Unfortunately, there’s little about Dorothy Nutcombe Gould herself but we do know that she was the daughter of the English stage actor James Nutcombe Gould (1849–1899) who played the role of Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde when it premiered in 1892. In addition, the fact that Dorothy and her siblings were able to travel and to attend the theatre after their parents’ deaths indicates prosperity. Dorothy’s personal collection of theatre programmes does, however, provide that all-important wider social context, showing how audiences received these defining moments in theatre and women’s history, enriching Senate House Library collections.
Looking through the album, the Gould family’s taste was clearly eclectic and extends from the early modern period (Shakespeare) to the newly written. Some plays seen by Dorothy remain favourites today: Shakespeare’s Henry V; Carmen; Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and Patience; The Scarlet Pimpernel (from what was then a very new novel); and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Others have a familiar connection without being so popular as dramas: Colonel Newcome, adapted from Thackeray’s The Newcomes; and J.M. Barrie’s Pantaloon. Still others have become obscure, such as Clancarty (about the 1696 Jacobite Assassination Plot). Of particular note was the programme for H.A. Jones’s The Liars which complements Senate House Library's special collection of H.A. Jones’s work. In addition to theatre programmes there are some press clippings and a transcription of ‘The Romance of Britomarte’, from Adam Lindsay Gordon’s Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes (1870).
Most of the programmes in the album relate to performances in West End London theatres. The Theatre Royal, Haymarket, The Criterion Theatre, the Playhouse, the Royal Court Theatre, the Savoy, the Lyric Theatre, the Royal Adelphi, and His Majesty’s Theatre are all represented. Provincially, Dorothy saw a farewell visit of Henry Irving and his company at Exeter’s Theatre Royal, and plays at the Theatre Royal, Leamington, and the Prince’s Theatre in Manchester.
The flimsy programmes, often just one or two folded sheets, are fascinating when compared to programmes from leading theatres today. There is rarely a synopsis of the play in question, biographical information about the actors or even a date for the production, and yet the programmes do inform the audience of what incidental music is played. They are full of advertisements, resembling those seen in serialised forms of Victorian novels, for items used in the theatres or obtainable from them. Adverts for safety matches and ices are included and alcohol brands feature prominently, providing a glimpse into Edwardian consumer lifestyle.
The album has several blank leaves at the end. Did Dorothy Nutcombe Gould stop going to the theatre? Did she lose interest in keeping records? Did she mislay the book and start another one? We can only speculate.