Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Great Macready
(The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 16, addendum)

Malcolm, never one to waste good useless knowledge, couldn't get his teeth out of Macready without a further nibble.

So, a bit more gratuitous detail.

Macready was meant not to go on the stage: he was sent to Rugby School as the first step towards a "respectable" profession. When the father's business turned sour, he was out of school, and trying to rescue the theatrical empire.

As the previous post noticed, in 1810, aged 17, he was playing Romeo in Birmingham. The following year it was Hamlet in Newcastle, opposite the great, if aging, Sarah Siddons. By 1815 he could command a stellar salary of £50 a week; and was being courted by London managements.

In September 1816 he accepted a five-year engagement at Covent Garden, where the male principal was Junius Brutus Booth (yes: father of Abraham Lincoln's killer. Small world). Macready's first great success was as Richard III (1819), then, in the following season, as Edmund to Booth's Lear. Lear had been out of the repertoire for years, for reasons of unfortunate comparison, and was restored only after the death of George III.

Along with other Covent Garden stalwarts, Macready fell out with Charles Kemble as the new manager of Covent Garden: he transferred to Drury Lane, where he appeared for the next 13 years. In 1826-7 he toured the United States. Then back to London, leading up to a spectacular off-stage assault on the manager of Drury Lane, Alfred Bunn (a court case and a fine of £150 ensued). After the deaths of other main players, now the doyen of his profession, he was back at Covent Garden, and celebrating his successes by supping with Wordsworth, Browning, and Walter Savage Landor.

In 1837 he became manager of Covent Garden, reviving Lear and other tragedies. This was Macready's best contribution to his contemporary stage. Shakespearean productions had been brutalised by the likes of Nahum Tate (sadly a Dubliner and TCD man), who "improved" Lear with a happy ending. Macready restored their original form. He staged dramas by new writers, notably Edward Bulwer(-Lytton). After a couple of seasons, his enthusiasm for management faded (perhaps aided by salacious gossip about his relationship with his leading lady); and so he moved on, to the Haymarket. Then, encouraged by Dickens, he ran two seasons (1841-2) at Drury Lane, before a second American tour (which enriched him to the sum of £5,500, though it also laid seeds of a ruction with Edwin Forrest -- see below). After which came success in Paris, before a series of short engagement in London, culminating in a royal gala night at Drury Lane, which raised £1,100, and ended in a minor riot.

This was as nothing to the disaster of his final American tour in 1848-9. The festering row with Forrest broke out into public acrimony. Both sides had claques (who may, or may not, have been orchestrated). It worked up to the audience breaking up the Astor Place Theatre in New York. For Macready's next performance, three days later, the Forrest supporters came, literally, mob-handed. There ensued a full-blown riot, which resulted in a score of deaths. That was the effective end of Macready's final American tour.

Back in England, Macready undertook a series of farewell performances (1849-51), ending in a spectacular Macbeth at Drury Lane.

Macready retired to Dorset. His wife died suddenly (many of their children also died prematurely) and Macready dedicated himself to good works, as a church-warden and patron of night-schools. Macready remarried: he was 67, she was 33. They had one son (see the previous post).

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1 comment:

Dewi Harries said...

Really enjoy these Malcolm, Fascinating......James Stephens next?

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