Friday, 24 February 2017

From the French Revolution to Jane Austen...

The Star of Versailles is now available worldwide and is a tale of adventure, intrigue and French revolutionary romance between a scandalous dandy and a secretive spy!

My Forthcoming Events

A Celebration of Jane Austen with Adrian Lukis, Huddersfield, 5th March TICKETS

Join ‘Mr Wickham’ and the Regency Rejigged dancers for a celebration of all things Austen, marking the bicentenary of the author’s death. I'm thrilled to be chatting to Adrian all about his career and, of course, Pride and Prejudice!

To find out more about the inestimable Miss Austen, do visit The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, Austen heaven!


Life in the Georgian Court, London, 18th May TICKETS

The history of ruling families and their courtiers will be covered by a number of humorous and tragic anecdotes, which demonstrate that the life of royalty in eighteenth century Europe was often more dangerous than enjoyable.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard

I'm super excited to announce that Adrian Lukis is returning to the London stage this month in the UK premiere of I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard. Adrian is better known to readers of this blog as Mr Wickham, of course, as well as the leading man of An Evening with Jane Austen, which has its online home here on the salon.  Read on for more about the production, and don't miss the chance to play  your part in bringing this remarkable work to life by clicking here!

BOOK TICKETS HERE


I’M GONNA PRAY FOR YOU SO HARD
by Halley Feiffer.

"Everything I did - every decision I made - led me right here - right to this moment, here with you."

The UK premiere of an award-nominated black comedy from American playwright Halley Feiffer, I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard opens at the Finborough Theatre for a four week limited season on Tuesday, 28 February 2017 with Adrian Lukis and Jill Winternitz.

Ella is a precocious and fiercely competitive actress whose sole aim in life is making her famous playwright father, David, proud. Over the course of a wickedly intense evening, Ella and David deliberate whether to read the reviews of her off-Broadway debut. But that decision could shatter their relationship forever.

A hilarious and gut wrenching black comedy which sheds new light on the eternal struggles of family life. I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard reminds us that you don't have to be part of a theatrical family to know that life is filled with drama. And for that, there's no dress rehearsal.

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard received its critically acclaimed Off-Broadway premiere in 2015, breaking box office records and earning Feiffer a nomination for an Outer Critics' Circle Award. It is directed by Jake Smith, previously Staff Director on Breakfast at Tiffany's (Theatre Royal Haymarket and National Tour), who returns to the Finborough Theatre following his sell-out revival of Andy Capp the Musical.

Playwright Halley Feiffer began her writing career at a young age when she won the National Young Playwrights' Contest in 2002. Full-length plays include How to Make Friends and Kill Them (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City (MCC Theater). Theatre as actor includes The House of Blue Leaves (Walter Kerr Theater, Broadway) for which she won a Theatre World Award, Tigers Be Still (Roundabout Theatre Company), Some Americans Abroad, suburbia and Election Day (2ST), Still Life (MCC Theater) and None of the Above (Lion Theatre).


Director Jake Smith began his career at Hull Truck and was a founding member of Assemble Fest, a large-scale theatre festival launched following Hull's winning City of Culture campaign. He was the Trainee Director in Residence at Chichester Festival Theatre from 2014-2016. Jake is currently Resident Director at The Almeida Theatre and was recently Staff Director on Breakfast at Tiffany's (Theatre Royal Haymarket and National Tour). Productions at the Finborough Theatre include Andy Capp the Musical. Direction includes The Tempest (Petersfield Shakespeare Festival), Citizenship (National Theatre Connections, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre and The Capitol Theatre, Horsham), The Boy Who Built Clock (Arts Theatre), A Christmas Carol (Chichester Festival Theatre), Smoke (and mirrors) (Derby Theatre for Theatre Uncut), The Little Match Girl (Assemble Fest, Hull), Alice's Site (Hull Truck) and The Coronation of Poppea (Middleton Hall, Hull).

Readings include Arthur (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Swan Song (Minerva Theatre, Chichester, and Chichester Festival Theatre), I am Scratch (Old Red Lion Theatre) and Betjeman with Edward Fox (Chichester Festival Theatre). Jake has worked as Assistant Director with Howard Davies on For Services Rendered and Jamie Glover on Miss Julie and Black Comedy (Minerva Theatre, Chichester, and Chichester Festival Theatre), Nadia Fall on Way Upstream, Dale Rooks on The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Jonathan Kent on Gypsy (Chichester Festival Theatre), Max Stafford-Clark on Pitcairn (Chichester Festival Theatre and Out of Joint), Christopher Morahan on Stevie (Hampstead Theatre), and Sarah Louise Davies on Whale Music (Hull Truck).


Adrian Lukis | David
Trained at Drama Studio London.
Theatre includes The Seagull (Chichester Festival Theatre and National Theatre), Dinner (Wyndham's Theatre), The Philadelphia Story, Cloaca (The Old Vic), The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company), The Relapse, Sleep with Me (National Theatre), Versailles (Donmar Warehouse), Dead Funny, The Front Page, (Chichester Festival Theatre), Sherlock Holmes - The Best Kept Secret (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Orson's Shadow (Southwark Playhouse), Pygmalion (Theatre Royal Bath), As You Like It, Hay Fever (Rose Theatre, Kingston), The Winslow Boy and Arthur and George (Birmingham Rep).
Film includes City Slacker, Victim, Nine Miles Down, Innocent, Nightwatching, 7 Seconds, Me Without You, Young Blades and The Trench.
Television includes The Crown 2, Grantchester, Red Dwarf, Judge John Deed, Downton Abbey, Death in Paradise, Silk, Pride and Prejudice, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Poirot, Silent Witness, Doctors, Fresh Meat, Outnumbered, Lewis, Heartbeat, A Touch of Frost, The Bill, Spooks and Foyle's War.


Jill Winternitz | Ella
Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
West End Theatre includes Girl in Once (Phoenix Theatre) and Baby in Dirty Dancing (Piccadilly Theatre).
Other theatre includes Dark Tourism (Park Theatre), A Handful of Soil (Drayton Studio Theatre), Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales (Cunard Queen Mary 2) and The Seagull (Moscow Art Theatre School).
Film includes 10x10, A Streetcat Named Bob, Relics, The Sorrows and The Replacement Child.

“Bone-chilling… A potently acted, punishing drama by Halley Feiffer” Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

“Viciously funny… Brutally effective… Feiffer takes a tough look at the forces that can bring us to our knees” ★★★★ Four Stars, Time Out New York

“One of the best plays I’ve seen this season… Provocative, sensitive, shocking… The writing is polished and probing… A tense thriller that left me shaking” New York Observer

“Spectacular tension and real danger” Entertainment Weekly

“It’s a fearless piece of work, riveting and hilarious!” Bergen Record

The Press on Director Jake Smith:

"The young director Jake Smith is one to watch." Terri Paddock

"A moment of artistic genius by director Jake Smith. Mirrors loveable rogue is brought to life in stunning style" Daily Mirror on Andy Capp The Musical

"Jake Smith's witty production on the tiny Finborough stage gives it plenty of warmth, and a versatile cast frequently double as actor musicians to give the two person band added heft" Mark Shenton, The Stage

“Wonderfully inventive staging by Dale Rooks and Jake Smith" ★★★★★ Five Stars, The Argus on A Christmas Carol

“It is rare to see such a stunning piece of theatre among professional productions nowadays… A charming retelling of Dickens’ classic tale” ★★★★★ Five Stars, The Reviews Hub on A Christmas Carol



Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Star of Versailles


As the Reign of Terror tears Paris apart, a dandy and a spy are thrown together on a desperate race through France.

I am thrilled to announce that The Star of Versailles, a thrilling tale of the French Revolution, is now available to buy worldwide. Co-written by my good self and Willow Winsham, The Star of Versailles

Buy The Star of Versailles in paperback
Buy The Star of Versailles ebook at Amazon UK
Buy The Star of Versailles ebook at Amazon US

About The Star of Versailles

In the darkest days of the Reign of Terror, rumors grow of the Star of Versailles, the most exquisite treasure ever owned by the doomed Marie Antoinette. For Vincent Tessier, the notorious Butcher of Orléans, this potent symbol of the ancien régime has become an obsession and he’ll stop at nothing to possess it.
When Alexandre Gaudet arrives in France to find his missing sister and nephew, the last thing he expects is to fall into Tessier’s hands. With Gaudet tortured and left for dead, salvation stumbles accidentally, if rather decorously, into his path.
For Viscount William Knowles, life as a spy isn’t the escape he had hoped for. Yet a long-held secret won’t let him rest, and the fires of Revolution seem like the easiest way to hide from a past that torments him at every turn.
Adrift in a world where love, family and honor are currencies to be traded, the world-weary Viscount Knowles and the scandalous Monsieur Gaudet have no choice but to try to get along if they want to survive. With Tessier in pursuit, they search for the clues that will lead them to the greatest treasure in revolutionary France—the Star of Versailles.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Mystery of Lady Macclesfield

It's my pleasure to welcome Jacqui Reiter, author of the brand new release, The Late Lord, to the salon, for a dip into the mystery of Lady Macclesfield!


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While writing my biography of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, I discovered several instances where the records were frustratingly thin or even non-existent. Many of these instances were connected with the life of Chatham’s wife, Mary Elizabeth, Countess of Chatham. Lady Chatham (who I have already written about here) is a shadowy figure, remarkable in the historical record largely for her absence from it. This is I suspect partly because of her lengthy episodes of mental illness in 1807-9 and 1818-21. Information about these episodes is sparse: the Chathams were a deeply private couple at the best of times, and this (clearly) was not the best of times. 
One of the mysteries connected with Mary Chatham’s ill health is the role of Mary Frances, Countess of Macclesfield. I was first alerted to this by a letter, probably written by Lady Chatham’s sister Georgiana Townshend to Lady Chatham’s physician Henry Vaughan (later Sir Henry Halford) in April 1807. At this time Mary was at her worst, and Georgiana was in despair. Lady Chatham’s maid, she told Halford, “thinks her no better or she would write to me, & L[ad]y Macclesfield thinks on the whole she is not”. Georgiana’s next line makes it obvious Lady Macclesfield somehow had an important steadying influence on Mary Chatham: “She will be in Town tomorrow please God, & will see her then & after”.[1]
This was a puzzle. I had never before come across either Lord or Lady Macclesfield in my research on the Chathams. Shortly after I came across the following in a letter from the politician George Canning to his wife, dated March 1810. Lord Chatham was then undergoing scrutiny during the parliamentary inquiry that followed the failure of the Walcheren Expedition of 1809, which he had commanded. At the time this letter was written Chatham was under the shadow of censure by the House of Commons. Canning had left the government a few months previously and was marshalling his personal following: “[Lord] Binning called upon me Friday, to make his profession of faith & following reserving only the question about Lord Chatham against whom he cannot vote for private reasons, Lady Binning being Lady C[hatham]'s intimate friend, I believe connection. For the rest he vows to follow me, in or out, implicitly.”[2]
Lord Binning
(peerage.com)
Now this was interesting. Thomas Hamilton, Lord Binning (later Earl of Haddington), was married to Lady Maria Parker, the only child and heiress of Lord and Lady Macclesfield. A chance discovery had provided me with another piece of the Macclesfield puzzle.
I still only had two pieces, however, and Lady Macclesfield herself wasn’t helping. What I knew about her was sketchy. She was born Mary Frances Drake in about 1761, the daughter of Reverend Thomas Drake, Vicar of Amersham. She and her two sisters were co-heiresses, and she managed to bag an earl, so presumably Thomas Drake had been a rich man. He was certainly from a rich family: his elder brother, William, was lord of the manor of Amersham and possessed of considerable political influence (Amersham was a “rotten borough”). The Drakes had been one of the most important families in Amersham since at least the seventeenth century, when Mary Frances’ ancestor Francis, godson and namesake of the famous Elizabethan privateer, had first bought the right to return MPs.[3]
George, 4th Earl of Macclesfield
(Wikimedia Commons)
I have not managed to work out how Mary Frances met the 4th Earl of Macclesfield, but Amersham isn’t a million miles from Shirburn Castle, Lord Macclesfield’s country seat, so it’s possible the pair met socially. The wedding took place on 24 May 1780, when Mary Frances was still a minor, with consent of her uncle and guardian (her father died when she was in her mid-teens).[4]
There could have been several reasons for the marriage (chief of which may have been Mary Frances’ sizeable fortune), but one of the most suggestive is mathematical. The couple’s daughter, Maria (the future Lady Binning), was born on 23 January 1781, less than eight months after the wedding.[5] Either she was premature, or Lord and Lady Macclesfield married in a hurry. Whatever the truth, the young couple’s baby daughter never received any siblings. This lack of fecundity may have given Mary Frances something in common with her friend Lady Chatham, who never managed to bring even one pregnancy to term.
Lady Macclesfield was prominent at court, and seems to have been a favourite with Princess Augusta. She was also a lady of fashion: her court wear is frequently described in the newspapers. On her presentation after her wedding she was said to have “attracted the eyes of every one” in a dress of “laylock and silver, superbly trimmed, with variegated silver gauze interspersed with tiffany and foil”.[6] 
All these things might have made Lady Macclesfield and Lady Chatham likely to form a firm friendship. They were of an age and married young; they moved in the same social circles. Misfortune only strengthened their bond. When Mary Chatham fell ill in 1807, she seems to have been unable to confide in close family. This was particularly the case with her husband, who got in the way to the point that Mary’s doctor eventually told him to go away for a while. Mary Macclesfield must have been a point of normality to which Lady Chatham could cling.
Lady Macclesfield’s importance to the Chathams is borne out by several other clues in the correspondence. In the summer of 1809, while Lord Chatham was abroad with the army at Walcheren, Lady Chatham (who was still ill) left London with Lady Macclesfield. She spent almost the entire time her husband was away at Shirburn Castle. From here, Lady Macclesfield sent increasingly positive health bulletins to Chatham through his cabinet colleague Lord Liverpool. As the Walcheren campaign collapsed into ignominy, these positive reports must have been the only heartening things for Chatham on an increasingly bleak horizon.[7]
Shirburn Castle,
Wikimedia Commons

There is no evidence that Lady Macclesfield played any role in Mary Chatham’s second illness, nor is there a record of her reaction to Mary Chatham’s death in May 1821. By this time, however, Mary Macclesfield herself was very ill. She suffered for over a year before dying at half past ten in the evening on 1 January 1823, her husband and daughter at her side. 
The widowed Lord Chatham was then in Gibraltar, where he was serving as governor. Lord Binning, Lady Macclesfield’s son-in-law, wrote less than forty-eight hours later to apprise him of the passing of his wife’s close friend. “Lord Macclesfield was very anxious that you should be written to among the first,” he wrote, “as he well knows the place that for various reasons she bore in your esteem & friendship.”[8]
Whoever Lady Macclesfield was, and whatever she did, her role in the life of Lord and Lady Chatham was clearly invaluable.

References
[1] [Georgiana Townshend] to Henry Vaughan [Sir Henry Halford], 14 April [1807], Leicestershire Record Office DG24/819/1.
[2] George Canning to his wife, 3 March 1810, BL WYL 250/8/24.
[3] Information from http://amershamhistory.info/people/before-1600/the-drake-family/. See also George Lipscomb, The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham, volume 3 (London, 1847), p. 155.
[4] The registers of marriages of St Mary Le Bone, Middlesex, 1668-1812 … Part III (London, 1921), p. 71.
[5] Information from https://www.geni.com/people/Mary-Parker-Drake-Countess-of-Macclesfield/6000000011542659107. The date is confirmed by various newspaper reports.
[6] Morning Post, 6 June 1780.
[7] Morning Chronicle, 28 July 1809; Lord Liverpool to Chatham, 14 August [1809], TNA PRO 30/70/6 f. 417.
[8] Lord Binning to Chatham, 3 January 1823, TNA PRO 30/8/365 f. 195.

About the author

Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century political history from the University of Cambridge. A professional librarian, she lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children. She blogs at www.thelatelord.com and you can follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/latelordchatham) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/latelordchatham). Her first book, The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, was published by Pen & Sword Books in January 2017.