Last night on a jet-lagged stint of wakefulness, I read Jim Davis and Victor Emiljanow’s Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing, 1840-1880. (I have come to Leicester from Brisbane for the British Association of Victorian Studies’ 2008 conference, and then for the British Association of Australian Studies’ conference just outside London later this week). Being unable to sleep in the small hours after the exhaustion of a flight from the Antipodes is a grey experience. Even though there will be no sleeping for me today, I still have the lyrical melancholia of Daysleeper and Michael Stipes’ voice playing repeatedly in my head. But going over the experience of seeing central London for the first time on Saturday, and then reading Davis and Emiljanow’s work on mid-Victorian London theatregoers leached something of colour into the nightwaking vigil.
I have decided to discover what I can about London’s East End theatre audiences while I am in the U.K., ahead of visiting the Tower Hamlets local history archive and the V&A theatre archives next week. A wonderful digital archive into East End theatre is currently being compiled by the V&A and other players. Even before it is accessible, however, I intend to start working a comparative sense of working-class London theatregoing into my thinking and writing about the audiences of cheap Australian theatricals. And that means that the sense of new research horizons opening up as well as physical ones, as I feel the full rush of a colonial beholding London for the first time, coming blinking out of the underground into a blaze of conflicting sensations, visceral, emotional and intellectual – well, this is my wonderful lot for the next fortnight.