On the 26th of July in 1882, Harold Brighouse was born in Eccles, Lancashire, England. He was one of the “Manchester School” of playwrights, self-described as an “essentially regional writer” but his works have grown essentially enjoyable on both sides of the Atlantic. Brighouse is always associated with the “School” although the Glasgow Repertory at the Royalty Theatre under Alfred Wareing might have a greater claim to fostering his talent, for it staged some of his best early work.
John Southworth Brighouse, the playwright’s father, was a cotton spinner and a prominent Liberal. The mother was the sister of Edwin Harrison, a brilliant Oxford student whose premature death in 1899 left many to mourn the reputation she may have made.
Brighouse won a scholarship to Manchester Grammer School but left when he was nearly seventeen to work as an assistant buyer at his father’s cotton firm. In 1902, he opened a small office in London with the firm’s buyer, the job lasted two years.
His calling to theater did not come from any childhood desire, but rather feeling he could do better after seeing “an outrageously bad play”. His first play was a romantic drama in five-acts. It was rejected on the grounds that it was too short. He was advised to try “one-acters first—write of the life you know.” Heeding the advice, Brighouse composed Lonesome-like (1911). It was a one-act play with a Lancashire setting—one of many exquisite one-act plays he would write masterfully.
Brighouse’s career was launched brilliantly by the hands of Annie Horniman and the Repertory Movement. This same woman launched George Bernard Shaw at the Avenue Theatre in 1894 and later opened the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester in 1908. The Gaiety showcased impressively innovative theater works. Horniman was also one of the founders of the 1904 Abbey Theatre in Dublin, along with W.B. Yeats. Anyhow, Brighouse found his first three one-act plays, produced at the Gaiety Theatre, to be popular successes. What would become the essential quality of a Brighouse one-act was their quality of outline.
During the time of his first plays being produced (1909-1910s), he was also a member of the Swan Club, a literary and artistic gathering which included Stanley Houghton, the most famous repertory writer of that time. Extremely close to Houghton, he became editor of his works when Houghton died of meningitis in 1913. The edited works were published in three volumes in 1914. Loyal to friends and causes he believed in, Brighouse joined the Royal Air Force despite being unfit for combat. He spent wartime on the Intelligence Staff at the Air Ministry, where while producing propaganda, he also busied himself with writing a full-length drama that has become his most famous play, Hobson’s Choice. This work was so popular it played in London, India, China, Japan, Australia and South Africa.
His first full-length play, Dealing in Futures (1909), was produced by the Glasgow Repertory Theatre. The best of his full-lengths were “mildly mocking comedies of north-country manners,” like Zack (1916) and What’s Bred in the Bone (1927).
After the war, The Repertory Movement had dispersed and Brighouse turned his attention to writing novels and short stories in addition to plays. They did not excite much critical attention, being described as “happy amusing stories,” “fresh and promising,” or “serious and fairly readable.” Brighouse’s fifth novel, Hepplestall’s (1922), was perhaps the most popular. During this same period, Hobson’s Choice and The Game (1913) were filmed and in 1923, Other Times (1920) was made into a silent film by Jesse L. Lasky called Children of Jazz.
Between 1920-1927 was a very prolific time for Brighouse. He also found time for the Author’s Society Dramatic Committee, and became chairman of it.
In the early 1930s, he had a regular column in New York’s Drama magazine about London theater events. It was not the first time he practice journalism in his writing life. From 1913 to 1949, he was a contributor to the Manchester Guardian, writing anything from book reviews to travel sketches.
Despite his productivity in journalism during the 1930s and 1940s, these decades were not fecund playwriting years. Thus, when Brighouse collapsed and died in London on July 25, 1958, he had become a relatively unknown playwright.
Zack opened in the Syracuse Theater of New York on October 30, 1916. It never made it to Broadway due to the friction it had with the audience. Thus, this production is its New York premiere. Reviews with lines such as ‘ “Zack,”…might be termed comedy in a coffin shop—if there were any real comedy in the piece,’ don’t exact promising stays in a theater.
The London premiere was held at the Comedy Theater on April 23, 1922. The London Times was not much kinder to the play. However, tastes can change through time so perhaps Zack will be better received in a new century.