Queen Victoria

Definition

Theater

  • (1819 - 1901) Queen of Great Britain (1837 - 1901), who supportedthe theater throughout her life and helped to change its disreputable image byknighting the actor Henry Irving in 1895. Both Irving and the queenregarded the honour as one bestowed on the whole profession. Although Victoriararely made personal comments at investitures, when she knighted Irvingshe leaned towards him and announced, "We are very, very pleased."

    As a child Victoria had loved the theater's depiction of anexciting world beyond her restricted life at Kensington Palace. TheRoyal Coburg Theatre was renamed the Royal Victoria in her honourin 1833; it would become better known as the Old Vic.

    As queen, Victoria attended the theater up to three timesa week; it was one of the few places where she could behave informally.Once, when attending the Haymarket Theatre she was met at the entranceby the manager, comedian John Buckstone, who (following tradition)walked backwards with lighted candles to direct her to the royal box.A sudden draught blew out the candles leaving them in total darkness."Now just look at that!" chirped Buckstone, using oneof his famous catchphrases. The queen laughed, and even let him takeher by the hand to guide her through the dark.

    Victoria encouraged her children to put on their own playsfor guests. In one drama presented at Balmoral, a gallant knight (thePrince of Wales) returned from battle to rejoin his loyal wife (thePrincess Alice). The knight recounted his valiant adventures in alengthy speech to which his wife replied "And we, too, my lord,have not been idle during your absence!", as she gestured towardsher 'children', a vast array of dolls.

    After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria never visiteda theater again. However, in 1881, after years as a recluse, she beganto ask such actors as Henry Irving, John Hare, Ellen Terry, EleanoraDuse, Sarah Bernhardt, the Kendals, andthe Bancrofts to put on private shows for her in the Waterloo Chamberat Windsor and at other royal residences. London's actor-managerskept special scenery for these royal engagements and would close theirtheaters for the night. In her last 20 years, Victoria viewed 28 ofthese command performances.

    For years after her death, the British censors would not allowQueen Victoria to be portrayed on the London stage. She was, however,represented in New York in 1923 by Beryl Mercer in Queen Victoriaand in 1935 by Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. She has sincebeen played by Anna Neagle in The Glorious Days (1951), byDorothy Tutin in Portrait of a Queen (1965), and by Polly Jamesin the musical I and Albert (1972). In 1968 Edward Bond'sEarly Morning was refused a licence for its scurrilous portraitof the queen as a lesbian.

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