The first Area Special Interest Day of 2019 took place at The Ark, Turners Hill on 28 January. More than 100 members and guests subscribed and attended to hear Giles Ramsay review the history of the British theatre from Shakespeare’s era to modern times: an unusual topic in the context of our traditional agenda (“the decorative and fine arts”), but consistent with the broader remit now being pursued by The Arts Society.
With an impressive delivery from the speaker (Giles is himself an actor, theatre director and theatre producer) we heard of the establishment of public theatres in London during the 16th and 17th centuries, and how and why they were regarded as somewhat disreputable, leading to them being briefly banned under Cromwell, but revived with the Restoration not only as places of public entertainment but also as outlets for political satire until censorship was introduced by Walpole in 1737. However, this had the unintended consequence of reviving Shakespeare’s plays, and those of his contemporaries, while technological advances and improvements to theatre design made productions into visual spectacles rather than mere recitals, tempting monarchs and the very rich to fund private performances, which for a time excluded the common herd. Nevertheless, the 18th century was clearly the crucible of the physical, conceptual and stylistic nature of the modern theatre, with offshoots into opera and ballet.
Turning to the 19th century, we heard of the intellectual evolution of the theatre from a showcase of the supposed lives of the great and the good to a reflection, often uncomfortable, on the real lives of more ordinary folk: their dilemmas, obsessions and challenges, reflecting the growing societal insights and concerns of the times and a theme which has continued into the 20th century and now the 21st, though with some concessions to the English who continue to enjoy upper class comedies, melodramas and whodunits. Reassuringly, London remains the theatrical magnet of the UK, and arguably of the world.
As ever, we enjoyed an excellent lunch courtesy of The Crown pub in Turners Hill. Thanks to Angela Magness for organising such a successful day. The next Area SID is on 11 March, also at Turners Hill, when Chloe Sayer will review the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Places are still available. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org before 9 February.