Ardently pro-Arden

Letter by Jeff Cloves, Stroud

ImageJohn Arden well deserved Michael Randle’s excellent obituary (PN 2544). I have a particularly soft spot for JA as I inherited his Personal Comment column for PN when he left for Ireland in the early ’70s.

His comments on his difficulties with absolute pacifism are illuminated in his challenging and contrary play Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance (1959). I’ve seen several performances and if the director and actors are not sympathetic to its politics and don’t understand its tortured contradictions, its denouement can seem a bit of dramatic flop.

Even the last professional staging at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham four or five years ago was unsatisfactory, I thought, although it had a good review in the Guardian. For all its flaws it is a very important play because it confronts the contradictions of pacifism that I suspect most readers of PN will find uncomfortably familiar and difficult to argue against.

But we need to and this play sharpens our wits.