Origin of drama in Britain
Drama was introduced to England by the Romans. The popularity of these dramas was such that auditoriums were built in Britain. It was during the Victorian period that a change was seen on the London stages with the introduction of farces, musical burlesques, comic operas, etc which competed with popular productions like that of Shakespeare and serious dramas by James Planch and Thomas William Robertson.
The Victorian theater saw a steady growth with poets and dramatists like W.S.Gilbert and Oscar Wilde of the late Victorian era. The plays written by Oscar Wilde had a closer relationship with the works of Edwardian dramatists like George Bernard Shaw. Another important reason for the change in the theatre was because of improvised transport, reduction in the number of poor people and availability of street light making travelling at night safe and easy.
After the decree passed by King Charles II in 1600 that a woman’s part should be acted by women, there was a rise in the number of actresses who joined the theater. Prior to this decree, a woman’s role was portrayed by the male actors. Women actors like Margaret Hughes and Ann Marshall were the first professional English actresses.
Other popular actresses like Sarah Siddons and Ellen Terry of the Victorian period worked hard in the male-dominated theatre field and prove that point that women could earn a living for herself by being an actress.
Sarah Siddon was the best-known tragedienne of the 18th century and was famous for her role of Lady Macbeth, a Shakespearian character. Like Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry was popular for her role in Shakespearian plays. Other popular Victorian Era actresses were Helena Faucit, Sarah Bernhardt.
During the prosperous period of the 19th century, many individuals could afford to attend theatre. The Victorians gave more importance to family and traditional beliefs. The actresses working in theatres were looked down upon as they did not give time for family but instead opted for a career and worked like men.
The London theatre stage was known for building the modern theatre and the most crucial element in moulding the theatre during those days was the audience.
This was the time when the upper-class eschewed the theatre and thus the only people who went to the theatres were the lower-classes. Actors during the Victorian age were paid very less. They were also critiqued on their performances by newspapers and it was difficult for these actresses and actors not to take any comment personally.
Famous male actors
The life of male actors was more or less similar to that of the actresses. Even in their case acting was not really regarded as a profession but the situation was much better in the case of male actors. One of the most popular actor during those times was Sir Henry Irving. He was a stage actor of 1901 and was the first actor who was awarded knighthood. Sir Henry Irving was responsible for reviving Hamlet and producing The Merchant of Venice.
Another famous Victorian actor was Edward Gordon Craig. He also worked as a producer, director and scenic designer. Edward Craig was the editor and chief writer for the first international theatre magazine known as The Mask. His first productions include Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas, Handel’s opera and lastly Acis and Galatea. Craig was also responsible for writing the essay, The Art of the Theatre.