BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

27 November 2014

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Oxford

Beds Herts Bucks

Related BBC Sites


Contact Us

November 2003
Players dance round a confusion of war
Sejeant Musgrave's Dance
Serjeant Musgrave's Dance
Mark Young has been encountering the casualties of Britain's colonial past in the Oxford Stage Company's revival of John Arden's Serjeant Musgrave's Dance at the Oxford Playhouse.

Be a reviewer

Click here for our reviewers' guide


Review of Henri Oguike Dance Company

Review of Happy Natives

Review of The Twits


Apollo Theatre

Pegasus Theatre

Creation Theatre Company

Oxford Playhouse

If you want your theatre group's website added to this index contact us.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.


View a printable version of this page.

get in contact

Sean Holmes's decision to revive this classic anti-colonial and anti-imperialist play which promotes pacifism is an inspired one as tensions continue to rise in Iraq.

Many critics were enraged by the original production, first performed in 1959 at London's Royal Court Theatre, an occurrence unthinkable today.

While fewer people now question the futility of war, many will struggle to understand the underlying theme behind this somewhat confused play.

Sergeant Musgrave's Dance remains John Arden's most celebrated work which suggests that he may have peaked too early.

This is clearly the work of a young man of 29, who having experienced military service as a teenager, penned this work to channel his anger over an incident in Cyprus where innocent civilians were killed by British soldiers.

Coming from the "Writers Group" who collected around Arnold Wesker in the 50's, Arden reveals himself through this work to be a poet who writes plays.

While the plot is fascinating and transparent, the underlying message is not and one is left wondering if this play really is about pacifism.

Holmes's direction superbly transports us to Victorian life in a mining town where the workers are subjugated by a Holy Trinity comprised of a mine owner, the parson and the constable.

The scarlet tunics of the army clash with the brown and tattered attire of the miners as the mayor pontificates against the strikers resplendent in his robes.

Four army deserters, sickened by what fighting for Queen Victoria's Empire really meant - "killing people on their own streets" and living in squalid conditions, descend on a Northern English town looking for revenge for their wretched army lives.

Along with their Gatling gun they carry the corpse of their dead colleague and pose as a recruitment party, freely spending the "Queen's shilling" and initially clashing with the striking miners.

From Private Sparky's opening mutterings we are aware that this adventure can have only one outcome - the gallows.

Billy Carter's performance as the garrulous Sparky is superbly observed while Maxine Peake delivers the archetypal northern lass as the feisty Annie.

I must also give a mention to Sam Cox whose portrayal of the condescending, pious and exploitative parson brings some humour to this lengthy and ponderous work.

It remains a fascinating portrait where Holmes's direction breathes new life into Arden's seamless blending of song, poetry and even clog dancing.

The play continues at The Playhouse until November 8.

Top | Stage Index | Home
Reviews Archive Stage
Stage review archive

Oxford venue guide

Listings page

The Weather Click for flicks Harry Potter fan site Contact Us
BBC Oxford,
269 Banbury Road,
08459 311 111

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy