Bancroft, Sir Squire (1841-1926)

Scene from The Vicarage

Thomas William Robertson’s play Ours (1866) was scandalous.  Was it because of sex?  No.  Violence?  No.  The furor was caused by a pudding being made on stage.   In The Vicarage (circa 1877) the characters shocked the audience by making tea.  People were not used to seeing such realistic tasks in a stage setting (

It was Sir Squire Bancroft and his wife who financed and promoted this new realism. They produced and starred in comedies all written by the new young playwright Thomas William Robertson, beginning in 1865.  Robertson introduced realism to the stage, and today, it’s hard to imagine anything else.  In Robertson’s plays, actors

  • talked in normal language (they didn’t “declaim”)
  • dealt with “ordinary” situations and
  • didn’t “act” but behaved like their audience (

Prior to Robertson, a designer would put as many chairs into a dining room scene as there were actors who needed to sit down.  Robertson would place on stage as many chairs as would realistically be found in that dining room, even if some were never actually used.  Or, if someone came in from a blizzard, snow would blow in from the doorway.  Other Robertson trademarks:

  • the importance of everyday incidents,
  • the revealing of character through apparent small talk, and
  • the idea that what is not said in the dialogue is as important as what is said (

The Bancrofts gave Robertson an unprecedented amount of directorial control over his plays, which foreshadowed the power that directors wield in the theater today (  Robertson insisted on retaining control over his scripts and casting and required that his actors follow his directions–a novel concept for that time.  Robertson was also a leader in requiring a fee from his managers for every performance of his plays, thus pioneering the modern royalty system (

The Bancrofts were innovating, too (  They constructed rooms on stage which they dressed with the care of an interior decorator, with sofas, curtains, chairs, carpets on their stage floors. Instead of painted flats they had real doors with real door handles.  The actors wore well-made fashionable dress, not the trappings of a dusty theatre wardrobe.  The Bancrofts redesigned their theater to suit the increasingly upscale audience: The cheap benches near the stage, where the rowdiest elements of the audience used to sit, were replaced by comfortable padded seats, carpets were laid in the aisles, and the “pit” was renamed the “stalls.”

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