The most famous theatrical riots were the old price riots of 1809. After the Covent Garden theatre burnt down the management decided to raise the prices from six shillings to seven shillings for the boxes and three and six to four shillings for the pit and the third tier. The gallery price remained the same, but the new gallery was so far up and the rake so steep that the audience (crammed into so called 'pigeon holes') could only see the legs of the performers.
Print entitled The OP Spectacles, Isaac & George Cruikshank, ink on paper, England, 17 November 1809. Museum no. S.4776-2009. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London</p>
A caricature of John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) showing a portrait of a man wearing large spectacles with the letters 'OP' on each lens with theatrical scenes behind. The inscription on the left frame is 'Old House, Old Prices & No Private Boxes'; on the right frame is 'Old House, Old Prices & No Pigeon Holes'.
Hand coloured etching entitled Contending for a Seat, by Theodore Lane (1800-1828), ink on paper, published by Thomas McLean, London, about 1820s, Harry Beard Collection. Museum no. S.2556-2009. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Taken from the series Theatrical Pleasures, this print shows a group of people fighting over a theatre seat.
Coloured engraved print The Uproar House, W H Brooke, published by The Satirist, London, England, 8 June 1813, Harry Beard Collection. Museum no. S.2528-2009. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London</p>
This print records one of the not infrequent audience riots in theatres in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This one started in 1813 when the singer Angelica Catalani refused to perform until the management of the King's Theatre paid the debt they owed her. The trouble was started by the fashionable members of the audience, who were admitted backstage, when the management tried to carry on the performance without her. The orchestra were among the first to escape, taking their music with them, then members of the ballet, although some may have been left dangling at the end of the wires used in the flying ballet. In the ensuing riot, chandeliers were smashed and instruments broken and the theatre had to be closed for a week. The Lord Chamberlain later issued a decree forbidding members of the audience to go behind the scenes during performances.
Hand coloured lithograph entitled Spectacle Gratis (Avant-scène), Hippolyte Bellangé, lithographer Godefroy Engelmann, paper, paint and ink, early to mid 19th century, Harry Beard Collection. Museum no. S.804-2009. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London</p>
In order to gain admittance to a popular play in an 18th century London theatre, it was necessary to arrive at least an hour before the house opened. There were no decorous queues in those days and no individual numbered seats, so the rush, especially for the cheap bench seats in the pit, sometimes resulted in fights and serious injury. Even the more expensive sections were crammed on a good night.