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Children’s Plays
by [?]

I cannot, therefore, advance my own childish recollections of my first pantomime as trustworthy evidence of what other children like. But I should wish you to know that when I was taken to Beauty and the Beast at the age of seven, it was no elephant, nor any other kind of beast, which made the afternoon sacred for me. It was Beauty. I just gazed and gazed at Beauty. Never had I seen anything so lovely. For weeks afterwards I dreamed about her. Nothing that was said or done on the stage mattered so long as she was there. Probably the author had put some of his most delightful work into that pantomime–“dialogue which showed a wonderful insight into the child’s mind”; I apologize to him for not having listened to it. (I can sympathize with him now.) Or it may be that the author had written for men and women of the world; his dialogue was full of that sordid cynicism about married life which is still considered amusing, so that the aunt who took me wondered if this were really a pantomime suitable for children. Poor dear!–as if I heard a word of it, I who was just waiting for Beauty to come back.

What do children like? I do not think that there is any answer to that question. They like anything; they like everything; they like so many different things. But I am certain that there has never been an ideal play for very young children. It will never be written, for the reason that no self-respecting writer could bore himself so completely as to write it. (Also it is doubtful if fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, would sacrifice themselves a second time, after they had once sat through it.) For very young children do not want humour or whimsicality or delicate fancy or any of the delightful properties which we attribute to the ideal children’s play. I do not say that they will rise from their stalls and call loudly for their perambulators, if these qualities creep into the play, but they can get on very happily without them. All that they want is a continuous procession of ordinary everyday events–the arrival of elephants (such as they see at the Zoo), or of postmen and policemen (such as they see in their street), the simplest form of clowning or of practical joke, the most photographically dull dialogue. For a grown-up it would be an appalling play to sit through, and still more appalling play to have to write.

Perhaps you protest that your children love Peter Pan. Of course they do. They would be horrible children if they didn’t. And they would be horrible children if they did not love (as I am sure they do) a Drury Lane pantomime. A nice child would love Hamlet. But I also love Peter Pan; and for this reason I feel that it cannot possibly be the ideal play for children. I do not, however, love the Drury Lane pantomime… which leaves me with the feeling that it may really be “the children’s pantomime” after all.