On the edge of chaos: Richard III and the colonial theatre public
Thursday 1 September, 1pm Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL
On 26 December 1833, the first licenced theatre in New South Wales offered its first Shakespeare play—Colley Cibber’s adaptation of Richard III. The event entailed a riot in which the actor playing Gloucester hurled an audience member from the stage. Using insights drawn from scholarship on the Covent Garden ‘Old Price Riots’ in 1809, this paper will investigate the Sydney Theatre Royal’s 1833 disturbance as an indicative phase in the development of a colonial theatre public. Thirty years after this vexed beginning, majestic theatre venues hosted international stars throughout Australia’s major cities. What constituted this rapid cultural transformation? This paper demonstrates how the press, satire, and travesty, were active agents in the process through their performative negotiation of the penal colony’s troubled relationship with Shakespeare. Central to the narrative is Richard III, a drama of disrupted authority which (with Othello) was, uncannily, the most popular play on the colonial Australian stage.
Kate Flaherty is a lecturer in English and Drama in SLLL. Her monograph Ours as we play it: Australia plays Shakespeare (UWAP, 2011) examined three plays in performance in contemporary Australia. More recent work investigates Shakespeare on the colonial stage and the public interplay of the dramas with education, imperial politics and sectarian friction. Her work has been published in Contemporary Theatre Review, Australian Studies and Shakespeare Survey.