Today marks a very sad day in American theatre history–a very sad day indeed–the earliest documented example of a poor review. Yup. A play was presented on this day–August 27–in 1665 at Fowkes Tavern in Accomack County on the eastern shore of Virginia and, it seems, some critic didn’t like it. Not one bit. His review was so bad, in fact, the run of the show was halted and the actors arrested. Not good. (Apparently, critics had a lot more power back then and were particularly surly as well.) The three performers–and presumably creators of the play–were hauled before a local magistrate (who, it just so happened, was convening his court in the very tavern where the offensive performance took place). The three were charged with “performing a play.” A very bad play. To prove the point, the judge demanded that the offending performers reenact their filthy and disgusting show before the court. And so they did. Finally, after viewing the work in person, the judge did something unexpected–he dismissed the charges. Either the performance was so bad it really didn’t warrant labeling it a “play” and, hence, was not in violation of being one. Or, more likely, the judge found nothing especially offensive. Indeed, he not only freed the three actors, he also fined the critic for bringing such nonsense to the court’s attention in the first place. (Oh, if only critics were held to such standards today…) The play in question was entitled Ye Bare and Ye Cubb, and was likely the invention of the three offending presenters–Cornelius Watkinson, Philip Howard, and William Darby. The particularly demanding critic was one Edward Martin who never again exercised his reviewing skills, at least to the extent that they ended up in court. Unfortunately, no copy of the play survives, only the public record that documents this odd and curious little bit of very early American theatre history. Ye Bare and Ye Cubb remains the earliest known performance of a play in the British North American colonies and the first one to receive a very poor review.
- Today in Theatre History–THE FIRST AMERICAN-BORN ACTOR? WHO KNOWS?–March 13, 1790
- Today in Theatre History: WILLIAM WELLS BROWN’S “ESCAPE” LEAPS TO FAME–January 30, 1858
- Today in Theatre History: SHERIDAN’S FIRST PLAY, THE RIVALS, GETS A DO-OVER–January 28, 1775
- Today in Theatre History: OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD WITH DOROTHY AND IMOGENE THE COW–January 21, 1903
- Today in Theatre History: GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, “A THIRD RATE IBSEN”–January 9, 1905
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