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|Special Topic :Theatre Royal Bath
Written by JulieW
(5/9/2004 3:04 a.m.)
We know very little of her time in Bath-a she and Cassandra were together most of that period and so letters did not pass between them ;-)
However she does mention the Theatre Royal, Bath in Northanger Abbey and in persuasion, and was such a fan of the theatre I find it hard to believe she did not take the opportunity to visit the theatre as much as she could.
The theatre in Bath was probably the most important theatre in England outside London. As Bath was a very fashionable centre for the marriage market and for people taking the 2cure” there was a ready audience waiting to watch the biggest star perform the latest plays.
The Theatre Royal in Orchard Street was run in tandem with the theatre in Bristol. It did not follow the London seasons. It played all year round.
It was used as a starting ground for many of the great actors of the period, letting them “cut their teeth “ on a sophisticated audience before taking to the London stage. In Retrospectives of the Stage John Bernard a member of the company of actors at Bath wrote that the Bath theatre;
“...boasted the best company out of London-Henderson, Dibdin, Dimond, Diddear, Blisset etc .The Bath Audience had long maintained the character of being the most elegant and judicious in the kingdom; and the “school” which gradually formed under their influence and the exertions of Mr Palmer obtained the pre- eminence in the eyes of the Dramatic Tyro and the London critic. It is well know that, for many years, the very name of Bath was a guarantee for a mans good taste in his profession; whilst on the score of genius, it is acknowledged to have contributed more largely to the metropolitan boards than Dublin and York put together,
The construction of the theatre in Orchard Street was begun in 1747, and opened for business in October 1750. Eventually stable management for the theatre was established under the control of John Arthur a low comedian and pantomime clown. He began the process of building up the company and securing a good reputation.
A Royal Patent was granted in 1768- as, since 1737, it was technically operating outside the rule of law. This was the first theatre to gain a patent outside London, which indicates its importance.
The arrangement with the Bristol theatre in Kings Street was to the advantage of both. They were only 13 miles apart and so it was easy to work out a modus operandi, which benefited both theatres and actors.
A working pattern soon became established and from 1799 till 1817 during September and October of any year the company played three nights in Bristol and Saturdays in Bath, with the exception of Race Week in Bath and Christmas and Easter when a full week was played there.
The company was transported between the two towns by coaches or “caterpillars “ as they were termed. John Palmer the theatre manager of both theatres had constructed three special long coaches, which carried 12 actors and their luggage between the theatres. A pleasant journey in summer but probably due to the size of the coach and the state of the roads, a dangerous one in winter.
Because of the stability that being in this company gave, places in the Bath company were very desirable and considered a considerable professional achievement. Here is a list of some of the migrations that took place from Bath to London;
Dodd, Henderson, Mrs Siddons, Miss Kemble, Mrs Goodall to the Dury lane Company
A lot of actors choose to stay with the Bath company...and frankly who could blame them. It was a less precarious life than the season in London.
The theatre at Bath was quite small compared to the massive London theatres. The picture above shows the theatre as it was in 1775,and despite small alterations this is how lit looked till 1805 when it was rebuilt.
And this is how it would have looked in the main when Henry Tilney was ignoring Catherine Morland;
To the theatre accordingly they all went; no Tilneys appeared to plague or please her; she feared that, amongst the many perfections of the family, a fondness for plays was not to be ranked; but perhaps it was because they were habituated to the finer performances of the London stage, which she knew, on Isabella’s authority, rendered everything else of the kind “quite horrid.” She was not deceived in her own expectation of pleasure; the comedy so well suspended her care that no one, observing her during the first four acts, would have supposed she had any wretchedness about her. On the beginning of the fifth, however, the sudden view of Mr. Henry Tilney and his father, joining a party in the opposite box, recalled her to anxiety and distress. The stage could no longer excite genuine merriment — no longer keep her whole attention. Every other look upon an average was directed towards the opposite box; and, for the space of two entire scenes, did she thus watch Henry Tilney, without being once able to catch his eye. No longer could he be suspected of indifference for a play; his notice was never withdrawn from the stage during two whole scenes. At length, however, he did look towards her, and he bowed — but such a bow! No smile, no continued observance attended it; his eyes were immediately returned to their former direction. Catherine was restlessly miserable; she could almost have run round to the box in which he sat and forced him to hear her explanation. Feelings rather natural than heroic possessed her; instead of considering her own dignity injured by this ready condemnation — instead of proudly resolving, in conscious innocence, to show her resentment towards him who could harbour a doubt of it, to leave to him all the trouble of seeking an explanation, and to enlighten him on the past only by avoiding his sight, or flirting with somebody else — she took to herself all the shame of misconduct, or at least of its appearance, and was only eager for an opportunity of explaining its cause.
It has been calculated they were a mere 33 feet apart! LOL
This was also the theatre mentioned in Persuasion;
"Well, mother, I have done something for you that you will like. I have been to the theatre, and secured a box for to-morrow night. A'n't I a good boy? I know you love a play; and there is room for us all. It holds nine. I have engaged Captain Wentworth. Anne will not be sorry to join us, I am sure. We all like a play. Have not I done well, mother?"
Charles Musgrove in Persuasion, Chapter 22.
A final point. It may interest you to note that from 1801-1806 Lover's Vows by Kozebue but adapted by Mrs Inchbald (of whom more later) was performed 17 times in Bath…which coincided with JA’s residence in that city.
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