Salon No.43: London Murder and Melodrama (The Theatre of Death) – Westminster Arts Library


Salon for the City is a series of events taking place in London, covering various historical and cultural topics. I attended Salon No.43: London Murder and Melodrama (The Theatre of Death), held at Westminster Arts Library. The ticket included gin, which is always a bonus.

This particular talk was delivered by actor and writer Julie Balloo, and was concerned with the murder of actor William Terriss outside the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre on 16 December, 1897. It began, appropriately enough, with a scene from a Victorian melodrama, and then went on to discuss the histories of the key players in the tragedy.

Terriss was born William Charles James Lewin on 20 February 1847. His family did not want him to become an actor, so he originally pursued a variety of different careers: he joined the Navy, became a tea planter in Bengal, and tried sheep farming in the Falklands. He also tried breeding horses in Kentucky, and married Isabel Lewis (stage name Amy Fellowes) in 1870, but he still had ambitions to go upon the stage.

During the 1870s he established his acting career and performed in many popular plays of the period. His first big role was alongside Ellen Terry and he also got on well with Henry Irving, famous actor-manager of the Lyceum. In 1885 he met actress Jessie Millward and embarked on an affair with her that lasted until his death. Terriss was liked and admired by both fellow actors and the general public: he was known to be extremely generous to the former, and was hailed as a hero by the latter when he saved some people from drowning. The New York Dramatic Mirror described Terriss as one of the most popular actors in England, second only to Henry Irving. Supposedly, Terriss was told by a palm reader that he would die a violent death; his mistress Jessie Millward also had threatening dreams.

His murderer, Richard Archer Prince, was born in the slums of Dundee and grew up in abject poverty. He loved the theatre, and had ambitions to become the ‘Terriss of Scotland’. Prince moved to London and got an agent, but never managed to gain the same level of success as his hero. Terriss had assisted the struggling young actor in finding work, but over the years Prince took to alcohol abuse and grew increasingly unstable. Terriss sent several sums of money to Prince via the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, and continued trying to find him acting work, but on one occasion when Prince was refused money from the Fund, he blamed Terriss.

Prince bought a knife from a shop on Brompton Road and headed to the Adelphi Theatre. He waited in a doorway for Prince to arrive. Jessie Millward, who was in the same play, arrived first and Prince gave her a scare. When William Terriss arrived, Prince stabbed him, twice in the back and once in the front. Terriss died shortly afterwards.

Prince loved the attention he got during his trial at the Old Bailey in 1898. He was pronounced guilty, but insane. He was sent to Broadmoor and became quite involved in the dramatic scene there, putting on plays for the inmates and acting as the conductor of the prison orchestra until his death, which occurred in 1936. An interesting footnote to the story is that the ‘Covent Garden Ghost’ is supposed to be William Terriss. The ghost haunts Covent Garden station, which sounds strange until you learn that there used to be a bakery on that site, much frequented by the actors.

Thus concluded the first half of the Salon for the City event. The second involved the performance of certain scenes from Balloo’s play Gods of the Adelphi, which were entertaining and made me want to see the full play. Another dram of gin was served, and the evening drew to a satisfying conclusion.

Keeping the secrets: I finally got to see Harry Potter and The Cursed Child

The Palace Theatre - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The Palace Theatre

The title says it all, really: I was so excited that I finally got to see the next instalment of the Potter saga! I say “finally”: it’s only been out for a couple of months, but it’s been talked about for so long, and tickets went on sale last year. I only got mine a few weeks ago, by signing up to the returns list. This is one of the benefits to being a solo theatregoer – you’re much more likely to be able to nab an elusive ticket to something like this.

My ticket! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
My ticket!

I had the afternoon off work and headed down to the Palace Theatre, full of excitement. It was a really hot day and I had to queue around the theatre to get in – they had security at the door checking the bags as you went in. It was lovely and cool inside, and I got to check out all the merchandise. I was hugely tempted by the cuddly owls, especially as the usher standing by the stairs had hold of one (which she let me cuddle). I resisted, however, and only bought the pin badges, seeing as I seem to be making a collection of them.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

My full review of the show is on my blog Loitering In the Theatre. Here, I’ll just say that though I had a couple of issues with it, I did enjoy it – it was an unforgettable experience.

Programme - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Brochure - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Souvenir Brochure
Script - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Rehearsal edition script – which I read after seeing the play
Pin badges - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Pin badges



















Years ago, when I was still at school, I sat up late into the night reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, unable to put it down. My experience of Cursed Child was similar, though instead of being alone in my room, I was in a room full of other people, sharing in their joy and fear and surprise. It was an amazing experience and reminded me – as if I needed reminding – of the magic of theatre.

Digging Shakespeare’s Shoreditch: Excavating London’s First Theatreland

St Botolph's Church Hall
St Botolph’s Church Hall

Fascinated as I am by the theatre of Shakespeare’s day, I signed up for a talk by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) who are responsible for excavating the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres in Shoreditch. The talk was given by Heather Knight, who is in charge of the excavations, and was incredibly interesting. The location for the talk was St Botolph’s Hall on Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street station: this was an appropriate location, given that the site of the Curtain Theatre is nearby; also, member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men William Kemp was supposed to have begun his ‘Nine Days’ Wonder’ (he morris-danced from London to Norwich) from St Botolph’s Church. Ironically, the rector of the church was not impressed with the theatrical goings on of the day, and wrote a critique denouncing such activities.

Knight, whose team’s excavation of the Curtain Theatre is ongoing, spoke about what archaeology can add to our understanding of Shakespeare and the theatrical environment in which he worked. Unlike many significant cultural figures, we know relatively little about Shakespeare’s life and don’t have much in the way of items belonging to him. It was in the nineteenth century that research first began into his life and the Elizabethan theatre. We know that Shakespeare lived at different times on both Silver Street and Bishopsgate; we know that Shoreditch had a reputation as a place of fun; and we know that theatres were concentrated in two different areas surrounding the City of London: the north, Shoreditch (the Theatre and the Curtain), and the south, Southwark (the Rose and the Globe).

Archaeological research has already taken place at the Rose, part of the Globe and part of the Hope, all south of the river. However, research into theatre in the Shoreditch area began less than a decade ago, when a desk investigation was commissioned in 2007. Sample trenches dug revealed part of the Theatre, which was the headquarters of the Chamberlain’s Men managed by Richard Burbage. They discovered that the Theatre was 22m in diameter, with 14 sides and a tiled roof, not unlike the Globe, though the Theatre building also made use of the old medieval bakehouse and bathhouse that used to be part of the monastery.

Props were found on the site: bells and other costume ornaments and props, such as the end of a scabbard. At this time there was a law against people wearing clothes above their station, but this was waived in the case of actors belonging to a licensed troupe. Going to plays, therefore, was often the only way ordinary people could get to see these beautiful clothes close up. Hampshire border ware was found frequently, though one piece was particularly unusual, having the face of a bearded gentleman complete with a ruff (he looks a bit like Shakespeare). A cannonball was also found, several years after a similar one was found at the Rose – these are believed to have been used for sound effects such as thunder. The discovery implies a kind of “theatrical arms race”, as Knight put it, between Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose, and Richard Burbage, owner of the Theatre, as they sought to introduce the most cutting edge special effects. The team also discovered something else about the site of the Theatre: after the playhouse closed it may have been taken over by an alchemist, as assorted seeds were found on site, and an upturned jug was discovered in the floor, as well as a piece of pottery in the walls symbolising good and evil in the defence of witchcraft.

The Curtain theatre, named after Curtain Place on which it stood, was nearby, owned by Henry Longman in the 1580s; he was still running it in the 1620s. A desk assessment was carried out on a portion of the supposed site as late as 2011; trenches were dug and walls discovered. Recently it has been confirmed that the theatre, 30m by 22m, was rectangular in shape, rather than the rounder shape of the Theatre, the Globe and the Rose. This is exciting news, but not as out of the ordinary as it might seem: the first Fortune Theatre in London was square, and some Spanish playhouses of the period were also rectangular or square. However, the news sheds a new light on the play Henry V. If, as is believed, that play premiered at the Curtain, then the prologue (“can this cockpit hold/The vasty fields of France? or may we cram/Within this wooden O the very casques/That did affright the air at Agincourt?) makes no sense, so perhaps it was added later, when the play was performed at the Globe. Interestingly, a 1578 French visitor to London wrote about the differences between the Curtain and the Theatre, remarking that one was particularly magnificent. Unfortunately, he didn’t actually state which one, but Knight suspects that he was referring to the Theatre, as it had what would have been a more unusual polygonal shape, with the Curtain being more of a traditional European theatre type.

At the Curtain site, fragments of a bird whistle have been found, which may have been used to emulate the lark in Romeo and Juliet. In later years the building was adapted, with a floor of animal bones in place around 1630. Excavations are still ongoing, but the absence of evidence can be as interesting as its presence. For instance, no money pots have been found, as were discovered at the Rose, suggesting that perhaps the Curtain was a building for hire rather than the home of a company.

The site of the excavation is now called The Stage, and there are plans to build a visitor centre around the remains of the theatre. It may be the last playhouse MOLA get to excavate, which in many ways is sad, but at the same time they have done some brilliant work that they can really be proud of. Work on the Curtain and Theatre has hugely added to our understanding of the theatrical world of Shakespeare’s time, and I feel very lucky to have attended this talk and heard about it first hand. I look forward to hearing more about these groundbreaking excavations.

Shakespeare’s London – Museum of London Archaeological Archive

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and as such there are several special events going on. One such event, Shakespeare’s London, taking place at the Museum of London Archaeological Archive in Hackney, is a tour of the archive which includes a look at artefacts discovered at London’s Elizabethan theatres. I booked this pretty much as soon as I heard about it, as I love both history and Shakespeare.

Mortimer Wheeler House

The Archive is held at Mortimer Wheeler House; I looked up how to find it and I’m glad that I did, as it isn’t the easiest building to find. It’s located in east London, north of Old Street, just below the canal. We waited in the foyer for the tour to begin; there were quite a few of us, so we were taken around in two separate groups. As we explored the Archive, we were able to learn more about it, as well as the history of theatres in Shakespeare’s day.

The Museum of London Archaeological Archive is part of the museum’s Department of Archaeological Collections and Archive. Over the past century, nearly 8,500 archaeological sites have been investigated in Greater London: this archive holds information relating to all of these, with full archives for over 3,500 of them. There is also an archaeological library collection. It has been officially recognised as the largest archaeological archive in the world.

The Archive is of international significance, the primary source of evidence for early London. As archaeology itself is a destructive process – accessing one layer usually involves removing another – the only evidence of its existence is in the archive. There is an online catalogue containing information about object collections and archive records, and the Archive can also be visited for research purposes. This is free, but you need to make an appointment.

Early in the tour we got to play “archive lottery” – choosing a number and taking the relevant box off the shelf to see what it contained. Our box wasn’t particularly exciting, containing bits of pottery – however, as our tour guide (one of the Archive’s volunteers) explained, pottery is actually a really valuable tool for dating a site. We were subsequently introduced to some very special artefacts relating to the theatre.

Theatres like the Globe, the Rose and the Curtain, popular in Shakespeare’s day, were actually known as playhouses: the term “theatre” tended to refer to indoor, private theatres located in houses (similar to the Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse). However, for the purposes of the tour they were referred to as theatres. We saw a cannonball that was found on a theatre site, once used to help create the sound of thunder (a similar item from the Rose Theatre is about to go on display at the British Library as part of their Shakespeare exhibition). Some of the smaller artefacts that we got to handle included copper pins, seals for rolls of cloth, and fragments of tobacco pipes. We also saw – but because of its fragility, understandably weren’t allowed to touch – an almost complete leather boot from the Elizabethan period: an incredible sight.

Many of the small items recovered were things which could have been dropped easily in the tightly packed, busy atmosphere of the playhouse. Gambling dice and makeup brushes were also found, as were tokens used to gain admittance into the playhouse. Money boxes were used to collect payment; when they were full, they were smashed, and the contents counted. They were kept in the money box office – what would later become the box office.

The area around Southwark where most of the theatres were situated was also known for bear-baiting, and the skull and bones of a bear and of a dog, possible rivals in the ring, are testament to this. The bear bone that we saw had tooth marks on it – possibly chewed by a dog after the poor dead or dying bear was discarded.

In a small room with a table, we were able to look at newspaper cuttings and letters related to the discovery and excavation of the Rose Theatre in 1988. When an archaeological excavation began on this site, no one had any idea just what an incredible find would be unearthed. The discovery sparked a campaign to retain and restore the site (the original developers just wanted to cover it over), and inspired a change in the law, meaning that excavations are now required when developers take over a site in London.

It was once thought that the hazelnut shells found at the Rose site indicated that theatregoers ate hazelnuts during performances, in the same way we might eat sweets or popcorn today. However, it is now thought that the thick layer of hazelnut shells would have provided cheap and effective flooring – especially as, with long performances and no toilets, groundlings would often just go where they stood – it makes me cringe to imagine walking over a spongy, urine-soaked floor of shells, but I guess they would have been used to it!

Finally, we ended up in a ceramics room, looking at some of the Shakespeare-related items held in the Archive. These included whole, and nearly whole, money boxes (which were always green, seemingly), and a figurine of Othello and Iago. We got to have a look around the room for a while before leaving, at some of the impressive collections which ranged from Roman amphorae to Victorian hot water bottles.

I absolutely loved my trip to the Archive and would recommend it for all those interested in London’s history. The Shakespeare tours are taking place again on 16 April, so it’s not too late if you want to take part.

Alice’s Adventures Underground


I love immersive theatre and recently I visited Alice’s Adventures Underground, a show held at The Vaults in Waterloo, performed by Les Enfants Terribles to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve written a review here, but I thought I would go into my experience in more detail, as I want to be sure of remembering it all. Please note, the following may contain spoilers!

I arrived at the venue and, after a short wait in the bar, we were taken to the first room of the experience, a gorgeous Victorian study full of books, papers and developing photographs – perhaps in homage to Lewis Carroll’s interest in photography? Even here, it was obvious that nothing was quite as it seems – the bookcases were curved as if to fit a rabbit hole, with nothing but magic to keep the books from falling out.

There was a mirror in the corner of the room, and we could see Alice, trapped and unable to get out. The clock chimed and a hidden door in the wall flew open, revealing a passageway lined with the pages of books. We made our way tentatively through the tunnel, to find ourselves “falling” down the rabbit hole, as Carroll’s words were read out by a hidden voice somewhere above us.

Once again the doors flew open and we found the White Rabbit waiting for us; he introduced us to Wonderland and invited us to eat or drink to determine the route we would take. The set here was incredibly clever, using visual tricks to make it look as if you really were growing smaller or larger depending whether you chose the “Eat Me” or “Drink Me” route. I chose “Drink Me” and followed the White Rabbit, who smuggled us into Wonderland away from the eyes of the Queen’s border guards. I was hoping to keep my little “Drink Me” bottle as a souvenir, but sadly it was taken away.

did get to keep my playing card: we were each given one of these which determined the group we would belong to for the rest of the evening. In a small woodland area we all met the Cheshire Cat, an incredible puppet who was chilling and magical.

We then split into our groups: I was a Club, and we first of all visited the Duchess in her kitchen, complete with pig baby. We helped to make some “soup” and were hustled into the office of the Knave of Hearts, in which we ended up having to eat the evidence – a plate of jam tarts. Again, the detail in each room was astounding, and all the characters were incredibly well drawn.

A visit to Tweedledum and Tweedledee saw us huddle down in an attempt to avoid the brothers swinging about over us, and squirting us with water pistols. Fortunately our next visit was much more relaxing: a trip upstairs to lounge with the Caterpillar (another amazing puppet) in his lair.

Throughout all of this, we were aware that we were part of the rebel forces fighting against the Queen – who was trying to stamp out all the “nonsense” in Wonderland – and we had to learn a special Raven hand signal. We were introduced to “Bill” the Lizard, the leader of this gang, before we made our way into the garden – full of white roses being painted red – and then a spooky vault containing a long table: the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Following some party antics, we were taken through to the courtroom for the grand finale. It was at this point that I really began to appreciate the amount of thought and care that had gone into the production. It became apparent that the Clubs (of which I was one) and the Spades belonged to the rebels, while the Hearts and the Diamonds were on the side of the Queen. Each group had their own role to play in the ensuing conflict – would the Queen be defeated and Alice be released?

I thought this experience was truly amazing, one of the most detailed and best thought out immersive theatre experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and I wonder if I could manage to get back before it closes at the end of August to take the “Eat Me” route…

Witches and Wicked Bodies – British Museum

Witches and Wicked Bodies is a free exhibition at the British Museum (Room 90, Prints and Drawings Gallery) until 11 January. I visited one Friday to attend a special event – a free performance exploring the weird sisters by RIFT theatre company, who were responsible for the amazing immersive Macbeth at the Balfron Tower during the summer.

The performance was a chilling exploration of the witches from Macbeth and their entrapment by witch-hunters. It was fairly short though and I enjoyed the exhibition itself more – an examination of how witches and witchcraft have been portrayed in art from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Beginning with Dürer and Goya, the exhibition moved on to consider artists such as Burne-Jones and Rossetti, inspired by Biblical and classical portrayals of witches.

RIFT Macbeth

The Balfron Tower was designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1963

I’m going to write a proper review of RIFT’s Macbeth, but in the meantime I want to write something about the experience itself, as it was one of the craziest, most intense things I’ve ever done. I booked it for myself for a birthday treat, and I tried to get some friends to come along, but none of them were particularly keen on the idea. Despite initial apprehensiveness about going on my own, I needn’t have worried. I talked to loads of really interesting people, about the show and about our shared interest in immersive theatre (practically everyone there had already been to Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man). In any case, most of our time was spent taking in the show, and we didn’t have to worry too much about chatting.

Webcowgirl and Playhouse Pickings have already written really helpful guides to the experience, so all I will do is emphasise the importance of following their tips – they came in very handy for me. Having said that, there were no super-hot peppers at our banquet – only perfectly innocuous, not at all spicy ones. I felt rather smug that I’d heeded the warnings about eating beforehand and going to the loo (I spent a couple of hours at Westfield Stratford before heading to Langdon Park DLR) as many of my fellow audience members were dying for the toilet almost immediately and when we were finally allowed to go there was a huge queue.

I stayed overnight and slept very well in my bunk bed – a bit TOO well, to my disappointment, as I slept right through the whopping thunderstorm that occurred on Thursday night, and missed out on the chance of watching the action from my flat’s 18th floor balcony. The flat itself – the hall and bathroom, at least – was still covered in blood from the performance, which was somewhat disconcerting. I was able to wash my face and brush my teeth, but after much-appreciated coffee and croissants in the morning I was very happy to get home and finally have a shower.

Still, this performance will go down as one of my favourite London experiences, and it was definitely one of the best birthdays ever!

Amazing views from my 18th floor balcony
Amazing views from my 18th floor balcony

Once: The Musical

When my auntie was in London we went to see Once: The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre. We had stalls seats so we were able to go on stage and look around / buy drinks before the show started, as well as watch the cast jamming before it began. I was very happy to get my Once souvenir plastic glass!

The on-stage bar
Me, happy with my souvenir glass!

(Photos taken by my auntie with her phone, as my battery died!)

Middle Temple Hall

Shakespeare’s Globe are planning a huge undertaking – to take a production of Hamlet to every country in the world between now and 2016. ‘World Hamlet, as it is known, officially kicked off at the Globe this week, opening the new season on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd. However, a few preview performances took place over the Easter weekend at Middle Temple Hall, and I attended one of these.

The Hall dates back to the sixteenth century and it is a wonderful place to experience theatre. A highly appropriate place for Shakespeare, in any case, since he actually did have his plays performed here: a plaque marks the location of the first performance of Twelfth Night in 1602. The space itself is beautiful: rich and ornate.






Langdon Down Centre

The Langdon Down Centre
Entrance to the Langdon Down Centre

I visited the Normansfield Theatre in the Langdon Down Centre a couple of weeks ago to attend a performance. I reviewed the production here, but I wanted to post something on the theatre and the building itself, as it has a history much more interesting than most.

The centre was founded as a private home and hospital/care facility by Dr. John Langdon Down, who specialised in the care of people with learning disabilities. Many had the condition which now bears the Doctor’s name – Down’s syndrome. Langdon Down’s approach was radical for the time, with his emphasis on education and sympathetic care.

The theatre itself is utterly stunning. It’s rare to find such a beautiful surviving example of a private Victorian theatre; completed in 1879, it was built as an entertainment venue by Langdon Down as somewhere for his patients and students to explore drama and music. The performance I attended was a music hall-style revue telling the story of Langdon Down and one of his patients, James Henry Pullen, whose incredible creative ability is still evident in the ‘Giant of Earlswood’ which is still on display in the Centre, and the stunningly detailed ships he constructed from wood, on display in the museum.

Normansfield Theatre - proscenium arch
Normansfield Theatre – proscenium arch
Normansfield Theatre - side wall
Normansfield Theatre – side wall
Normansfield Theatre - ceiling
Normansfield Theatre – ceiling
Normansfield Theatre - back of the theatre
Normansfield Theatre – back of the theatre
The Giant of Earlswood
The Giant of Earlswood