Peace in Our Time (play)
Peace in Our Time is a two-act play written in 1946 by Noël Coward. As originally envisioned, the piece has eight scenes and a cast of twenty-two speaking roles. It focuses on a small group of Londoners in a pub close to Sloane Square, the characters living in a dark, stressed situation in which Nazi Germany won the Battle of Britain and successfully invaded and occupied the United Kingdom. Although fiction, the work takes direct inspiration from the real-life sufferings of French citizens under fascist occupation that Coward had followed closely.
The work of alternate history received its first performance at the Lyric Theatre in London in 1947. The production was directed by Alan Webb under Coward's supervision; it starred notable performers such as Helen Horsey, Kenneth More, Bernard Lee, Elspeth March, and Maureen Pryor. Later during that same year, the play moved to the Aldwych Theatre, also in London, under the continued direction of Alan Webb. The core protagonists of the play included Bernard Lee (Fred Shattock), Kenneth More (George Bourne), Dora Bryan (Phyllis Mere), and Dandy Nicols (Lily Blake).
The piece is unusual for its heavy tone, being considerably darker than the comedic approach featured in most of Coward's plays. Although considered somewhat lost in the shuffle in comparison to other dramas over the past several decades, Peace in Our Time picked up some interest after the turn of the century, being performed in areas such as the U.S. state of Texas to critical acclaim.
Background and context
Coward felt inspired to write the play after seeing the dramatic effects of the occupation of France by Nazi forces as well as pondering over the occupation's several years later. Thinking over what had happened to the people of Paris, he wrote that "[t]he idea of Peace in Our Time was conceived in Paris shortly after the Liberation". He author remarked, "I began to suspect that the physical effect of four years intermittent bombing is far less damaging to the intrinsic character of a nation than the spiritual effect of four years enemy occupation".
A strong supporter of anti-fascist efforts who identified as an English patriot, Coward was on a 'death list' of prominent public figures created by the Gestapo should an Axis invasion of British soil succeed. Contemporaries included powerful politicians and members of the British nobility, a juxtaposition that Coward and others later remarked about. Peace in Our Time envisions the Nazi war machine managing to fight through the Battle of Britain and landing outright on the island. The piece, as expected due to its subject matter, is unusual for its heavy tone, taking a darker approach than the comedic feel featured in most of Coward's plays.
The play takes its title from the common misquotation of Conservative leader Neville Chamberlain's phrase during a massively publicized speech after he arrived back from the Munich Conference of 1938. While the British Prime Minister referred to having "peace for our time", the saying is often remembered as "peace in our time". This is likely given that the latter wording is reminiscent of a bit[which?] of devotional Christian writing well-known at the time. Historically, the Munich agreement proved disastrous as Adolf Hitler did not keep to the promises on September 1938 and would oversee the invasion of Poland only a matter of months later. The Nazi dictator would deride the accord as just a "scrap of paper".
Reviews and responses
Debuting a mere two years after World War II had come to a close in Europe, the drama proved something of a disappointment to initial audiences. This failure to catch on commercially, however, did not stop the play from receiving lingering attention for decades. It stands as a pointed example of alternate history due to the close proximity of its publication to Hitler's suicide and the conclusion of WWII in Europe.
A 2014 article published by Houstonia found that the Peace in Our Time revival by the Main Street Theater performers was "a superb, must-see production." The Houston, Texas play, argued the review, explored interesting dramatic questions while still maintaining a close feeling of realism, such as how frustratingly "characters grumble about the indignity of foreign occupation, including food and drink rationing". Questions of loyalty and friendship versus survival, the news-magazine's article went on, remained compelling.
- Hypothetical Axis victory in World War II
- Cultural impact of Noël Coward
- List of notable plays by Noël Coward
- Hardy, Michael (30 September 2014). "Review: Peace in Our Time Is a Play For Our Time". Houstonia. Retrieved 18 December 2016.