A 'great anti-war play' : Bury the Dead on the world stage

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Milner, L 2018, 'A 'great anti-war play' : Bury the Dead on the world stage', Australasian Drama Studies, no. 72, pp. 31-65.

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With its compelling story of dead soldiers refusing to be buried as a protest against war, Irwin Shaw's 1936 experimental play Bury the Dead met with instant success on the New York stage. While it was eagerly taken up by mainstream and little theatres in the USA, it has most often been staged by radical and left-wing theatres throughout the world, including in Australia, Great Britain, India, South Africa and Canada. It resonated with audiences, and it also made waves: at an early British performance, members of the audience had to be treated for shock.

Shaw drew his inspiration from the horrors of World War I and the Spanish Civil War, and the play's anti-war message and experimental style proved to be popular with Depression-era audiences fearing another world war. Its relevance has not diminished since that era, its success as a tool for moral protest and social commentary continuing to the present day, in many translations and nations. Its production, too, has been in varying forms. This article investigates the continuing attractiveness of Bury the Dead as an anti-war drama across a variety of historical, cultural, political and production contexts from 1936 to 2018, and interrogates the play's relevance for theatres in disparate times and places. In focusing on the play's Australian productions, it also provides a comprehensive production history of the work in this country.

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