings

For other people named John Hastings, see John Hastings (disambiguation).
John Hastings (born March 16, 1942 in Collingwood, Ontario) is a politician in Ontario, Canada.
 Turner, who was likely to be sent on active service at any time. Iris Intervenes, written during his Oxford student days and described by Turner as 'An Arabian Night in the Suburbs', was eagerly anticipated, as was Ashwell's 'experiment' of employing mostly women to run the show:
   There will be a woman stage manager, a woman assistant stage
   manager and a woman property 'man'. The limelights will be worked
   by women who have been coached by the electrician, and there will
   be women scene shifters and an orchestra composed of women. There
   will still be some men employed, mainly upon the heavy work; but
   there will not be one man [who is] eligible for military service.

In response to the interest shown in this initiative, Ashwell declared, 'Distinctions between "men's and women's work" are apt to turn out, on experiment, to be purely conventional ... We must hope that the new solidarity between men and women at work will continue after the war.' (6) Indeed, the producer of Iris was male - the actor/director William Bridges-Adams, husband of Muriel Pratt who played the small role of Muriel Hudson as well as assisting the stage management.

Iris Intervenes opened on 16 October 1915 with Ashwell playing Iris Olga Iranovna, a bohemian Russian with a past who moves into suburbia next door to the family of businessman and churchwarden church·war·den  
1. A lay officer in the Anglican Church chosen annually by the vicar or the congregation to handle the secular and legal affairs of the parish.

, Henry Cumbers. The clash of life styles and personalities is immediate and ferocious, especially when Iris, who says of herself, 'My assets are the fact that I am a darling; my liabilities are the fact that I am a woman' (7), allows Henry's son to flirt with her. The response was enthusiastic: 'A bright, clever, hopeful young play and all that a happy audience and a happy and able company could do to make Miss Lena Ashwell's return to her own stage a memorably joyous one ... Miss Lena Ashwell liked Iris immensely, one could see that--and so did we.' (8)

The Observer considered Ashwell had found, 'somewhere or other, an interesting new dramatist'. (9) She did seem to have the knack of selecting interesting plays, so her article, 'How Not to Write a Play', was based on experience. The production of Iris Intervenes, by such a young playwright, had prompted many would-be authors to submit their manuscripts to the Kingsway. Her 'winged words ... for the authors of bad plays' included:
   A play must be worth writing if it is to be worth acting and
   seeing, and some plays, quite well constructed and well written,
   make one wonder as one reads them how the authors found it worth
   while expending so much time and trouble over them. Apparently
   there are in the world a great many people who sit down to write a
   play without having any particular play to write. (10)

Iris Intervenes finished its London season on 20 November, the production having taken part in the Red Cross/St John Ambulance 'Our Day' on 21 October, to which every theatre and music hall in the United Kingdom gave at least ten percent of its gross box office receipts. The production was packed away while plans to tour it early in 1916 were put in hand.

Meanwhile, the Concerts at the Front bandwagon gathered momentum, helped by many articles and letters. 'The work may be tiring, but for sheer inspiration and love of one's job it is hard indeed to beat', (11) wrote well-known vocalist Elsie Illingworth on her return from France, while an actress using the pen-name 'Penelope', published a detailed account of one of the concert parties giving 30 performances of one-act plays in 13 days in the camps. (12) Robin H. Legge, music critic Noun 1. music critic - a critic of musical performances
critic - a person who is professionally engaged in the analysis and interpretation of works of art
 for the Daily Telegraph, had read 'a huge mass of letters ... from soldiers of every degree in France'. As part of his appeal on behalf of the Concerts' fund he detailed pianist Theodore Flint's calculations that 'on average he plays about 50 songs per day', and that since he began working with the concert parties had played 'nearly 25,000 songs and pieces'. (13)


Ashwell later identified the period of the First World War as the time when her ambition for personal success gave place to a greater ambition for the success of greater causes. (14) As Britons faced a second war-torn Christmas, she addressed the Student Christian Movement at University College, London. Her talk, 'Dramatic Art and National Life: Miss Lena Ashwell on the Artist as a Human Being', was reported in great detail by The Challenge. She exhorted her listeners, 'in the state of destruction which we are going through', to seek the right standards, particularly in education, and away from the acquisitive and personal. She declared 'now was the time for the builders' of a better world. In history the people who really were of importance to the rest were the teachers and the artists', from whom people today could take an example. She explained her own shift away from success for its own sake and financial reward with the realisation that
   the moment you turn aside and leave the pure expression of yourself
   with the idea of expressing it in the best manner, without any
   consideration of anything else, that moment you are killing the
   thing that is worth while in you ... What we are here for is not to
   conform to what has been done before, but to make something new
   and better. (15)

She hoped her listeners would welcome and be challenged by changes which would be brought about by the war and declared her ambition for a better theatre, considering it was everyone's responsibility to demand the best of what she saw as 'the most powerful thing that a nation can have to use in opening up doors of knowledge'. (16)

These were the circumstances in which Ashwell embarked on a project which, from the distance of time and our understanding of producing musical theatre today, seems reckless and ill-thought-through. At the very least, to attempt to mount such an enterprise in such a short period of time, in hindsight appears uncharacteristic of Ashwell.

It seems likely she first considered producing The Starlight Express in late October while working with Muriel Pratt in Iris Intervenes. Once this play had opened, she would have turned her mind to the next production, hoping that Iris Intervenes would continue to draw audiences for as long as possible to enable her to get the next show ready. Given Ashwell's hope for a better world to emerge after the war, it is easy to understand why she was drawn to this story at this particular time. Like Algernon Blackwood Algernon Henry Blackwood, CBE (March 14, 1869 – December 10, 1951) was an English writer of tales of the supernatural. Life and work
Although Blackwood wrote a number of horror stories, his most typical work seeks less to frighten than to induce a sense of awe.
, she was an avid reader of eastern philosophy and religion and throughout her life explored mysticism, spiritualism spiritualism: see spiritism.

Belief that the souls of the dead can make contact with the living, usually through a medium or during abnormal mental states such as trances.
, theosophy theosophy (thēŏs`əfē) [Gr.,=divine wisdom], philosophical system having affinities with mysticism and claiming insight into the nature of God and the world through direct knowledge, philosophical speculation, or some physical process.  and all aspects of the occult. By 1914 she was a follower of the Fellowship of the Way, a system of spiritual and mental development advocated by the American doctor and author, James Porter James Porter can refer to:
  • James Porter (American politician) (1787-1839), US Congressman from New York
  • James Porter (Australian politician), former member of the Australian House of Representatives
 Mills. (17) With the outbreak and continuation of the war she was seeking, like many others, to understand ways to sustain the soul with poetry and music, and she would have seen The Starlight Express as a hopeful sign in such difficult times. After the war she would write

   For the education of the soul, the taming of the passions, the
   awakening of interest in other people living under other
   conditions in other nations, for the understanding of other
   people's difficulties, and for the stimulating of all that is
   highest and most adventurous in the desires of the human spirit,
   there is no more powerful agent than the theatre. (18)

Blackwood (19) and Violet Alice Pearn (20), the latter the winner of the Era's 1913 Playwrights' Competition for The Minotaur, had begun working together on the adaptation of The Prisoner of Fairyland in 1913 and with Muriel Pratt's help sought interest from managements for its production. Pratt, who was the niece of Pearn's companion, Gertrude Pratt, had premiered Pearn's Wild Birds in her first season of management at the Bristol Theatre Royal in May 1914, of which Ashwell was very supportive. Pratt had given up plans to stage The Starlight Express, with music by Clive Carey (21), following the outbreak of war. Carey and Basil Dean (22), who was to have been the director, enlisted in the army, and tentative production plans at the Savoy Theatre Savoy Theatre: see Savoy, the.  were cancelled. In May 1915 she was forced to abandon her Bristol repertory plans and to seek work in London, where she was employed by Ashwell at the Kingsway.

Ashwell, having decided to produce it, engaged Henry Wilson

For other people named Henry Wilson, see Henry Wilson (disambiguation).

Henry Wilson (February 16, 1812 – November 22, 1875) was a Senator from Massachusetts and the eighteenth Vice President of the United States.
 (23), recently appointed President of the Arts & Crafts Society, as designer, assisted by Stanley North, who was responsible for the comet design used as the production 'logo' in publicity and on the programme. Wilson had no previous stage design experience in London. Ralph Philipson, in memory of his recently deceased wife, provided financial backing and Ashwell brought in the former proprietor of the Kingsway, Arthur Penley, as the production's business manager.

There is a manuscript of the play (without music) in the Lord Chamberlain's collection in the British Library British Library, national library of Great Britain, located in London. Long a part of the British Museum, the library collection originated in 1753 when the government purchased the Harleian Library, the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, and groups of manuscripts. . This script, submitted by Penley, was passed by the Lord Chamberlain's office on 6 December and licensed on 11 December, 1915, more than two weeks before the opening night. K.E.L Simmons, who made a detailed study of the composition of the music (24), indicates that many changes were made throughout December 1915 to accommodate the final cast and the evolution of the music, so this cannot be considered a definitive text. Even throughout the run, although a not uncommon practice for a new musical, songs were added and textual alterations made. Ernest Bendall, in the Lord Chamberlain's office, described the work as:
   a daintily didactic little fairy-play of the school of The Blue
   Bird but less dramatic in its motive and plot ... The nursery
   romance, which has its scene laid in the Swiss Mountains, is
   charmingly imagined and prettily written, seems rather lacking in
   lucidity in its earlier stages, perhaps through its super abundance
   of subordinate characters. But it is always perfect in taste and
   sound in tone; and its last Act, which moralises the whole fantasy,
   has many passages of tender beauty. (25)


The authors, in the Kingsway Theatre programme dated 29 December 1915, summarized the story as follows:
   The 'wumbled' [a word created by Blackwood to express a state of
   muddle, worry, uncertainty and frustration], English family [a
   writer, his tired wife and three children], living for economy's
   sake in this village among the Jura Mountains, are troubled about
   many things. Various folk in the village are troubled too. And
   their 'trouble' is traceable to one main source--that
   mis-understanding which is due to lack of sympathy. The story
   describes the happy change produced by the magical effect of
   sympathy. This effect is obtained chiefly by the working of a
   Secret Society organised by the children--a Star Society. For the
   children believe that, while their bodies lie asleep, their spirits
   ... get out and play among the stars. They collect starlight, or,
   as they call it, star-dust ... Star-dust is Sympathy! ... With the
   help of Cousin Henry, they accomplish wonders ... But Cousin Henry
   has other helpers too. They are the Sprites--the Figures of his own
   imaginative childhood. Thinking comes true, he explains, and he has
   'thought alive' these Sprites, and brought them with him from his
   English childhood in the Starlight Express--a Train of Thought!

Apparently ignoring Clive Carey's composition, presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 on the assumption that his enlistment in the army excluded his involvement, Ashwell, declaring herself to be another 'dreamer of dreams' (26), approached Blackwood for suggestions as to a composer. He contacted Robin H. Legge, and Sir Edward Elgar Noun 1. Sir Edward Elgar - British composer of choral and orchestral works including two symphonies as well as songs and chamber music and music for brass band (1857-1934)
Elgar, Sir Edward William Elgar
 was approached, initially by Legge on 9 November, seven weeks prior to the opening matinee, and later on the same day Ashwell, already known to the Elgars, wrote:
   Very dear Sir Edward. Robin Legge has encouraged me to ask you if
   you would consider writing music for a play I hope to do at
   Christmas by Algernon Blackwood. The play is half reality and half
   fairyland & it is your help in fairyland I want so much. There is a
   great mystic quality in the play which I am sure will help people
   to bear the sorrows of the war, & the end is really wonderful in
   its beauty. Would you ring me up tonight & say if I may come to see
   you about it. (27)

Progress on the project was recorded by Elgar's wife, Lady Alice Lady Alice is Child ballad 85.[1] It may be a fragment of a longer ballad that has not been preserved. Synopsis
Lady Alice sees a coffin being borne by, and it is Giles Collins, her love. She dies before the next day.
, in her diary. The next day Ashwell visited and 'showed E. the play. She longs for his music to go with it.' (28) On 11 November the Elgars and their friend Alice Stuart of Wortley, who was on the fund-raising committee for Ashwell's Concerts at the Front, were guests at the performance of Iris Intervenes and tea after. Lady Elgar's diary entry records:
   Alice S.W. with us. Enjoyed 'Iris Intervenes' extremely. Lena
   wonderfully clever in it. The only play or novel in which a woman
   has the sense to say 'Nothing wd. make mebelieve it (tale about
   her Husband). Even if it were absolutely proved I'd not believe it.'
   A. clapped & was joined by someone. (29)

On 13 November Elgar agreed to do the music, some of which he intended would be adapted from his much earlier The Wand of Youth The Wand of Youth Suites 1 & 2 are suites for full orchestra by the English composer Edward Elgar. The title given them by Elgar was, in full:

The Wand of Youth
Music to a Child's Play
(First Suite) Op.
. Ashwell was no doubt delighted. Her own musical background included early training at the Royal Academy of Music The Royal Academy of Music is a constituent college of the University of London, and is one of the world's leading music institutions. It was founded by Lord Burghersh in 1822 with the help and ideas of the French eccentric harpist and composer Nicolas Bochsa and in 1830 was . Although she had never staged a musical play, she had attracted attention with the introduction of an extensive music recital programme at the Kingsway in 1908 and was familiar with Elgar's composition and reputation (30). Blackwood and Elgar met two days later and immediately became firm friends and collaborators. From then on, Ashwell, Blackwood, the operatic soprano Clytie Hine (who was a participant in Ashwell's Concerts at the Front) and baritone Charles Mott, (31) became regular visitors to Elgar's home or he attended rehearsals at the Kingsway. It was a frantic few weeks, during which Elgar produced his largest work for the stage--300 pages of score containing more than an hour of music, and the first major piece he was to record on the gramophone, with the augmented Kingsway Orchestra, on 18 February 1916.

However, it was not a happy time. Ashwell was under pressure due to shortage of time and her other projects and she may have pushed too hard and made some inappropriate choices. From the start decisions alienated a number of people, including Muriel Pratt, who had hoped to play the character Jane Anne, but was not cast by Ashwell. Violet Pearn was not taken with Elgar's music ('it bores me to tears'), as correspondence with Clive Carey and others indicates. (32) She was very displeased with Ashwell's treatment of her friend Muriel Pratt and her production style. Despite the musical's premise that 'misunderstanding due to lack of sympathy could be changed through star-dust (sympathy)', Blackwood and Elgar were convinced the designer had misunderstood the work and began to anticipate disaster. Ashwell, concerned that he was a disruptive presence, asked Blackwood to stay away from rehearsals for a week during which he wrote to Elgar that he had heard that Wilson 'has designed the Sprites in the spirit of Greek fantasy ... a false and ghastly idea. There is nothing pagan in our little Childhood Play. It is an alien symbolism altogether.' (33)

The actor, O.B. Clarence, who played the role of Daddy, wrote later in his autobiography: 'During rehearsals there was constant bickerings and difficulties ... There were disagreements about the symbolism of the decor, which was all rather highbrow and obscured the beauty of the story. There were even dissensions among the orchestra.' (34)

Financial concerns inevitably created pressure: dancers had to be engaged and accommodated; the children in the cast needed chaperones; the Kingsway Orchestra had to be augmented to respond to Elgar's instrumentation and the design placed heavy demands on the theatre's technical resources. Ashwell agreed to a virtual doubling of musician numbers from her usual string ensemble, to include wind, brass, harp and percussion and as the music developed, further extras included cow bells and a wind machine. To add to her problems, in mid December Ashwell was summoned to Bow Street Bow Street is a thoroughfare in Covent Garden, Westminster London. It features as one of the streets on the standard London Monopoly board.

The area around Bow Street was developed by the Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford in the 1630s.
 Police Court for non-payment of rates on the Kingsway, amounting to eighty-three pounds, six shillings and six pence. The solicitor representing Ashwell advised the court that the theatre had been closed between May and October and that three days after its re-opening there had been a Zeppelin raid and re-closure. Ashwell hoped if the new production was successful, she could pay the rates. She was given a further month to do so. (35)

Unfortunately, Alice Elgar did not have time to write up her diary between 14 and 26 December, which might have given greater insight into Elgar's growing concerns. She and her husband worked hard on the music. Then, on 21 December, Elgar's nephew and godson god·son  
A male godchild.


a male godchild

Noun 1. godson - a male godchild
godchild - an infant who is sponsored by an adult (the godparent) at baptism
, William, died aged twenty-five after a long illness. On Christmas Eve a distressed Elgar and Blackwood did not like what they saw at the dress rehearsal dress rehearsal
A full, uninterrupted rehearsal of a play with costumes and stage properties.

dress rehearsal

 five days before the opening performance. Some of Blackwood's Christmas Day was spent writing to Elgar again.
   Can we do anything? I have, of course, the right of veto. That
   means getting a new artist, postponement of opening, heavy loss
   of money to Miss Ashwell, and so forth. You know better than I do
   what a sweeping veto would involve. That our really big chance
   should be ruined by her strange belief in a mediocre artist is
   cruel. (36)

Postponement, however, was averted although it was a stressful time, as indicated by Ashwell's letter to Elgar a few days before the opening performance on Wednesday 29 December: 'I have been dreaming about the difficulties & I see them very clearly ... I can't do the play without you, & it is really life or extinction for me to get the play right & it can't be right without you.' (37)

Ashwell was obviously determined that the show must go on and would not have entertained the possibility of cancellation. Invitations to the opening 2pm matinee performance had been sent out by Arthur Penley on 17 December. She always had an effective publicity machine for the Kingsway and was a personality of interest to the press given her war efforts. Given what was happening behind the scenes, the success of this machine is evident when, apparently in direct contrast to his letter to Elgar the day before, Blackwood was quoted in the Observer on 26 December 1915 as saying, 'The extraordinarily intuitive comprehension of my ideas which Miss Ashwell has shown has been a very keen delight to me. Her enthusiasm and her zeal are beyond anything I could have expected.' Meanwhile, in the Referee, Ashwell declared: 'Although producing a play in War time has its minor difficulties in the way of procuring materials and getting them delivered, the serious difficulties have solved themselves.' (38)

Elgar missed the opening performance, which he intended to conduct, after Lady Elgar had an accident in a taxi on 27 December. This seems to have been the public reason for his absence when he was replaced by the young music director and conductor, Julius Harrison, but his correspondence at the time to his artist friend Troyte Griffith (39), reveals anger, frustration and some determination to express this through boycotting the production, at least during its first few performances.

From most of the reviews, it appears the work was enjoyed by audiences. However, except for the music, the critics weren't convinced. The cast, including the younger players, was praised for its performance and there was unanimous enthusiasm for what the Daily Telegraph described as Elgar's 'entrancing incidental music'. (40) 'Elgar's music charms and pleases alternately ... The whole is an accompaniment of perfect appropriateness. He enters completely into the particular mood of the piece. It has stimulated his imaginative vein to the full.' (41)

Elgar himself warmed to the production and his wife writes in her diary that he attended many performances in January 1916. Not many reviews commented on Ashwell's production, although the Sunday Times and Sunday Special thought it 'tastefully arranged and directed' and that she had selected the actors 'with care'. (42) Challenge declared she had 'once again shown what a true artist she is, both in the choice and in the setting of the play', although 'perhaps the action hangs a little at times, but that is a small thing amid so much loveliness of spirit and of form.' (43)

However, Ashwell closed the production on 29 January 1916 with a vague suggestion that it might be revived the following Christmas (44). She obviously considered that to continue would incur more loss impossible to recoup and there is no doubt she lost money on the project. Given that reviews were positive about the music and performers, but not without reservations about the overall production, the short run must be attributed to some extent to the war-time situation and dearth of theatre audiences as well as the work's apparent lack of traditional pantomime appeal. As Jerrold Northrop Moore puts it, 'Behind all their [the critics'] comments stood the silent contrast of [J.M Barrie's] Peter Pan' (45), which had been presented annually at Christmas since 1904.

On 15 January 1916, two weeks before the closure, Desmond MacCarthy Sir Desmond MacCarthy (1878-1952) was an English critic, a member of the "Bloomsbury Group".

MacCarthy was born in Plymouth, England, and educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge.
 in the New Statesman The New Statesman is a British left-wing political magazine published weekly in London. The current editor is John Kampfner. The magazine is committed to "development, human rights and the environment, global issues the mainstream press often ignores". , wrote an elaborate and unsympathetic critique which began:
   Do you like pretty mysticism? For my part I cannot bear it.
   Consequently I did not feel at all happy at the Kingsway Theatre
   ... Whatever the adjective may be which characterises the Universe
   best, it seems to me it is certainly not 'pretty'. It may be love,
   perhaps, which makes the world go round (though appearances are
   against it); but that the secret of life may be read in the eyes of
   a child seems to me a philosophy so improbable as to be positively
   repulsive; and seeing what the human spirit can be, to turn from
   that to adore instead the innocence of children is impious.

His conclusion was a blunt 'I did not like the play'.

Some of the failure, however, must relate to the haste with which it was mounted and the conflicts which marred such a stage work so dependent on collaboration and co-operation. It is hard to imagine today a director or manager commissioning a score for a West End musical play six weeks prior to opening night. However, it should be remembered that Ashwell initially asked for some incidental music incidental music

Music composed to accompany a play. The practice dates back to ritualistic Greek drama, and it is thus connected to the use of music in other kinds of ritual.
 and chorus work for the play--it was Blackwood's contact with the idea of childhood that triggered enthusiasm and memories for Elgar and led him to compose much more music than was originally intended. Perhaps there were too many 'dreamers of dreams' involved. Undoubtedly all were committed to doing their best in difficult circumstances but clearly Ashwell was distracted by her other activities and stretched to the limits of her resources, both financial and personal. Also, she had reached a point where there was no alternative but to proceed even if the work was not ready or fully integrated.

The Starlight Express music, Elgar's Opus 78, was fated to languish for many years. Its history has been well documented and analysed by Elgar scholars.


Given the response to the music and Elgar's enduring place in the repertoire, the failure of this musical play in 1916 poses the question of whether it could have thrived in different circumstances. Unfortunately, none of the protagonists seems to have had the will or sufficient interest to retain a definitive text and no such text appears to have survived. Simmons writes that 'the theatre parts were returned to the Kingsway (where they were later destroyed by fire) (46) and the MS score to Elkin's [Elgar's music publishers] (where it languished for the rest of Elgar's lifetime and long after)'. (47) Despite detailed research there seems to be no clear way of reconstructing the work or of deciding how the music fits with the licensed manuscript. The full score has never been published, (48) nor has the original dramatisation n. 1. same as dramatization.

Noun 1. dramatisation - conversion into dramatic form; "the play was a dramatization of a short story"
 of Blackwood's stories, and there have been no theatre performances since the Kingsway production, although it has been presented in a radio version. (49)

However, it was not an entirely negative experience for Elgar. Besides the establishment of a long-standing and stimulating friendship with Algernon Blackwood, the recording made for His Master's Voice in February 1916 was the first significant gramophone recording of his work. He did not appear to 'fall out' with Ashwell--in 1917 he was on the Music Committee and composed music for a ballet performed at the Chelsea Matinee, a fund-raising event for her Concerts at the Front presented on 20 March 1917. Ellen Terry Dame Ellen Terry, GBE (February 27 1848 – July 21 1928) was an English stage actress. Terry became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Life and career
Alice Ellen Terry
 appeared as the Spirit of Chelsea and others involved included Augustus John Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, (4 January 1878 – 31 October 1961) was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in England. .

For Ashwell, at the start of 1916 the die was cast. The role of actress/manager at the Kingsway was no longer viable and she was obliged to hire the theatre out during the war and beyond. However, after a year of juggling administration, fund-raising and performance, she had achieved official acceptance and acknowledgement of the significance of her Concerts at the Front initiative. In Modern Troubadours (50) she writes enthusiastically, 'There is no doubt that the War Office regarded our work as of importance since they made an exception on our behalf with regard to permits. Few permits at that time were issued for less than three or four months, but we were given short permits for the touring parties', thus enabling the project to flourish. With this official recognition, Ashwell, ever the pragmatist, was ready to move into the next phase of her life, with what appears to be not even a backward glance at The Starlight Express. She does not mention, even with regret, the production in her autobiography Myself a Player. In the brief mention she makes of the production in her book The Stage, Chapter 10 on 'The Theatre, The Church, and the Machine', it is only to lament the church's lack of interest in her view of religious drama: 'I circularised all the clergy, inviting them to come to the Kingsway. Only two came.' (51) By early February 1916 she was touring Iris Intervenes to Wimbledon, Hammersmith, Stratford East, Croydon and beyond, using every opportunity to promote and raise funds for the Concerts at the Front which grew from strength to strength and would continue in devastated areas in Europe even after the cessation of fighting in 1918.

(1) Lena Ashwell, The Stage, The Life and Work Series, London 1929, 189.

(2) The Referee 10 October 1915.

(3) Red Triangle Red triangle could refer to:
  • A red triangle was the concentration camp badge of political prisoners in Nazi Germany.
  • Red triangle (Channel 4), British television content warning system
  • The symbol of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, see flag of Minas Gerais.
 15 October 1915.

(4) Daily Chronicle The Daily Chronicle was a London newspaper company in the United Kingdom that was founded in 1872. It merged its publication with the Daily News to become the News Chronicle.  10 October 1915.

(5) The Times 14 October 1915.

(6) Daily Mirror 16 October 1915.

(7) Quoted in Lloyds Weekly News 17 October 1915.

(8) The Referee 17 October 1915.

(9) The Observer 17 October 1915.

(10) Daily Mail 30 October 1915.

(11) Huddersfield Weekly Examiner 23 October 1915.

(12) Lady's Pictorial 13 November 1915.

(13) Daily Telegraph 30 October 1915.

(14) Lena Ashwell, Myself A Player, London 1936, 163.

(15) The Challenge 10 December 1915.

(16) Ibid.

(17) James Porter Mills, Knowledge is the Door, London, 1937 [first published in 1914].

(18) Lena Ashwell, Modern Troubadours, A Record of the Concerts at the Front, London 1922, 226-227.

(19) Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951), was born in Kent, educated in France and Switzerland and spent some years in America before achieving recognition as an author in his thirties. His popular 'Uncle' books were The Education of Uncle Paul (1909), A Prisoner in Fairyland (1913) and The Extra Day (1915). His first novel for children, Jimbo: A Fantasy, not published until 1909, also influenced The Starlight Express.

(20) Violet Pearn, born 1880 in Portsmouth, was a novelist and playwright whose stage works included Mountain Lights, The Minotaur and Wild Birds. Her companion was Gertrude Platt, whose niece Muriel was an actress/manager and the wife of actor/director William Bridges-Adams.

(21) Francis Clive Savill Carey (1883-1968) studied at Cambridge University Cambridge University, at Cambridge, England, one of the oldest English-language universities in the world. Originating in the early 12th cent. (legend places its origin even earlier than that of Oxford Univ.  and the Royal College of Music The Royal College of Music is a prestigious music school located in Kensington, London. Origins
The college building was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield.
. The Australian soprano Joan Sutherland studied with him at the Royal College of Music Opera School in London in 1951.

(22) Basil Dean (1887-1978), CBE CBE Commander of the Order of the British Empire (a Brit. title)

CBE n abbr (= Companion of (the Order of) the British Empire) → título de nobleza

CBE n abbr (=
. English actor, writer, theatre and film producer/director. During the Second World War he was director of ENSA ENSA Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture (French)
ENSA Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (Compaq)
ENSA Entertainments National Service Association (WWII-era UK organization) 
, the government-sponsored body responsible for bringing live performances to the armed services.

(23) In the Rush Rhees Rush Rhees (19 March1905-22 May1989) was a philosopher at Swansea University from 1940 to 1966

Rhees is principally known as a student, friend, and literary executor of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. With G. E. M.
 collection at the University of Rochester The University of Rochester (UR) is a private, coeducational and nonsectarian research university located in Rochester, New York. The university is one of 62 elected members of the Association of American Universities.  library there is an undated un·dat·ed  
1. Not marked with or showing a date: an undated letter; an undated portrait.

 letter written by Wilson to Ashwell, in which he writes about G.B. Shaw, describing him as 'an angel masquerading as Mephistopheles.' In this letter he advises Ashwell of his election as President to the Arts & Crafts Society.

(24) K.E.L. Simmons 'Elgar and the Wonderful Stranger: Music for The Starlight Express', Elgar Studies, ed. Raymond Monk, Aldershot, Brookfield, 1990.

(25) Ernest A. Bendall, 6 December 1915, Lord Chamberlain's Office--Letter attached to manuscript submitted to the Lord Chamberlain The Lord Chamberlain or Lord Chamberlain of the Household is one of the chief officers of the Royal Household in the United Kingdom, and is to be distinguished from the Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the Great Officers of State. . British Library Play Collection. Licence date 11 December 1915.

(26) This is a quotation from A.W.E. O'Shaughnessy's Ode, which, as Simmons points out, both Elgar and Blackwood used in their work. Ashwell was also influenced by this poem, which she quotes when referring to 'the Arts' as 'the education of the heart' in The Stage, 131-2.

(27) The original of this letter is in the archives of Novello & Co, London, quoted by Simmons, 162.

(28) From the collection in the Hereford & Worcester Record Office, formerly at St Helens St Helens may refer to:

  • St Helens, Merseyside, England
  • St Helens RFC, rugby league club
  • St Helens Town F.C.
, Worcester, England and quoted on the cover of the EMI (ElectroMagnetic Interference) An electrical disturbance in a system due to natural phenomena, low-frequency waves from electromechanical devices or high-frequency waves (RFI) from chips and other electronic devices. Allowable limits are governed by the FCC.  Records' edition of music from The Starlight Express, 1976.

(29) Jerrold Northrop Moore, Edward Moore, Edward, 1712–57, English dramatist. He wrote two comedies in the sentimental tradition, The Foundling (1748) and Gil Blas (1751), but his reputation as a dramatist rests primarily on his prose tragedy The Gamester (1753).  Elgar, The Windflower windflower: see anemone; pasqueflower.  Letters, Correspondence with Alice Caroline Stuart Wortley and her Family, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989, 156.

(30) For example, in the music programme listed for Diana of Dobson's at the Kingsway in March 1908 two works by Elgar are listed for performance: 'Sursum Corda' and 'Serenade Opus' 20.

(31) Charles Mott (1880-1917), a friend and favourite singer of Elgar's by 1914, sang with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden Covent Garden (kŭv`ənt), area in London historically containing the city's principal fruit and garden market and the Royal Opera House. . He was killed in action in France in 1917.

(32) Correspondence quoted by Simmons from material provided by the late HFC 1. (networking) HFC - Hybrid Fiber Coax.
2. (hardware) HFC - hydrofluorocarbon.
 Carey and in the BBC BBC
 in full British Broadcasting Corp.

Publicly financed broadcasting system in Britain. A private company at its founding in 1922, it was replaced by a public corporation under royal charter in 1927.
 Written Archives. 180-181

(33) Quoted by Jerrold Northrop Moore, Edward Elgar, A Creative Life, Oxford, 1984, 692 and from Novello & Co Archives.

(34) O.B. Clarence, No Complaints, London, Jonathan Cape, 1943, 145.

(35) Unidentified newspaper cutting dated 17/12/15 in the John Malcolm For the American Revolution figure, see John Malcolm (Loyalist).

Sir John Malcolm (May 2 , 1769 ‑ 1833) was a Scottish soldier, statesman, and historian, born at Burnfoot, Dumfriesshire on the 2nd of May, 1769.
 Bulloch collection of London and Aberdeen theatre programmes and newspaper cuttings in 57 volumes 1882-1938, British Library Special Collections In library science, special collections (often abbreviated to Spec. Coll. or S.C.) is the name applied to a specific repository within a library which stores materials of a "special" nature. .

(36) This was written on 25 December 1915. From the Novello & Co. archives, Simmons, 177.

(37) Novello & Co archives, Simmons, 179.

(38) The Referee 26 December 1915.

(39) Arthur Troyte Griffith (1864-1942) was an architect and watercolour watercolour

Painting made with a pigment ground in gum, usually gum arabic, and applied with brush and water to a surface, usually paper. The pigment is ordinarily transparent but can be made opaque by mixing with a whiting to produce gouache.
 artist based in Malvern. He was secretary of the Malvern Concert Club when Elgar founded it in 1903.

(40) Daily Telegraph 30 December 1915.

(41) Morning Post 30 December 1915.

(42) Sunday Times and Sunday Special 2 January 1916.

(43) Challenge 16 January 1916.

(44) The Licensed Victuallers Gazette 5 February 1915, when announcing the closure of the production, stated that Miss Ashwell 'hopes to revive it next Christmas, probably in a revised form'.

(45) Jerrold Northrop Moore, 693.

(46) The date of such a fire is not known, but the theatre was badly damaged in a bombing raid in May 1940 and finally pulled down in 1956.

(47) Simmons, 183.

(48) Only three of the songs and a pianoforte suite have been published, although a number of recordings were made in the 1970s. The radio version was broadcast on the BBC in 1965 and 1968 (Simmons, 143).

(49) Simmons prepared an edited full-text version, using among other sources, Pearn and Elgar's copies of the script, attempting to marry the words and the music, but this is not considered to be the version staged in 1915, 187.

(50) Lena Ashwell, Modern Troubadours 35.

(51) Lena Ashwell, The Stage 189.

Dr Margaret Leask is a 2001 Ph.D. graduate from the University of Sydney The University of Sydney, established in Sydney in 1850, is the oldest university in Australia. It is a member of Australia's "Group of Eight" Australian universities that are highly ranked in terms of their research performance. , where she completed her dissertation entitled 'Lena Ashwell, 1869-1957--Actress, Patriot, Pioneer'. She was the recipient of a 1997 research award from the Society for Theatre Research. Her book on Lena Ashwell is scheduled for publication by the STR STR
synchronous transmitter receiver
. She is the Oral Historian at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney and a freelance theatre historian and researcher.
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Author:Leask, Margaret
Publication:Theatre Notebook
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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