The Britannia Theatre, Hoxton (1841-1899): The creation and consumption of popular culture in an East End community.
thesisposted on 19.11.2015, 09:00 by Janice. Norwood
This thesis examines the Britannia Theatre in relation to the East End community in which it was situated and explores its connection with popular culture. It traces the theatre's development from its earliest incarnation in 1841 as a tavern with a small area set aside for dramatic entertainments to its establishment as one of the most important theatrical institutions in the East End and finally to its decline at the turn of the century. Running throughout is a discussion of how the theatre interacted with its predominantly working-and lower-middle-class audience. This sustained and close relationship was one of the theatre's defining features, helped to create a sense of community and was responsible for its phenomenal success. A detailed history of the theatre charts the architectural alterations to its various buildings, provides an overview of the people who worked there, assesses the Britannia's economic relationship with the local community and defines its audience. The significance of the impact of each of these elements on the theatre's status, its repertoire and audience composition and behaviour is evaluated. In examining the career of the actress and owner of the Britannia, Sara Lane, I suggest how her personal traits and professional talents contributed to an iconic status that resonated throughout Hoxton and beyond. Investigation of the theatre's repertoire focuses on its melodramas, productions of Shakespeare, incidental entertainments and annual pantomimes. I explore how the Britannia's productions reflected the interests of its audience and responded to topical issues, events and society. Analysis of the work of the prolific playwright Colin Hazlewood reveals his borrowings from popular culture, but also discloses how the Britannia's productions themselves were a part of that culture. Overall, the theatre's repertoire highlights its audience's predilection for entertainments that stimulate the senses rather than the intellect.