Double takes: satire and the theatrical establishment
It is often satire, by the very nature of its exaggerations, which educates us about contemporary feelings concerning the theatre and those associated with the profession.
For instance, here we gain an insight into the societal anxieties swirling around Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement. The programme for 'Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride', illustrated by Georges Labadie Pilotell, caricatures the perceived behaviour and appearance of aesthetic young men with their velvet suits and sunflowers.
Savoy Theatre programme for 'Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride' by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, 1882 (RW/11/1/6/16)
Prints in the collection provide another means of understanding how the theatre and its players were viewed by some sections of society. A print published by O. Hodgson, perhaps better known as a 19th century toy theatre publisher, depicts a scene from 'Richard III'. The image provides a refreshing contrast with the more reverential portraits showing actors such as Edmund Kean in the role, with the mention of debts hinting at the financial instabilities involved in the theatrical profession.
Print of a scene from ‘Richard III’ by O. Hodgson c. late 19th century (RW/7/4/2/7)
Next - 'All the World's a stage'