Newspaper cutting showing stage effects

Newspaper cutting showing stage effects

These illustrations from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of October 1854 give us, as the caption says, 'a glance behind the curtain' to see some of the early backstage trickery used to create special effects. Most of these are based on simple pulley systems, or offstage contributions by stagehands. Image 10, for instance, shows a very simple but effective method for making a boat appear to travel across the stage, rocking on the waves. The 'waves' scenery disguises the lower part of the boat, so hiding the wheels of what is in fact a little cart. The undulating tracks it runs along make it appear to tip backwards and forwards on its journey. Later in the century, theatre technology would become even more sophisticated, with powerful hydraulic machinery installed in theatres like Drury Lane, which would make possible the great spectacles created by Bruce 'Sensation' Smith and others in the late 19th and early 20th century.