Playbill for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, advertising 'Used Up' and performing animals


This mixed variety bill at the Theatre Royal includes animal acts, a Christmas pantomime, dancing, and a number of dramatic pieces that would have been alternated between nights. Chief among these is a performance of the Dion Boucicault-Charles Mathews play ‘Used Up’. This farce has a particular place in the annals of the Theatre Royal. It was first performed in February 1835, when Charles Mathews – and by extension the theatre itself, which he managed – were facing bankruptcy. The swirl of scandal around Mathews at the time actually boosted attendances of the play and helped keep the theatre afloat. Mathews would perform the piece many times – including in French, in Paris – between 1835 and his death in 1878.

The Theatre Royal was one of three ‘patent theatres’ in London at this time. This meant that it was granted monopoly position by the state to produce new spoken dramatic work. The variety aspects of this bill (the animal acts, the pantomime) suggest something of the growing democratisation of mainstream theatres in Victorian England. Rather than being aimed at the upper middle-class as per the theatre’s usual practice, this seasonal performance is clearly meant to have something for everyone.

Full title:
Theatre Royal. Drury Lane. Lessee - Mr. E. T. Smith. Acting Manager, Mr. Charles Mathews. Stage manager, Mr. Robert Roxby. The scenery by Mr. William Beverley. Mr. Charles Mathews will appear each evening, in the character of Sir Charles Coldstream, in Us
December 1855, probably London
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