PREVIEW: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain, The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum’s exhibition will be an interactive exhibition exploring the mechanics of going to the theatre.

Samuel Alken after Thomas Rowlandson, Audience Scene c1800 © Gerald Coke Handel Foundation.

On display from the 20th September until the 5th January 2020, Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain will take over the whole museum to explore  the mechanics of theatre and concert going in eighteenth and nineteenth century England.

Featuring more than 100 objects, visitors will the similarities and differences between theatre and festival-going then and now, including advertising, ticket sales, audience behaviour and dress code.

As going to a show became a popular past time in the eighteenth century, the entertainment industry became larger, with many new theatres being built and festivals began in both London and the provinces.

Those visiting the exhibition will get to glimpse of behind-the-scenes roles, from theatre managers, set designers and scenery-painters, to the refreshment sellers and ticket collectors.  They will also discover  how leading artists of the day, including Hogarth, Hayman and Lambert, crossed over into the world of show business as set designers and scenery painters.

The display will explore key venues in London and the provinces, from the theatres of Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Richmond, to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and the Foundling Hospital Chapel, as well as the provincial music festivals of other major cities in Britain.

Key sections of the exhibition will include:

  • Georgian Theatre: this section will include caricatures and drawings of Georgian audience members as well as original advertising, programmes and tickets will be displayed alongside information about how Georgian audiences purchased tickets and will detail the development of the modern-day ‘box office’.
  • Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens: this section will include an original eighteenth-century supper box painting, Devil to Pay, by Francis Hayman (1708-1776) which depicts the famous actress Kitty Clive. This will be the first time it will be on public display for the first time in more than 200 years.
  • Foundling Museum Chapel: the exhibition will also reveal  the importance of the Foundling Hospital Chapel as a music venue in Georgian Britain. George Frideric Handel was a fervent supporter of the Foundling Hospital and from 1749 he gave an annual benefit concert, raising thousands of pounds for the Hospital.
  • Music Festivals: in this part of the exhibition, visitors will be able to discover how performers capitalised on the summer season and logistical complexities of staging a music festival, including the transport of staging, singers and instruments between venues, travelling only by horse and cart.

Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain will be on display at The Foundling Museum from the 20th September until the 5th January 2020.

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