Here are some snippets that I found particularly amusing, from various theatre reviews that Hazlitt wrote during the Regency…
Why they put Mr. Kemble into the part of Sir Giles Overreach, at Covent Garden Theatre, we cannot conceive: we should suppose he would not put himself there. Malvolio, though cross-gartered, did not set himself in the stocks.
No doubt, it is the managers’ doing, who by rope-dancing, fire-works, play-bill puffs, and by every kind of quackery, seem determined to fill their pockets for the present, and disgust the public in the end, if the public were an animal capable of being disgusted by quackery.
(The gentleman pictured above is John Philip Kemble, the powerful actor/manager. His whole family acted, included his sister, Mrs. Siddons, and his brothers, Charles and Stephen Kemble.)
The town has been entertained this week by seeing Mr. Stephen Kemble in the part of Sir John Falstaff, as they were formerly with seeing Mr. Lambert in his own person.
We see no more reason why Mr. Stephen Kemble should play Falstaff, than why Louis XVIII is qualified to fill a throne, because he is fat and belongs to a particular family. Every fat man cannot represent a great man.
(The gentleman pictured here is Stephen Kemble, and he was indeed the least admired of the Kembles!)
Champion, January 8, 1815
In going to see Mr. Kean in any new character, we do not go in the expectation of seeing either a perfect actor or perfect acting; because this is what we have not yet seen, either in him or in anyone else. But we go to see (what he never disappoints us in) great spirit, ingenuity, and originality given to the text in general, and an energy and depth of passion given to certain scenes and passages, which we should in vain look for from any other actor on the stage…
His Romeo had nothing of the lover in it. We never saw anything less ardent or less voluptuous. In the balcony scene in particular, he was cold, tame and unimpressive… He stood like a statue of lead.
(The third picture, of course, is of Edmund Kean!)
Of the reviews Hazlitt did of Kean, this was the least flattering one that I’ve come across. He did seem to admire him very much, and be rather more impatient with the Kembles!
So — if you were magically transported back to the Regency, and could see anything (or anyone) at the theatre that you wished, what (or who) would it be? Or would you spend more time looking at the theatre or the audience?
Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER — which contains several scenes at Covent Garden Theatre, complete with elephant