Press Cuttings, by George Bernard Shaw

I would normally give the second paragraph of the third scene, but the entire play has just one extended scene, so here is the opening section:

The forenoon of the first of April, 1911.

General Mitchener is at his writing table in the War Office, opening letters. On his left is the fireplace, with a fire burning. On his right, against the opposite wall is a standing desk with an office stool. The door is in the wall behind him, half way between the table and the desk. The table is not quite in the middle of the room: it is nearer to the hearthrug than to the desk. There is a chair at each end of it for persons having business with the general. There is a telephone on the table. Long silence.

A VOICE OUTSIDE. Votes for Women!

The General starts convulsively; snatches a revolver from a drawer, and listens in an agony of apprehension. Nothing happens. He puts the revolver back, ashamed; wipes his brow; and resumes his work. He is startled afresh by the entry of an Orderly. This Orderly is an unsoldierly, slovenly, discontented young man.

I picked this up thanks to Jack Fennell’s Short Guide to Irish Science Fiction. It is science fiction only in the sense that it’s set in the near future with an envisioned political change – written in 1908 and set in 1911, in an England where the suffragette movement has become so disruptive that martial law is being implemented in London. It’s not one of the great Shaw plays; the fact that we have moved on so decisively from this particular part of the wider gender and politics debate makes it very difficult to relate to his central characters, the general, the prime minister, and the anti-suffrage ladies who demand audience with them. However his shafts about class, and the dangers of putting the military in charge of a political project, remain well-aimed. And towards the end it gets really funny when the general claims to be fifty-two, only to be confronted with the fact that Who’s Who says he’s sixty-one.

The portrayal of General “Mitchener” and Prime Minister “Balsquith” was felt to be so close to the bone for Generals Milner and Kitchener, and PMs Balfour and Asquith, that the play was actually banned from public performance in England; an act of censorship which is almost incomprehensible to today’s reader.