Georgian Theatre

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  • Intro

    This audio extract is from the diary of German novelist Sophie von la Roche. In it she describes the diverse entertainments on offer at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, including a ballet, a rope-walker, a strong man and an operetta.

     

    Theatre-going in the Georgian period was a very different experience from that of today. Audiences could be rude, noisy and dangerous. Alcohol and food were consumed in great quantity, while people arrived and left throughout the duration of the performance. Audiences chatted among themselves, and sometimes pelted actors with rotten fruit and vegetables. Others demanded that popular tunes be played over and over again. In general, audiences were a mix of rich and poor: ‘persons of quality’ were seated in boxes placed alongside the stage, while working men and women were squeezed into hot and dirty galleries. Down below in front of the stage, young men would drink together, eat nuts and mingle with prostitutes in the notorious pit. The image here shows the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1808.

     

     

    Shelfmark: 190.e.1 volume III, 69

  • Audio

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  • Transcript

    Georgian Theatre

    The scenes in the pit and boxes we found as strange as the ten-fold comedy itself. In the pit there is a shelf running along the back of the seats on which the occupants order bottles of wine, glasses, ham, cold chops and pasties to be placed, which they consume with their wives and children, partaking while they watch the same play. The front seats of the boxes are just the same. In three hours we witnessed nine kinds of stage craft. First, a comedy, then a ballet, followed by a rope-walker, after this a pantomime, next some balancing tricks, an operette, and the most miraculous feats by a strong man; another comedy, and finally a second operette. All the decorations were exceedingly well painted, the dresses very fine and the music good…On our homeward path we saw the crowd of lamps along the roads, as Sadler’s Wells lies on higher ground, and admired the splendid lighting of the city and its squares; but it was almost eleven o’clock before we reached home.

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