[Christopher Fry's Festival of Britain play 'A Sleep of Prisoners'.] Unique volume with corrected script, ephemera, photographs, signatures of actors and audience including John Gielgud, Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh.

Christopher Fry (1907-2005), playwright; John Gielgud; Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Sybil Thorndyke, Edith Evans, Ronald Searle, Joyce Grenfell, Cecil Beaton [Festival of Britain]
Publication details: 
'A Festival of Britain Production': London, Oxford and elsehwere. 1951 and 1952.
SKU: 21918

It is difficult to do justice to this unique volume, which not only contains the script of the play, with Fry's autograph emendations, but also the signatures of those connected with the production, along with those of a host of theatrical luminaries including Olivier and Gielgud, Edith Evans and Sybil Thorndyke; sixteen large black and white photographs (fourteen production stills by Houston Rogers, a portrait of three of the actors by Cecil Beaton, and a portrait of Fry himself); associated ephemera including the programme and reviews, and a manuscript mock-up poster; and correspondence by: the artist who illustrated the cover of the programme Ronald Searle (with self-caricature), Sybil Thorndyke, Joyce Grenfell and the King's Private Secretary Sir Alan Lascelles (on Buckingham Palace letterhead). Christopher Fry's play 'A Sleep of Prisoners' was advertised as 'A Festival of Britain Production', with publicity material carrying Abram Games's 'Festival Star' emblem. Writing in the Radio Times in 1952, the play's producer Michael MacOwen explained that it was 'commissioned by the Religious Drama Society for performances in churches during the Festival of Britain. The whole conception from the start was that the play should be about some event that took place in a church.' The theme of the play, MacOwen explains, deals 'with prisoners of war locked in a church', a large part of the action being 'the dreams of the four men during the night they slept there', each man's dreams concerning the other three prisoners. The present volume was compiled by Fry's personal assistant Adza Vincent (1917-1995; born Adza Katharine Hodgins), actress and theatrical agent, manager of the Pilgrim Players, the troupe which produced the play on behalf of the Relgious Drama Society. It carries the ownership label of 'Miss Adza Vincent', and contains a slip of paper, loosely inserted in the volume, which states: 'This souvenir copy of the play was compiled by Adza Vincent and signed by cast and audience'. A substantial 4to volume of 74 vellum leaves, bound in red calf, with labels on spine, and gilt title on cover reading 'A Sleep of Prisoners | Christopher Fry | * * * | A Souvenir | * A * V *'. Internally in good condition, in worn binding. Divided into three sections, each with specially-printed titles. The first section, 'Signatures from the audience', consists of three pages of autograph signatures, beginning with a page carrying those of Earl and Countess Mountbatten ('Mountbatten of Burma' and 'Edwina Mountbatten of Burma') and Sir Frederick A. M. Browning ('F. A. M. Browning'), Comptroller to Princess Elizabeth (the present queen). There follow, over two pages, twenty-nine more signatures, including those of John Gielgud, Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Joyce Grenfell, Anthony Quayle, Ruth Draper, Anthony Asquith, Pamela Brown. Next comes a page with autograph messages from the play's author and producer. Fry writes: 'Dearest Adza, how good to be able to record on vellum my love and gratitude for all your part in A Sleep of Prisoners | Christopher Fry | January 21. 1952'. Beneath this the producer writes: 'Thank you for doing this lovely book, the last of many services to Prisoners, a kindness to us all. | Love, | Michael MacOwan.' The second section is the typescript of the play, preceded by a title page, printed in red and black over fourteen lines, reading: 'A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry | first performed in Oxford at the University Church on 23 April 1951 and in London at St. Thomas's Church, Regent Street on 15 May 1951 with the following cast: | Private David King: Leonard White | Private Peter Able: Denholm Elliott | Corporal Joe Adams: Stanley Baker | Private Tim Meadows: Hugh Pryse | The play was produced by Michael MacOwan'. White, Elliott and Baker sign this title-page, and a page following the script is signed by all four actors (Baker, Pryse, Ellott and White). The sixty pages of the duplicated typescript of the play are laid down on the vellum, with title page (dated 'March 12th, 1951. | Actac, Haymarket, London.') and page of 'Characters'. The emendations in Fry's autograph are minor, but include the deletion of eight lines towards the end, the alteration of another line, and the addition of some stage directions. Including among the pages of the play are fourteen black and white photographic stills of the production by Houston Rogers of Sloane Street, each laid down on its own page with manuscript caption. The script of the play is preceded by a large posed photograph of three of the actors, attributed to Cecil Beaton, and facing the title-page to the whole volume is a photographic portrait of Fry. The third section of the volume, comprising the ephemera, carries the printed title: 'Towns Visited | Oxford | Blackpool | Lancaster | Bournemouth | Bury St. Edmunds | Norwich | Brighton | Eastbourne | Leeds | Bristol | Birmingham | Ipswich | and | London | 23 April 1951 to 29 September 1951'. This section includes eleven programme cards for the performances (unfortunately laid down on one another in three groups), with three other items printed for the production, a manuscript mock-up of a publicity poster in red and green, and twenty-one cuttings of reviews. The sixteen-page 12mo 'Programme for A Sleep of Prisoners | A play by Christopher Fry' ('A Festival of Britain Production'), with cover illustration by Ronald Searle, is tipped-in before the script (the only two other copies located are at Lambeth Palace and the University of Groningen), with separate 'Programme note for A Sleep of Prisoners' by Fry (1p, 8vo) laid down after it. The volume concludes with four items of correspondence, all addressed to Vincent: the first, loosely inserted in its laid-down envelope, is a TLS, on Buckingham Palace letterhead, from Sir Alan Lascelles (1887-1981), Private Secretary to King George VI and his wife, 9 April 1951, regretting that they are too busy to attend the London performance. Second is a TLS from Sir F. A. M. Browning, Clarence House, 27 April 1951, stating that after a discussion with Princess Elizabeth, he is 'very sorry to disappoint you, but owing to the Festival of Britain and the visit of The King and Queen of Denmark, her programme is especially heavy this year', and she cannot attend either. Third is an ACS from Ronald Searle, with a crude but charming self-caricature by the signature, showing him eating from a tray on his knees. On letterhead of 32 Newton Road, Westbourne Grove, W2; 25 August 1951. ' He begins with the exclamation 'What a charming thought!' and explains that he has 'just returned from holiday to find the mysterious box awaiting me. I can now have served up to me three meals a day and the longer the meal the longer the tray!' There follows a TNS from Sybil Thorndyke, 8 November 1951: 'Dear Miss Vincent, | What a lovely book you gave me to sign. What a lovely play it is and how you must have enjoyed being connected with it.' The last item of correspondence is an ANS from Joyce Grenfell, 10 May 1952. 'What a beautiful work the book is. I am so honoured to be allowed to sign it too. Thank you very much.' Loosely inserted is an unsigned circular from Vincent, on the occasion of the Birmingham performance of 'Mr Fry's contribution to the Festival of Britain': 'The play, written specially for presentation in churches, deals with one of the world's greatest problems today, that of the human conflict of men. In a prefatory letter to the published play Mr Fry says “that progress is the growth of vision: the increased perception of what makes for life and what makes for death.” | This problem is dealt with strongly and humanly in the play in which the characters are four prisoners of war, and the church their temporary prison.' Loosely inserted is a photocopy of MacOwen's 1952 Radio Times article, 'Producing Christopher Fry's “A Sleep of Prisoners”'.