The 19th century was a time of great richness and variety in theatre and performance. Ballet, circus, opera, pantomime and music hall were all hugely popular.
The 19th century was the age of a truly popular theatre. New theatres opened to satisfy a demand for entertainment from the workers who flooded into the major cities as the Industrial Revolution took hold. Pantomime, ballad opera, melodrama, circus, equestrian drama, aquatic drama and burlesque were all popular forms of entertainment.
A succession of great divas dominated opera from the mid 19th century and no male singer could match their popularity. Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti and Nellie Melba were all sopranos, the highest-range female voice, which had the clarity and flexibility to cope with elaborate passages of flamboyant music.
In the early 19th century the Age of Reason gave way to the age of the imagination and the Romantic Movement. Young artists, writers, poets and dancers wanted the freedom to express themselves in a spontaneous and individual way. Rejecting the classical ideas of order, harmony and balance they turned to nature as a source of inspiration.
In the 19th century, English marionette (string puppet) troupes were world-famous and popular with adults and children alike. Troupes toured the country in the UK and abroad, setting up temporary theatres seating 200-700 people at fairs or on village greens, and playing in established music halls and theatres.
D'Oyly Carte Prompt Books
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company prompt books used in Savoy theatre productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the late 19th century. Prompt books were used by theatre stage managers to record notes about all aspects of a play to help them keep track of the play as it progressed and make sure everything was going according to plan.
The 19th century was a period of huge growth in Britain, which had a profound effect on art and design. The Industrial Revolution saw Britain become a major manufacturing power, as displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Victorian period saw the British Empire reach its peak, and designers increasingly looked to the East for inspiration.
Theatre & Performance
The Theatre and Performance collection was founded in the 1920s when a private collector, Gabrielle Enthoven, donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the Museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow and has provided a home for many other significant objects and archives. All areas of the live performing arts are represented in the collections, documenting both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK.