The Village Hall in 1922: Performance & Politics

Activity: Academic and Industrial eventsConference, workshop or symposium


In Spring 1922 the Arts League of Service Travelling Theatre embarked on a tour of British villages, starting in Essex, moving west to Somerset, before heading north to Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, and Scotland. On the programme was an ever-changing mix of one-act plays, ballets, poems, folk songs, sea shanties and ‘absurdities’, curious little sketches or songs with mimed actions. They performed, where possible, in the new village halls erected to commemorate those lost during WWI.

In this paper, I’ll explore the eccentric world of the Arts League of Service (ALS), arguing that their performances expand our conceptions of where modernism was seen, and by whom. Crucially, their engagement with modernism was partial: like many periodicals from the period, they juxtaposed avant-garde pieces with more traditional ones. Items ranged from highbrow experiments to hits from the music hall. The evening might have begun with Hagoromo, a Japanese Noh play translated by Ezra Pound, complete with its score of ‘mysterious, tinkling, wailing, drumming music on strange instruments’; it might have ended with This Old Man and its joyfully nonsensical chorus of ‘Knick Knack, Paddy Whack, give-a-dog-a-bone / This old man came rolling home’.

As well as focusing on the ALS itself, I’ll explore how their work tapped into two wider trends that emerged in the years immediately following WWI. First, the move to democratise and decentralise the arts; second, efforts at postwar rural regeneration, which culminated in the building of hundreds of memorial halls.
Period28 Mar 2022
Event titleInside and Outside Modernism: An Anatomy of 1922 and its Cultures
Event typeConference