THE KEMBLE ERA: John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons and the London Stage by Linda Kelly

THE KEMBLE ERA: John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons and the London Stage

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Conceding that fine biographies of both Mrs. Siddons (Manvell, 1970) and Kemble (Prof. Herschel Baker's 1942 model of scholarship) are available, Kelly nevertheless goes ahead to draw on these and other secondary sources for ""a picture of the theatre of their day""--a competent but rather pointless and unflavored exercise. Between the decline of Garrick and the rise of Edmund Kean (1815), Mrs. Siddons and her brother Kemble indeed dominated the London Stage--she with triumphs in regal tragic roles (especially Lady Macbeth, creating the tradition of miming hand-washing in the sleepwalk scene), he somewhat less emphatically as only the noblest heroes and as the Shakespeare-championing manager first of Drury Lane (under Sheridan's erratic supervision), then of Covent Garden. Siddons was ""indefatigable in her quest for money""--tending a large family, tolerating a boozy husband, mourning the deaths of two grown daughters (both tragically in love with the same caddish swain), later taking none too kindly to retirement. Kemble had to put up with Sheridan's finaglings, fires, riots over seat-prices, the fad for a 13-year-old actor, objections to his finicky pronunciation, and then . . . the arrival of Kean, whose romanticism wiped out Kemble's dignified classicism. Rich theatrical material (with one or two grand comic anecdotes)--but short on melodrama; so Kelly adds in episodes from the life of earthier star Mrs. Jordan, mistress to many, including a Duke. Mary Nash brought off just such an attempt at personal/theatrical panorama in The Provoked Wife (1977), but Kelly's quote-heavy account-though never less than intelligent brings no particular style, sweep, or illumination to this moderately interesting, insufficiently focused material.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1980
Publisher: Random House