< Theatre Notebook

Vol. 69, No. 3

2015

Articles

  1. A "Most Enchanting Comic Actress": Giovanna Sestini, An Italian Opera Singer In The London Theatres

    Audrey Carpenter

    Late in 1774 a young couple and their two young sons arrived in England from Portugal to start a new life; they took lodgings in Oxendon Street, close to London’s Haymarket. The husband was José Christiano Stocqueler, whose distinguished Portuguese family had strongly disapproved when he married a beautiful Italian opera singer, Giovanna Sestini. She now had a contract to sing at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket and professionally was always known as Sestini, though in private life she was Joanna Stocqueler.

    She was born in Italy in 1749, and must have shown early promise as her first known performance was in 1763 when at the Pubblico Teatro di Lucca she sang the part of Lucilla in Il cavalier mignatta, an intermezzo for three voices (Rinaldo). The baptismal register of Lastra a Signa, a small town some 12 km west of Florence, indicates that Giovanna was the youngest of twelve children of Pietro and Altomira Sestini (Archivio della Curia Arcivescovile di Firenze). She was billed as ‘di Firenze’ both in Lucca and in Florence where she and her sister Anna sang in Niccolò Piccinni’s La buona moglie at the Teatro di Via Cocomero in 1765 (Weaver and Weaver 213). Before moving to Portugal in 1768…

  2. Pepper's Ghost At The Opera

    Russell Burdekin

    The literature on Pepper’s Ghost, a Victorian device for creating ghostly illusions on the stage, gives the impression that the device, after a brief life in mainstream theatres, was then only to be found as a fairground attraction. This paper aims to correct this impression and to show that the device was used far more widely. After a brief description of Pepper’s Ghost, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the device, the paper goes on to describe a group of touring theatre companies that integrated the effect into adaptations of popular plays and operas.

    The idea behind the “ghost” stretched back to the sixteenth century but a theoretical scheme for its use in the theatre in Britain was first suggested by Henry Dircks in 1858 and then modified in 1862 by Professor John Pepper, director of The Royal Polytechnic, so that it became a practical piece of apparatus that could be used in a wide variety of locations, including a “fit up show of Pepper’s Ghost” being reported in the Scottish Highlands (S.W.). The principle behind it was commonplace…

  3. Benson's Dream: Touring A "Grand Production" To The Provinces

    Joanna Duncan

    Writing in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage, Peter Holland comments that “there is no history of touring Shakespeare”, just “local examples, pieces of narratives”(195). This seems to be especially true in the case of actor-manager, Sir Frank Benson. Benson’s managerial career began modestly in 1883. As a relatively inexperienced actor, he stepped in to pay the company’s salaries and settle its debts when manager Walter Bentley fled the country in financial difficulties. Benson also assumed, in the process, the roles of actor-manager and leading man (Trewin 29). By 1885, the Benson Company had attracted the attention of Charles Edward Flower who asked Benson to direct the annual Shakespeare Festival at Stratford-upon-Avon. Scholarly evaluations of Benson’s work have tended, inevitably, to focus on Stratford between 1886 and 1918 where Benson’s company not only expanded their Shakespeare repertoire to stage most of the canon, but also performed the first uncut performances of Hamlet and gave a season of the English History plays in historically chronological order (Orford 163). However, for most of the year, Benson was not at Stratford, but…

  4. Donald Wolfit's Shakespeare On Broadway 1947: The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time

    Laurence Raw

    he British actor/manager Donald Wolfit brought his Shakespeare repertoire to the 1700-seat New Century Theatre on 7th Avenue and West 58th Street for a three-week season from 18 February to 6 March 1947. Following a successful Canadian tour, his producer Hall Shelton hoped that the reaction might be similar on Broadway. Both he and Wolfit were sadly disappointed as the New York reviewers unanimously condemned the productions for a lack of quality. The season commenced with King Lear, Wolfit’s biggest box-office draw in his recent London season at the Winter Garden Theatre. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times felt that Wolfit was “wholly lacking in the nobility of character that might give this tragedy stature”, in a revival that was “not Shakespeare but a tussle” (“The New Play”). George Jean Nathan described the company as “grossly incompetent”, while Ernst Stern’s sets looked as if they had been “fished out of a suburban warehouse” (Nathan). John Beaufort of the Christian Science Monitor asked: “If the classics are going to be done in such a way, would it perhaps be better not to do them at all?” (Beaufort). As You Like It, a staple of Wolfit’s repertoire over the previous decade, fared little better: Robert Garland of the New York Journal-American believed…

BOOK REVIEWS

Shakespeare's Boys: A Cultural History

Katie Knowles

Acts of Desire: Women and Sex on Stage, 1800-1930

Sos Eltis

Women Making Shakespeare: Text, Reception, Performance

Gordon McMullan, Lena Cowen Orlin and Virginia Mason Vaughan (eds.)

The Other National Theatre: 350 Years of Shows in Drury Lane

Robert Whelan

Inventions of the Skin: The Painted Body in Early English Drama 1400-1642

Andrea Ria Stevens

A “Most Enchanting Comic Actress”: Giovanna Sestini, An Italian Opera Singer In The London Theatres –§–Pepper’s Ghost At The Opera –§– Benson’s Dream: Touring A “Grand Production” To The Provinces –§– Donald Wolfit’s Shakespeare On Broadway 1947: The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time –§– Facsimile Reproduction Of Theatre Notebook Volume 1, Issue 1, 1948. –§– 70 Years Of Theatre Notebook.

EDITORIAL

We trust our readers will forgive us some blowing of our own trumpet as we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the first issue of Theatre Notebook. This issue reflects some perennial concerns of Theatre Notebook with consideration of eighteenth-century Italian opera in London, Frank Benson’s Shakespeare productions and Pepper’s Ghost as well as an essay on Donald Wolfit, who is seldom accorded serious academic scrutiny. The authors also reflect the heterogeneity of contributors to the journal: two scholars based in England who entered the recent STR New Scholars Essay Competition, both publishing academic work relatively late in their careers outside higher education, an American scholar based in Turkey and a third late entrant into the area of academic theatre history.


BRIEFLY NOTED

DRAMA AT THE PALACE. VICTORIAN HEYDAY: THE ALEXANDRA PALACE THEATRE 1873-1901
The Theatre of Drottningholm: Then and Now; Performance between the 18th and 21st centuries
NEW ONLINE RESOURCE: The Romantic Illustration Network Shakespeare Gallery romanticillustrationnetwork.wordpress.com/shakespeare-gallery/


FACSIMILE REPRODUCTION OF THEATRE NOTEBOOK VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1, 1948.


70 YEARS OF THEATRE NOTEBOOK
By Geoff Davidson

Any publication that has lasted for seventy years will have gone through many changes in its lifetime ­ not only its content, its readership and the way it is produced and distributed but also its editors and managerial helpers and advisors. Theatre Notebook is no different. It began as an idea of Ifan Kyrle Fletcher at the end of World War Two, in 1945, and developed for the next few years under the guidance and editorship of Sybil Rosenfeld and Richard Southern, with Fletcher as its manager and publisher. There was an excitement and drive in their work in those early years. Like many of the earlier contributors they were amateurs in theatre history, in the sense that they studied it purely out of personal enthusiasm. (At the time there was in any case only the beginnings of an academic discipline of theatre history in Britain and its borders were ill-defined.) Initially, the call was to gather information about what knowledge was available about the history of British theatre and to encourage articles suitable for publication. In a challenge to themselves and potential contributors, the editors said “There are many fields to touch”. Writing in the fiftieth issue of Theatre Notebook Sybil Rosenfeld acknowledged Fletcher as…


APPENDIX

A list of editors, review editors, indexers, advisors, managers, and editorial assistants, from 1948-present.

 

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