Charles Dickens Goes to the Theater…

In celebration of Charles Dickens’ 202nd birthday, we’re highlighting our Collection of Dickensian Programs, 1879-1936. This collection contains theater programs for Dickens-based plays from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It has always been popular to adapt Dickens’ stories for the stage and screen. Even during the author’s lifetime, there were theatrical spin-offs of his works, some of which appeared even before Dickens had written the final chapter (most of his novels were published serially in magazines or parts before appearing in book form).

In 1882, the Spectral Opera Company gave a performance of A Christmas Carol. The actors playing the ghosts were covered with phosphorous to give them a glowing effect. Tickets to such events were often printed in a novel format, such as the court summons shown here, inviting someone to a play based on The Pickwick Papers at Albert Hall in Portsmouth.

Dickens theater ephemera

The collection also includes programs from charity performances of Dickens’ works. Dickens Bazaars were held to raise funds for schools and churches. Visitors to such events would have attended concerts, art exhibitions, and stage performances while mingling with actors dressed as Dickens characters. A reading of A Christmas Carol, with incidental music and illustrated moving tableaux, was given in 1914 at London’s Royal Court Theatre to raise money for World War I relief efforts.

Dickens theater ephemera

Two programs from earlier Dickens birthday celebrations are shown below. The 1891 celebration featured “song, scene, and story from Dickens.” The Savoy Theatre’s 1912 centenary celebration of the author’s birth was organized by three of his children. It was “inaugurated to give an opportunity to our cousins from beyond the Seas, by whom Charles Dickens is so greatly revered and honoured, of witnessing upon the stage of the Capital City of the Empire, the loved and never-to-be-forgotten characters created by the immortal novelist.”

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