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Written by JulieW
(5/8/2004 4:20 a.m.)
Lights were even provided inside boxes (so that the occupants of the boxes could be clearly seen for the benefit of their fame (?) and for the members of the audience. Clearly it was the done thing to see and be seen.;-).
(N.B.In German theatres this was not so. The boxes were not lit, so as not to detract from the illumination of the stage.)
At the King's Theatre a large chandelier was suspended over the pit. It was lit throughout the performance until all the playgoers had left, and because of the height of the theatre hung above the sigh line of the top row of boxes –so as not to impede the view of the occupants. The occupants of the galleries above had to take their chances.
Candles (usually the expensive kind made of wax- probably because of their ability to produce less smoke than tallow) were used.
We know that these theatres could be noisy places, but when one considers that they were brightly illuminated it is no surprise, really. As Charles Beecher Hogan points out in his book The London Stage 1775-1800;
This fact of uninterrupted illumination-a fact too far often forgotten or overlooked- is of the greatest importance in any consideration of what occurred inside an 18th century theatre…. Customs habits manners do not remain the same, but nevertheless it is natural to suppose that persons are more ready to move from place to place, to talk out loud, to slam a door, to quarrel in surroundings that are brilliantly lighted rather than in surroundings that are in next to total darkness. Furthermore, the lighted auditorium established a rapport between the spectators and the actors that occasioned a frequent interchange – almost as if in a private room- of suggestions, criticism, commendations that the darkened theatres of today have almost completely banished.”
So there you are- Elizabeth Bennet chatting away to her Aunt Gardiner in P+P was just doing what was natural, and thought acceptable. Henry Tilney ignoring Catherine Morland in the intimate, but brightly lit, surroundings of the theatre in Bath, in Northanger Abbey, could not really be excused ;-)
How were the lobbies and corridors in the theatre lit?
It would appear they were lit by oil lamps. A letter written to the Public Advertiser of 1st August 1778 refers to these lamps and recommends that;
They ought to be lit at some time in the Afternoon, instead of a little after ten in the mornings. They go out before the entertainments are finished [not surprising considering the length of the evening’s performance-JW] thereby causing the audience, on leaving the Theatre, to play together at Blind Mans Buff”….
When one thinks of the safety implications of this, again, my blood runs cold…….
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