Evening: Playhouses

From The Gentleman's Magazine

[Click on image to enlarge] Patrons of the London theater in the eighteenth century expected to have a good time. Throughout the century, critics complained that the high art of drama had sold out to merrymaking and special effects. The public came early — 5 p.m. — and stayed late; typically they were entertained not only by a full-length play but by interludes of music and dance, as well as an "afterpiece" such as a farce or pantomime, a mythological tale enlivened by clowning, imaginative costumes, and tricks of scenery and staging. London audiences were also famously, or infamously, involved in the action, ready to jeer the author or talk back to the actors. During much of the period, wealthier patrons sat in boxes on the stage and young bucks on benches in the pit, just below, while high above, in the upper gallery, "the gods" (one-shilling customers) often pelted the crowd and stage with orange peels. Riots were not uncommon. An eighteenth-century London playhouse could be noisy, lewd, and factious; but it was an exciting place to be.

In February 1763, a mob led by Thaddeus Fitzpatrick stormed the stage at Covent Garden to protest a new policy of not allowing admission at half-price after the third act. The Gentleman's Magazine reported what ensued.


[Click on image to enlarge] A riot happened at Covent-Garden theatre, occasioned by a demand being made for full prices at the opera of Artaxerxes. The mischief done was the greatest ever known on any occasion of the like kind: all the benches of the boxes and pit being entirely tore up, the glasses and chandeliers broken, and the linings of the boxes cut to pieces. The rashness of the rioters was so great, that they cut away the wooden pillars between the boxes, so if the inside of them had not been iron, they would have brought down the galleries upon their heads. The damages done amount to at least 2000 l. Four persons concern'd in the riot have been committed to the Gatehouse.

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