Staging Napoleonic theatre

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: French Studies


This follow-on project will provide additional impact by distilling and disseminating knowledge acquired during the AHRC-funded "French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era" project.
In the original bid, we envisaged small-scale participatory research workshops with theatre practitioners to explore practical issues surrounding the relationship between text and music in theatre of the time. By rehearsing scenes from melodrama we have shown that apparently simple musical cues operated on multiple levels -alluding to places or people; establishing atmosphere; marking moments of emotional release and coordinating the movement of actors. Follow-on funding would allow us to explore this much further and enable us to work more innovatively with 2 non-HEIs to put on public performances of plays not performed anywhere for nearly 200 years.
Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond
The Georgian Theatre Royal is the country's most complete Georgian playhouse, in regular use between 1788 and 1830. We have been asked us collaborate on a public performance of a Pixerécourt play (in new translation) with contemporary Napoleonic music. We will run workshops with the youth theatre, local amateur dramatics groups and schools in conjunction with the Theatre's artistic director and 2-3 professional actors, leading to a 'performance in a day'. In addition to the broader positive cultural impact of restaging this play, our work with local actors will enhance their knowledge and skills base by training them in French acting techniques of the period and opening their sensibilities to the relationship between music and text. The Theatre does not currently have the funds to invest in interpretation and so our work with them will provide valuable recordings to be used in their exhibition space and in subsequent outreach activities.
Portchester Castle
The collaboration with English Heritage at Portchester will allow us to explore the plays performed by Napoleonic prisoners of war, which included an ambitiou selection of hits from the Paris stage but also their own plays, including a full-scale melodrama, Roseliska, written in 1810 by a 21-year old sergeant, Jean Baptiste Louis de Lafontaine, who had been an actor at the Théâtre des Troubadours in Paris. The play draws heavily on the Parisian tradition of grand spectacle whilst addressing a number of themes close to the prisoners' hearts.
Conducting performance-based research is particularly fruitful when surroundings can be properly taken into consideration. Although the wooden staging has not survived, the dimensions and acoustics of the basement of the Keep at Portchester are as they were in 1809/10 and working with actors and musicians alongside EH archaeologists allows us unique access into the mechanics of prisoner-of-war theatricals. Roseliska for instance has a scene where the hero escapes out of a window - working in situ will allow us to explore the possibility that the prisoners used the architecture of the keep to their advantage rather than constructing a set for this scene...
Performing and recording the prisoners' own play will bring the Keep to life for visitors and allow them to discover more about the ingenuity and creativity of those detained. The performances will bring other benefits to Portchester, including increased visibility as an English Heritage property, potentially an increase in visitor numbers and income and will allow the Castle to expand the topics covered in its schools work.
To coincide with the public performances at Portchester and in Richmond, we will run workshops for local schools on performing melodrama and the relationship between text and music. In this, we will be able to draw on our experience from running similar events in Oxford and Coventry in 2014. Staging Napoleonic theatre will allow us to reach new audiences, significantly enhance the value and wider benefits of the original project and create a firm basis for further collaboration with our non HEI partners.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
In the first instance, English Heritage and the Georgian Theatre Royal will be the two principal beneficiaries of the research. In the second instance, the wider public will also benefit, particularly those attending performances and visiting either of the two sites to look at exhibition material. Thirdly, those involved in the 'performance in a day' at Richmond will develop skills in 19th-century acting. Fourthly, school pupils who attend the planned sessions in both locations will be encouraged to develop their intellectual curiosity and an understanding of others and their history. Provisional conversations with amateur theatre groups in France indicates that there is the possibility of beneficiaries in France since well as the setting of the manuscript musical scores would make the plays accessible for anyone to perform.
How will they benefit from this research?
English Heritage will benefit from the research as they look to reinterpret the Keep at Portchester Castle as part of their renewal of displays and exhibits at the site. There are two elements to the benefits: i) an improved exhibition space informed by the most recent research into the theatricals of the prisoners of war and ii) increased and new interest in the castle through the performance of one of the plays written by French prisoners of war while at the Castle in 1809. The research has the potential to make a significant difference to the profile of Portchester Castle and its visitor numbers.
Benefits to the Georgian Theatre Royal can similarly be split between benefits to the Theatre and to the participants of the 'performance in a day'. The Theatre will benefit from an extension to its educational activities and visitors will be offered an enhanced understanding of the melodramatic tradition of which British theatre was part in the early 19th century as videos of performance will be available in the theatre's exhibition space. Recorded extracts of the performance of the Danube Fortress can also be used in its work with local schools. Members of their youth theatre will gain unrivalled experience in making an artistic tradition visible once more through the workshops that we will be running. They, and other local actors, will gain expertise in melodrama, a now lapsed theatrical form that requires actors to externalise emotion, switch from comic to tragic mode of expression, sing, dance, and hold tableaux. Being confronted by unfamiliar acting techniques will enable them to re-evaluate their usual working practices.
The research will enhance the UK's cultural enrichment, by giving audiences access to a theatrical form that dominated worldwide at the start of the 19th century - melodrama - but which has no continuous performance tradition.
It will increase public awareness of this forgotten theatrical form and also of the situation of French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic conflicts.
Many of the benefits of the research will be realised quickly because the follow-on funding is to facilitate performances but there will also be longer-term cultural and socio-economic benefits because recordings of performances will allow subsequent visitors access to the performance material.
Title French Prisoner-of-war theatre at Portchester Castle 
Description Project team members provided English Heritage with research on the prisoner-of-war theatre built at Portchester Castle by French internees during the Napoleonic wars, contributing to the exhibition panels, guidebook and audioguide 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Greater awareness of site history for English Heritage staff and visitors 
Title Performance: Fortress on the Danube 
Description A community performance of Pixerécourt's hit melodrama from 1805 in translation was performed at the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire, in August 2017. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Audience and actors felt their views on early 19th-century French theatre had been changed by the performance. 
Title Recreating Portchester's French prisoner-of-war theatre 
Description A video made in conjunction with English Heritage exploring the prisoners' theatre and the restaging of one of their melodramas. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact greater understanding of history of site for English Heritage staff and visitors 
Title Roseliska 
Description A re-staging of the 3-act melodrama Roseliska, written by French prisoners of war in 1810. Performed at Portchester Castle in the space where it was originally staged. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Better understanding of the site's history for English Heritage staff at Portchester Castle 
Description We have staged 2 melodramas from the early 19th century for the public. The first melodrama was a prisoner-of-war play written and performed by French subofficers at Portchester Castle. One of the project postdocs arranged the music for the performance by selecting appropriate music from scores that have survived from the period and from music published by the prisoners' musical director when he returned to France. We have learnt much about the interaction of music, gesture and words through the rehearsal process. We have also learnt about audience and actors' responses to melodrama. The performance coincided with the launch of a new exhibition in the keep at Portchester to which we also contributed and information about Roseliska and the prisoners' theatre in general are on the English Heritage website in textual and video pieces. The second melodrama was a community performance of one of the most successful melodramas of the early 19th century, Pixerécourt's Fortress on the Danube. This was performed to an enthusiastic audience at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, north Yorkshire. We learnt much about the differences between the Parisian and provincial scores to the play as we prepared the score for performance.
Exploitation Route Scholars will benefit from the performance as research reflections we will be publishing as a result of our 2 performances. We now have play texts and scores that can be analysed or performed. Our work is enabling English Heritage staff to increase their understanding of the site at Portchester and as a result visitors to the castle are able to have an enhanced experience.
Sectors Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description English Heritage have used our research in a new exhibition at Portchester Castle. We provided information about the French prisoner-of-war theatre and advised on the reconstruction of the stage and illustrations for a 'hole in the wall' display and costumes for the dressing up box. We have been consulted on the new guide book too. Music from the performance of Roseliska has been incorporated into the castle's audio guide. We have worked with the EH education team to develop teaching resources for schools activities in the keep and contributed to their first 'Napoleonic' family weekend in August 2017.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description collaboration with English Heritage 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We offered our research expertise to the reinterpretation team preparing a new exhibition at Portchester Castle, advising on the panels, the reconstructed stage, the dressing-up box contents, illustrations. Our performance of one of the prisoner-of-war melodramas was the launch event for the new exhibition and music from that performance is being used in the audio guide. The information on the Portchester website about the theatre is drawn from our research and we were part of the video made to mark the exhibition launch. We have taken part in a family weekend at the castle and run a schools event on the melodrama.
Collaborator Contribution English Heritage have been exemplary partners. They let us have access to the keep for rehearsals and the performance, facilitated our work with the events team and the education team and allowed us to share our research with a new audience.
Impact exhibition; schools events; family days; online material; audio guide;. guide book; conference papers; podcasts; recording of dress rehearsal
Start Year 2017
Description melodrama collaboration with Georgian Theatre Royal Richmond 
Organisation Georgian Theatre Royal
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Georgian Theatre Royal to produce a play in a week and schools workshops as part of the town's annual GeorgeFest in August 2017.
Collaborator Contribution The Georgian Theatre Royal are providing access to the theatre, marketing and front of house staff.
Impact follow-on funding bid to AHRC for project on Staging Napoleonic theatre
Start Year 2016
Description Portchester family day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact English Heritage held a weekend 'family' event at Portchester and we ran drop-in workshops on performing melodrama in the keep so that visitors could get a sense of what the prisoner-of-war theatre might have been like.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Schools workshop, Portchester Castle 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The research team worked with English Heritage's education unit to deliver a day workshop for A-level drama students on performing melodrama at Portchester Castle
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Staging Melodrama: Roseliska at Portchester Castle 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Approximately 80 members of the public in Portchester and surrounding areas were invited to performance of an original PoW play, Roseliska, transcribed from an original play text in Victoria & Albert Museum archives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017