The Bill of the Play

The Bill of the Play by Mortimer Menpes. 1901. Watercolor. Source: Menpes, Japan: A Record in Colour, facing p. 6. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Again it is the naturalness of this scene that impresses. These theatre-goers are ordinary folk, not the élite. When Menpes talked freely with a famous actor of the day, the actor told him that he preferred

as an audience the middle classes. “They are more sympathetic,” he said; “the diplomats and politicians who have come in touch with the West, and are dressed in European dress, seem somehow to lose sympathy with us, and are not helpful as an audience. Perhaps it is that they can never entirely divest themselves of the sense of their own importance.” [19]

Undoubtedly, going to the theatre in Japan was an event. But, Menpes suggests, it was not a chance for the audience members to display themselves. It was a chance for them to satisfy artistic instincts which were more widely felt there than in the West. — Jacqueline Banerjee

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Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 20 June 2019.

Created 20 June 2019