The play is set during the Old Price riots of 1809 in the New Theatre Covent Garden. These lasted for 66 consecutive nights, the crowd shouting, singing and dancing in an attempt to drown out the players over a dispute involving the attempt to increase the prices in order to pay for the rebuilding of the uninsured theatre after it had burnt down.
The parallels with today's bailing out of big business by the publicare more than obvious.
It uses the audience to play the part of the rioting pit by having two audience leaders based in the crowd and directing their sections, to jeer, sing songs and dance, against each other. This is "joining in" not uncomfortable participation.
On stage the players, led by the theatre manager, John Philip Kemble, struggle to carry on as normal, their jealousies heightened during this stressful time. Much of the action is played in the auditorium but also we see behind the scenes in the green room. The house lights during this period would normally be on and by turning them on and off the play moves from front of house to back of house.
Kemble was enormously popular before this disturbance, having many of his family members within his troupe including the acclaimed tragic actress, his sister Sarah Siddons.
His relationship with the crowd is difficult, he needs them but will not bow to their demands. This struggle and the struggle with keeping the company together are at the heart of the play.
The aim is to have a theatrical experience where the crowd play an essential part and find it a good way to get into the heads of an audience passionate about theatre, as well as feeling the emotions of Kemble and his company and explore the nature of fame, a topic of especial relevance today.