Monday 23 December 2013

Dramatising John Ball

I’ve often wondered what kind of plays are being performed in the octagonal theatre that Dick Hammond and William Guest pass as they travel across London in News from Nowhere. What sort of drama is appropriate to utopia, after all? Would figures like Henrik Ibsen (a favourite of the young socialists of the 1880s and 90s) or Samuel Beckett or Bertolt Brecht still be current? What about Morris’s own works, would they survive there? His little agit-prop ‘interlude’ The Tables Turned is perhaps too obvious a choice here, so I like to toy with the idea of a dramatised Dream of John Ball being performed in twenty-second-century utopian Hammersmith. John Ball on the stage is not as odd a notion as it sounds, for we have Morris’s own authority for this idea. In October 1894 he wrote to Chris Healy, who had suggested that he dramatise his medieval romance: ‘I am not of the timber from which playwrights are hewn. Why not have a try at it yourself to see what you can make of it?’. Why, then, has nobody risen to this challenge in the 119 years since Morris made it? Or perhaps they have and I just haven’t heard of it?


Edgar J. Watkiss said...

I wonder if the late romances would have stage or film potential, along the lines of Lord of the Rings'?

ojh23 said...

On something of a related tangent, in the section on 'Theatrical Gossip' in a newspaper called the Era, vol. 54, no. 2,767 (dated 3rd October 1891), there is a brief note which suggests that some fin de siecle theatre-folk briefly considered staging a production of News from Nowhere: "It has been raining Utopias in the literary world of late; it does every now and then. 'Erewhon' and the country of vril [Lytton's The Coming Race] have been succeeded by the paradises of Mr. Bellamy [...] and Mr. Morris [...]. We have always wondered that none of these quaint prophecies have been utilised for the stage, and now a whisper comes of at least one version of Mr. Morris's book - which most people would consider the least dramatic, as it is the most Utopian, of all." Whether or not the whisper ever amounted to anything more than a pipe-dream I have not been able to trace.

Tony Pinkney said...

Many thanks for that splendid quote - fascinating to know that staging 'News from Nowhere' was thought of as a contemporary possibility. And perhaps it is indeed something that we should now take up again ...

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