< Theatre Notebook
Vol. 65, No. 2
Real and Virtual Doors on Early Restoration Stages
Debate over the number of physical doors of entrance on English stages during the Restoration period (1660-1700) has been a staple of commentary since the late nineteenth century. The majority of commentators prefer four, with several suggesting two, and at least one proposing up to six.1 To the non-specialist there is a whiff of inconsequentiality here: the Restoration equivalent, perhaps, of angels on pinheads. I contend, however, that this is not merely a peripheral issue, of interest only to a few historians. The number of forestage doors on a particular stage (often an a priori assumption) influences how one interprets stage directions and therefore influences one’s views not only of period theatre practice, but also of the plays themselves. That Restoration drama seems to be susceptible to misinterpretation may be inferred from the history of its critical reception. The serious plays have been castigated for not being sufficiently “Shakespearean”, and many of the comedies (in their original forms) were effectively banished from the stage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on moral grounds. It is no surprise, therefore, that admiration was partial when the plays were “rediscovered” critically at the turn of the century. (Brian Corman gives an overview of their critical reception.) In a classic example of a faulty theatrical model resulting in faulty interpretations, critics at the time, assuming that Restoration theatres simply housed cruder versions of the Victorian/Edwardian picture-stages with which they were familiar, found Restoration dramaturgy to be naïve and cumbersome.
This article includes three illstrations, and a table detailing “LIF plays 1662-1674, Entrance and practical door demand”
Mr Macready and his Monarch
Queen Elizabeth I and Richard Burbage, King Charles II and Thomas Betterton, King George III and Sarah Siddons, Queen Victoria and William Charles Macready, King Edward VII and Herbert BeerbohmTree, Laurence Olivier and Queen Elizabeth II. What if in each case the monarch and the leading actor of her/his day had kept diaries in which he/she recorded his/her impressions of each other even in some cases of the same theatrical performance, the monarch from the throne, the actor from the stage? Happily and literally uniquely this was the case with Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Macready (1793-1873), both of whom were diligent diarists committing their impressions of each other to paper for over twenty years between 1833 and 1851. Of all sources at the disposal of historians and biographers diaries, unless of course, as has sometimes been the case latterly, they are written with publication in mind, have the advantage of immediacy and candour. Such certainly was the case with both Macready and Victoria, especially in the former’s case when his often disparaging private thoughts about his young monarch were at variance with the posture he struck in his public dealings with her and her officials.
Redefining the Grotesque: E. J. Odell, Actor and Comedian
In the history of the Victorian stage E. J. Odell (1834-1928) stands out as an actor and 1 comedian unsurpassed for an eccentricity verging on the grotesque. Paradoxically however it was his reputation off the stage that secured his fame. Of unconventional appearance black sombrero, green Ulster coat cut wide in the skirt, and shoulder-length hair – Odell achieved celebrity status within and outside of his profession well into old age. A supreme self-publicist who excelled at imitating himself, he was universally referred to as “the last of the Bohemians” and not only outlived most of his contemporaries but confounded and outwitted them also. His stage career of three decades was unremarkable in its longevity but his life thereafter extended for a further four decades during which he recycled his comedic peculiarities and reinvented himself as an entertainer. In consequence it is only those episodes of his acting career marked by association with notables such as Henry Irving or the Bancrofts that are remembered. Odell attracted comments from numerous writers (Mackay 137; Hibbert 55; Watson 1925 283; Chevalier 273; Carter 162-69), Weedon Grossmith best describing him as “A thorough bohemian, very proud, poor, and independent, with the most original manner conceivable” (233). His long-standing association with the Savage Club has also left some revealing accounts, those of his Brother Savages Edwin A. Ward passim, Aaron Watson (1907 281-91), and Percy Bradshaw passim being of particular note.2 As interesting as these are however little is learned about Odell the actor before he became “Old Odell”.
This article includes two illustrations, a graph entitled “E.J. Odell Role-Performance Profile”, and an extensive table detailing “E.J. Odell’s stage career.”
There were no book reviews in this issue
Real and Virtual Doors on Early Restoration Stages, by Tim Keenan –§– Mr Macready and his Monarch, by Richard Foulkes –§– Redefining the Grotesque: E. J. Odell, Actor and Comedian, by Bernard Ince.