WhatsOnStage Logo

Theatre jargon explained: From Razzle Dazzle to Swazzle

We take a look at some more examples of theatre jargon

WhatsOnStage logo

How many times have you found yourself in a conversation that you are unable to partake in due to a lack of jargon knowledge? The Oberon Glossary of Theatrical Terms is a wonderful book chock full of theatrical jargon explanations.

Following on from our last article, today we look at 'Q' to 'Z'.

Quoth the raven: Coded phrase indicating dissatisfaction sometimes entered as a comment in the Visitors' Book in old-style theatrical digs, referring to the famous line from Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven: 'Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."'

Razzle dazzle: Glitter, energy and style combined to impress the audience and disguise a possible lack of genuine talent.

Red-hot poker: Traditional prop carried by the clown in the harlequinade, who would create mayhem by placing it on the behinds of other characters.

Rhubarb: Word traditionally muttered by actors when required to produce the sound of background conversation.

Sadler's Wells make-up: Crude or badly applied stage make-up. The dressing rooms at the old Sadler's Wells Theatre in North London were reputed to supply all the ingredients necessary for free make-up: Flakes of the ochre distemper and brown paint could be scraped from the walls into a tobacco tin with a coin, then ground with water to form a base. A finger-tip run along the dusty ledges provided a substitute for eye-shadow.

'''Shake the ladder:'' Actors required to enter in a state of great excitement or agitation will sometimes literally shake the ladder leading to the fly gallery, usually fixed to the wall at the side of the stage, to build up nervous tension before entering.

Shit-smile: Type of wide-mouthed smile produced by showgirls, chorus lines and the like, by silently mouthing the operative word while smiling.

Sitzprobe: Seated musical rehearsal for singers and musicians in opera or musicals. Usually the first time singers rehearse with the orchestra and maestro that will accompany them in performance.

Soubrette: Actress specialising in young, coquette roles, such as a pert maidservant.

Star System: Commercial promotion of shows by the fame and popularity of the leading performer(s) above other qualities.

Swazzle: Small device containing a thin elastic membrane held in the mouth by a Punch and Judy operator to producer Mr Punch's distinctive high-pitch, raspy voice.

The Oberon Glossary of Theatrical Terms by Colin Winslow is published by Oberon Books.


Tagged in this Story