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Posts Tagged ‘Drury Lane’

Last week I gave St Paul’s Covent Garden a proper visit for the first time. The church was designed by Inigo Jones, having been commissioned by the Duke of Bedford, who told him to keep it simple. He wanted to keep costs down, so instructed the architect it should be no more than a barn, to which Jones replied: “Then you shall have the handsomest barn in England.” And so it is.

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It is known as the Actors’ Church and once inside you’ll see on all walls, nooks and crannies, commemorative plaques and memorials to notable thespians of the past. This one, to Charles Macklin, immediately caught my attention.

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Just look at that carving of a theatrical mask with a knife penetrating the left eye. Very gruesome you may think, and you’d be right. This must allude to the true tale of the killing by Macklin of a fellow actor Thomas Hallam by fatally wounding him through the eye with his cane. The violent dispute – apparently over a wig – took place backstage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Macklin defended himself in court and was convicted of accidental manslaughter, resulting in being branded with a cold iron.

Although his actual birthdate is unclear, Charles Macklin (c1690 – 1797) was born in Ulster and enjoyed an extraordinarily long life for his or any other era. A larger-than-life character, he became a leading Shakespearean actor on the London stage as well as writing and producing dramas of his own.

Based primarily at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (with whom he was constantly in dispute), he made his name through the realistic portrayal of Shakespearean drama, most famously in his depiction of Shylock. This was a radical transformation, for the first time making these plays as something we would recognise today. Audiences loved it.

He set up an acting school, mentoring among others David Garrick who then took Shakespeare to yet another level again in the decades to come. Lessons were given both at his home and in the upstairs room of the Bedford coffee house where Macklin would also be found expounding cantakerously to all and sundry. Essentially, he had founded London’s first drama academy.

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Charles Macklin in later life, by John Opie

These are just the basics.
Further reading.
Wikipedia is a pretty good start, here.
My first introduction to him was in Mr Foote’s Other Leg (2012) by Ian Kelly, pp90 and ff. Excellent further detail, especially on the coffee shop scene and drama school.

More images of St Paul’s, Covent Garden in our Flickr space, here.

 

 

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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.

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