‘It is a magnificent play in which the note of national pride pervading every scene and every sentence must make each one of us face the future with courage and high hopes’ The Daily Mail, 1931. Such was the reception for Coward’s spectacular pageant when it first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Telling the story of a great swathe of history, from the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the coming of the Jazz Age, Coward’s great coup de théâtre was to channel these historical moments through the prism of the lives of one Mayfair family.
Although there have been some revivals, no subsequent production of Cavalcade has ever matched the premiere for its scale. As Sheridan Morley writes in his introduction, ‘Cavalcade was a prodigious feat of sheer stage-management . . . a grandiose stage epic in three acts and twenty-two scenes that was to cost an almost unprecedented thirty-thousand pre-war pounds and to keep a cast and backstage crew of three hundred people employed at Drury Lane for more than a year, playing to a total box office take of well over three hundred thousand pounds. Cavalcade was the kind of show of which a latterday Cameron Mackintosh or Andfrew Lloyd Webber would be proud.’