Paying for the theatre in caper sauce

4 Jan

The first known theatre in Australia was in a converted tile shed in Brickfields, Parramatta, not far from the infant penal settlement of Sydney in 1793-4.

The best known of Australia’s early theatres, however, was built by the former convict baker, Robert Sidaway, and appears to have been located near a windmill at the Rocks, in view of the expanse of Sydney harbour  and the clutter of convict dwellings nearby. Sidaway’s theatre opened for business on 16 January 1796. It allowed patrons to pay for a ticket to the gallery not in one shilling coins, but an equivalent quantity of flour, or spirits, or meat. The English press had a hearty laugh at this when it found out:

‘According to a French journalist, admissions to the Theatre at Botany Bay are paid for either in money or eatables. For a leg of mutton you have free access to any place before the curtain, and if you add Caper Sauce you may take in a friend’ (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 24.9.1798).

In spite of the sarcasm, this practice was sometimes to be found in England’s smaller country theatres, including one in which the manager was paid in nothing but fish. Can you just imagine the brouhaha of bartering, the earnest pleas, the clouds of flour and stink of fish scales, and the frustrated crowds milling at the gallery door?

A playbill from Sidaway’s theatre dated June 1796, held at the National Library of Australia and displayed in larger format at Wikipedia.

Source: Robert Jordan, The Convict Theatres of Early Australia, 1788-1840 (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2003), 37

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One Response to “Paying for the theatre in caper sauce”

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  1. The story of the stage-struck thief « The Vapour Trail - 10 January 2010

    […] Posted by Melissa Bellanta under General Leave a Comment  The opening night of the former convict Robert Sidaway’s Sydney theatre was 16 January 1796. Edward Young’s The Revenge (1733) was performed that night, with a […]

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