My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Theatre 1662 London

My work in progress is about espionage during the Restoration years. The working title is Of Carrion Feathers. The year is 1662 London. In it, I've been able to explore the theatre, which may sound strange to you. How does one tell a story of espionage--spies and the like--with the theatre thrown in? All I can say with a naughty twinkle in my eye is stranger stories have taken place.

When King Charles II came out of exile and returned to England, he brought a different view of the theatre. France allowed women on stage, and when Charles came back, he did the same. It gave the genre a depth it hadn't before seen. It's hard for me to think of a man playing a woman in a romantic scene, and his voice cracking into manhood. I'm sure it was a turnoff for the male actor opposite, and I'm sure it happened all the time. Life goes on; boys grow into men, and they have to go through the harsh realities of puberty to do it.

It also surprised me Charles II was in competition of sorts with his brother, James, the Duke of York. Charles advocated the King's Theatre run by Killigrew, and James advocated the Duke's Theatre run by Davenant. Both the king and duke donated their coronation costumes to their theatres, rich pickings in anyone's estimation.

It did not come as a surprise Killigrew and Davenant were in competition, and they couldn't have been more different if they had tried.

Killigrew took the lead in 1660 by moving into his theatre (Gibbons Tennis Court) 6 months before Davenant. He had in his stores the rights to almost all plays written prior to the English Civil Wars. These included Shakespeare. His actors had a great deal of experience, but his theatre had no provisions for scenery. Killigrew was a poor manager who alienated his actors.

Davenant was a better theatre manager. His theatre (Lisle's Tennis Court) had provisions for scenery. It was the talk of the day. People flocked to see the moveable parts. His actors were happier than Killigrew's. His single, female actors lived in his house, and were discouraged from having dalliances with men, actors or otherwise. Because of this, there were less unwanted pregnancies, less in-fighting. He also had Mary Saunderson, who was considered one of the earliest female actors in England. She took other actors under her wing and taught them the ropes.

Because Davenant did not have the repertoire that Killigrew did, he built up his store of plays in the heroic, farcical comedy, and Spanish Romantic comedies. Each actor had their 'type' parts.

The plays lasted about three days. In 1662, they were always concluded by 6:30PM, and the actors were generally typecast. When one tried a different milieu, such as going from comedic to tragic, the audience watched him for a time. They expected him to burst into song, or make a comedic remark, but if he did not, the poor actor would be booed off the stage. It was a tough audience in those days. Those shows lasted the one performance by virtual condemnation of the viewers.

Due to England's limited trade at this time, there were no orange girls. The fruit was too hard to obtain, and too expensive when available. After King Charles II married the Portuguese Infanta, her dowry brought more opportunities on that scale. Soon, orange girls ran about the theatre, selling their wares. Due to the title limiting this discussion to 1662, I will not go into that aspect of the theatre... Not until later.

During the early days of the Restoration, actors would practice in the streets. If it was a tragedy they were to perform, they'd run about acting their part. Often, they were looked upon as rackety mad. People on their way to and from the markets would jeer or curse at them. They were often arrested and thrown in gaol.

The types of plays shown in these early days were: tragedy, burlesque comedy, puppet shows (mostly at Covent Garden), and drolls (short examples of full length plays).

My first two novels of London 1660's don't have any of this information, although other, very interesting stuff can be seen in them. Viola, A Woeful Tale of Marriage; TWINS, and the odd man out (of the French Revolution), The First Apostle.

You can find them at:


  1. Those tennis courts gave us theaters still shaped like courtyards: long balconies along the sides where the audience mostly faced each other. Very useful if you wanted to be seen, not so useful if you wanted to see the play. Thanks for a very good piece on Restoration theater!

  2. A fascinating slice of history, Katherine.

  3. Great information! People are going to love your blog.

  4. This post reminds me of one of my favorite films: Stage Beauty. Have you seen it? Does it accurately portray the theater during the time of transition when women were allowed to be players?

    1. I googled it and right off the bat, found an inconsistency. Charles II came back to England in May of 1660. His female allowances on stage were in place by 1662, more than like earlier. Nell Gwyn was an orange girl who trod the boards quite a bit later, in 1665. The writers/director took a bit of license there.

    2. If you get a chance to watch it, I'd love to know more of what you think of it - especially the historical bits.