The legendary American writer will soon illuminate the theatrical world in Britain when a little-known play of his is to have its debut performance in London, seventy-eight years after it was written.
The Fifth Column, the writer’s only full-length play, set during the Spanish Civil War, was never performed on the London stage, and had fallen largely out of public memory after failing to win over the critics.
It will be staged at Southwark Playhouse after a producer managed to secure the rights for his company, which specialises in finding lost gems for the stage.
The Fifth Column, which was written in 1937, and staged in Glasgow in 1944 but did not transfer to London under the bombs of the Second World War, shares similarities with Hemingway’s classic For Whom the Bell Tolls and was made into a successful film in 1943, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.
However, the play did not take off on stage, partly because its enormous cast made it complicated and expensive to put on.
It will open in March next year with tickets on sale now, and will mark eighty years since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
The play recounts the story of two American war correspondents that fall passionately in love, while sheltering in a hotel, under bombardment by Franco’s artillery. ‘Around them, people are struggling, often comically, to survive,’ a spokesman for the play explains. ‘The idealism of the young men who came to fight with the International Brigades is contrasted with the ruthlessness of civil war.’
The play is based on real events. Hemingway experienced the war with his lover, Martha Gellhorn, one of the first female war correspondents.
Graham Cowley, the show’s producer, has taken on the challenge of staging it with Two’s Company, who specialise in producing forgotten masterpieces of the twentieth century. He secured the rights to put it on in England after tracking down Hemingway’s former publisher, who heard of his plans. ‘It’s a great honour to be given the rights to it,’ Cowley told the Sunday Telegraph. ‘He was a world-class writer who wrote from direct experience – that’s what makes us so excited. The play is recognisably Hemingway’s work. If you love Hemingway, you’ll love this.’
As a great admirer of Hemingway, I can’t wait to see the play. It will certainly be a smashing theatrical success, for people of Hemingway’s ilk are perhaps a dying breed. A reminder of what we now miss will still engrain the sort of nostalgia we often yearn for.