Sunday, September 4, 2022

After Dark

The Irish playwright Dion Boucicault was a master of melodrama. He is perhaps most famous for his American-set plays The Poor of New York and The Octoroon, but he placed the London underworld on stage (literally) in his 1868 drama After Dark.

Boucicault's plays were frequently freely adapted from French melodramas, and he credited Eugene Grange and Adolphe Philippe Dennery's Birds of Prey as the source for After Dark. The play it more closely resembles in terms of staging, though, is Augustin Daly's Under the Gaslight.

That play featured an on-stage train hurtling toward a man tied to the tracks. Boucicault decided to go one better, and have the train be a part of the rapidly developing London Underground. The city had opened an underground train between Paddington and Farringdon in 1863, and in 1868, the year the play premiered, a new line debuted running from South Kensington to Westminster.

Not surprisingly, the play was adapted for film in 1915 by the Canadian-born director Frederick A. Thomson. I mean, come on--how can you pass up a train scene, and one underground at that!?!