Representation of London in Regency and Victorian Drama (1821-1881)

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During the 19th century, the proportion of the population living in cities increased significantly, and the experience of life for those undergoing the urbanising process changed radically. This work examines theatrical responses to this phenomenon, concentrating on plays treating the experience of life in the metropolis as it changed over a 60 year period. There is a particular, though not exclusive, focus on the social class level involved: popular melodrama treats issues very close to the actual experiences of those attending the melodrama houses, many of them in the East End and on the Surrey side of the Thames, away from the fashionable theatres. Cross-references are made to popular fiction and non-fiction where relevant, as well as to major cultural and historical changes. Issues include crime, policing and prisons; changing attitudes toward the underclass; the search for occupation and finding a space to live; relationship between past and present; plight of the migrant; the impact of the railways.


". . . a soundly researched and wide-ranging account of popular theatre as the central form of entertainment in Regency and Victorian London. The focus on urban experience as it is reflected in this drama gives the work a useful cohesion, and brings insights of the social and cultural historian to enrich those of theatre research. An important innovating aspect of the study is the way Dr. Williams roots each play in the context of its original performance, for most London theatres had a distinctive local audience and character, and an understanding of a particular drama involves considering the class and attitudes of those for whom it was performed. . . . Besides unearthing a rich swathe of popular drama, much of it little known, Dr. Williams has been able to show in some detail how this reflected current interests of the time, from crime to railways, from emigration to the tensions of class and work. He writes of his subject in a clear and lively style, communicating an interest that is at once rooted in research and outward looking. He has created a fascinating account of London and its theatre life over a vital phase of its evolution" Louis James

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface– Michael Slater
1. Introduction
2. Playground and Panorama: Plays of the 1820s
3. The Darkening Scene: Metropolis Plays, 1830-1843
4. 1843 and After: The Theatre Regulation Act and The Mysteries of London
5. Plays of the 1850s: The Great Exhibition and the Influence of Mayhew
6. The Honest Poor: Plays of the 1860s
7. The Lights o’ London (1881) and Conclusion
Appendix: Playlist arranged by date and theatre of first production
Bibliography; Index

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