Playbill for the Theatre Royal St. James's advertising the first night of Oliver Twist

Description

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was first published in serial parts in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany, from 1837–39. It was an instant success. Sensationally exposing the workhouse, criminality and the poverty of London’s slums, it made its way onto the stage the same year, in many different adaptations.

This playbill from 27–31 March 1838 advertises the very first of those adaptations, performed at the Royal Theatre Royal, St James. Dickens was at this point still better known by his pen name ‘Boz’. There was no copyright protection at this time, so dramatists were free to seize on the work of novelists, turn them into plays and put them on the stage. 

The plays proved popular, especially in the north of England. However, because of the criminality of the characters, productions were often – ineffectively – banned by the Lord Chamberlain (whose office censored stage productions in Britain from 1824–1968). 

Eventually, in April 1868, a specially licensed adaptation by the writer and critic John Oxenford (1812–1877) was passed for performance. At Dickens’s death, over 100 versions of Twist had been staged. 

Full title:
Original playbill for the Theatre Royal St. James's. Advertising the first night of Oliver Twist, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, March 27, 29 & 31, 1838. [Adapted by Gilbert Abbott Á Beckett]. Printed by W. S. Johnson, Soho. [from the author's pres
Published:
March 1838, Soho, London
Format:
Advertisement / Ephemera / Playbill / Illustration / Image
Creator:
The Theatre Royal, St James , John Forster [compiler]
Held by:
British Library
Usage terms:
Public Domain
Shelfmark:
Dex 316 - Vol I, part II

Related articles

Dickens the performer

Article by:
Simon Callow
Theme:
The novel 1832 - 1880

Simon Callow CBE examines Dickens as an actor who gave lively and emotional performances of his own works to an enthralled public on both sides of the Atlantic.

Theatre in the 19th century

Article by:
Jacky Bratton
Theme:
Popular culture

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only two main theatres in London. Emeritus Professor Jacky Bratton traces the development of theatre throughout the century, exploring the proliferation of venues, forms and writers.

Orphans in fiction

Article by:
John Mullan
Themes:
Childhood and children's literature, The novel 1832 - 1880

Why do orphans appear so frequently in 19th-century fiction? Professor John Mullan reflects on the opportunities they provide for authors, considering some of the most famous examples of the period.

Related collection items

Related works

Oliver Twist

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) second novel, originally published in serial parts 1837-39, and as a three ...