Snippets 187. At the start of the 20th Century, American Thomas Rees went on a tour of Europe, concluding in Britain and Ireland. His recollections were published in 1908 in the fascinating book Sixty Days in Europe and What We Saw There. In London he was keen to visit some theatres. One that didn’t impress him very much was the Savoy, and after the performance he witnessed a mishap that was probably more entertaining than the opera he had just seen:
We went one night to a performance at the Savoy theatre. The Savoy theatre adjoins the hotel of the same name. The hotel is among the most fashionable in London and this house has the reputation of being among the best. I think the opinion in general of the house, however, is better than it deserves. The main auditorium cannot be much more than forty feet in dimensions in either direction, and above the main floor there are four galleries or balconies, so that a person in the top gallery looks almost straight down on the heads of the actors on the stage. It is one of the most unsatisfactory places to enjoy an entertainment that could well be devised, nor is it particularly elaborate, and yet, it was so completely filled that we could only secure seats in the balcony.
This house is operated by a woman and presents only Gilbert and Sullivan operas, which appear to be very popular in England, although the basis of nearly all of them is ridicule of the English system of government. Just in front of the hotel and opera house, in the park on the Victoria embankment, is a bronze statue of the late Sir Arthur Sullivan, the Irish wit, who was the joint author, with Mr. Gilbert, of these operas.
The opera house is reached by a little street leading from the Strand with a very steep decline toward the river Thames. The night we attended the opera at this house was stormy and the rain had come down in a drizzle all day. The street leading down by the opera house was paved with asphalt and a film of mud on it made it quite slippery.
As we came out from the performance a driver with a hansom cab came rapidly down this little street in an endeavor to secure us or somebody else for a trip. He was in such a hurry to get ahead of all rivals, as he came down the hill, that when he came to the opera house door and jerked up his horses, the momentum was so great that the horses simply sat down and the rig, horses, driver and all went as though they were on a toboggan slide all the rest of the way down the little street and nearly to the bank of the river. It is hardly necessary to say that he didn’t catch a passenger as he went by.
The Savoy Theatre opened in 1881 and was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electric lights. It was famed for Gilbert and Sullivan operas for many years, and now puts on a variety of musical productions.
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