Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Illegitimate Theatre and Theatre Slang from the 1800s

I'm revisiting a previous work, Merely Players which I originally completed back in 2011. I was thrilled to find that it's in pretty good shape - or at least the last two thirds are. The first third is a bit of a cringe a minute, but with the clarity brought by the passage of *gulp* five years, I think I can see exactly where it needs to be fixed.

Excellent. Merely Players is set in 1814 London, in the world of non-patent illegitimate theatres. Thanks to the 1737 licensing act, theatres required a patent from the Lord Chancellor in order to perform serious, spoken word drama--in particular, Shakespeare. The purpose of this was, of course, to censor what went on stage.

The creative arts being, well, creative actors and theatre managers soon found a loophole and non-patent or illegitimate theatres sprang up in all the major cities in England. These were commercial outfits putting on non-serious productions which included a strong musical element - comedy, pantomime and melodrama.

My two protagonists are both writers. One, a dramatist who has lost his writing mojo, the other a pamphleteer who has to hide her light under a bushel. As soon as they meet, creative sparks fly and the two end up partnering on a production... until it all goes wrong of course.

I'm trying to introduce a stronger voice into this draft, getting more deeply into the protagonists point of view. This includes working out how they think and speak. I was delighted to stumble across a whole repository of theatre slang from the 1800s in Eric Patridge's rather wonderful Slang Today and Yesterday--an essential for ye olde historical romance writer.

Actors performing for my poor failing playwright Ghis might have got the big bird (been hissed at) when performing in The Lane (Drury Lane theatre), The Garden (Covent Garden theatre), the Dusthole (the Prince of Wales Theatre). Those venues might be managed by a "cully-gorger" - theatre manager (1860).

I love "back-hair parts" - roles in which the "agony of the performance at one point in the drama admits of the feminine tresses in question floating over the shoulders." Admittedly, it was cited in 1884 but it's going in. I don't know how, I don't know where, but it has to go in.

"Blood-tub" (1885) - a "theatre specializing in the worst sort of blood-and-thunder melodrama" is also pretty special.


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