An Article from the ERA
of 29th September 1878
'It has been said somewhere by a wiseacre
- or at any rate it is reported to have been said, which is
pretty much the same thing - that we must all, every man and
woman of us, eat same peck of dirt before we die. But it would
appear as if actors and actresses were rated at a far higher
premium in calculation. If every man and woman must eat a peck
of dirt, an actor or actress must surely swallow at least a
sack full each. The inquisitive public will ask us why, with
something like astonishment? To this important query a ready
answer is instantly instantly given.
"Go and look at the rooms in which our artists are compelled
to spend the greater part of their official career, notice how
grimy and filthy they are, mark how they contain the most obsolete
and primitive form of lavatorial and sanitarial arrangements,
see how they are huddled together, dingy, dark, untidy and,
as a rule, badly lighted."
is the only part of the Theatre that is allowed to look after
itself. The lease demands that the outside shall be made smart,
and if it did not compel the auditorium to be refurbished and
brightened occasionally the public assuredly would. But at the
back of the stage everything is left in a wilderness of dirt.
The cellars, and the scene docks, and the dressing-rooms, the
staircases and the approaches, are ignorant of paint, destitute
of whitewash, and unaccustomed to the duster.
Right - The Scene Dock behind the stage at Drury
Lane in 2006. This is used for temporary storage of equipment
and for the cast and crew to get from one side of the stage
to the other during performances.
seems strange even from an economical point of view. The ladies
wear smart dresses which must be ruined by all this filth; silks
and satins and embroideries, gay ribbons and polished shoes,
do not accord with spiders' webs and cobwebs, to say nothing
of dust an inch thick.
Left - The Theatre Royal, Drury
Lane staff enjoying a drink in the Theatre's staff bar in
the 1950s. The bar was situated in the basement of the Theatre
and is today the lighting department's crew room and workshop
- From the personal collection of Alec
Marlow, former Master Carpenter at the Theatre Royal, Drury
Lane - Courtesy Phil Davis.
As a general rule the Manager thinks of everything and
everyone but the ladies and gentlemen who are for the moment
his guests. At home he has a smart house with every convenience,
gas laid on in pretty lamps, and bath room fitted with every
modern convenience; even his horse is stabled in a well-ventilated
stall, and his dog enjoys a well-littered and airy kennel. But
anything will do for the actor or the actress. There are the
rooms and everyone must make the best of them. The Manager will
answer that he cannot do impossibilities, that it is not his
fault that the rooms are so bad, and he will probably wind up
with some foolish platitudes to the effect that the rooms did
very well as they stood for Mr Kean
and Mr Macready - an altogether erroneous assertion, since they
have acquired in the interval an extra layer of filth. The Manager,
proverbially careless or indifferent in these matters, leaves
it all to the taste and discretion of the artists themselves.
There is no inspector to go round as in the case of prisons,
and workhouses, and reformatories, to compel paint, paper, and
cleanliness; no authority comes from the Lord Chamberlain's
office to ask for a decent reform, and if the actor or actress
desire to be clean they must act for themselves. They paint,
they paper, and they curtain the dressing-rooms at their own
cost, and the Manager is not ashamed to accept such a gift for
the improvement of his property.
years of dust and rust and decay are known to have left their
mark at the Adelphi, where the
dressing rooms are as convenient as in any Theatre, but have
for some time past been stiffly neglected. Staircases were in
tumbledown ruin, gloom and darkness reigned behind the stage,
the dressing-rooms were deplorable, and the Green-room so much
like Hood's "Haunted House" that it was deserted by
the company at large. The instant that the Messrs Gatti
entered thoroughly, into possession of the Adelphi Theatre they
saw at once the wisdom and the necessity of a certain reform.
They reformed it altogether. Like practical, common-sense, and
commercial men, they knew that a well-ordered household depends
upon a spirit of content in every department. They knew what
wonders could be done by paint, whitewash, and a well-soaped
Right - A postcard showing the Adelphi
Theatre, London as it was between 1858
Although there has been no break in the performances of Proof,
so as to permit of the alterations and the general cleanliness
that will follow, already the good work at the Adelphi
has begun. The place is being "swept and garnished,"
and now the eye seldom falls upon an untidy spot. Paint and
colour have worked wonders behind the scenes, and it is possible
to stand at the wings without spoiling a coat every evening.
But come up that newly painted find carpeted staircase, and
see what wonders have been accomplished in a short time. The
Green-room, from a ruin and a wreck, has been turned into a
cosy, delightful apartment, furnished with velvet settees, adorned
with handsome mirrors, and comfortably carpeted. The daily newspapers
and evening news are supplied to the Green-room, by the foresight
and care of the Management. The same spirit of liberality and
good taste will eventually extend to all the dressing-rooms
in the establishment. Already several of the rooms are completely
furnished. Marble-top wash-hand stands, Brussels carpet and
soft rugs, bright clean paper, and pretty chintz curtains, give
an air of homeliness and comfort to all the apartments in which
the artists are compelled to spend so many weary hours.
This is all as it should be, and, whilst the Messrs
Gatti will receive the thanks of the Profession for this
practical proof of their regard for the ladies and gentlemen
of the Stage, it may be that the hint will not be thrown away
on others who are as able to promote comfort and insure gratitude
by a very comparatively small expenditure. How much better,
after all, is good work done in a bright and cheerful scene,
and what a cordial and sympathetic spirit is encouraged when
Managers forget the old-fashioned rule of masters and servants,
and look upon the ladies and gentlemen who are under their roof
as, for the time, honoured guests. An artist will work twice
as well with a Manager who consults his natural sensitiveness,
and it is pleasant to find that the old and standing grievance
of "actors' dressing-rooms" is in one instance at
any rate allayed. At the Adelphi
it may certainly be said that "new brooms sweep clean."
The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA,
29 September 1878.