Back to the theatre...

by Rebecca Jenkins

November 11, 2012

 I am one of those who finds it hard to put a hold on the research and get on with the writing.  

This was particularly true of the scenes with Bess Tallentyre and her theatrical friends in Death of a Radical.  If I hadn’t had someone breathing down my neck I might still be rootling among the archives fleshing out their world and history.

Vol 1 of British Drama with plate of comedienne Miss O'NeillThere are so many sources you can draw on when writing about early 19th century theatre.  There are shelves of memoirs  – two of my favourites are the Recollections  of Irish singer John O’Keefe and the Memoirs of comedian Charles Matthews.   19th century managers had a taste for publication too, for instance, The Stage – both before and behind the curtain by the somewhat pompous Alfred Bunn.   By the late 18th century the theatre was a celebrity profession – at least for the stars of the London companies - and biographies of actors and playwrights abound: from the biographies of John Philip Kemble, Mrs Siddons and Mrs Inchbald to the Recollections of Planché or the memoirs of Charles Dibdin.  Then there are the eyewitness accounts of performances published in contemporary newspapers by critics like William Hazlitt or Leigh Hunt.   And for sheer fun (and some nice illustrations) there is journalist and fond playgoer Pierce Egan’s satire The Life of an Actor. (See, for instance, an illustration of a performance seen from behind the curtain.)

 Georgian Theatre, Richmond YorkshireI love them all – but I also found it helpful to be able to walk around a theatre that Raif Jarrett might actually have attended.  I am fortunate to live near to a working Georgian theatre – the Georgian Theatre at Richmond in Yorkshire.    Sybil Rosenfeld wrote the authoritative account of this theatre, and the company based there in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but if you are ever in the area, the theatre itself is well worth a visit 


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