Friday 5 July 2013

The First Lady of the London Stage: Sarah Siddons

Sarah Siddons, née Kemble (Brecon, Wales, 5th July 1755 - London, England, 8th June 1831)

Portrait of Mrs Siddons as The Tragic Muse by Joshua Reynolds
Mrs Siddons as The Tragic Muse by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1783

After a hard day gadding about, there's nothing I like more than a jaunt to the theatre and I can often be seen frequenting Drury Lane with the colonist following along behind. I will declare here and now that I don't believe there has ever been a theatrical family to rival the Kembles and the greatest of them all was the marvellous Sarah.

Following a less than illustrious West End debut, Sarah went on the road to hone her craft and returned to the capital a changed actress, receiving rapturous receptions from audiences and critics alike. Her interpretations of tragedy became legendary and Sarah's name was on the lips of every fashionable Londoner, her social calendar a who's who of the greatest names in England.

A striking, sometimes imposing figure of a woman she became synonymous with Drury Lane and played some of the greatest female roles in theatre. Gripped by "Siddons Fever", the audience would swoon, tremble and weep as she kept them in the palm of her hand,  becoming a living legend of the stage. Her personal favourite role was that of Queen Katherine in Shakespeare's Henry VIII, though it was as Lady Macbeth that she became most renowned.

Print of Sarah Siddons as Queen Katherine
Sarah Siddons as Queen Katherine

For her final performance on 29th June 1812 Sarah once again returned to the role that had earned her greatest plaudits, Lady Macbeth. The adoring, thunderous applause that followed the sleepwalking scene stopped the show in its tracks and the performance was halted as the leading lady shed her character for a heartfelt farewell speech lasting nearly ten minutes.

Mrs Siddons was occasionally lured back to the theatre for illustrious guest appearances and took her final theatrical bow on 8th June 1819. More than 5.000 people mourned at Sarah's funeral and her legend lives on to this day, immortalised in portraits, statues and even a locomotive - happy birthday, Sarah!

Original playbill for The Winter's Tale starring Sarah Siddons


Gem Twitcher said...

Truly a First Lady of the theatre,Madame! Respected by all - even by Hannah Moore!

Catherine Curzon said...

And deservedly so!

Unknown said...

Laid to rest in Paddington near to her home.

Catherine Curzon said...