The London Theater World, 1890s

The theater world of London in the late 1890s was an exciting place.

Burlesque was a big part of that world in the 1880s–bawdy songs, dancing, farce. These shows were short, silly, and pastiches of operas or other popular shows of the era.

These are just some of the things happening in London’s West End in the 1890s.

The Gaiety Theatre
But in the 1890s, the Gaiety Theatre started putting on productions that became musical comedies. These shows were light, breezy, with witty dialogue and nice music and dancing. They were original shows, not pastiches, and from 1894, The Gaiety put on a string of “girl” musicals:

The Shop Girl (1894)
My Girl (1896)
The Circus Girl (1897)

The Gaiety Girls 

Part of the Gaiety’s shows were the Gaiety Girls–the chorus girls. Unlike the chorus girls in the burlesque age, the Gaiety Girls were pretty, well-to-do, respectable young ladies who wore the latest fashions as they sang and danced on stage. Some became leading actresses in their own right. Because they were popular and fashionable and polite, the girls attracted wealthy men to the theater–and several Gaiety Girls married into the nobility.

Beerbohm Tree

Beerbohm Tree as Hamlet, 1892

Herbert Beerbohm Tree was a leading actor and manager of the time. He managed the Haymarket Theatre and staged new work. But he was known as a Shakespearean actor, performing in Henry IV, Part 1, Hamlet, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He continued staging Shakespeare once he took over Her Majesty’s Theatre as its manager in 1897 until his death in 1917.

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s plays were produced between 1892 and 1895 in London. Lady Windermere’s Fan opened in February 1892; The Importance of Being Earnest opened on Valentine’s Day 1895 and closed after 85 performances despite its success because of Wilde’s arrest on charges of sodomy. 

6 thoughts on “The London Theater World, 1890s

  1. I didn't know that about Wilde! That's a shame they shut it down. I've decided that I want to be a Gaiety Girl in a past life now. ^_^I will say, being a historical writer you learn the most interesting things.


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