Love on the Dole: the Actors (1934 – 1937)

Clipping from unidentified newspaper, showing three of the cast of the Garrick Theatre, London, Production of Love on the Dole. We shall meet all three in the course of this article.

Introduction

The first productions of Greenwood and Gow’s play adaptation of the novel certainly led to some sustained employment for actors as it quickly became a success and was then continuously performed in Britain from February 1934 (with a small break 1937-8) until the outbreak of war in 1939, as well as a production going to Broadway in February 1936 (and continuing till June 1936). During that time, there were a number of cast members, since after the original Manchester Repertory Theatre production in 1934, and the long-running London production at the Garrick Theatre (and then the Winter Garden) in London from the beginning of 1935, there were two companies touring the play across the country each with their own cast. There was also of course from time to time a need to replace actors who had other contracts or obligations. I will in this article give an account of the main actors who appeared in Love on the Dole in this period, covering the facts of who they were and which of the above productions they appeared in, together with any reviews which comment on their interpretation of their roles in the play, and on what they went on to after Love on the Dole. There were dozens of reviews which praised the cast/s, but I have selected three which seem representative. I also have permission to reproduce an excellent set of photographs of many of the actors on set, in costume, and in character, which I’ll leave to the end of the article. It gives a good sense of how most of the characters in Love on the Dole were presented visually in the first productions.

Part 1: the Cast Lists

Quite a few actors who appeared in the early productions of Love on the Dole became well-known or at least well-established through the play’s success, with one or two achieving greater fame. The play is in many respects an ensemble piece, rather than primarily a star vehicle, its interests spread across a number of key characters, including Mr and Mrs Hardcastle, Sally and Larry, Harry and Helen Hawkins, the chorus of three older women-neighbours, and in his own way, Sam Grundy. Out of a cast of fourteen or so, ten characters have quite major roles and are on stage for a significant proportion of the play. Indeed, a large number of reviews do praise the whole cast, before perhaps picking out one or two parts for specific praise. The review by The Scotsman’s London drama critic is quite characteristic in this respect:

It is a finely-written play, with many almost unbearably poignant moments, and it holds the sympathy and interest of the audience from first to last. The acting of every member of the cast is supremely good, and one mentions only the names of Miss Wendy Hiller, Miss Cathleen Nesbitt, Mr Ballard Berkeley, Mr Julien Mitchell, and Miss Beatrice Varley because they have most to do (31/1/1935, p.10).

Even so, though the play gave most of its cast good parts, it was one female role which mainly brought fame to one or two actresses. This was partly because the stage-adaptation made the story slightly less well-distributed across the range of characters than in the novel, and particularly tended to make Sally Hardcastle the central figure throughout. The impact of this was noted by The Times review of the London production: ‘Mr Berkeley’s briefer study of Larry – for Larry is killed in a political demonstration – is a clear un-sentimentalised accompaniment to Miss Hiller’s central portrait’ (31/1/1935). I will, of course, give a good account of the actress who primarily became a star through the play, Wendy Hiller, with her creation of the role of Sally Hardcastle. However, I will also give the best attention I can to a good range of the actors who first brought the play to life in the period of its greatest impact between the premiere in 1934 and the outbreak of war in September 1939 (though there may be some unfairness in this, I will exercise some selectivity just because casts changed quite frequently in the early days of the play and an exhaustive account would become difficult to follow).

There are cast lists from the early productions in two main kinds of source – theatre programmes and in the two published editions. The two published editions were by Jonathan Cape (hard back, 1935, pp.126, probably mainly intended as a reading edition) and Samuel French (soft covers, 1935, pp. 75, certainly intended as an acting edition, with useful practical additions including a ‘Description of Characters’, ‘Property Plot’ and four helpful photographs of the sets for different scenes). The Cape edition listed the casts of the first Manchester Repertory Theatre production (commencing 26/2/1934) and also of the first Vernon-Lever ‘provincial’ touring production (first performed at the Theatre Royal, Hanley, 7/5/1934). The Samuel French edition listed the cast of the first London production (at the Garrick Theatre, January 1935). I shall start with an image of the Cape cast lists.

There was clearly considerable change between the Manchester and provincial tour, with only three of the main actors staying in their parts across both: Wendy Hiller as Sally Hardcastle, Alex Grandison as Harry Hardcastle, and Beatrice Varley as Mrs Bull. These three also continued on into the London production the following year, while Wendy Hiller and Alex Grandison also went to the States to play in the Broadway production at the Shubert Theatre in 1936.

The cast does however seem to have settled down considerably with the London production and the Garrick programmes have substantially the same cast as that printed in the French edition, and indeed most of these actors had long runs in the play. For some of the actors who came from the Manchester Repertory Theatre, the move to the London production may well have marked their progression to becoming full-time professional actors.

The underlining of some actors’ names seems to have been a private code used by the original purchaser of this programme. Was it that she or he especially liked these actors’ performances?

Since it is reasonably stable, I shall therefore work with this Garrick cast list as my main guide – though I will include some other actors who joined the play at other points, and the reviews will also refer to some further actors who were in some performances. I will work up though the other characters to Wendy Hiller as the actress to whom the play brought undoubted star status. I will briefly introduce each of the actors before looking at some representative reviews which comment on the actors’ interpretations of their characters.

Part 2: the Actors

Mrs Hardcastle: Cathleen Nesbitt

Cathleen Nesbit (1888-1982) was a well-established actress by 1935, having been on the stage since the first decade of the century, and she had also made a few film appearances. After Love on the Dole, she continued a successful stage and film career in the UK and the US across seven decades. Her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry does not mention her role in Love on the Dole, and nor does her memoir A Little Love & Good Company (Faber & Faber, London, 1975). Perhaps she did not consider Mrs Hardcastle a significant role across her whole career, but nevertheless she was much praised for it at the time

For an overview of her career see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathleen_Nesbitt) and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0626350/

Larry Meath: Ballard Berkeley

Ballard Berkeley (Ballard Blascheck, 1904-1988) was a successful stage actor in the thirties and also had a long film and later television career. His performances as Larry Meath were widely praised. He later played the Major in Faulty Towers (BBC2 1975, 1979).

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballard_Berkeley and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0075326/

Harry Hardcastle: Alex Grandison

Alex Grandison (1909-1983) started his career at the Manchester Repertory Theatre, where he appeared in a minor part in a farce (It Pays to Advertise) in 1933. After acting in Love on the Dole for several years, he also appeared in a stage version of J.B. Priestley’s play When We Are Married in 1938 (and also in a BBC TV version broadcast in November 1938). In the mid-fifties, he played roles in BBC radio plays. Of the early Love on the Dole cast he seems to have had the least high-profile career, and this is (perhaps) reflected in the absence of a Wikipedia entry for him and a very sparse IMDB entry. (1).

See https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1435593/

Julien Mitchell: Mr Hardcastle

Julien Mitchell (1888-1954) first played Mr Hardcastle in the pre-London tour beginning in May 1934. He was much praised in the role. He had started in repertory theatre, leading companies in Barrow-in Furness, Morecambe and Lancaster before moving south to the Coventry Repertory Theatre in the early thirties. He appeared regularly in a variety of films from 1936 right up until the year of his death. He appeared in films with George Formby, Will Hays, and George Carney, who played Mr Hardcastle in the film version of Love on the Dole. (2)

Mitchell gave an interview to the TUC publication Labour – a Magazine for all Workers in the March 1935 edition (p. 151). He makes clear his view of the play’s purpose and appeal to a broad range of people:

as far as I understand the purpose of this play, it is to intended to bring home to the man-on-the-street the tragedy of worklessness …  I cannot doubt that this great play will serve its purpose with the enormous majority of people …. all of us who have the privilege of taking part in it feel that in interpreting our parts we are conveying a message which, in the present state of affairs, is bound to reach the heart of every right-minded thinking man and woman.

For an overview of his career – though one which emphasises his film rather than stage career, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julien_Mitchell and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0593485/

Drusilla Wills: Mrs Jike

Drusilla Wills (1884-1951) was a well-known stage actress who also appeared regularly in films, if never in major parts, between 1924 and 1949. Her Wikipedia entry is well-described as a stub at present, but it does list her film appearances. Her stage-career can better be traced through the British Library National Newspaper Archive. She played her first part at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1902. In 1907 she advertised herself as ‘disengaged’ and available for ‘character and comedy’ parts, which seems to have described her specialisms throughout her career accurately (the Era, 2/11/1907, p. 4). Her obituary in the Stage named her role as Mrs Jike as one of those she would be remembered for, and indeed reviews often mentioned her contribution to the ‘chorus’ of older women in Love on the Dole.  The Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that the artist James A. Grant exhibited a painting of Drusilla Wills in the role of Mrs Jike in a touring exhibition of fifty portraits by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, saying the painting showed ‘much character’ (14/4/1938, p.16). If the painting still exists, I would love to see it. (4)

See for some information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drusilla_Wills and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0932639/

Marie Ault: Mrs Dorbel

Marie Ault (1870-1951) was not with the play from the first, only joining the cast for the Garrick production in January 1935. She was already something of a star in her own acting niche. She had appeared in a large number of British silent films and continued on into talkies, appearing in at least one film most years right up until the year of her death. Her Wikipedia entry currently gives a very full list of her film appearances, but says nothing of her stage career. In fact, as articles about her in the press make clear, she took both her screen and stage careers seriously, and was keen to maintain both in tandem. The film periodical, The Bioscope referred approvingly to her attitudes towards theatre and film acting in an article on 28 September 1922 (p.42): ‘a brilliant character actress of long stage experience, Miss Ault is keenly interested in film work, which she regards not merely as a side-line, but as a serious profession’. When ‘resting’, Marie advertised her specialities as ‘comedy and character’ or ‘leading character’ (I think the first for stage productions, the second for film roles – see examples in The Era (13/8/1913, p. 3, and The Bioscope, 24/11/1927, p. 47). Either specialism seems appropriate to her future role as Mrs Dorbel. She was unique in appearing in the same role in both the early stage productions and the 1941 film.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Ault and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0042083/

Beatrice Varley: Mrs Bull

Beatrice Varley (1896-1964) also had a long career on stage as well as in film, together with a number of television roles in the fifties and sixties. In fact, she began in music hall and often performed as a singer. A number of press reports, including her obituary in the Stage, said that it was her role as Mrs Bull in the 1935 production which really made her name: ‘the first play to bring her West End success was Love on the Dole … and from then on she was continuously employed, mostly in Lancashire parts’ (9/7/1964, p.23). Contemporary reviews often praised her performance in conjunction with those of Marie Ault and Beatrice Varley, as the play’s ‘chorus’ of three older women.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatrice_Varley and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0890038/

Arthur Chesney: Sam Grundy

Arthur Chesney (1881-1949) made his first stage appearance in 1903 and was then a regular performer on stage and in films. His Stage obituary said that ‘he was one of those sound character actors that no play can do without, seldom taking a leading part, but invaluable in the skilful and unselfish portrayal of smaller roles’ (1/9/1949, p.7). Sam Grundy is, indeed, a potentially showy role, but he is on stage for relatively little of the time.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Chesney and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0156241/

Barbara Stockton: Helen Hawkins

Barbara Stockton in 1932

There was a considerable instability in the role of Helen Hawkins, which was taken by three different actresses across the Manchester Rep, first Vernon-Lever touring, and Garrick productions (Jean Winstanley, Joan Preston and Vera Sherburn). In fact, I’m going to focus on a fourth actress who played Helen Hawkins in the Vernon Lever productions from 1935 to 1937: Barbara Stockton. This is partly because she played the part for a sustained period, and partly because her son very kindly contacted me via this website to share materials he had from his mother about her acting career. This helps me write a particularly rich account of Barbara Stockton’s performance of the role, and supplement the material about Barbara available from other sources. I am especially grateful to her son, Peter Barnes, for his permission to reproduce photographs and letters belonging to his mother, as well as other information he has so kindly shared. While in Love on the Dole, Barbara Stockton gave an interview to the Lancashire Evening Post’s theatre critic, Philip Halliday, in his regular ‘On the Stage’ column. It gives a good sense of how she became an actress and of the role which both the Manchester Repertory Theatre and Love on the Dole played in launching her career:

I had an interesting chat the other day with Miss Barbara Stockton, who takes the part of Helen in Love on the Dole, this week’s show at the King’s Palace, Preston. Miss Stockton is the only daughter of Mr. A. F. Stockton and niece of Sir Edwin Forsyth Stockton, hon. treasurer and president respectively of the Lancashire County Cricket Club. She was educated at Sale High School, where her histrionic talent was encouraged, and she obtained elocution diploma at Trinity College, London. When she was seventeen, she left school and went as student to the Manchester Repertory Theatre, where she obtained an insight into stage technique. She remained here for almost two years before joining company with the Garrick Theatre at Altrincham, and then she went back to the Manchester repertory company, with whom she is now on tour. In addition to her own part, she is understudy to Miss Wendy Hiller, who plays one of the leading roles at Sally Hardcastle (28 July 1934, p.3).

Judging from a letter from Greenwood on Tom Vernon headed paper, Barbara seems to have applied for a part in the first provincial tour of Love on the Dole as early as March 1934. The Cape edition cast does not list her as playing Helen in the May 1934 tour, but clearly she had taken over the role by July of that year.

Though this article mainly covers the Vernon-Level productions from 1934 to 1937, two letters preserved by Barbara show that she was asked to her resume her part in a new production of Love on the Dole in 1939. Another letter throws interesting and new light on the casting of the film version in 1940, suggesting that members of the stage-cast were not systematically invited to audition for roles in the film.

Looking back in an interview of 1982, Barbara gives her view of the theatrical context into which the first productions of Love on the Dole emerged, seeing it as succeeding against a predominantly unchallenging menu of plays.

After her marriage Barbara did not continue as a professional actress, but, as this interview makes clear, continued to be involved in and nurture amateur acting throughout her life.

Wendy Hiller: Sally Hardcastle

Wendy Hiller (1912-2003), like Barbara Stockton, began with the Manchester Repertory Theatre as a ’student’ (a position which offered the chance to learn about many aspects of theatre while doing useful – if unpaid – work) in 1930. She played some small parts before becoming assistant stage manager in 1931. This was presumably a paid position, but she was in fact let go in 1931, before being recalled to play Sally Hardcastle on the basis that she had a genuine Lancastrian accent. At some point George Bernard Shaw saw Love on the Dole and was impressed by Hiller in particular. He invited her to act in Pygmalion at the Malvern Festival in 1936, as well as in St Joan, and then chose her to play the part of Hilda Doolittle in Gabriel Pascal’s 1938 film of Pygmalion. (3) Her performance as Sally was praised as a triumph from the Manchester Rep production onwards (as the reviews below show) and her interpretation of the role undoubtedly made her a star and launched her stage and screen career (she always preferred the theatre, however). She played Sally in Manchester, in London and in the New York production; she also married the play’s co-author, Ronald Gow in 1937. In an interview at the beginning of 1938 Hiller showed some reservations about being typecast in Sally-Hardcastle-like roles (whatever they might be?), but later the same year expressed considerable enthusiasm for taking on the same role in a film version towards the end of the thirties. The Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette, covering Pascal’s film of Pygmalion and his casting of Wendy Hiller, included an interview with Hiller which is worth quoting at some length for an unusual insight into some of Hiller’s feelings about the role of Sally Hardcastle:

‘Following’ Love the Dole, I did receive a number of rather tempting Hollywood offers, but I turned them all down for two reasons. First, I was not altogether sure that my stage success hadn’t come too quickly. Secondly, I felt I would rather stick to the theatre and later make my acquaintance with the cinema through British films. You see, so far as my future was concerned, I had to live up to my Love-on-the-Dole reputation, and at the same time had to live it down. I was afraid that if I went to Hollywood, I might be faced with the danger of being built up into a player who always features in the same kind of roles (22/1/1938, p.7).

However, Hiller seems to have felt more positive about Sally later in the year. The Uxbridge & West Drayton Gazette film critic ‘Stargazer’ reported that Hiller ‘has an ambition’ to be involved in a film version of Love on the Dole and that he ‘has an inkling that it may be one of Pascal’s future productions’ (8/4/1938, p.20). In fact, despite continuing press interest in who might play Sally in a film version of Love on the Dole (see: Gracie Field), Greenwood and Gow do not seem to have sent another proposal to make the film to the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) until 1940, and when Greenwood and the director John Baxter were casting the film that year, Hiller was not considered. However, she went on to a long and successful career in film and on stage, but always prioritising her theatre roles. When Hiller went to the US to play Sally in the Broadway production in 1936, this opened up opportunities for other actresses, two of whom also launched successful careers from their interpretations of Sally Hardcastle.

See for overviews of her career: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Hiller and the much fuller https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0384908/

Ruth Dunning

Clipping, presumably from The Spotlight, where actors seem to have posted photos of themselves (and their heights) when seeking a new role. The credited photographer, Walter Bird, later acquired a considerable reputation as a photographer of (no doubt artistic) nudes. His Wikipedia entry says that his 1940 publication Eves Without Leaves was popular with allied soldiers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Bird_(photographer)

Ruth Dunning (1911-1983) took over the part of Sally from Wendy Hiller at the Garrick in 1936, though the Daily Mirror reported that she had temporarily ‘deputised’ for her as early as August 1935, noting that Dunning was ‘formerly a secretary in a Manchester business office’ (2/8/1935, p.7). Hiller must have been a hard act to follow, but Ruth Dunning’s Sally was also universally praised and in fact the touring production placed an advert in regional newspapers which stated that the play was ‘the actual West End Production as played at the Garrick and Winter Garden for 400 performances with Ruth Dunning in her original part as Sally Hardcastle’  (Kensington Post, 13/3/1936, p.8) This is slightly deceptive, for though Dunning had taken the part at the Garrick, in many of the 400 performances Wendy Hiller was Sally (the Northampton Mercury helpfully states that Dunning has played Sally in 250 performances in London, so her achievement was substantial: 19/6/1936, p. 6). Dunning continued with a successful stage career during the nineteen-forties, and appeared in a number of films up until the seventies. However, she became especially well-known in Britain for her role in the BBC’s The Grove Family (1954-7), regarded as the first British TV soap opera, where she played the mother Gladys.

See for overviews of her career: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Dunning and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0242959/ and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grove_Family

Dorothea Rundle

Dorothea Rundle (1901-1998) first played Sally in May 1936 in London and continued taking the part in regional tours up until at least 1938. She performed in the 1,500th performance of the play at Plymouth in February 1937, marking the occasion by observing in a short speech to the audience that this was a ’remarkable record’. The review in the Western Morning News which reported this also praised the ‘excellence of the acting’ of the whole cast, while commenting on Dorothea’s ‘charming presentation’, which seems an odd thing to say about an actress playing the determined and tough Sally (2/2/1937, p.8). Like Hiller and Dunning, her performance as Sally was widely praised in both regional and national papers – ‘a perfect Sally, a hard mill-girl, yet with dreams of beauty’, said the Liverpool Echo (31/12/1935, p.4). She was still playing stage roles regularly into the nineteen-fifties, and had a number of screen roles, though usually as a supporting character.

See: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0750227/ and her BFI entry: https://www2.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2bab2ed4d4

Part 3: What the Reviews Said

Having introduced the cast, I can now turn to the reviews which wrote so positively about the actors both as an ensemble and as individuals. Here is part of a review of the first production of the play by the national actors’ paper, the Stage. It is noticeable that at this point only Wendy Hiller and Beatrice Varley from my list of regular cast members are in the play.

On Monday, February 26, 1934, at the Manchester Repertory, was produced a dramatisation of the novel by Walter Greenwood, the stage version by the author, assisted by Ronald Gow …The play … portrays in realistic fashion the grim fight against the spectre of unemployment. That is the author’s main motif in the book, and, after allowing for stage limitations and some interpolations of humour to lighten the picture, it must be said that the adaptors succeed in interpreting the spirit of the book very convincingly [there follows a detailed account of the main events of the play] … In this role of Sally, Miss Wendy Hiller scores an undoubted success. Sally’s strength of character, independence, and indifference to what they will say recalls, in some measure, the character of Fanny Hawthorne in that other Lancashire play, Hindle Wakes, though it takes a different form. Mr. Douglas Quayle, as Larry, plays convincingly, but makes little pretence to the prevalent dialect. In this respect Mr. Alex. Grandison, who plays Harry very well, offers a contrast. Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle are excellently portrayed by Mr. Clifford Marie and Miss Eileen Draycott, Miss Jean Winstanley (Helen), Mr. E. W. Waddy (a policeman), Mr. Noel Morris (Sam Grundy), and the Misses Olga Murgatroyd, Katherine Hynes, and Beatrice Varley, as the three hags, all get the atmosphere so essential in a play of this type. Several genuine unemployed are included in the crowd scenes. Mr. Gabriel Toyne has done his work of producing the play very well indeed … The result is a play of great sincerity, which will rank high in the category of Lancashire-life dramas (unsigned, 1/3/1934, p.12).

Wendy Hiller is here praised from the beginning for her interpretation of Sally as a strong woman who stands out in Hanky Park and who is willing to risk conventional disapproval. Not for the last time, the question of convincing Salford speech is raised, with Alex Grandison seen as better cast than Douglas Quayle in this respect. After these three individual commentaries, the review deals with the remaining cast as a group, seeing their joint contributions as working well. This is the first time I have seen the role of ‘genuine’ unemployed people in the play referred to.

Next, there is another early review in the Staffordshire Sentinel of a performance at the Theatre Royal; Hanley, part of the pre-London ‘provincial’ tour:

MR. TOM VERNON’S NEW PRODUCTION THEATRE ROYAL, HANLEY

However much one might shrink from the title, Love on the Dole, the play at the Theatre Royal. Hanley, this week, has made a real hit. After seeing the play, the conclusion is that not only is the title appropriate. but that the play itself is strong stuff, tribute alike to the skilfully-woven story and to the capable company, at whose hands it receives such sympathetic treatment. From the finely drawn picture that Wendy Hiller gave of the brave-hearted Sally, to the newsboy in his brief appearance, every member of the cast shares with the author that understanding of the tragedies, major and minor, following tirelessly in the wake of that bane of the age, unemployment. The play has for its setting a Lancashire town, but that setting might well be any industrial centre in any town in the country. So it is that wherever Love on the Dole is given, its stark realism will leave an uncomfortable feeling that this kind of thing is being experienced by people a street or so away front one’s own home.

SYMPATHETIC PORTRAYALS

In bringing this appealing story to Hanley prior to London production, Mr. Tom Vernon has picked another winner, and so added to his reputation for gauging the taste of his audiences, not only in pantomime, but in a serious piece of playwriting. … Sally, the central figure in the play, wins ready sympathy in her capacity for helping unfortunate neighbours, and in her tender love for Larry, who is killed in a workless demonstration. Wendy Hiller made Sally so vivid that she will not soon be forgotten for her performance here. Julian Mitchell made Mr. Hardcastle an arresting character, rising to exceptional heights in a closing scene of poignant human Interest. The list could he continued in like vein, for whether Hamilton Langham. Nell Compton, Dorothy Dewhurst or any other member of the company had the stage there was the feeling that all moods were within their capacity. The result was the building up of a well-composed picture (8/5/1934, p.10).

Again, there is the stress on the play as an ensemble piece demanding a great deal from the whole cast, and getting it. Again, Wendy Hiller is picked out for further comment – she is sympathetic and vivid – but so is Julien Mitchell, especially praised for his scene which closes the play and where he speaks his famous line: ‘Oh, God, Ah’ve done me best, haven’t Ah?’ (Cape edition, p. 126).

‘G.L.L.S.’ in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reviewed the London production at an early performance on the 30th January 1935:

After a long and successful tour of the North, this Lancashire play was given almost a wild welcome at the Garrick … Mr. Greenwood has not only lived the working man’s life, but he has studied it. He has applied an intellect as well as his heart to the description of economic distress as he sees it … Miss Wendy Hiller’s acting of Sally Hardcastle was beyond all praise. At first, she seemed over-simple, but there lay her subtlety. In all three acts her character shows consistent development to the final difficult, but defiant, decision. Mr. Julien Mitchell, old Hardcastle, found utter sympathy. The three weird harridans with whom, strangely, Mrs. Hardcastle consorts throughout the play, drank their gin and passed their twisted, but canny opinions with a wealth of variety from Miss Drusilla Wills, Miss Beatrice Varley, and Miss Marie Ault. Miss Cathleen Nesbitt played their gentler dupe [Mrs Hardcastle] feelingly. Together they were flawless. This play, (contentious, aggressive, hard, yet with thunderbolts of humour) ought to run long. (1/2/1935, p.3)

Wendy Hiller is praised for the development of her character across the whole play, while Julien Mitchell is seen as a figure winning deep sympathy. Cathleen Nesbitt is also selected for individual commentary, and the ‘chorus’ of older women receive notice too.

Finally, here is part of the Nelson Leader review of the post-London touring production when it came to the Nelson Palace in August 1935:

WENDY HILLER. The play depicts the tremendous trials and trivial triumphs of a Salford family experiencing all the hardships of unemployment. The crushing of lovers’ hopes, the smashing of family ties, as well as other risks of gambling, crime and rebellion, are the ingredients which go to make Love on the Dole a play which touches the heart. The same drama is being played day in and day out in the British slums. The play puts the flesh and blood round that unbelievable millions of unemployed, showing us that the unemployed are men and women with a feeling—a fact many sometimes forget. The play moves smoothly from a more or less incidental opening to the crisis, where the heroine’s lover in state of collapse cries ‘Everyone for himself; that is what is wrong with the world to-day’, and struggles out to lead the unemployment demonstration, and dies out in the twilight of suffering patiently borne. The play, which is undoubtedly made more vivid by splendid acting, will be highly popular with the theatre-going public. The principal settings of the Hardcastle’s kitchen and of the lonely and grand Derbyshire moorlands, are superb pieces of stage setting. Others in the cast include Dorothy Dewhurst, Margaret Mac Gill, Eileen Draycott, Beatrice Varley, Edmund W. Waddy, Tom Hoydon, Larry Dean, Leonard Hart, Ernest Cox and Barbara Stockton. Patrons are advised to book their seats early to avoid disappointment, as everyone should make point of seeing this wonderful human play, which is absolutely true to life. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry—and you’ll love it (unsigned, 10/8/1935, p.4).

This review in many ways repeats the patterns of response in the first three: Wendy Hiller is singled out (though here rather concisely by simply giving her the headline) and the rest of the cast are all praised as an ensemble, with no distinction at all in this case. Unlike in some other reviews, not even the actors playing Mr Hardcastle, Mrs Hardcastle or the ‘Chorus’ of older women are picked out for separate comment. The reviewer here also writes with feeling and insight about what the play is trying to do (asking audiences to imagine the real experience of unemployment) and sees this mission, as well as the excellent acting, as likely to win over many audiences.

Part 4: Photographs of the Garrick Production

Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Illustrated London News/ Mary Evans who own the copyright. Originally published in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (15/2/1935, p. 43)

The set of photographs captures nearly all the cast, partly through photographs of particular scenes, partly through the photograph of the scene just before the means test protest march in which the majority of the cast are on stage (here it is rather tellingly called ‘the riot’, a term not used in the novel or play). An exception is Sam Grundy, who is also much less noted in reviews than one might expect. The uppermost photograph is of part of Act III, Scene 1. From left to right the characters /actors are: Harry Hardcastle/ Alex Grandison, Helen Hawkins/ Vera Sherburn, then by the front door are the chorus, including Mrs Jike/ Drusilla Wills, Mrs Dorbel/ Marie Ault, Mrs Bull/Beatrice Varley, plus two neighbours, then in front of the fireplace are Sally Hardcastle/ Wendy Hiller, the ‘young man’, Larry Meath/ Ballard Berkley, and finally Mrs Hardcastle/ Julien Mitchell, with hands in pockets. The exact moment pictured is when a ‘young man’ (differently named in the Samuel French edition as an ‘agitator’) has come to ask Larry to address the assembled marchers and they disagree about the wisdom of not following the agreed route. I am fairly certain the lines to accompany the picture are these:

YOUNG MAN Past Labour Exchange and down Crabtree Lane.

LARRY Oh talk sense can’t y’? You’ve been told we can’t go that way. They’ve got mounted policemen down there.

YOUNG MAN Police? To hell with the police! Traitors to their class! Enemies of the workers! The iron heel of a bourgeois aristocracy … !

LARRY Don’t talk so damned daft! Here come with me. Get ’em lined up, and we’ll start

(Cape edition, p.99)

The circular -framed photograph is of Act II, Scene 2, the only scene set outside Hanky Park, when Larry and Sally go rambling on the moors, probably at the point when Larry is about to share his apple with Sally: ‘LARRY We’ll go halves. (He splits the apple). There you are, take the red side. It matches your cheeks’. (Cape edition, p. 74) The stage rock was much praised in many reviews. See also: Love on the Dole: a Second Cigarette Card (1935) The photograph to the left of Mr and Mrs Hardcastle may be from Act I, when Mr Hardcastle comes home from work, his first entrance in the play. Julien Mitchell seems here to embody well the stage-direction: ‘He is a thick-set miner, with a square-set reliable face, and hair and moustache turning grey’ (Cape edition, p.33). I am not sure that Cathleen Nesbit does quite so well embody her stage-direction: ‘She is a non-descript sort of woman who might have been as pretty as SALLY in her youth, but a losing fight against drudgery and poverty has played havoc with womanly grace and character’, Cape edition, p.29). Cathleen Nesbit, despite the wig, looks full of life, and in that respect less well-cast than Mary Merrall in the 1941 film version. There is, of course, much to query about the description ‘womanly grace’. Finally is the photograph of Mrs Jike, the cockney member of the chorus, wearing her spoils from the means test protest. This is Act III, Scene 1: ‘MRS JIKE Hey, gels, look what Oi’ve got! Shut the door, quick! Eh, what a time, O’ive had! We rolled him in the mud, an’ I danced on ‘is stummick! It’s as good as being in Whitechapel again!’ (Cape edition, p.108). This moment of grotesque anti-authoritarian carnival is quickly followed by the news that Larry has been seriously injured after being struck by a policeman, with the rapid update that he has died. This full-page spread on the play is very helpful in a number of ways: it gives a good sense of the realist set, and of the costuming, while also, like the reviews we have looked at, affirms the importance of ensemble playing in the first photograph, as well as picking out Wendy Hiller, Julien Mitchell, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Drusilla Wills for special praise. Sadly, Ballard Berkley is mentioned but not praised, though many reviews did regard his contribution highly. Characteristically, even quite early in the London production Wendy Hiller is accepted as having achieved the status of star.

Conclusion

Some of the actors in the early productions of Love on the Dole were already established, but many were less so, and in particular quite a number who were active at the Manchester Repertory Theatre in the early thirties achieved a higher profile through their parts in Greenwood and Gow’s play. Wendy Hiller was the biggest star to emerge from it, partly because George Bernard Shaw was so taken with her performance as Sally and wanted to see her in leading roles in film versions of several of his plays. However, it was also because it was clearly an outstanding performance in a role which audiences found deeply engaging, and which the stage-adaptation highlighted.

See also:

https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/fame-love-on-the-dole-the-play-1934-co-written-with-ronald-gow/

https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/love-on-the-dole-1935-2010-programmes-jealously-preserved/

NOTES

Note 1. Information about Alex Grandison derived from The Stage (review, 17/7/1933, p.4), Aberdeen Press and Journal review of the Priestley play (12/10/1935, p.6), IMDB entry on When We Are Married (), and The Stage (review, 17/11/1955, p. 10).

Note 2. Information about his early career derived from the Morecambe Guardian, 27/5/1939, p. 12, and Coventry Herald, 24/6/1932, p.10.

Note 3. This information about George Bernard Shaw can be found in Hiller’s Dictionary of National Biography entry by Alex Jennings. Wendy Hiller’s Wikipedia entry says that George Bernard Shaw saw her in the New York production, but the Nottingham Evening Post records Bernard Shaw seeing the play when Hiller was in the cast at the Garrick production in London (30/8/1935, p.6). Of course, he might have seen both productions.

Note 4. There is some information about Grant in his brief Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ardern_Grant .