Theatre of Subversion: Carlile's Rotunda and Captain Swing
This chapter examines the veteran radical pressman Richard Carlile’s retro-conversion in 1830 of The Rotunda, Blackfriars Road, into a theatrical space for acting. Belatedly, Carlile had realized the potential of drama for reaching the plebeian audiences he sought. With his atheistical and republican programme of lectures failing, he turned to his more colourful associate, Robert Taylor (known as ‘Robert the Devil’), a faux clergyman turned atheistical demagogue. His spoken drama, Swing; or, Who are the Incendiarists?, not only flouted the patentees, but coincided with the ‘Captain Swing’ riots and agricultural disturbances. A Home Office spy filed a report for every performance of Swing (save for the first night) and his testimony in the National Archives, together with a close analysis of the drama, provides a unique insight into how politics and drama had become inextricably linked.
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