One-act play was final work for writer
It tells of the last hours of a young man, condemned to death for murdering his former girlfriend, waking up on the morning of his execution and giving vent to his emotions before Gilbert gives the play a surprising twist at its conclusion.
His inspiration to write it was the Ripen murder trial of 1910 and, with his usual diligence in researching it, toured Bentonville Prison with his scene designer.
He then almost cancelled the production before a written apology from its leading actor, James Welch, for taking liberties with script.
It is said to be an unflinching, three-dimensional character portrait of the condemned man but a compassionate one in that Gilbert espouses “his conviction that nurture rather than nature often accounted for criminal behaviour,” as G&S expert Ian Bradley puts it.
The play was generally well received in its day and The Illustrated London News observed that “the apostle of fantasy suddenly elects to rival the newest school of our dramatists on their own ground!”
It goes on to say that Gilbert “confronts us with that grimmest of all scenes of human misery, the condemned murderer being prepared for his fate… a drama that is absolutely sincere, unflinchingly realistic.
“It bears the very stamp of truth.”