Legitimate theater
The term "legitimate theater" dates back to the Licensing Act of 1737
Licensing Act 1737
The Licensing Act or Theatrical Licensing Act of 21 June 1737 was a landmark act of censorship of the British stage and one of the most determining factors in the development of Augustan drama...

, which restricted "serious" theatre performances to the two patent theatres licensed to perform "spoken drama" after the English Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 in 1662. Other theatres were permitted to show comedy, pantomime or melodrama, but were ranked as "illegitimate theatre".

The licensing restricted performances of classical authors and plays — Shakespeare, most prominently — to the privileged houses. The logic behind the step was that the legitimate houses could be censored more easily, whilst the illegitimate houses would sell plays of a less serious, less dangerous, primarily entertaining and commercialised format. Illegitimate theatres opened in all the major English cities where they offered essentially melodramatic productions in which music had to play an important role.

The 1890s created a loophole with the founding of club theatres. Opening only to their members these houses evaded the censorship law by turning their performances from a public enterprise into a privacy.

The separation finally ended in the aftermath of the scandal Edward Bond
Edward Bond
Edward Bond is an English playwright, theatre director, poet, theorist and screenwriter. He is the author of some fifty plays, among them Saved , the production of which was instrumental in the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK...

's Saved
Saved (play)
Saved is a play written by Edward Bond, and was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in November 1965. It was originally enacted privately, under "club" auspices, since the play was initially censored due largely to the infamous 'stoning of a baby' scene.The play itself is set in London during...

created in 1965/66. The play was first performed in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 in late 1965 at the Royal Court Theatre
Royal Court Theatre
The Royal Court Theatre is a non-commercial theatre on Sloane Square, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is noted for its contributions to modern theatre...

. The house was licensed to perform serious plays. Saved, however, had not been licensed to be performed as Bond had written it. To get it performed as planned the Royal Court Theatre had lent its stage to the English Stage Theatre Company
Stage Society
The Incorporated Stage Society, commonly known as the Stage Society, was an English theatre society with limited membership which mounted private Sunday performances of new and experimental plays, mainly at the Royal Court Theatre but also at other London West End venues...

 and thus turned the performance into a private enterprise under the present laws. The evasion was challenged by the Magistrate's court in February 1966 and declared a violation of the Theatres Act 1843
Theatres Act 1843
The Theatres Act 1843 was an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. It amended the regime established under the Licensing Act 1737 for the licensing of the theatre in the UK, implementing the proposals made by a select committee of the House of Commons in 1832.Under the Licensing Act 1737 The...

on April 1st 1966. The suspension of the act in 1968 eventually ended the split between legitimate and illegitimate theatres.
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