Bath Fringe Festival: Magic Lantern Show review
Professor Heard's Peerless Victorian Magic Lantern Show at the Little Theatre on Sunday was quite simply riveting.
The 'professor', chairman of the international Magic Lantern Society, took his audience on a captivating journey from the earliest magic lantern shows of the 1700s through to the more sophisticated developments of the late 1800s.
We saw ghosts and gore in a series of phantasmagoria – popular at the height of the French Revolution and the forerunner of horror films – beautifully painted scenes of Venice and Rome to delight the armchair traveller, and a splendid series called The World Turned Upside Down in which a tree saws a man in half and a boot polishes a maid.
There were also morality tales from the Temperance Society showing the dangers of the demon drink, many devised in Bath in the 1890s at St Luke's Church.
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The most popular slide of all time, he told us, was one dating from the 1890s in which rats scamper up on to a bed and into the mouth of a sleeping man while a cat gazes in through a closed window.
So popular were these magic lantern shows that you could rent them for the night from shops in the high street, much as we rent DVDs.
But the shows themselves sounded rather hair raising. The lanterns were lit by limelight – a word we still use today – and powered by hydrogen and oxygen. "There were terrible fires and explosions," he said, assuring us that his own magic lantern is now lit by electricity. "It was a very dangerous form of lighting."
It was a marvellously informative and humorous presentation that kept us all spellbound.