The author Jane Lark, included a Theatre Scene in her debut novel The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, and shares with us the research she undertook of a Georgian theatre which Jane Austen attended in Bath
The Theatre Royal in Bath was opened on 27th October 1750 but at the time it had no boxes. When it opened the space was simply a stage and the audience watched from a sloped floor which rose by roughly seven feet from the front of the Theatre to the back.
The elite who visited Bath must have still thought the then new Theatre a bit less than genteel in comparison to the venues they frequented in London. They could not reserve a space nor escape the local less well born who might attend. But still they managed to engineer an improvement to their theatre visit. They would send their servants to their early and have them stand in a space and then arrive once the play had started. Of course that meant disturbance for everyone else as people forced a path through the crowd to get in and their servants then forced back through the crowd to get out. And let’s remember there were probably at least two dozen or more aristocrats or gently born patrons reserving spaces.
But then a Theatre excursion was very different in the 1700s and 1800s, it was quite normal for people to talk through a whole play and the servants reserving spaces in Bath were often known to shout across the hall to one another if they were bored with waiting for their employers to arrive.
But not only would the elite in the audience arrive late they may also only attend for a particular scene which their favorite actor or actress played in. And of course the actors and actresses were as human then as they are now and treated their late arrivals and early leavers in the same manner a comedian would treat a heckler now, welcoming them or bidding them goodbye in a range of responses dependent on their mood.
There is one instance of an actor in Bath becoming outraged with a member of his audience. Well off people could sit on chairs at the side of stage during a performance as there were no boxes, and on this occasion the gentleman was so bored he walked across the stage to speak to his friend on the other side. Swords were drawn over the issue.
Perhaps you can imagine the atmosphere in the Theatre too. There were no windows and no air vents. It would have been hot with so many people crowded in and the air would have smelt of sweat and been quite thin by the end of a performance, probably not a comfortable or pleasant experience – really it’s no wonder they only stayed for elements of a play. The Theatre was lit with tallow candles, both burning on the stage and about the auditorium which meant members of the audience had hot wax dripping on their clothes and heads.
It is not surprising then that improvement commenced quite quickly, boxes were added along both edges of theatre and at the side of it too so the chairs could be removed from the stage itself. Then in 1774 an entrance lobby was added on the front of the building and a crush room serving refreshment, and above this seven more grand boxes facing the stage, were added, stretching back in a fan shape, with five rows of benches, seating five occupants on each bench. It cost three shillings for a box seat and two shillings for the pit.
The other addition was a carriage forecourt in which the elite might be deposited at the door easily without needing to walk through the street.
And it was in its completely renovated state that Jane Austen visited it, perhaps sitting with her family on the benches in one of the boxes.
The second novel in Jane Lark’s historical Marlow Intrigues series is now also available.
Jane Lark a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories
In the eyes of the ton, Ellen Harding lives a charmed life – she is the beautiful, exquisitely adorned mistress of Lord Gainsborough. But on the inside, behind her glamorous façade, she is empty – a vessel – deaf to the voice of morality and blind to shame. Unable to escape the gilded cage she has been trapped within. Kind, gentle Edward Marlow could prove to be her salvation… With one look he gives her hope. With one touch he sets her senses alight. Lose yourself in the passionate intensity of this stunning debut from exciting new talent Jane Lark.
He’d been waiting ten minutes when he saw her. She was simply and elegantly dressed, her appearance nothing like that of a courtesan. The long dark navy pelisse she wore was to keep her warm in the chill, early March winds. Spring was still as yet unbroken.
The demure garment hung to her ankles, with double breasted buttons across her chest, and an upturned fox fur collar framed her beautiful neck and face. Her hands were within a matching fox fur muff at her waist. The dark navy hat, sitting high on her ebony hair, was decorated with jay’s feathers that swept up from the brim above her left ear. And a narrow, navy veil, woven in a fine net, was drawn down over her eyes and nose.
His hands curled into fists inside the pockets of his thick, many-caped greatcoat as he watched her, waiting for her to notice him.
She had thought to hide herself, he guessed, but he would know the curve of her jaw, that mouth, the column of her neck, anywhere, even within a crowd. He had committed it to memory half a dozen times in recent weeks and lain awake night after night recalling every detail.
She looked over her shoulder, glancing back up the street, as if she half expected to be followed. Then she looked to the traffic in the road, waiting until it was clear before she crossed to the park gates. She’d still not seen him.
Within her muff he imagined her hands clasped together, her thumbs circling one another. He’d seen her tendency to fiddle when she stood at Gainsborough’s back. She was forever twisting and turning her fan; never comfortable, nor secure. The other courtesans he’d seen in London were women of excessive confidence, bold, never meek and maidenly in their manner as Ellen always seemed. With Ellen he could not even lay her lack of confidence at the door of her age. She was older than him, and yet her nervous behaviour made her seem half a dozen years younger.
She was on the path some distance before him now, her short, quick strides slicing at the skirt of her pelisse. Her gaze was on the pavement ahead of her, oblivious to the men who passed her and looked back, as nearly every man did, even with her beauty covered by a veil.
She looked up.
The moment she saw him, he could tell she’d not thought he would come. It was in the sudden drop of tenseness in her shoulders and the smile opening her mouth as if she would speak and acknowledge him from afar. But such an outburst would be folly, even though he had come as asked without acquaintance or equipage, someone may know him. Her mouth closed on the exclamation as she increased her pace, weaving through people walking the other way.
Jane is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romances.
She began her first novel at sixteen, but a life full of difficulty derailed her as she lives with the restrictions of Ankylosing Spondylitis.
When she finally completed a novel it was because she was determined not to reach forty still saying, I want to write one.
Now Jane is writing a Regency series she’s thrilled to be giving her characters life in others’ imaginations at last.
Jane is also a Chartered Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development, and uses her knowledge of psychology to bring her characters to life.
‘Basically I love history and I’m a sucker for a love story. I love the feeling of falling in love; it’s wonderful being able to do it time and time again in fiction, and my understanding of people helps me write the really intense relationships I enjoy creating.’
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The only woman who had power over notorious rake Robert Marlow was now walking away from him, again. He'd heard Sutton had died, and known Jane was free, but he'd always thought his desire would only be for revenge, not her. Yet here he was, unable to deny what he felt for her… what he’d never felt for any other woman…
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