Duck Duck Book

49 – london theatre
09.17.2007, 12:01 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

London theatre : from the Globe to the National / James Roose-Evans.
Oxford : Phaidon, 1977.
[MCL call number: 792.09421 R781L; one copy, no holds]

It is difficult to imagine a city that is more about the theater than London.  At least for those of us steeped in the Western tradition (especially the English language one), there is no place that has a longer history of performance, playwriting, dramatic instruction, and also of censorship.  But there is so much written about the history of London theater; where do you begin?  Interested laypersons would do well to consult James Roose-Evans’ concise and readable history covering the four hundred years from the founding of The Theatre in 1576 to the opening of the new home of the National Theatre in 1976.

Roose-Evans takes readers step by step through the highlights of the art and business of London’s theater world, focusing on institutions, influential actors and managers, theater patrons, audiences, and the political context in which theaters, playwrights, audiences, and actors functioned.  Some of the stories that make up this narrative are particularly evocative of the oddities of the English character — for example, in 1809 John Philip Kemble opened the new Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (the old one had been destroyed in a fire).  In order to help pay the costs of the new building, prices were raised by about ten percent.  On opening night and for more than two months every performance was disrupted by riotous audiences chanting, singing, talking back to the stage, and waving signs and banners demanding a return of the old prices.  After each evening’s performance was finished, rioters would wend their way through the streets to Kemble’s house, where they whooped it up into the wee hours.  Kemble finally relented and lowered prices, and business returned to normal. 

London Theatre contains many such colorful stories, but it will also give readers a good grounding for the scope of the complex history of public performance and the theater in this most theatrical of cities.  The text is followed by a useful biography and an almost completely useless index (if you’re looking for a particular topic, start with the table of contents instead; it is reasonably descriptive and helpful).


1 Comment so far
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Roose-Evans book on Experimental Theatre is worth a read too.

Comment by Andy Roberts

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