From 1816 onwards, London theatres began to install gas-lighting systems to replace candles. In addition to allowing theatre managers to adjust the level of illumination, gas lights offered greater brightness and visibility for the audience. Actors had to adjust to this new level of exposure that threatened their ability to ‘look the part.’ Until this illuminating moment, there had been little need for makeup and actors to adhere to the principles of physiognomy – a system that correlated character traits to facial features. Under the new harsh glare of the gas lights, both the faces of the actors and the theatres themselves were found wanting.
Published in Volume 30, Issue 3, pages 84-89