Intermission time – lower the curtain


Continuing the theme of Theatre through the ages…

The intermission, or interval, is the mid-point of a theatrical performance when the sets might be changed, the actors have a breather, and the audience dash to the toilets. The point of the break is often at a crucial moment and we’re left in suspense wondering what happens next.

The bars are the usual destination for most, and there, if you’re organised and ordered in advance, you’ll have a mad scramble to find your drinks on a table with a scrap of paper with your name on it. Amazing to me that nobody cheats and drinks somebody else’s. The downing of liquid is balanced finely with the required amount of time to visit the bathroom, something of a challenge for the Ladies of the audience – there’s always a queue. Elbow to elbow you will stand in the circle bar, eavesdropping on reviews of the performance so far. Then, the bell rings, and you have to down the rest of your drink and squeeze back into your seat.


Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford.

If you’re up in the Gods, the highest tier, you might require Opera Glasses. Telescopes first started to appear in theatres in early 18th Century. The first pair of binoculars, made from parallel telescopes, was developed in 1608 by Dutchman Hans Lipperhey, and Gallileo further developed the telescope, increasing the magnification sufficiently to view the stars.

By the mid 19th Century, Opera glasses were common, replacing the telescopic variety used in the previous century with the addition of a focusing wheel. Opera Glasses were a must for fashion as well as viewing; privately owned ones could be ornate, while those provided by the theatre needed a few pence to operate them.

The arrival of the interval in the theatre is always indicated by a feature of the stage – the lowering of the safety curtain (or fire curtain). Made from fibre glass or iron and located behind the proscenium arch, it lowers as the lights go up. Once asbestos was a common material, but no longer used, for obvious reasons, they don’t appear to be made from heavy materials. In fact, many are designed to look like cloth. Regardless of construction, in the UK, they must lower within 30 seconds.

The Theatre Royal of Drury Lane was the first to feature an iron safety curtain in 1794, and following a fire in a theatre in Exeter in 1887 that killed 200 people, their use became wide spread. To keep the beauty of the theatres architecture, they have become something of an art form in themselves.

The rising of the curtain brings with it a sense of excitement; the interval is over, the performance continues.



  1. I never knew those things about the curtains. Just assumed that they were cloth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought they were fire-retardant cloth, like fire blankets. But no, they’re metallic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d never given safety curtains a second thought! There’s nothing worse than reaching out for the opera glasses on the back of the seat in front to find you don’t have the necessary coinage to release them!

    I is for …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Then you drop them and make a big clunk in the middle of a quiet scene.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, are all stage curtains fireproof? At least in large commercial theatres? I never knew that.
    (Click the Blog link on the second row) : I is for Itsy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A legal requirement, both to have one, and prove that it works, hence they are lowered in the intermission. I think they only apply to larger theatres.


  4. There is an excited hushed expectancy with the rising of the curtain. Agreed that it is a race against time during intermission. There are never enough bathrooms or drink serving stations. The drinks waiting with your name is something new for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bit of a scrum at interval time!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting. I don’t understand how the safety curtain added significantly to the fire safety – thoughts on that? I really like the blog header that you have, all those quiet women writing at their desks is kind of a heritage for many of us. I think I started doing A to Z about the same year you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most theatre fires began on stage, which in the 1800s were lit by candles or gas. In 1887 Exeter theatre suffered a stage fire and the smoke swept into the auditorium. 150 people died. As a result of this, new regulations were brought in, including the safety curtain, which is lowered to protect the audience from stage fires. These days the risk is much lower with electric lights instead of flames, but the regulation remains probably because fire is still used as a stage prop.
      My quiet women – I have two banners. I should switch it over for the other set of quiet women writing.
      thanks for stopping by.


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