If you're seeking out a factual and highly unusual new read, Death in the Theatre might be a book for you. Guaranteed to teach about countless absorbing revelations, it delves into the darkest secrets that our beloved theatres hold in their pasts.
As the title suggests, the publication is about a host of hidden tragedies encountered when- typically unsuspecting- theatre enthusiasts meet their fate. Although perhaps arguably a niche topic from the outlook, this book proves that there is ultimately a gruesome fascination with the true stories it conveys. Written by Chris Wood, his wealth of knowledge details a huge range of events that span generations and subsequently the developments in the arts industry that may have since alleviated these devastating disasters. Covering many places of historical importance with their growing societal impact, from local and regional touring venues to West End theatres, it is all discussed, and you will learn masses about the places we continue to reside when our favourite shows take to the stage.
Starting with a chapter from back in 1794 and ending with one set in 1939, the thoroughly researched accounts of deaths have varied reasoning, including several from overcrowding, some from danger with the mechanics, and many from lack of medical knowledge at the time. It is thought-provoking to compare the similarities between then and now, such as the rowdy Saturday night behaviour; the sweltering heat from the gallery, or massively varying ticket prices to fuel a class divide in the capital, with the differences too - perhaps the developments and safety measures otherwise unthought of, and taken for granted in the modern day industry. One in particular being the lighting systems, once only sunlight or candles, to change the mood of the piece: many of us use the phrase 'limelight' but how many know where it came from, and the hazards it proposed?
Well-articulated recounts of otherwise unknown history provide all the gory details necessary for an interesting and in-depth imagination of the incidents that resulted in the losses of life. Some wince-worthy moments speak of the fatal injuries of falling, crushing and deliberate or accidental mishaps that occurred to unlucky people of all ages, baby to the elderly. These reflections are told in an array of sophisticated and detailed language that shows the blurred line between the people creating or watching, and the entertainment itself, additionally touching on the shifting attitudes in society (particularly with the justice system), and the growth of theatre; the factors that have been shaping it to where it is today. Each chapter is a glimpse into a different time of stagecraft, and although informative, doesn't feel too extensive, from plays to pantos, finding out about the places that have been driving audiences in for centuries.
It is certainly perceptible that Chris' depth of evidence is packed into this book, and Death in the Theatre appears profound and educated. Despite the solemn subject, the strange cultural engrossment with true crime means that there is an appeal to discovering everything this book entails, if it sounds like something for you.
Review: Hannah Crouch