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David Garrick
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Spectacle



Not everyone appreciated David Garrick’s showmanship. This caricature shows him paying too much attention to spectacle and costumes while trampling on the works of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Nicholas Rowe. Drury Lane’s scenemakers pull him to their side while Tragedy and Comedy try to summon him back. James Messinck, the man on the far right, holds a proclamation reading “Processions for Ever.” Purists disliked having a lavish funeral procession added to Romeo and Juliet, for example, but Garrick needed to provide entertainment for all sectors of his paying audience.

Before 1765, stage lighting in England consisted of visible chandeliers above the stage and a row of footlights along the front of the stage. The footlights could be raised and lowered from a trough, hence the phrases “lights up” and “lights down.” In 1765, Garrick introduced variable hidden lighting of the kind he had seen in France. The hidden lights were placed in vertical strips behind the wing fronts, providing light from the side that could be dimmed by shutters. Sunrises, sunsets, and other occasions for changing light suddenly appeared in Drury Lane productions, and actors were able to use more of the stage, since shadows no longer hid the rear.

More striking changes to Drury Lane spectacle came after 1771, when Garrick hired the French artist Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740–1812) to implement an integrated program of lighting, scenic design, stage mechanics, and costume. Using variable lighting and painted transparencies, de Loutherbourg created dynamic color and scenic effects.


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Francis Gentleman. The theatres. London, 1772 (Detail)



London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Romeo and Juliet, The Lying Valet. Playbill, 4 October 1753




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