Born in Edinburgh, he went to school in St Andrews and afterwards to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied Greek, Latin and English literature. When his father's death put a stop to his studies, he enlisted in the 71st Highland Light Infantry.
He had postings with the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment stationed in the Bermudas, then in Canada and Barbados. In 1893, he was posted to the Cape Colony as adjutant to Sir William Gordon Cameron, a post which he held for over a year, before he was posted as aide-de-camp to Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of Natal.
While on guard duty on Agar's Island, in the Bermudas, he had written his first play The Subaltern, which was produced by The Amateur Dramatic Club of Bermuda for which he also acted and painted sets. From there on he would use his spare time in the military to write a range of plays, two of them apparently written while in South Africa. With one or two exceptions, most of his early plays were not performed in the regions where he was stationed at the time, for he was clearly ambitious and sent the texts to London for the attention of London managers. For a long while this was a rather vain hope, but then, at last, His Excellency the Governor was accepted and acted. It was his first important and successful play and so, in view of this, he resigned from the military to take up playwriting as his profession. He went on to write at least two other big successes before his untimely death at 47 years of age, namely The Second in Command and The Duke of Killiecrankie.
Plays written by Marshall, include: The Subaltern () Strategy () Guy Fawkes () 1746 (never performed) The Great Day (1893/4, censored and never performed) The Shades of Night (The Lyceum, 1895) His Excellency the Governor (1895/?) A Royal Family (1898) The Broad Road (1898) Terry's Theatre, London The Second in Command (1900) The Noble Lord (1900) Criterion, London Prince Charlie (1901) one-act play There's Many a Slip (1902) a translation of Bataille de Dames by Ernest Legouvé and Eugène Scribe. The Unforeseen (1903) The Duke of Killiecrankie (1904) Everybody's Secret (1905) with L.N. Parker, adaptation from Pierre Wolff's Le Secret de Polichinelle The Lady of Leeds (1905) The Alabaster Staircase (1906) The Outsider (1908) Second in Command (1910) The Second Fortune
His South African period
In 1893, he was posted to the Cape Colony as adjutant to Sir William Gordon Cameron, a post which he held for over a year. While stationed at the Cape Town Castle, he wrote a play entitled The Great Day which was to have been produced in London by George Alexander but F. Pigott, the Examiner of Plays, objected to it and so this never occurred.
He was then posted to the Colony of Natal where he became aide-de-camp to Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of Natal and at this stage, probably while in Natal, wrote his first important play, namely His Excellency the Governor - which go on to a to become enough of a success for Marshall to enable him to resign from the military and take up playwriting as his full-time profession.
Plays by Marshall that have been performed in South Africa
While there is no indication that any of his plays were actually tried out or produced in South Africa during his sojourn there - not even the two that he wrote while stationed in Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg. However, some of the work was brought to South Africa by British touring companies and others. Among them have been The Noble Lord (Cape Town, 1901), The Duke of Killiecrankie (Johannesburg, 1918), ,
Indianapolis Journal, Volume 52, Number 62,Indianapolis, Marion County, 3 March 1902: page 3
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