The Victorian Theatre

 

By 1865, when Jonathan entered the theatre, Drury Lane, Covent Garden and the Haymarket still held pride of place in London, but the new prosperity and confidence in the country was starting to lead to the building of new theatres in the West End.

In the provinces all the important cities had their own Theatre Royal, with Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Newcastle and Birmingham leading the way.

These important theatres ran their own stock companies and provided a stage for the occasional visiting star.

Smaller theatres did survive – sometimes with difficulty – as audiences could see better shows at the larger theatres.

The fare generally offered was drama, melodrama, farce, pantomime – and, of course, Shakespeare.

Apart from financial difficulties, the theatre faced a major threat from the religious establishment – the prevailing attitude being that the theatre was immoral.

It was only towards the end of the century that attitudes would change, helped by the influence of actors such as Henry Irving and Wilson Barrett.

Sir Henry Irving and Wilson Barrett

In the Victorian theatre there was no director or producer as such. The actor was responsible for learning his lines and would be given his stage entrances and exits by the stage manager.

There was no-one to ‘coach’ the actor in his part – it was up to him to develop it, and the benefit of belonging to a good company lay in working closely with experienced and talented actors.