< Theatre Notebook
Vol. 69, No. 2
The Haymarket Theatre and Literary Property: Constructing Common Law Playright, 1770-1833
“Colman the elder, in his agreements, had turned his own legal knowledge to good account.” ‹Richard Brinsley Peake, 1841 Between 1781 and 1785, Haymarket Theatre proprietor George Colman the Elder purchased the manuscripts and copyrights of five plays by comic dramatist John O’Keeffe: The Son in Law (first performed 1779), The Dead Alive (June 1781), The Agreeable Surprise (September 1781), The Young Quaker (1783), and Peeping Tom (1784). Following the example of actor/author Charles Macklin, Colman maintained that, so long as these works remained unpublished, he had both a legal right to exclude others from publishing them and a legal right to exclude others from performing them. To that end, his successors at the Haymarket, his son, George Junior, and that gentleman’s brother-in-law, David Edward Morris, refused for nearly fifty years to authorize publication of the five O’Keeffe plays.
I shall argue that, by securing in court the exclusive rights they claimed in these works, Haymarket Theatre proprietors helped to construct a common law public performance right (or “playright”) in an unpublished (or “manuscript”) play.2 The famous barrister Thomas Erskine and Lord Chancellor Eldon were key players in establishment of this principle, synopsized in 1836 by U.S.
A Tale of Three Designers: the mystery of design attribution in Belaso and Long's The Darling of the Gods staged at His Majesty's Theatre, London, in 1903
In the winter of 1903, actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree staged David Belasco and John Luther Long’s Japanese-themed melodrama The Darling of the Gods. Based on an original Japanese folk tale and set in the period of the samurai downfall, it told a story of the forbidden love between outlawed samurai, Kara, and naïve young princess, Yo-San. The plot seemed to contain all the elements necessary for an opulent melodrama but, as so often with Tree’s endeavours, its success was largely down to its stunning sets and costumes rather than great narrative finesse. Belasco and Long’s 1902 debut on Broadway secured the play’s popularity in New York, and was probably a useful tool for Tree and his team when constructing their version. However, the playwright’s opening run had the significant benefit of employing a Japanese designer on staff, illustrator Genjiro Yeto. His drawings and ideas were interpreted by artist Madame. E. S Freisinger into costume designs, and were declared “rich and gorgeous in colour” by The New York Times (21 November 1902). The credit for costume designs used in Tree’s production can be less confidently attributed, and the mystery surrounding their authorship is the focus of this article. It will also explore the corresponding aesthetic trends and cultural shifts connected to the artistic movement of Japonism, and the implications and complications that influence our reading of theatre design during this era.
A Culture of Development: The Royal Court and the Young Writers' Programme
In playwright Gregory Motton’s introduction to his August Strindberg translations, he sharply criticises the way in which the British new writing industry finds and develops its playwrights. “Witness,” he writes,
the plethora of ‘help’ groups for writers, and theatres’ doctrine of developing young writers (ones they can discover and control). Believe it or not, this goes so far as to include developing sets of ‘rules’ by which play writing ought to be governed. If this sounds like something from a long-forgotten past let me tell you I have seen those rules written on a whiteboard at the Young Writers group at the prominent London theatre that dubs itself ‘The Writers’ Theatre’ (run by directors of course). (Motton 16-17)
The theatre Motton refers to here is the Royal Court, and the “help group” in question is the Young Writers’ Programme. This support and development group for playwrights aged between eighteen and twenty-five has existed in its current form since 1998, when previous Artistic Director Ian Rickson renamed the Young People’s Theatre the Young Writers’ Programme and moved its focus entirely to playwriting, placing it under the leadership of Ola Animashawun. This reflected a gradual shift that had been taking place in the programme throughout the 1990s, as under Dominic Tickell and later Carl Miller it increasingly moved its emphasis away from other theatre artists and towards writers.
Stephen Joseph: Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur
The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry, Volume Six, 1914-1928
Katharine Cockin (ed)
Keith Johnstone: A Critical Biography
Theresa Robbins Dudeck
The Queen's Dumbshows: John Lydgate and the Making of Early Theatre
Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean
Roger Clegg and Lucie Skeaping (eds.)
The Haymarket Theatre and Literary Property: Constructing Common Law Playright, 1770-1833 –§– A Tale of Three Designers: the mystery of design attribution in Belaso and Long’s The Darling of the Gods staged at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1903 –§– A Culture of Development: The Royal Court and the Young Writers’ Programme.
G. Laurence Harbottle