Politics, war, and adaptation: Ewan Maccoll's Operation Olive Branch, 1947

Warden, Claire (2010) Politics, war, and adaptation: Ewan Maccoll's Operation Olive Branch, 1947. Comparative Drama, 44-45 (4-1). pp. 536-538. ISSN 0010-4078

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/cdr.2010.0016

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In 1947, Ewan MacColl, left-wing playwright, committed Communist, and cofounder (with Joan Littlewood) of the highly influential British company Theatre Workshop, wrote a play entitled Operation Olive Branch, a work that was, by his own admission, "freely adapted from the Lysistrata of Aristophanes." Intent on creating a working-class theatrical forum, this company was one of the most prolific, agitational, and artistically experimental groups in British theater history. In 1938, the group had performed a version of Lysistrata as a response to the Spanish Civil War, an event that cast a long shadow over the culture of the British Left. After the Second World War, MacColl revised and renamed the play; Operation Olive Branch, as it was now known, was produced by Littlewood in 1947 as part of the touring repertoire. The company had a long-standing interest in Greek drama; in fact, Littlewood notes that "it was considered mere philan-dering to read latter-day classics, let alone modern plays, unless you'd acquired a thorough grounding in the ancients."

The company's interaction with Lysistrata occurred during one of the most bloody and turbulent periods in twentieth-century history, what the Second Manifesto of Theatre Union (an earlier incarnation of Theatre Workshop) called "times of great social upheaval … faced with an ever-increasing danger of war and fascism." If "the 'Fifty Years' and the Peloponnesian War are the background to the entire great period of Athenian drama," it seems perfectly understandable that MacColl, amidst the carnage of the Second World War, would choose to adapt a play from this tradition.

Operation Olive Branch, with Lysistrata as its source material, was an attempt to comprehend the contemporary transnational situation through drama. MacColl placed particular emphasis on certain original elements, expanding and developing specific themes in order to create a contemporary critique of war. It is these elements that really draw attention to the mid-twentieth-century context and MacColl's authorial intention.

Keywords:Drama, Twentieth-century drama, Second World war
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W400 Drama
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ID Code:10065
Deposited On:10 Jul 2013 12:33

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