Month: September 2019

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

Astley’s Amphitheatre, via V&A

Source: A French Traveller [Louis Simond], Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811: with remarks on the country, its arts, literature, and politics, and on the manners and customs of its inhabitants (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1815), p. 155

Text: May 9 [1811] … Astley’s is an equestrian spectacle. I supposed that a thing of that sort would be particularly good in England, which is a sort of island of the Houyhnhnms. I found, however, that the horses were but indifferently trained, and the men performed only common feats; and, instead of equitation, we had dramatic pieces and Harlequin tricks, — battles and assaults, — Moors and Saracens. The horses performed as actors, just as at Covent Garden; they galloped over the pit, and mounted the boards of the stage covered with earth, storming walls and ramparts. The interval between the exhibitions being very long, a parcel of dirty boys (amateurs), in rags, performed awkward tricks of tumbling, raising a cloud of dust, and showing their nakedness to the applauding audience; the vociferations from the gallery were perfectly deafening, and the hoarse vulgar voice of the clown eagerly re-echoed by them. Looking round the room, meanwhile, I saw the boxes filled with decent people, — grave and demure citizens, with their wives and children, who seemed to take pleasure in all this. It is really impossible not to form an unfavourable opinion of the taste of the English public, when we find them in general so excessively low and vulgar in the choice of their amusements.

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. Astley’s Amphitheatre was originally a circus (opened 1770), but later put on pantomimes and other such entertainments. It was located by Westminster Bridge and had burned down twice before it became famous in the 1800s for its equestrian spectaculars Houyhnhnms are a race of intelligent horses in Jonathan Swift’s satire Gulliver’s Travels.

Links:

‘Neath the Mask

Source: Eric Lugg, quoted in John M. East, ‘Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1967), p. 140

Text: The whole atmosphere of playgoing at the Lyric was an exciting thing. It was something I shall never forget, and an experience I have never recaptured in any other theatre. Before the curtain rose everybody shouted greetings to each other like “’Ello, Liz!” and then a “Watcher ‘Arry” would come back. There was an incomparable, yet pleasant odour about the place, a mixture of human bodies, orange-peel and tobacco-smoke, and generally a tremendous air of expectancy. Then the band would come into the pit, and begin to tune up, and finally the curtain would rise. And what stage pictures they were! What vitality! What red-blooded magnificent acting! And the incidental music, that was exciting too. “Deberterdom, deberterdom, deberterdom” accompanied the sort of “Will he get there in time?” scene, and the violins would “Der, der, der, der, der, der, der, de, la la la la la la la” we the poor mite was begging for pennies in the snow. Yes, all this added up to a wonderful might in the theatre.

Comments: Eric Lugg (1890-1979) was a British stage and film actor. He is recalling his impressions of the company of John M. East at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London (then known as the New Lyric Opera House), in the early 1900s. Lugg’s father and uncle had acted for East, a celebrated actor-producer of stage melodramas, also a silent film actor, whose grandson, the actor and broadcaster John M. East, wrote his biography.