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.
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.