miércoles, 14 de enero de 2015

The Garrick Years

by Simon Trussler, on 'the man who was to bring English acting style into a more congruent relationship with the times': David Garrick 

("Garrick at Goodman's Fields & The Acting Style of David Garrick" and "The Garrick Years." From The Cambridge Illustrated History of British Theatre, by Simon Trussler).


Portrait by Hogarth of Garrick as Richard III, on the restless night before the battle of Bosworth field. Painted in 1745, only a few years after Garrick's creation of the role at the Goodman's Fields theatre in 1741, the picture suggests the facial and gestic stress through which Garrick conveyed emotion for a pre-romantic theatre. However, the untheatrically sumptuous trappings also warn us against too literal a reading of such portraits, through which Garrick hoped to immortalize his genius: for the conventions are those of historical painting rather than of the theatre.

Garrick's first appearance on the London stage exploited a loophole in the Licensing Act, whose provisions actors and managers soon sought to evade. Thus, James Lacy, a stalwart of Fielding's company, had apparently mounted one-man shows in 1738, while Tony Aston twice advertised 'Serious and Comic Oratory' in tavern venues—and Charlotte Charke turned to her puppets. But it was Henry Giffard who first engaged a full company and mounted regular performances, at his old theatre in Goodman's fields, through the device of promising a concert of 'vocal and instrumental music'—between the two parts of which 'will be presented a comedy, gratis, by persons for their diversion'. This 'concert formula' must have enjoyed at least tacit government approval, since the plays were even submitted to the Lord Chamberlain, as his powers of censorship now required.

Garrick, fresh to the town as a law student turned wine merchant, was evidently on good terms with Giffard, for whose benefit he had written an entertainment at Drury Lane in 1740: then, in October 1741, Garrick appeared anonymously in the title role of Richard III at Goodman's Fields. In the same year, a general election had returneed a majority favooring the vigorious pursuit of the war which—already in progress against Spain—was soon to involve all Europe. And in February 1742 Sir Robert Walpole resigned, giving way to a 'broad-bottomed' Whig ministry dedicated to imperialistic expansion. As it turned out, the art of the new actor was ideally suited to the temper of the new age.

 David Garrick (1717-79), here portrayed in engravings from the 1770s as [above] King Lear and [below] the cross-dressed Sir John Brute in Vanbrugh's The Provoked Wife. These sketches, less posed than the formal paintings [further above and further below], better capture the fluent mobility and no less expressive tranquillity of Garrick's acting. A fellow professional, Arthur Murphy, remarked of Garrick that 'off the stage he was a mean sneaking little fellow. But on the stage . . . oh, my great God!' Egocentric, envious, and ever hungry for admiration, he was not only the greatest and widest-ranging actor of his generation, but a dramatist in his own right, and an effective if not a well-liked manager during his twenty-nine years at Drury Lane. Here he judiciously balanced popular demand against his perception of the dignity of the profession—and of himself.


That Garrick's acting style was famously 'natural' does not, of course, mean that it was 'naturalistic' according to our own expectations. His great strength was apparently in his 'turns', or transitions from one mood to another—an ability to modulate the emotions in a subtler manner than the formal style had ever permitted. In this continuity in the rendering of characters was harnessed a richer sense of their complexity, capable of breaking down old generic expectations to reveal the comic or grotesque in tragedy and the absurdity in high comedy—thus making his Abel Drugger in The Alchemist, or his Sir John Brute in The Provoked Wife, as renowned as his Lear, or his Hastings in Jane Shore. Despite—or perhaps because—of this scrupulous concern with emotional minutiae, Garrick was sparing of stage movement. As John Hill put it in The Actor, one of the earliest attempts at a technical analysis of the histrionic art, published in 1750:

He will stand in his place on the stage, with his arms genteelly disposed, and without once stirring hand or foot, go thro' a scene of the greatest variety. He will in this single posture express to his audience all the changes of passion that can affect a human heart; and he will express them strongly, so the tossing about of the arms and strutting from side to side of the stage, is not his business.

As a French critic also implied, in rebuking Garrick for eliciting laughs in comedy 'more by the grimaces of his face than the proper modulation of his voice', Garrick evidently recognized the power of the age-old art of mimicry. Indeed, Theophilus Cibber, criticizing him in 1756 for an 'over-fondness for extravagant attitudes . . . a set of mechanical motions in constant use', actually described this as a 'pantomimical manner of acting': and Cibber pointed out of Garrick's soliloquizing Gloucester, that holding such 'extravagant attitudes' not only served as a powerful clap-trap, but, worse, involved 'unnatural pauses in the middle of a sentence' and a 'wilful neglect of harmony'. Even a friendly writer remarked in an open letter to Garrick of 1772 that 'your perfection consists in the extreme; in exaggerated gesture, and sudden bursts of passion . . . . Where the extensive powers of voice are not required, you are inimitable.'

The anecdote concerning the deaf and dumb child who none the less claimed to understand every nuance of meaning in Garrick's performance is no less significant whether it be apocryphal or true—but it is doubtful whether such concern with conveying visualized meaning would be regarded as 'natural' in today's mainstream theatre, where verbal skills are routinely analyzed but movement is generally understated and often goes unremarked. The style would, however, have been well suited to an age when, although artistic fashion dictated a new openness to sensibility, Hogarth's urban art of moral caricature was probably better appreciated than were Gainsborough's attempts to transplant portraiture into a rustic landscape; and Hogarth's engravings, not unlike Garrick's acting for the deaf and dumb child, could sustain their 'narrative' without the use of words.

It is also instructive to remember that the contemporary encyclopedist and critic Denis Diderot called upon Garrick's art to illustrate his point that acting was not a matter of emotional identification but of artifice consciously applied. And Thomas Davies, recollecting Hannah Pritchard playing opposite Garrick's Macbeth, suggests that this artifice could to some extent be taught—his 'distraction of mind and agonizing horrors' being 'finely contrasted by her seeming apathy, tranquillity, and confidence. The beginning of the scene after the murder was conducted in terrifying whispers. Their looks and actions supplied the place of words.' Mary Ann Yates, too, was commended by Francis Gentleman for her skill in 'judicious transitions of voice, happy variations of countenance, and picturesque attitudes'.


'If this young fellow be right, I and the rest of the players have been all wrong.'  The reputed verdict of a bemused James Quin on David Garrick's acting style might as aptly have been Walpole's on the political style of the elder Pitt. For the period which began with Garrick's first appearance at Goodman's Fields and ended with his departure after almost thirty years as actor-manager of Drury Lane also saw Walpole's cautious foreign policy overtaken by a drive for colonial expansion, in which Pitt's was the moving spirit. In consequence, this was an epoch when the nation was either at war or preparing for war—and although Pitt, 'the great commoner', only briefly became prime minister, his influence remained pervasive. European 'theatres' were found for the conflict, successively in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, but its real battlegrounds were in the Indian sub-continent and in North America—and its ultimate aim was imperial supremacy over France. Appropriately, perhaps, American independence was proclaimed in 1776, the same year as Garrick's retirement: and within three more years the actor and the statesman, now Earl of Chatham, were both in their graves. 

At home, Jacobitism finally flared out in the uprising of 1745—less a genuine threat this time than an opportunity seized to eliminate all Scottish resistance at Culloden. Henry V was duly brought on to stimulate patriotic fervour at the theatres, while in September 1745 the National Anthem for the first time accompanied the performance at Drury Lane—inaugurating a tradition which was to have audiences shuffling to their feet for well over two hundred years. And so, whereas the theatre of the 1730s had been, if not the hotbed of opposition sometimes alleged, at least a constant irritant to officialdom, during Garrick's long ascendancy it tended rather to reflect the prevailing chauvinistic mood.

Painting by Francis Hayman of David Garrick as Ranger in Benjamin Hoadly's intrigue comedy The Suspicious Husband (1747). Playing opposite him is Hannah Pritchard (1711-68), who had first appeared at Drury Lane in 1733, but moved to Covent Garden from 1743 to 1747 before joining Garrick for the remainder of her career. Extending her range beyond such light comic roles as Hoadly's Clorinda and Mrs Oakly in Colman's The Jealous Wife (1761), she played Lady Macbeth opposite Garrick and was also Gertrude to his Hamlet. She was favourably compared with Mrs Cibber both by Richard Cumberland, who claimed that she had 'more change of tone, and variety both of action and expression', and by Charles Dibdin, who declared: 'Mrs. Cibber's acting was delightful, Mrs. Pritchard's commanding. One insinuated herself into the heart, the other took possession of it. . . . It made acting like a picture, with grand breadths of light and shade.'


Although there is no doubt at all that Garrick was a great actor, part of his strength lay in his capacity to create a theatrical complement to this mood and, something of a snob himself—with a great need for the respect and admiration of others—he not only achieved but enjoyed the power to impose the greater measure of respectability he felt requisite. This was made manifest not so much in flag-waving fervour as through his managerial drive towards a higher moral tone on stage and a compliant order in pit and gallery—ambitions which his audiences did not invariably share.  Yet if respectability was a patriotic duty, even more surely was it an economic imperative—for the emergent novel was already offereing an alternative and securely domestic kind of entertainment. Thus in 1740 had appeared Samuel Richardson's pioneering and sensationally successful work in the genre, Pamela— a masterpiece of sentiment in which a serving girl defends her virginity and subdues her would-be seducer into marriage.

Revealingly, in the following year, while yet billed at Goodman's Fields as 'the young gentleman who played King Richard', Garrick took the role of Jack Smatter in a stage adaptation of the novel—whose high moral tone, in Henry Fielding's view, ill-concealed its titillating sexuality. That the novel survived his satiric onslaughts in Shamela and Joseph Andrews was in no small part due to an increasing public squeamishness which by 1743 had rendered Fielding's own earlier comedy The Wedding Day unacceptable to the Lord Chamberlain, simply on the grounds that its heroine was a whore. Fielding duly subjected her to a retributory carting, whereupon the play was allowed its licence—but was none the less damned by its audiences for supposed immorality. By then, however, Fielding was beginning to build as a novelist the more responsive and tolerant audience which the combination of censorship and self-censorship denied him in the theatre.

Meanwhile, Garrick's popularity at Goodman's Fields had provoked Fleetwood and Rich to combine in securing the theatre's closure. By way of consolation, Fleetwood not only signed up Garrick for the following season as the then astonishing salary of 600 guineas, but took on the dispossessed Giffard and his wife as well. At the tail end of the 1742 season, therefore, Garrick tried out his three most successful roles at Drury Lane: and thus it was that in May he found himself playing Lear opposite the Cordelia of Peg Woffington—herself a newcomer at the playhouse, but already winning a reputation as the most exuberant actress since Nell Gwynn. It was with Peg Woffington that Garrick proceeded to spend the summer season in Dublin—and the next three years in shared lodgings. But the itch for respectability led him eventually into marriage with a lady of more reticent disposition—while the less vivacious and perhaps less threatening Susannah Cibber, now divorced from Theophilus, became his preferred partner on stage.

By May 1743 Fleetwood's patent at Drury Lane was, in effect, morgaged to his gambling debts, and, following visits to the theatre from the bailiffs, Garrick and Charles Macklin led a walkout of nine of the leading actors. Failing to secure the independent licence they sought from the Lord Chamberlain, they were forced into an accomodation with Fleetwood in September, whereby Garrick alone achieved an increase in salary, and some players were even forced to return on inferior terms—while Macklin was refused employment at any price, and, feeling himself betrayed, induced his sympathizers to disrupt performances. On this occasion Fleetwood got the better of 'the mob' by hiring prizefighters to eject them: but when he tried to ease his problems by raising prices in 1744 the resulting riots were more successfully sustained, and he was forced to capitulate.

Fleetwood then decided to cut his losses by selling out to his creditors, who offered James Lacy from Covent Garden a one-third share in the patent to manage the theatre for them—only to retreat into bankruptcy themselves as a result of the breakdown of banking confidence during the Jacobite uprising of 1745. As the crisis mounted, Garrick, with characteristic caution, absented himself in Dublin, eventually returning to play the summer season of 1746 at Covent Garden under a profit-sharing agreement with John Rich—the mutual success of which tempted Garrick into remaining at Covent Garden, and the pragmatic Rich to subdue his pantomimic inclinations by launching a full season of straight plays.

A cartoon by Gillray of backstage hostilities between contending leading ladies. The incident is said to have arisen from the ill-concealed delight of Kitty Clive (right) at the indifferent reception given to Peg Woffington's Lady Percy in Henry IV. While Kitty Clive (1711-85) remained loyal to the Drury Lane company, she learned to distrust Garrick no less than Peg Woffington (c. 1714-60), whose equivocal position as his former mistress led to her intermittent withdrawal to Covent Garden—on whose stage she fought with Anne Bellamy during a performance of The Rival Queens.


The company assembled by Rich and Garrick included Mrs Cibber, Quin, Lacy Ryan, John Hippisley, Harry Woodward, and Hannah Pritchard, while Lacy, in opposition at Drury Lane, had induced Macklin to return, in company with Kitty Clive and Peg Woffington, Richard Yates, Henry Giffard, and the latest prodigy from Ireland, Spranger Barry. Garrick and Quin, as the leading exponents respectively of the formal and the 'natural' styles, now found themselves not only acting in the same plays but sometimes alternating in the same roles—to Garrick's clear advantage as Richard III and Lear. However, Quin apparently had the edge as Cato, and Garrick's Hotspur was quite outshone by the Falstaff of Quin when the two rivals acted together in Henry IV.  But in Rowe's The Fair Penitent, as soon as Quin's laboured, mechanical Horatio gave way to Garrick's Lothario, 'young and light and alive in every muscle . . . it seemed', or so Richard Cumberland remembered, 'as if a whole century had been stepped over in the transition of a single scene'.

With the exception of an Othello from Spranger Barry which acted Garrick out of a part to which he never returned, Drury Lane had come off worse from the unwonted competition, and Lacy was anxious to secure Garrick's return. The Lord Chamberlain having promised him a renewal of the patent, he therefore bought out his backers and on 9 April 1747 entered into a partnership with Garrick which, in the event, was to last until his death in 1774, just two years before Garrick himself retired. Despite a few altercations, the division of labours they agreed seems to have worked well—Lacy controlling finances and attending to the wardrobe, Garrick dealing with authors, actors, and all the other practicalities of production.

After some mutual suspicions were allayed. Garrick hired both Mrs Cibber and Hannah Pritchard to play opposite him in tragedy, with Spranger Barry to share the leading roles. For the broad comic leads there were Neil Shuter and Dick Yates—while Macklin had a famously protean range. Dennis Delane, William Havard, and Isaac Sparks lent stalwart support, and within a year or two Henry Woodward—soon in contention with his mentor Rich as Harlequin—together with the young Tom King, later to become Garrick's assistant, had further strengthened the company. Among other actresses, the fast-living George Anne Bellamy came to rival Mrs Cibber in tragedy, while in comedy the 'nimble pertness' of the eternally coquettish Kitty Clive contrasted with the more conventionally honed beauty and poise of Peg Woffington, whose strength lay not only in her well-loved 'breeches parts' but in such genteel leads as Millamant and Lady Townly. Later, Frances Abington, though a lesser personality offstage, was perhaps the truer professional, with the full comic spectrum at her command from ingenue to hoyden, and from young lady to frustrated old maid.

While Garrick's reputation, discussed and illustrated from the views of his contemporaries on pages 176-7 [below], casts a long shadow over other actors of his generation, Spranger Barry could reputedly outshine him as Mark Anthony as well as Othello, and was evidently a sexier if not a more soulful Romeo. Thomas Sheridan gave Garrick great unease in King John, and some preferred him as Hamlet—while the veteran Quin retained the advantage in the more sonorous ranges of the repertoire, until a retirement in 1751 from which he hoped but failed to be tempted back by Rich. Significantly, Garrick was less open to competition in comic roles—even Woodward failing to prosper in his own right when he went to Dublin with Barry in 1758. But the Abel Drugger of Thomas Weston revealed him capable of providing more than his accustomed low comic support, while Ned Shuter excelled in the heavier eccentric roles—not least those created for him just a few years before his death by Goldsmith and Sheridan.


Samuel Foote (1721-77), with his leading comedian Thomas Weston (left) in The Devil upon Two Sticks (1768). In this play the actor, manager, and dramatist satirized his own loss of a leg following a horse-riding accident—as well as the attempts of the medical profession to treat him. Foote's career in some ways paralleled that of Henry Fielding—for not only did he also find the Little theatre a convenient base, but became, within the new constraints of the censorship, the most experimental comic dramatist of his day. His revue-like dramatic satires varied from The Diversions of the Morning (1747) to the less successful but aptly titled Taste (1752).

Macklin, who long outlived Garrick and was still acting in 1789, his ninetieth year, complemented his successes in 'psychological' realism as Shylock and Iago—the latter, calculatedly, to Barry's Othello—with comic roles written by and for himself. A friend and disciple of Macklin's, and a no less individual actor-playwright, was Samuel Foote, who came closest to sustaining the satiric tradition created by Henry Fielding—also following in his footsteps to the Little theatre, where he played intermittently after 1747, finally obtaining a patent for summer seasons in 1766. These he gave with his own company until a year before his death, in 1777.

Like Fielding, too, Foote experimented with comic miscellanies which anticipated revue—but it was with his full-length satirical pieces that he enjoyed his greatest success. Among many and various targets, he attacked artistic pretensions in Taste (1752), lampooned Methodism (and provided no fewer than three parts for himself) in The Minor (1760), and mocked the medical profession—and the loss of his own leg, which had led him to suffer its ministrations—in The Devil upon Two Sticks (1768). Foote's contemporaries regarded him as 'the English Aristophanes', but his reputation has suffered alike from Garrick's professional jealousy and from the restrictions of the Licensing Act—which never much obstructed Garrick's altogether blander and safer managerial style.

Nevertheless, as dramatist as well as manager Foote found himself in competition with the ubiquitous Garrick, whose playwriting was prolific, highly professional—sometimes even mildly experimental. The satirical Lilliput (1756), thus capped its Swiftian credentials by being cast with children, while The Male Coquette (1757) boasted a transvestite heroine as well as a homosexual gallant, and A Peep behind the Curtain (1767) charmingly fulfilled its promise in the form of a rehearsal play. However, Garrick's most successful pieces were those which made least demands on his audience's sensibilities—the early but perennial Miss in Her Teens of 1747, for example, or The Guardian of 1759, both adapted from the French.

Garrick's most enduring success came with The Clandestine Marriage of 1766, written in collaboration with George Colman. The play, a pleasant and never ill-tempered satire upon bourgeois values, is a seamless piece of craftsmanship, in which each writer corrected the other's faults while displaying his own virtues to advantage. Unhappily, the friendship between the two men was soured by disputes over their respective shares in the writing—and was soon to be put to the further test of professional rivalry. After John Rich's death in 1761, Covent Garden had briefly flirted with opera: however, in 1767 Colman began his stormy but fruitful managerial partnership at the playhouse with Thomas Harris, restoring regular drama to its stage, and in the following decade, as we shall see in the next chapter, introducing the work of both Goldsmith and Sheridan.

It had been in a prologue written for the first night of Garrick's management at Drury Lane that Samuel Johnson famously coined the dictum: 'The drama's laws the drama's patrons give. / For we that live to please, must please to live.' Ironically, Johnson's own single dramatic effort, the tragedy Irene (1749), was very clearly the work of a man of letters: but Garrick, Foote, and Colman, all actor-managers as well as playwrights, fulfilled the dictum to the letter, and wrote largely and undemandingly to please. Colman's greatest solo success, The Jealous Wife of 1761, is thus filled with long-familiar character types—their sexuality muted, as contemporary morality required.


While always ensuring that his own character was displayed to best advantage, Garrick salvaged some of the plays of Shakespeare from their Restoration 'improvements': but he cheerfully gutted others, to create a sort of refined version of the old drolls, transforming The Taming of the Shrew into the tamer Catherine and Petruchio and filtering out The Fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Meanwhile, Shakespeare's editors continued to justify their more or less scholarly endeavours by vilifying their predecessors—the 'refinements' of Warburton's edition of 1747 being worthier of vilification than most.

That his eight volumes were soon being sold at a discount was due less to the undoubted deficiencies of the texts than to the perspicacity of Sir Thomas Hanmer in decorating his own otherwise unremarkable edition with illustrations by Francis Hayman. In describing his edition of 1744 as 'another small monument . . . to Shakespeare's honour', Hanmer was giving due precedence to the memorial statue which had been erected in Westminster Abbey four years earlier—and by the end of the decade the dramatist's effigy in his Stratford birthplace had also been carefully restored. Garrick, as ever in tune with his times, duly acquired a taste for such bits of Shakespearean statuary, and commissioned Louis François Roubillac to sculpt one for his home near Hampton Court. This he installed in a domestic temple dedicated to the poet, alongside a chair carved from the mulberry tree supposedly planted by Shakespeare in Stratford, but since heretically lopped. A protestant nation had, it seemed, found a secular saint whose relics might be consecrated, and whose graven image might be acceptably worshipped.

In 1768 Garrick acquired another hunk of sacred mulberry, this time in the form of a chest presented to him by the Corporation of Stratford along with the freedom of the Borough. Flattered according to plan, Garrick agreed to mount a belated jubilee celebration for the town in the following summer. A memorial theatre to Shakespeare was duly constructed on the banks of the Avon—a wooden octogonal playhouse which yet constituted, according to Garrick, a 'sacred . . . shrine' to a playwright translated into a 'demi-God'.

The memorial amphitheatre constructed for the Stratford jubilee of 1769:

Garrick emerged none too happily from the ensuing rain-sodden affair, which, as observers from Samuel Foote to James Boswell well recognized, harnessed his own social advancement to the semi-divine status of 'immortal bard'—an epithet which Garrick was among the first to employ. The jubilee ended without a single scene from a play being performed, since pageantry and portraiture were much preferred (indeed, it is to Garrick's faith in the immortalizing powers of canvas that we owe all the portraits which capture him in Shakespearean roles).

However, Garrick eventually managed to capitalize on the Stratford celebrations by recreating The Jubilee as a dramatic spectacle for Drury Lane. With it lavishly costumed procession protected from the elements, and an 'outer play' devised gently to mock both the bemused natives of Stratford and their visitors, this 'devilishly lucky hit' (as Lacy called it, with grudging admiration for his partner) ran for ninety-two performances. Thus did the consummate showman in Garrick recoup both the money and the dignity he had laid out by converting a pretentious pageant for the provincial few into a lavish entertainment for the metropolitan many.


Above: The procession of Shakespearean characters, as planned for the jubilee (and illustrated prematurely in contemporary prints), but in the event washed out by rain. It was later profitably reassembled by Garrick for The Jubilee at Drury Lane.

'Comedy in the Country,' and 'Tragedy in London'. This cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson, though not published until 1807, pictorializes a long-standing urban presumption—that audiences in the country are unsophisticated both in manners and in their response to a play. It is instructive therefore to contrast the view of the experienced Tate Wilkinson, in his Memoirs of 1790: 'A farce, if it possesses true humour, in London will be greatly relished and applauded. In the country, very possibly the same . . . shall be termed vile, low, vulgar, and indelicate.' And mannered comedies which 'are in London attended to as plays of wit and merit' in the country are 'not permitted, or if permitted to appear, not upon any account fashionable, which is just as bad'


Benjamin Hoadly was one of the few dramatists who, although forgotten today, achieved success in comedy from outside the enclosed theatrical world. His The Suspicious Husband, staged at Covent Garden in 1747 during Garrick's brief engagement there, was even described by the later dramatist Arthur Murphy as 'the first good comedy from the time of The Provoked Husband in 1727—'a long and dreary interval', in Murphy's debatable judgment. Significantly, the play's good-natured rake is drawn along the lines of Fielding's hero in his Tom Jones, published two years later—both embodying a 'benevolist' alternative to the scrupulous sentimental hero, their fallible natures prey to weakness but, come to crunch, replete with hearty warmth.

The stock situations and characters of melodrama are not very far away—and another of its easy assumptions, that love conquers all, had already become the premise behind many of Isaac Bickerstaffe's popular musical afterpieces. Thus, his Thomas and Sally (1760), set to music by Thomas Arne, was an early variation on what was to become the familiar theme of the simple country girl resisting the evil squire until her sailor lover's return; and he followed up the success of his pioneering comic opera Love in a Village (1762) with The Maid of the Mill, a reconstruction of Samuel Richardson's Pamela demonstrating the democratizing effects of love—a motif which recurred in his long-successful Lionel and Clarissa (1768).

The philosophical origins of this theatrical benevolism are less interesting from our point of view than the consequences of setting its character typology against that predicated upon sentimentality. Two plays of 1768 exemplify the polarity of possibilities—in False Delicacy Hugh Kelly more or less abandoning comedy to the endless moral scruples of sensibility, while in The Good-Natured Man Oliver Goldsmith took them to hilarious excess, rewarding virtue in hard cash (as, without tongue in cheek, did Richard Cumberland in his The West Indian of 1771).

In an essay published in 1763, Goldsmith claimed that sentimental comedy was in truth 'a species of bastard tragedy': certainly, the original of that species was apparently in terminal decline—most works of interest which laid claim to the genre proving in retrospect to anticipate the imminent split between the more realistic and the more melodramatic tendencies of the form. Edward Moore's The Gamester (1753), for example, was written in prose, had a contemporary setting, and some psychological insight into its protagonist's obsessive and fatal vice—while his destruction is presented as self-driven rather than a requirement of poetic justice. In contrast, and despite the greater outward regularity, John Home's Douglas (1756) conjures the foreboding atmospherics and the fraught, darkly elliptic emotions of what was to become the gothic style of melodrama—even then taking shape in the fertile, febrile imagination of Robert Walpole's fourth son Horace, ensconced close by Kitty Clive in his own 'little gothic castle' at Strawberry Hill.

If sentimentality was nothing like as pervasive in the theatre as is sometimes claimed, this is because literary historians not only tend to ignore new writing of a less 'regular' kind, but also to forget that the theatrical repertoire was heavily weighted with revival made of sterner stuff—especially at Drury Lane, where Lacy, if not Garrick, tended to view the mouting of any new work as an unnecessary financial risk. But the effects of sentimentality were none the less flet in the way that those revivals were tempered to the changing times—not only in the neutering of Restoration ribaldry, as typified in Garrick's toning down of Wycherley's The Country Wife into his own innocuous The Country Girl,  but in the regularizing of Shakespeare himself, who during these years was elevated by Garrick into a figure of patriotic as well as dramatic dignity.


In 1761, Garrick had discommoded his audience when, mounting a theatrical celebration for the coronation of George III, he had flung wide the back doors of Drury Lane, so that the stage procession might merge with the real-life revelling beyond—only to let in the suffocating smoke from the bonfires in the street. But both this and The Jubilee [described above] suggest well enought the new appetite for stage spectacle which was now enhancing the importance of the scenography within the production process.

Thus, whereas opera had from the first been decked out with settings and costumes as lavish as financial and technological resources allowed, in the regular drama only limited changes had generally been rung upon the same old sets of wings and shutters. Once a novelty, the stylized perspective these simulated had come to be regarded with affectionate scorn—not least since actors, now increasingly required to play within the scene, appeared to grow larger the further they moved upstage, and to shrink as they strode back down.

For most purposes a dozen or so sets of stock scenery had sufficed. These might represent, in the inventory of one contemporary writer, temples, tombs, city walls and gates, the outside and inside of palaces, streets, chambers, prisons, and gardens, together with prospects of groves, forests, and deserts. While regularly revived plays might enjoy dedicated sets, and scenic 'pieces' and properties would also lend an appearance of variety, most new work from the mid-century appears to have required only a couple of settings, typically an interior and an exterior. No doubt their authors were disinclined to make technical demands which might deter a frugal and conservative management from mounting their work.

None the less, foreign visitors seem to have been impressed by the sheer rapidity of scene changes in the London theatres—especially admiring the nifty trickwork involving traps and transformations that was the special preserve of pantomime. Though ostensibly despising 'the pomp of show', Garrick mounted a moderately successful challenge to Rich's primacy in this form, with Henry Woodward as his Harlequin following the immense and oft-repeated success of Queen Mab in 1750 (the cartoon below celebrates Garrick's triumph). But it was another Drury Lane actor, Tom King, who startled the town by first giving this conventionally mute character a tongue, in the equally successful Harlequin's Invasion of 1756.

'The Theatrical Steel-Yard of 1750', a print depicting the rivalry between Garrick at Drury Lane and the outfaced Rich at Covent Garden. Garrick, brandishing his helmet from the right-hand end of the steel-yard, does not need the added weight of his own Harlequin, Woodward, who stands ready to place Queen Mab (subject of the successful Drury Lane pantomime) on the scales. On the left, Rich, an overcoat half-concealing his Harlequin costume, is distraught that the combined weight of Peg Woffington, Spranger Barry, James Quin (as Falstaff) and Mrs Cibber cannot outweigh Garrick solus.

By the later 176y0s 'new scenes' were increasingly being advertised as an attraction at both patent houses, and some exciting drop-scenes were evidently being painted. But it was during the ten years spent at Drury Lane from 1771 by the Alsatian scenic artist and technician Philip James de Loutherbourg that scenographic techniques underwent there a startling reformation. A Christmas Tale of 1774 thus not only displayed a succession of extravagant prospects, transformations, and illusions, but employed licopodium to give the illusion of a palace in flames, while the leaves of a forest were made to turn seasonally from green to a bloody red.

De Loutherbourg did not abolish the old wings and grooves, but used ground-rows to fill the often-yawning space  between: thus, in Omai, a lavish production prepared by John O'Keeffe for Covent Gardin in 1585, one observer counted no less than 42 separate pieces, intended cumulatively to create an illusion of frozen seas. And during the 1770s Drudy Lane had begun to carpenter practicable doors and stairways into its interiors, even topping them out with roofs or ceilings—an early intimation of the 'fourth wall' convention which was to culminate in the box set of the following century.

Model of a prison scene by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), the innovative scene painter at Drury Lane for a decade from 1771. Garrick himself may be said to have begun the revolution in stage ligthing when, in 1765, he replaced the huge chandeliers over the stage with smaller sets of candles or oil lamps in the wings, equipped with reflectors to vary the intensity of the light. But De Loutherbourg was the first scenic artist to make fully creative use of illumination, achieving subtly realistic effects by employing coloured silks as filters, and thus perfecting (though not, as John O'Keeffe claimed in 1826, inventing) 'transparent scenery—moonshine, sunshine, fire, volcanoes, etc.' De Loutherbourg also, in effect, theatricalized the art of landscape painting, bringing to life the beauties of nature through creative lighting in such spectacles as The Wonders of Derbyshire (1779).

Such representational trimmings may, according to one's taste, be viewed as a necessary nudge towards naturalism or mere decorative pedantry. Equally, De Loutherbourg himself may be considered a first mover in establishing the creative integrity of scenic design—or as a craftsman properly and professionally most concerned with accommodating rather than creating artistic fashions. Certainly, these were about to undergo a radical change, in favour of that individualizing of experience and heightening of its most mundane manifestations which in poetry found sublime expression in the work of the great romantics. In the theatre, the new taste was to be made more humbly manifest—inthe necessary but sometimes trite emotional shorthand of melodrama, whose early audiences tended to relish precisely the elaborate, atmospheric, and often exoting settings which De Loutherbourg's technical innovations made possible.

Whether the accompanying changes in acting style were couse or effect of the imminent increases in playhouse capacities will be a concern for our next chapter. Meanwhile, it is sufficient to note that Garrick's success was in no small part due to the socially stable composition of his relatively small audiences, whose roots, like his own, were in the affluent but still aspirant middle classes. Thus, although Garrick made 'improvements' to Drury Lane on no less than nine occassions, gradually increasing the capacity of the house from perhaps 1,400 to 1,800, the only significant effect of these changes was the final elimination of spectators from the stage, achieved by an enlargement of the pit in 1762. At Covent Garden the audience probably lingered on the stage for another twenty years, especially at benefits—while minor alterations here, as at the two theatres in the Haymarket, were largely cosmetic.

Not only were no new permanent playhouses built in London during the period, but an act of 1752 which required the licensing of all sorts of entertainments struck a mortal blow to the fairground theatres of the metropolis. And although concert rooms, pleasure gardens, and other leisure resorts flourished, the competition they offered to the regular playhouses was not in kind—except, perhaps at Marylebone Gardens, where numerous operettas were performed on an apparently large and well-equipped stage. However, that ordinary people were becoming accustomed to paying for an informal musical entertainment cannot but have helped to prepare the ground for the free-and-easies and saloons, the ancestors of the music halls of the following century.


Performances outside London had, of course, already been prohibited by the Licensing Act of 1737, and that they continued to occur was at first a matter of tolerance rather than regulation—a concert often providing cover for the enjoyment of a play 'rehearsed' gratis. Players on the northern and eastern provincial circuits were forced to lead a constantly itinerant exitence, but the southern seaports seem to have offered more regular employment, and fashionable resorts were singlesd out in season. While the focus of a 'season' might be a race meeting or court of assize, for the fashionable it increasingly involved the taking of medicinal waters, and the pre-eminance of Bath among the spa resorts led, in 1750, to the building of a permanent theatre in Orchard Street, which after a lengthy campaign secured a royal patent in 1768.

A precedent thus created, further patents were granted to playhouses in Norwich later in 1768, and to York in the following year—these three cities being accounted the most important provincial centres, whence players often graduated to the London stage. Thatres in Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, and Newcastle were all granted patents over the next two decades, while Brighton, Windsor, and Richmond, as royal residences, held licences from the Lord Chamberlain. A boom in building smaller theatres for the touring circuits followed an act of 1788 which empowered local magistrates to grant their own licences for seasons not exceeding sixty days.


The Theatre Royal, Bristol, as viewed from the stage. This was built in 1766 on the model of Drury Lane, with a capacity of around 1,600. This house and the Georgian at Richmond [below] are the two oldest working theatres in Britain. They are nicely contrasting examples of different provincial styles.

The Georgian theatre at Richmond in Yorkshire, built in 1788, abandoned for almost a century from 1848,  and fully restored and reopened in 1963. This has a humbler capacity—an intimate 250—than the Theatre Royal Bristol, which is pictured [above]

The regulation by licensing of provincial theatres has been interpreted as part of the process which, by 1843, had led to the success of the so-called 'struggle for a free stage' in London. However, it may also be understood as one of the ways in which the state was extending its power over the lives of the people, threby not only dispossessing Londoners of the booth theatres of the fairs, but also increasingly eroding the old pattern of holidays, feasts, and other popular celebrations in the countryside. Pre-industrial society, of which this period is usually seen as marking the final phase, was no carefree idyll for those who suffered its prviations, but it did permit the pursuit of individual pleasures and pastimes in ways that the drift to the towns of the industrial revolution was soon so brutally to extinguish.

The steady movement of the population into urban areas was, of course, to grow from a trickle to a flood in the following half-century—though in the case of London the population of the 'square mile' actually declined, and it was the slums of Westminster and the jerry-built parishes 'outside the bills' that almost burst their bounds. Theatrically, the need thus began to emerge for amusements which were not only more locally based but also more responsive to the needs and experiences of the poor than the old, bourgeois repertoire of the West End houses—where, perpetuating the traditional typology, the working classes were still largely presented as either pert but subservient or lazy and parasitic.

The heads of the Jacobites executed after the rebellion of 1745 still hung from Temple Bar some thirty years later—a gruesome reminder of the cheapness of life and the proliferation of capital crimes in an age when proprety and patriotism were sacrosanct. Yet steadily, with the demand for more broadly-based political power rooted in the grim realities of economic deprivation, the voice of 'the mob' grew ever louder on the streets—sometimes venting an easy chauvinism, as in the early popular support for Pitt or in the anti-Catholicism of the Gordon Riots, but also capable of expressing a new and proto-democratic radicalism.

As we have noted earlier, a surge of feeling in support of the American revolution coincided with the year of Garrick's retirement, 1776; and this was closely contemporary with the emergence for the first time of a political 'party' which favoured reform—around a dozen of whose supporters actually won seats in the election of 1774, despite widespread corruption and a severely limited franchise. The relationship between the theatre and the burgeoning movement for reform is a tenuous one, but it must command our attention—not least because the period covered by this chapter is the last in which any discussion can be mainly confined within the geographical or social boundaries of the West End, or dominated by a single personality such as Garrick, able to read and so to shape its concerns. For the next century, the theatre was arguably to become the first medium of mass communication.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario

Se aceptan opiniones alternativas, e incluso coincidentes:

Mi fotoblog

Mi fotoblog
se puede ver haciendo clic en la foto ésta de Termineitor. Y hay más enlaces a cosas mías al pie de esta página.