In the 1960s Flower Power was synonymous with Hippies, the Peace Movement (against the USA War in Vietnam) and of course the Beatles. Yet it would be incorrect to think that Flower Power was first conceived around this time of liberal ideas and the swinging sixties.
The Aesthetic Movement of the late 1800s merged many of the same ideas, believing that sensual pleasure and simply to “exist beautifully” should be one’s aim in life. Oscar Wilde appeared on the London scene in the early 1880s describing himself as a Professor of Aesthetics and an arbiter of taste. Adoring female followers dressed in the flowing draperies of the aesthetes, carrying sunflowers, presented a striking contrast to the formal Victorian styles of the other women. Sunflowers were seen as representing female longing and hopeless love. Lilies were also popular. Flower Power had arrived!
Not to be outdone, men were “wispy”. Long hair, sage green britches and extravagant jackets were popular and the wearing of green carnations suggested ambiguous sexuality. They drawled, had curious catchphrases, and were accused of having grotesque taste when it came to beauty.
The aesthetic ethos challenged Victorian thinking but baffled the general public. In 1881 Gilbert & Sullivan wrote “Patience” which mocked the pretensions of this popular culture of the day, with lightly disguised characters, one representing Oscar Wilde. Gilbert’s stinging comment in the libretto: ‘If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand’ is directed at Wilde’s habit of presenting a single lily to Lily Langtry, the society beauty of the day. The publicity enhanced rather than diminished Oscar Wilde’s popularity. As a result, Doyle Carte, the producer of Patience, sent Wilde on an American tour lecturing on aesthetic and design concepts which he much enjoyed and for which he was paid $6,000.
Patience not only mocks the tendency of many men to affect aesthetic tendencies, but also the female admiration for such style. In this opera, all of the female characters, except the milkmaid Patience, are as obsessed with aestheticism as Bunthorne and Grosvenor. When Bunthorne becomes engaged to Patience they immediately transfer their affections to the equally affected Grosvenor. The final resolution only comes because the soldiers (previously engaged to the female characters) are desperate to regain the ladies’ love, and attempt to become aesthetes themselves.
To experience Flower Power in North Tyneside, with sparkling tunes and humour, Tynemouth Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of Patience runs at the Tynemouth Priory Theatre from Tuesday 17th June to Saturday 21st June. Curtain up is at 7.30pm (Saturday 5pm) and tickets are £12 except on Tuesday when they are just £10. Ticket hotline is 07463 640 781 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Book now!