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Death in the Theatre (Hardback)

Hobbies & Lifestyle > Art P&S History > British History P&S History > Social History P&S History > True Crime

By Chris Wood
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399009119
Published: 5th May 2023

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£22.00


Star Review!

Hugh Bonneville says: "A richly entertaining account of tragic theatre accidents and murders most foul...a must-read for all lovers of the theatre!"

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"A richly entertaining account of tragic theatre accidents and murders most foul. If theatre walls could talk, what secrets would they reveal? Chris Wood provides fascinating answers with tales of brawling ushers, murderously jealous husbands, stampeding crowds and infant tragedies. A meticulously researched and vivid collection of lives lost in the palaces of dreams. A must-read for all lovers of the theatre, providing shocks and gasps of horror when real life proves to be more dramatic than any play on stage." - Hugh Bonneville

"Immaculately researched and beautifully macabre. This is a real treat for anyone who is either a fan of the theatre or of untimely deaths. I loved it!" - Peter James

Britain’s theatrical wonderland has been a cornerstone of culture for centuries, delighting and thrilling audiences with an assemblage of exhilarating spectacles. Beyond the trodden boards, and tucked neatly behind the curtain however, lies a catalogue of real life destruction and grisly murder that our greatest tragedians would surely be proud to have presided over. Tread the bloodied boards of Britain’s theatres and witness the deathly dramas that have played out so dramatically within them.

Death in the Theatre collects an astonishing selection of startling tragedies from Britain’s throng of theatres. There is something especially staggering when the player exits life on their adorned stage, and yet, with this by no means an infrequent occurrence, death has made many a fearful cameo appearance – stalking the stalls and grimly reaping the galleries in its macabre and relentless fashion.

In 1910 a strange midnight tragedy was enacted in a London theatre, where the brutal murder of an elderly stage carpenter prompted huge excitement among the theatre-going world and indeed wider public.

How did a children’s magic show descend into such unspeakable horror that would leave 183 youngsters dead in a Sunderland theatre, their tiny bodies brutally laid out in the dress circle for the bleakest of identity parades?

Learn of outrageous tragedy such as the young man mauled to death by a lion in a Gloucester theatre, and the unfortunate victim killed in the Dumfries Theatre Royal – quite literally – by the limelight.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I can’t say enough good things about this book and the author. The stories are unique as he doesn’t just cover the big headliners. Chris is so wonderful when it comes to research and telling the stories that have been forgotten. He gives the working and lower classes in British history their voice in both this book and his first one, which I also highly recommend reading.

NetGalley, Gemma Lynn

Death in the Theatre by Chris Woods is a very interesting although macabre book about the history of deaths so often tragic in the theatres of the country.

The book has been well researched and written. I did find the chapters about children very difficult to read. It was an interesting book. I am quite glad we now have more health and safety in place as a lot of these issues would not have happened if there was more safety in those days.

Pen and Sword always release very interesting historical books so you know that when you get a book from them it will be worth reading.

NetGalley, Hazel Thomson

'A meticulously researched series of events ranging from the eerily macabre to the tragically unforeseen which have unfortunately occurred inside the very buildings originally intended for our pleasure.
The result is ironically highly enjoyable.'

Sir Alan Ayckbourn

Article: Access All Areas

Lancashire Life

Article: 'When breaking a leg was the least of your worries'

Irish Daily Mail

Article: When breaking your leg was the least of your worries

Daily Mail

5 Stars

A great, informative book!

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Instagram - @tattooedliteraryresearcher

5 Stars

This was a great book.

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Instagram - @bookshelf_wonders

Over the course of 34 chapters we see the untimely passing of people ranging from actors, audience members to those working tirelessly behind the curtains.

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Instagram - @sarasreadingdiary

Wood's latest book is a great success that challenges the brutalities of the class system. health and safety, and the allure of entertainment.

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Instagram - @historic_chronicles

From fires, to falls, to being mauled to death by a lion, Death In The Theatre is a book to read for history lovers… and also those who don’t mind reading morbid topics.

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Instagram - @georgi_lvs_books

4 Stars

Death in the Theatre is another excellent book to read in stages – not least because it’s a lot of sadness to consume in one go – but it’s a wonderful exploration of the darker side of theatre.

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Instagram - @paradise_library

This book is worth the read for everyone who loves History, theatre and the dark side of humanity.

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Instagram - @historic_rabbithole

5 out of 5

I would definitely like to see this being adapted as a TV series, so please let’s make this happen!

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Instagram - @rose_sgueglia

The book truly is an excellent and unusual theatrical romp!

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Instagram - @imysbookshelf

5 out of 5

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Instagram - @ifitaintbaroquepodcast

If you enjoy the theatre and its rich history... then this morbid, informative amble through Britain’s theatrical archives is the read for you.

Read the full review here!

Cara Brazier, West End Best Friend

The history of the theatre is fascinating. So much passion. So much drama. So much excitement and that isn’t even on stage. In fact, the history of theatre is rich in final curtains for many both in front of and behind the scenes as well as in the audience. Whilst not complete by any means, as I can think of a few that were not mentioned, it is still a full and interesting review of the British events.

There are several that involve falls from great heights, many of panic from fire, some from malice and a couple of rather quirky and oddball events. Each tells the background of the story and then the actual event. It also covers the inquests after the event. Some were pure accidents. Some were caused by neglect or indifference. The theatre is a cruel master for those who ply their trade. It seems it has been a dangerous workplace as well.

Four purrs and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

Article: Brilliant author Chris is star of the big stage

Dumfries and Galloway Standard

I always enjoy books on the history of theatre and this book was no exception. I find Pen and Sword to be good publishers for non-fiction that is highly accessible and I felt like this was proven again by this book. The tone was good and it kept me hooked and entertained all the way through. I like how it didn't just focus just on London and had plenty of examples outside of London.

NetGalley, Bethany Younge

‘Having 'died the death' in British Theatre more times than I can decently remember it is more than a little fascinating to learn of others who have suffered the real thing as we do in this excellent book by Chris Wood. Many of the deaths are of course sad and some tragic beyond telling but it's not all pathos and tears, certainly not, for there are moments in the mortal mayhem which had this reader, for one, rolling about with laughter. It is a great read and Chris Wood has done a magnificent job bringing to us in such a lively informative and entertaining way the previously untold story of death in the theatre. We should be grateful. It is a gem of a book.‘

John Nettles

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I think the author did a fabulous job on a grim subject and put in all the details a reader like me wants to read. I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it anyone who loves to take a glance yesteryear and the things they went through... It is a book I will definitely be reading again in the future.

NetGalley, Janalyn Prude

Article: Morpeth author pens second book

Northumberland Gazette

It is certainly perceptible that Chris' depth of evidence is packed into this book, and Death in the Theatre appears profound and educated.

Read the Full Review Here

London Theatre Reviews

A collection of interesting and tragic stories happened in theatres. It was entertaining and informative.
Recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

After reading the enthralling Death in the Theatre it will be impossible to view theatre in the same way again! Author Chris Wood has meticulously researched and crafted one of the most fascinating and riveting books I have read this year...I absorbed it like a sponge. The book is about unimaginable tragedies (accidents, murder, natural death) which have taken place in British theatres over the years, both on the stage and off. The true stories are vivid and dramatic and left me curious to learn more.

The lower class patrons were seated in the main auditorium and therefore more likely to be injured or worse. Whether crowds were crushed (devastatingly, more often rushes of children, once to receive treats), spread fires from person to person in panic, pierced through the eye with a cane, shot, badly burned from boilers, mauled by performing lions, it's all here in black and white, yet colourful. Photographs and illustrations depict horrors which befell families. Thankfully, construction and health and safety have improved.

Intrigued by real-life (er...death) macabre, most of which will be new to you? Don't let this book slip through your fingers.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Death in the Theatre gives us a fascinating look into the darker and tragic side of those glamorous places of entertainment that people have flocked to for centuries and continue to do so. While the focus of these is indeed on the loss of life, the stories are told in an interesting and very readable manner, and at the same time also give us a look into the world of theatre itself, and how it (and the buildings which have housed it in different places across the UK) evolved and changed over the ages. An engrossing, entertaining (even with its subject matter) and informative read.

NetGalley, Mallika Ramachandran

'The Death in the Theatre' is a collection of 34 stories of tragic events that happened in British theatres between 1794 and 1939. A very interesting read for true crime readers.

NetGalley, Meg Gajda

Death in the Theatre was a fun read highlighting some of the extreme and bizarre deaths that have taken place in the theatre over the last three hundred years or so. I liked the way the collection of tales was structured and the book was just the right length to hold my interest throughout. This is a history book that will appeal to theatergoers or those interested in the history of theatre.

NetGalley, Nicki Markus

Death in the Theatre by Chris Wood is about the various calamities that have taken place in theatres from the very end of the 18th century stretching into the 20th.

Let me just say that this book didn't call to me: it SCREAMED at me. I enjoy reading things about the macabre, and I am fascinated with 19th century theatre, so to have an overlap between the two was quite nice. The author covers all sorts of mishaps and tragedies, ranging from audience members dying of heart attacks or accidental smothering, to managers and actors killing themselves when they feel they have no alternative, to children burning alive or a staff member murdering another because of a grudge. There's even a lion attack!

Truly an interesting book that brings to light incidents that have now faded from public memory.

NetGalley, Devon Syndram

If you're looking for true crime meets the theater, then this book is for you.

NetGalley, Spencer Wright

‘Across the upper darkened landings children ran for prizes, but instead reached only death; death in one if its ugliest and most sickening forms.’

After reading Famous Last Words I knew I would want to read EVERYTHING by Chris Wood.

Death In The Theatre is the perfect read for readers who like myself enjoy ‘morbid’ reads and learning about history.

Next time I go to the theatre I will be somewhat anxious but also grateful to future changes as going to the theatre for a lot of people back in the day did literally mean their last day alive!

‘A mass of children, most of them dead, were piled upon one another to the height of seven or eight feet, and yet, on the stairs above, unknowing children continued to rush down towards a valley of death.’

NetGalley, Georgi Lvs Books

"Immaculately researched and beautifully macabre. This is a real treat for anyone who is either a fan of the theatre or of untimely deaths. I loved it!"

Peter James

"A richly entertaining account of tragic theatre accidents and murders most foul. If theatre walls could talk, what secrets would they reveal? Chris Wood provides fascinating answers with tales of brawling ushers, murderously jealous husbands, stampeding crowds and infant tragedies. A meticulously researched and vivid collection of lives lost in the palaces of dreams. A must-read for all lovers of the theatre, providing shocks and gasps of horror when real life proves to be more dramatic than any play on stage."

Hugh Bonneville

From being eaten alive by lions to laughing yourself to death, this collection of easy to read stories will have you diving down a theatrical rabbit hole into history - 5⭐️

West End Wilma

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a interesting concept for a nonfiction book, I never really thought of how many deaths could happen in the theatre. This was written well and I enjoyed the way Chris Wood wrote this.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer
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About Chris Wood

As a freelance writer and researcher, Chris Wood has written for the popular UK True Crime Podcast and is a student of criminology and psychology. This is his debut book around a subject which has captivated him from an early age. He lives in Northumberland with his wife and daughter, where they enjoy exploring the rugged beauty of England’s northernmost county.

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