Harley Granville-Barker, actor, director, playwright, manager and critic, was a pasha of the Edwardian London stage. As a director, his Midsummer Night’s Dream of 1914 was a theatrical landmark. His own plays were provocative and controversial. The Secret Life, for example, was an analysis of the torpor of the British ruling classes. Waste, involving a married woman’s lethal abortion, was suppressed by the Lord Chamberlain. In 1916, aged 38, at the peak of his celebrity, the great Harley Granville-Barker volunteered for a walk-on part on the Western Front as a Red Cross auxiliary.
Last week I came across an account of his opening night in the trenches, as related to a military doctor, Dr Harold Dearden, and repeated in that man’s riveting Great War diaries, published in 1928 under the title Medicine and Duty.