Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance is regarded as John Arden’s first important play. Yet interestingly, its initial British run at the Royal Court Theatre in 1959 was not particularly successful; it ran for only twenty-eight performances and was a financial disaster.
In 1966 Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance came to New York City for an Off-Broadway run. Appearing at the Theatre de Lys, the play ran for 135 performances and eventually won the Vernon Rice Award. As a result, Arden’s reputation as an innovative dramatist was firmly established.
Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance is set in a northern British mining town in 1880, but it draws from several contemporary sources for inspiration. Arden’s pacifist theme and depiction of the negative aspects of army life on soldiers is seen to have universal significance.