I recently finished reading Andrew McConnell Stott’s The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, which is now available in paperback. It’s a measure of the quality of this book, and the thoroughness of the scholarly research that went into it, that it won an award for ‘work in progress’ back in 2007.
As several reviewers have commented, Grimaldi’s life and achievements make for a fascinating ‘compare and contrast’ exercise with today’s celebrities. Here was a man who did more than any other to invent (or at least reinvent) two enduring forms of popular entertainment: clowning and pantomime. His talent was so great that serious journals reviewed his performances in the kind of awed tones that would usually have been reserved for the greatest Shakespearian tragedians. Royalty and nobility flocked to see him perform at Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells. And yet once the curtain came down he shunned the public gaze and his private life was filled with misfortune and melancholy.
Not only has Stott written a marvellous biography, with colourful background detail on London theatres, but he also evocatively depicts the grim reality of everyday life in Georgian London, away from the genteel scenes with which we’re all too familiar.
If you’re interested to learn more about the book, there are a couple of very well-written reviews on the Amazon website.