Impact industrialisation and new technology had on theatre

In Jackson's Victorian Theatre (1989) he discusses how during the nineteenth century the British theatre was pretty much exclusively commercial and was central to popular culture and to the entertainment industry of an urban industrial society. Its purposes and effectiveness were argued over by critics and practitioners, and its ability to reach a newly created mass audience made it a prime target for social legislation. William Hazlitt remarked on the inadequacy of the theatres' attempts to bring the playss visions to life and concluded:'The boards of a theatre and the regions of fancy are not the same thing' (Hazlitt, Jackson, 1989, P1). The Victorian theatre was devoted to illusion, an attempt to confute these claims. The stage should contrive to lose its identity in the service of this absolute illusion and make the spectators forget – for as much as possible of their time in the theatre – that they knew a world more'real' than that placed before them on the stage.

Despite the success of this technological advance, there were many who feared that the theatre, in its pursuit of illusion, might have forfeited its ability to deal directly with human feelings and behaviour. There was concern that pantomime and melodrama – traditionally hospitable to spectacle – might be losing dramatic qualities in favour of pictorial splendours. Although people acknowledged that the advances in technology could only be good for theatre arts there was worry about the adverse effect it had on the writing of the drama.

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Melodrama was immensely popular, in both the larger and the smaller theatres: even though it had originally been regarded as somewhat inferior to the Shakespearian dramas produced at the licensed theatres, as theatre moved away from its working-class roots melodrama became acceptable to audiences of all social levels. As Southern (1970, P16, 24, 66) points out in his book, es…


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