In the summer of 2021, Mint will continue our deep-dive into the work of Elizabeth Baker. We’ll be taking over both theaters downstairs at Theatre Row to offer you an unprecedented opportunity to see two great plays by Elizabeth Baker, once hailed as a “New Playwright of Unmistakable Dramatic Genius.” Under the overall heading of “Meet Miss Baker”, Mint will present Baker’s dramatic debut, Chains, and her touching comedic triumph, Partnership in overlapping productions.

Chains tells the story of working class people in London’s suburbs, looking at what life has to offer and yearning for more. Charley lives with his wife in a cramped house with a boarder. He takes the train daily to a London office while dreaming of something more exciting than a promotion to head clerk (“A sort of policeman over the other chaps.”) His sister-in-law, Maggie, is so eager to escape the drudgery of shop work that she decides to marry a nice man she barely likes. When Charley’s lodger suddenly decides to “hook it” and board a ship for Australia, it sends a tremor through the family and threatens to break the links that bind Maggie and Charley to their current lives.

Chains was a smash hit when it premiered in 1909. The Times and The Globe both called Chains “remarkable.”, while The New Age called Chains “the most brilliant and the deepest problem play by a modern British writer since (George Bernard Shaw’s) Major Barbara.”

Jenn Thomspon (Women without Men, Conflict) will direct.

Partnership tells the story of  Kate Rolling, an independent professional woman happily running a successful business  with no interest in marriage. That is, until she receives an offer from her chief competitor proposing a merger… and matrimony. Like Chains, Partnership is a story of yearning for more. But Kate Rolling and her business associates are eager to work more, to earn more, to own more. They want to conquer the world, not to see it. They are not romantics seeking adventure, they are capitalists seeking expansion. Partnership offers a refreshing take on the importance of work-life balance.

“One of the very few intelligent and, therefore, really interesting plays of the moment is Partnership at the Court, by Miss Elizabeth Baker, author of the memorable Chains. It is the eternal battle of the spirit over the material: of the triumph of love in a successful modiste over lucre in the shape of her business partner, a love with a lawyer soul, as someone has said. It grips you precisely because it is not a fairy tale.” –The Stage

Jackson Grace Gay (A Little Jorney) will direct Partnership.

Elizabeth Baker

By Maya Cantu

Catapulting from office typist to “one of the most widely discussed playwrights in England” (The Christian Science Monitor), Elizabeth Baker startled her contemporaries with the realist landmark Chains (1909). In this and the twelve produced plays that followed, Baker focused extraordinary attention on the lives of London’s clerks, shopgirls, and suburban strivers. Drawn in her life and work to themes of wanderlust, Baker wrote plays that incisively explore the constraints of class, gender, and social convention upon individual agency, while centralizing the ambitions and desires of working women.

Born to a family of drapers in Paddington, London on August 20, 1876, Baker (whose birth name was Gertrude) grew up amid a large step-family in the suburbs of west London. In 1883, Baker’s widowed mother, Elizabeth Reavell, remarried master draper George Robert Collett—and assumed an enterprising new role running her second husband’s business. At the age of fourteen, Baker worked as an assistant in her parents’ shop, while writing “little things” and short plays in her spare time. Soon after, she found employment as a London shorthand clerk and typist, later working in the offices of The Spectator.

Characterized in the press as an untrained “girl-novice,” the thirty-two-year old Baker created a theatrical sensation with her first full-length play, Chains. First presented by the Play Actors in 1909, and then by Charles Frohman at the Duke of York’s Theatre, Chains focused on lower-middle-class characters longing to break away from routines of work and marriage, with clerk Charlie Wilson looking to new horizons in Australia. Baker earned praise for her “keenness of observation, her powers of drawing characters from the life, and her gift of writing dialogue that is natural and unforced” (The Field). The Bystander called Chains “one of the greatest plays that has been produced in this country for many a long day.” Baker, meanwhile, continued in her work as a typist.

Baker followed Chains with a versatile range of challenging and original plays that premiered on the stages of England’s repertory theaters, as well as in the West End. These included Edith (1912), a one-act feminist comedy for the Women Writer’s Suffrage League; the comic drama The Price of Thomas Scott (1913, Gaiety Theatre, Manchester); and her scintillating business-world comedy Partnership (1917, Court Theatre). Long independent, Baker also found mid-life romance with James Edmund Allaway, a widower who worked in the upholstery trade; she married him in 1915, at the age of forty. In 1922—echoing themes in Chains—the pair emigrated for two years to the Cook Islands; and at Australia’s Sydney Repertory Society, Baker premiered an early version of her controversial satire Bert’s Girl (produced in 1927 at the Court Theatre).

Despite receiving glowing reviews for the tragicomic Penelope Forgives (1930), Baker faced declining production prospects in the early 1930s. Her career as a professional playwright apparently concluded with the one-act One of the Spicers (1932). Following the death of her husband in 1941, Baker moved from her longtime family home in Bedford Park to Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, where she lived with a stepsister. Four ITV Television Playhouse adaptations of her plays appeared between 1959 and 1961. These broadcasts brought “Mrs. Gertrude Allaway, an eighty-four year old widow” (The Daily Mirror) a small measure of renewed recognition, half a century after The Guardian described Elizabeth Baker as a “widener of frontiers.” She died in Hertfordshire on March 8, 1962.