Sir Winston Churchill

Definition

Theater

  • (1874 - 1965) British statesman and leader of the freeworld in its opposition to Nazi Germany. Churchill, for most of hislife, had other preoccupations than the theater. However, in the late1920s, when Churchill was out of office, George Bernard Shawsent him two tickets for the first night performance in London ofhis play Saint Joan. With the tickets came a note: "Ienclose two tickets, one for yourself and one for a friend - if you have one". Churchill sent a note back regretting thathe had a previous engagement on that evening. "Would it be possible",he added, "for you to let me have tickets for the second night - if there is one".

    Churchill also had a family connection with the theater. Hisdaughter Sarah was a successful actress, and for a time was marriedto the entertainer Vic Oliver, of whom Churchill disapproved. It issaid that on one occasion Oliver asked Churchill if he admired anyof his wartime enemies. "Yes", growled Churchill, "Mussolini - he had the courage to have his son-in-law shot". (CountCiano, husband of the Duce's daughter, was convicted of treason andexecuted in 1944.)

    Numerous plays have made use of Churchillian images or ofextracts from his wartime speeches to establish period. In others,Churchill himself has appeared, notably in the less than successful1980s musical Winnie. Howard Brenton's The ChurchillPlay (1974) opens with Churchill rising from his coffin at hislying-in-state, while Rolf Hochhuth's controversial Soldiers(1967) has Churchill conspiring to murder the Polish General Sikorski.Perhaps most outrageous is the role Churchill plays in Joe Orton'sWhat the Butler Saw (1969). Early in the play, a statueof the wartime leader is damaged by an exploding gas main. As theplay ends the cast gather reverentially round as the demented psychiatristDr Rance opens the cigar box in which the statue's private parts havebeen preserved:

    How much more inspiring if, in those dark days, we'd seenwhat we see now. Instead we had to be content with a cigar - the symbol falling far short, as we all realize, of the object itself.
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