On 13 August, we met to read and discuss A Letter from the General by Maurice McLoughlin.
The play is set in the common room of a mission station in an Eastern country in 1950. The country has been taken over by a harsh and cruel communist regime and all aliens are being ejected. News has reached the mission that some nuns and priests are being shot. The mission’s children have been taken away and the remaining nuns have been ordered to leave. However, as they are harbouring a German missionary priest who had escaped capture, leaving isn’t so simple. One of the inhabitants, an elderly nun, has been writing to the general, who is the new governor of the province. He also happens to be her godson, who she looked after as a boy in an orphanage similar to the one they are currently in. The British consul and his wife arrive after shutting the embassy down – they have brought exit visas for the nuns, along with a deadline to leave by. Tension mounts when the military arrive, headed by a particularly nasty English mercenary captain determined to recapture the escaped priest, who he suspects the nuns have hidden among them.
Reactions to the reading were generally favourable and most people present enjoyed the play.
The play was well-weighted, both in terms of the size of parts and the length of scenes, most felt that the characters were all very well-rounded and interesting with diverse personalities; many characters also have their own epiphany in the storyline.
However, not all agreed with this assertion, with one person mentioning that he found the characters to be one-dimensional and stereotypical.
It was said that the tension built very well and felt real, but the play would need very careful handling in terms of characterisation. In particular, the parts of Lee (the English mercenary) and Schiller (the German priest) would have to be tempered with a great deal of skill to avoid comparison with some stereotypical characters found in many of the comedy characters seen in various war comedy television programmes.
Similarly, the interaction between the nuns is very comical at times, which is fine, but it was felt that it would need to be put across to the audience that the situation they are in is never anything but serious and frightening.
It was agreed that the play sits well in the fifties and the playing needs to reflect those times. Played as a more contemporary piece, worries were raised that it could too easily spill into silliness; it might also tempt the audience to giggle if the drama is allowed to lean towards melodrama. Concerns were voiced that the audience might end up becoming annoyed by the play if it did tip towards melodrama. All those present agreed that performing would require constraint to avoid these pitfalls actually happening.
Overall, the play was positively received, with only one person saying that they did not enjoy it.
What do you think? Let us know if you’ve read or seen A Letter from the General and want to agree or disagree with anything written here.
Future play readings:
- Female Transport by Steve Gooch – Tuesday 20 August, 8pm
- A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn – Tuesday 27 August, 8pm