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playbill - The Seven Ages; in Five Acts

The Seven Ages; in Five Acts

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Bridgnorth (printed)

  • Date:

    1831 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gitton, George Robert (printed)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    letterpress and woodcut on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Palace Theatre Club Westcliff

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Child actors or 'child prodigies' were all the rage in the early 19th century when 'infant phenomena' appeared all over the country following the most notorious 'Young Roscius' of them all, Master Betty, or William Henry West Betty (1791-1874) who made his first stage appearance aged eleven at Belfast in 1803. The soubriquet 'Young Roscius' was a reference to the celebrated Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus (126-62BC).

The two performers who starred in this evening's entertainment at the New Theatre Bridgnorth were 'the celebrated Young Roscius' Master William Robert Grossmith and his younger brother Master B. Grossmith. William was born in Reading in 1818, the son of a picture framer, and had made his debut in 1824, aged six, at London's Royal Coburg Theatre. This evening's entertainment in 1831 was part of a tour that included Stafford on 12th December, Lichfield on 14th December, Birmingham on the 19th December, and was clearly intended to prolong the appeal of the elder William Robert by including his five-year old brother in the act.

This playbill features a number of detailed woodcuts illustrating the many roles that each of the boys performed that evening. The extra expense of producing such a playbill indicates the theatre management's confidence that the evening would warrant such lavishly illustrated publicity, and be a success. Tickets for the evening could be purchased from Gitton the Printer, who was also the proprietor of the Stamp and Post Office, and from Master Grossmith himself. A performer who issued tickets, or orders for a performance, usually took a percentage of the profits from that performance.

Physical description

Printed letterpress playbill illustrated with woodcut images of scenes and characters performed by Masters R. W. and B. Grossmith in The Seven Ages,part one of their entertainment at the New Theatre Bridgnorth, 9 December 1831, and in part two. The images relating to The Seven Ages depict the infant, the school boy, the lover, a soldier, a Justice, a 'lean and slippered pantaloon' and a man who has passed away, showing the relationship of the evening's performance to Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. The playbill lists the scenes in part two comprising the song Rose of Lucerne sung by Master B. Grossmith, scenes from The Merchant of Venice, Douglas and the tent scene in Richard lll by both brothers, and in part lll both brothers performing the song Mister Tompkins and Polly Hopkins,and a 'Fancy Dance' by Master B. Grossmith as a young lady. Other images depict their characters in Douglas,The Rose of Lucerne or the Swiss Maid,Shylock, Richard lll, and the eighteen characters that Master B. Grossmith will perform 'in full costume'. The playbill also lists the Dioramic Scenery concluding the performance.

Place of Origin

Bridgnorth (printed)


1831 (printed)


Gitton, George Robert (printed)

Materials and Techniques

letterpress and woodcut on paper


Height: 51.1 cm, Width: 24.8 cm

Object history note

The characters that the Grossmiths impersonated in The Seven Agesin five acts were Mrs. Glibby the Nurse, the child Jacob Hodge, Tom Beatbush the Gamekeeper, Little Tommy the schoolboy, Dionysius Busby the schoolmaster, Leander Lackpenny the lover, Miss Tulia, a lady of fashion, Sally Primrose from London, Monsieur la Rose a French valet, Major Blunderbuss, Ned Knowall, Justice Grout, John Trott, Old Saveall, and Dame Quickly.

The playbill also notes that the Drop Curtain depicts: 'a fine painting of Windsor Castle, taken on the spot, last August.'

The Dioramic Scenery of Shakespeare's life and Stratford-upon-Avon concluded with two scenes representing Milton composing Paradise Lost, with his daughters, from the original by the painter Thomas Stothard (1755-1834), and a full-length portrait of William lV in this Coronation robes, from life, with Masters W. R. and B. Grossmiths as themselves, singing the National Anthem.

Descriptive line

Playbill advertising the boy performers 'the young Roscius' W. R. Grossmith and his brother Master B. Grossmith at the New Theatre Bridgnorth, 9 December 1831, in their entertainment The Seven Ages, followed by the song The Rose of Lucerne, a scene from The Merchant of Venice, scenes from Douglasand Richard lll, the comic duet Polly Hopkins and Tommy Tompkin billed as Mister Tompkins and Polly Hopkins, A Fancy Dance by Master B. Grossmith, and a diorama of scenes relating to the life of Shakespeare and the festival and pageant at Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1830. The playbill also advertises the drop scene of Windsor Castle. Letterpress with woodcut images. Printed by George Gitton, Bridgnorth. Gift of the Palace Theatre Club, Westcliff.


Paper; Ink




Entertainment & Leisure; Advertising; Posters; Diorama; Juvenile performance; Illustrated playbills


Theatre and Performance Collection

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