Major Barbara

Written by George Bernard Shaw

Monday 8th May to Saturday 13th May 1972

Produced and Directed by John Scadding

A special kind of farce, comedy and high drama. Collapse, conviction and conversion are everywhere!

AuthorGeorge Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

Shaw first earned a literary living as a critic. His main talent, however, was for writing scripts and he wrote more than 60 plays during his lifetime. Nearly all his works deal sternly with prevailing social problems, but have a vein of comedy to make their stark themes more palatable. Shaw examined education, marriage, religion, government, health care and class privilege.

He was most angered by what he perceived as the exploitation of the working class, and most of his writings censure that abuse. An ardent socialist, Shaw wrote many brochures and speeches for the Fabian Society. He became an accomplished orator in the furtherance of its causes, which included gaining equal rights for men and women, alleviating abuses of the working class, rescinding private ownership of productive land, and promoting healthy lifestyles.

He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938), for his contributions to literature and for his work on the film Pygmalion.

PlayMajor Barbara

'Major Barbara' was written and first produced as a play in 1905. The plot centres around an Officer of The Salvation Army; Major Barbara Undershaft when she becomes disillusioned following her section accepting money from an armaments manufacturer and a whisky distiller. The situation is further complicated when we find out that the arms manufacturer in question is also her father. She eventually decides that bringing a message of salvation to people who have plenty will be more fulfilling and genuine than converting the starving in return for bread.

Although Barbara initially regards the Salvation Army's acceptance of Undershaft's money as hypocrisy, Shaw did not intend that it should be thought so by the audience. Shaw wrote a preface for the play's publication, in which he derided the idea that charities should only take money from "morally pure" sources. He pointed out that donations could always be used for good, whatever their provenance, and he quoted a Salvation Army officer, "they would take money from the devil himself and be only too glad to get it out of his hands and into God's".

The Bench Production

Major Barbara poster image

Bench Theatre's original name was 'Theatre Union' and was later changed to reflect the name of the theatre in West Street where most of their productions were staged. This play was performed under the original Theatre Union name and staged at The Bench Theatre building in West Street. It was the company's fourth major production at that venue which was their home for nearly 7 years.

Bench Theatre staged this play again in 1983 at Havant Arts Centre.


Lady Britomart UndershaftEve Moore
Stephen UndershaftDerek Cusdin
Miss Sarah UndershaftWendy Coates
Major Barbara UndershaftMoira Wade
Mr Charles LomaxDavid Lings
Mr Adolphus CousinsTony Starr
MorrisonRay Osborne
Mr Andrew UndershaftTim Mahoney
Rummy MitchensWendy Coates
Snobby PriceRichard Coates
Jenny HillMaureen Smith
Peter ShirleyDavid Spackman
Bill WalkerBarry Reilly
BiltonRichard Coates


Director John Scadding
Stage Manager Ken Ayling
Assistant Stage Manager Clive Wilson
Lighting Brian Montefiore
Costumes Pam Ayling
June Jaques
Helena Whalley
Graphics David Lings
Front of House Joan Jevons
Set design and build David Lings
Ken Ayling
Publicity Maureen Burness

Director's Notes

Major Barbara is a completely typical Shaw play. In it, Shaw shows people having their hearts broken and then getting over it. The play is full of it. Collapse, conviction and conversion are everywhere. Everybody, or nearly everybody, seems to be busy trying to change people or being changed themselves. Sometimes the effect is profoundly moving, at other times - a hoot! That is what is so exciting, I feel, about a Shaw play; the sad and the silly are often right next to each other. For the actor, of course, this can be rather difficult; having to switch quickly from one stile to another. A Shaw play is a special kind of farce, comedy and high drama. All are called for.

John Scadding

Production Photographs