Oranges, sensation and the Lyceum theatre: student exhibition

On Monday evening, we had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate a term’s worth of students’ hard work, intensive research and in depth study on some of our archival materials.

posterAll term, second year students from the Drama department, taking the British Theatre History: Victorian & Edwardian module, have been enjoying enhanced access to some of our unique and rare Theatre Archives. This access has involved two hours of teaching with the collections each week, and the opportunity to explore and research a topic of their choice independently. Their work has culminated in an exhibition curated entirely by the students, in groups, presenting their research and the materials which they have used. It’s been wonderful to see people get so inspired and enthusiastic about the materials which we’re lucky enough to hold.

Students with their orange poll

Students with their orange poll

This year, we’ve had some very innovative ideas presented, including a walk-along timeline, a reconstruction of the sensation scene from ‘After Dark’ (on a miniature scale) and an orange poll about the real orange women in the theatre. The topics covered include sensation on stage, women in the theatre, pantomime costume and characters, damsels in distress, the Lyceum Theatre and pictorialism and Charles Kean. As ever, the students’ work has been illuminating and has shown just how creatively archival materials can be used.

 ‘Very good, the costume was amazing’

The students arranged the launch, refreshments and all!

The students also arranged the launch, refreshments and all!

On Monday, we celebrated all this hard work with the launch of the exhibition, which was attended by a wide range of people who left great feedback. The students have, I think, been amazed by what they have achieved and delighted with the responses – and here in Special Collections, we’re very proud of their success!

‘Excellent work by all and very well presented’

This is the fourth year which this module has been run in conjunction with Special Collections. Each year has brought up some new success and, we hope, inspired some new theatre historians into archival work. It’s also become something of an annual tradition, and we’re delighted that this work has now become firmly embedded in the academic year. The pressure is on for our 5th anniversary next year!

‘A wonderful worth-while event and I loved the sequence of exhibits’

The exhibition will run until 8 May, in the Templeman Gallery, during library opening hours. Please do pop in to have a look, and let us know what you think!

Victorians, assassinations and monsters

Here we are at the end of the first week of term – and would you believe, it’s almost exactly a month since Christmas. With so much of January behind us already, we’re looking forward to the rest of the year and I’d like to take the opportunity just to mention some of the excitement we’ve got to come in the next few months.

0594848

Playbill from Theatre Royal, Hull, 1850

On Monday, we had our first taught session with the Victorian and Edwardian Theatre students in the reading room. It’s always great to get to meet and talk to researchers, as well as providing materials to inspire them and help them with their discoveries. One of the great things about this module is that each time we’ve run it, all of the second year Drama students are swept up with enthusiasm for the materials and being able to use them in creative ways to explore a topic of their choice. Of course, we’re in the early days so far and tutors Ken Pickering and Mark Woolgar still have plenty of sessions left – covering topics as diverse as pantomime, Henry Irving and votes for women. We’re very much looking forward to getting to know the students and to support their work which leads to a public exhibition in April.

If you’d like to learn more about this module, or see examples of past exhibitions by students of this course, take a look at our Exhibition pages on the website. If you’re interested in setting up teaching opportunities with the collections, please do get in touch with us.

While we’re on the topic of exhibitions, we have a brand new exhibition in the Gallery this term. ‘The Bullet is Stronger than the Ballot‘ is built around the unique holdings on the British Cartoon Archive, and explores the theme of political assassination. This ties in with the Beaney’s season on the theme which features Manet’s ‘The Execution of Maximilian’ and John Opie’s eighteenth century painting, ‘The Murder of Thomas Becket’. More information about our exhibition, which will run until 2 March, is available on our website as well.

The Devil rides again...come and discover the monsters hidden in the library

The Devil rides again! Discover monsters hidden in the library

If you’re more interested in some mystery and the odd spine-chilling tale, the second lecture in our annual series could be the event for you! Monsters in the Library: M. R. James and bestiaries at Canterbury Cathedral will be presented by Diane Heath, who is an assistant lecturer in History at the University of Kent and also teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University. She will be telling us about her research into mythical monsters and beasts in the Cathedral’s collections, drawn together through the work of scholar and author Montague Rhodes James. I have been told that we may discover, as part of this lecture, the medieval methods for finding unicorns. In any case, it will be an intriguing evening which we hope will not result in any nightmares!

The talk will take place at the AV Theatre, Cathedral Lodge, in the Cathedral Precincts at 6.30 on Wednesday 12 Febuary, with refreshments from 6pm.

And that’s all we have time for this week, although I’m sure I’ll be updating you about all kinds of exciting and interesting aspects of our collections in the next months. I hope that we’ll see you at some of these events, and please do let us know what you think of them!

A melodramatic celebration

Can you believe it? We’ve just passed 100 posts on the blog! Over the last two and a half years, we’ve been bringing you all the exciting news and updates from our treasures in the Templeman; I hope you’ve been enjoying the posts so far. I am honestly surprised that it’s been quite so long, but they do say that time flies when you’re having fun.

To mark this impressive milestone, I thought I’d tell you about some new additions to the archival materials we now have available online. The eagle-eyed amongst you may already have noticed (if you’ve happened to type ‘Melville’ into our Special Collections search), that it’s not just digital images of playbills which now accompany our catalogue records. Type ‘Bad Woman’ into the search box, and you will now be greeted by images of black and white publicity postcards from the melodramas of the Melville family.

The Beggar Girl's Wedding publicity postcard

Publicity postcard, c.1908

You’ve probably read about the Bad Women dramas here before; they are one of the most popular parts of our Theatre Collections, but also sadly underresearched. Created by Frederick and Walter Melville, two brothers from the theatrical Melville dynasty, the Bad Women plays were stock melodramas, dealing with all kinds of concerns of their day, the early 1900s. The majority follow an upright hero and an innocent heroine (a ‘good’ woman) whose honourable intentions are usually impeded by a villain and the trademark villainess, the ‘bad woman’ of the title.

During my time in Special Collections, we have been able to purchase a number of these postcards which still survive, resulting in a gradual increase in our understanding of these unpublished plays. Every time we get a new delivery, it feels a little bit like Christmas to open the envelope and take a close look at the wonderfully posed and illustrative scenes from each individual play. Our latest acquisition increased the number of cards we have from ‘The Female Swindler’ from two to eight, opening up this little known play without reading the whole text.

I must confess that I haven’t read very many of the Bad Woman dramas (much as I would love to spend the time doing so!) Aside from the exciting theatrical read-through which we did with the Melodrama Research Group, to my knowledge these plays haven’t been performed for around 100 years, so the postcard images are a valuable insight into performance styles, set and costume at the turn of the century. It’s also always a bit of a challenge to look at our whole stock of cards for any given melodrama (the most we have for one play is currently eleven for ‘The Bad Girl of The Family’) and try to piece together the narrative. Of course, we don’t know whether we have a complete set of any of these, we can only build them up as we go, which means that the order in which the postcards are catalogued doesn’t necessarily reflect the story!

The Bad Girl of the Familt publicity postcard

Publicity postcard c.1909

We are also lucky enough to be involved in the Melodrama Research Group which specialises in cross-faculty research on this performance style and has broadened our understanding of where the Melville melodramas fit into the popular tastes of the time. Linking quite neatly with this, we do have some (non-Melville) filmic postcards available in the Templeman Gallery space advertising the Melodrama Group and its activities – do feel free to pop in and pick one up!

As for the Melville postcards, it’s a delight to be able to share them with you, and I hope that they will inspire some new interest in melodrama and the Melvilles, who have been sadly forgotten today.

Picture This: one year on

It’s amazing what can happen in just a year (not to mention how quickly one year can go!) This summer marks to first anniversary of the highly successful ‘Picture This’ series of monthly features on the Canterbury Cathedral Library website, the fruit of a partnership between the Cathedral Library and students from the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

Picture thisTo celebrate this anniversary, there will be a half day symposium will be held at the Cathedral on Saturday the 17 August from 10am-1pm. During the symposium, an exhibition, including many of the items which featured in ‘Picture This’, will be launched. It will be open to the public from 19 – 30 August from 2-4pm. For more information about both of these events, and the series of features, take a look at the Cathedral’s webpages.

Over the past year, these brief features on the Cathedral’s webpages have informed, amused and stunned us with the wide variety and fascinating history of just a handful of rare books within the Cathedral Library’s collection. If you’ve been an avid follower of the series, you will know that they have taken in subjects as diverse as medieval heroism, early maps, scripture, Tudor prayer books and early modern frogs have all featured. If you’ve missed any of the posts, or would like to catch up on them, take a look at the full list of features.

We can’t wait to discover more in the next year of the series.

More Dickens Digitised!

After lots of hard work by a number of volunteers, I’m delighted to announce that we have now digitised almost all of our playbills for productions of works by Charles Dickens.

Although the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth was back in 2012, we have continued to work on this collection and, over the last few years, some very committed volunteers have made a wonderful contribution to this work.

Playbill advertising 'A Christmas Carol' at the Royal Victoria Theatre, December 1862

Playbill advertising ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Royal Victoria Theatre, December 1862

Christopher Hall and Marjolijn Verbrugge spent a significant amount of time digitising all of our smaller playbills, which are now visible on our website. More recently, Elizabeth Grimshaw, who is completing an MA in Dickens Studies here at the University, has spent hours cataloguing our Dickens ephemera, and digitising the remaining (rather large) playbills as well as some illustrations. The digitisation involved Elizabeth painstakingly reconstructing the complete playbill in digital form from several digitised pieces, matching sections carefully to create an almost seamless effect. Matching up text and ensuring that the angles are correct is difficult at the best of times, and even more challenging with Victorian playbills and their miniscule text. Although a handful of the last playbills were digitised on the newly working oversize scanner, the majority of the credit for this work must go to our hard working volunteers!

The Dickens Collection has been assembled over many years and includes bibliographic gems, such as the nineteenth century part issues of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839), pieces of ephemera, such as some twentieth century ‘Pickwick’ playing cards, and illustrations. Amongst this assembly is a significant collection of Dickens theatrical material, particularly Victorian and Edwardian programmes, postcards and playbills.

Playbill for Oliver Twist, 1838

Playbill advertising ‘Oliver Twist’ at the City of London Theatre, 11 December 1838, staged while the serialisation was ongoing.

Dickens was something of a sensation in his day (to put it mildly) and it wasn’t long before theatre managers decided to cash in on the popularity of his serialised works. Borrowing heavily from the books, the unofficial productions of lengthy works such as Oliver Twist included tableaux taken from the published illustrations and adapted the stories to suit their needs. In fact, the craze for all things Dickens was so great that hack playwrights, such as Edward Stirling and William Moncrieff, would make up their own endings for serialisations which had not yet been completed. With a lack of copyright protection, or an ability to police every theatre in Britain (never mind the spin-offs put on stage in America), there was little which Dickens could do about these plagerised versions but rail against them in prose.

In any case, the risks paid off for the theatre managers in early years, with Dickens’ first full length works immensely popular on stage. Around the time of Martin Chuzzlewit’s appearance, appetites for Dickens on stage appear to have abated somewhat, perhaps due to the fact that productions of Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby and The Old Curiosity Shop were all still being performed, as well as A Christmas Carol, which was published in December 1843, part way through Chuzzelwit’s serialisation. Of course, even limited success for performances of Dickens’ work on stage still proved profitable, with Dickens later cashing in to produce ‘official’ versions of his works in an attempt to limit plagerism. Even today, with television largely occupying the space which the Victorian Theatre filled, adaptations of Dickens’ works are widely popular.

We’re delighted that such an important section of the Dickens Theatrical Collection is now available on our website, with full zoom functionality, and would like to thank our volunteers for all their hard work.

If you’d like to learn more about performances of Dickens’ stories, take a look at our Dickens on Stage index.