Sunday, 8 June 2014

"she seem’d fitter to whine her good Man into the Act of feeding her child with pap than to fire his Spirit to the perpetration of Murder"

On Saturday 3 November 1787, William Hayley, George Romney and the Rev. Dr Warner went to watch Mrs Siddons play Lady Macbeth. Here's the review (of her performance, the subsequent farce and, um, the women occupying the boxes) Hayley wrote, the following day, in a letter to his wife Eliza…
 As I think it will amuse you to receive a full Account of our theatrical Amusement last Night I begin scribbling today to inform you that the dear Painter & Divine attended me to see Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth – 
The Pittore arriv’d at my Cell by 5 oclock to drink his Coffee with me; as soon as that short Ceremony was finish’d we proceeded to the Pit & luckily got excellent places three rows from the Orchestra — our old Acquaintance Mr Smith play’d Macbeth as He plays every thing, like a Gentleman & a Man of Intelligence, without the rare Gift of enchanting Genius – Mrs Siddons in the two first acts disappointed me much, & was infinitely inferior to my departed Idols Mrs Pritchard & Mrs Yates - By attempting to throw diabolical Spirit into her Countenance she made it Grotesque, & she display’d a most awkward Gesture with her elbow which put me in mind of a poor hawk in a Garden, attempting to fly with a Cut Wing. Her Features were to my Feelings so entirely out of Harmony with her Character that I was saying to myself every Moment
Her Eyes refute the Language of her Tongue 
Her Face indeed had the delicate air of a Woman just brought to bed, & she seem’d fitter to whine her good Man into the Act of feeding her child with pap than to fire his Spirit to the perpetration of Murder – But if her first Scenes were so unfortunate, the progress & close of her Part made us very ample Amends - The Banquet Scene she played with admirable dignity & Grace & her new dress as Queen was supremely magnificent & becoming - it was so much so that Romney suppos’d it the design of Sir Joshua — I have not yet mentioned the Passage where she most delighted us – it was the divine Scene of her soliloquy in sleep - I never saw in my Life a more perfect piece of Acting – Her night dress was admirably contriv’d for effect – by a sort of fine Bandage under her chin she gave to her Countenance an Expression perfectly new & her Features display’d indeed the royal Murderess worn almost to death by her Remorse — In this marvellous Scene she was many many degrees suprerior to the two great Actresses who in my Opinion surpass’d her (as I have told you) in the first part of the Play — Kemble play’d Macduff very well & shone particularly in the famous Scene of receiving the Tidings that his Wife & Children were massacred – We were tempted to stay the Farce for the sake of seeing Mrs Jordans in the Sultan - it is a little Musical & laughable Performance form’d on the story of Roxolane in Marmontel, the pert little capricious enchanting Slave who captivates the Grand Signor avec un petit nez retroussé — the comic acting of Mrs Jordans was as perfect in its way as the best Scene of Mrs Siddons & threw us all into some hearty Laughs — My reverend Neighbour & I walk’d home together as the Night was uncommonly fine, & tho I suffer’d a little in the Eyes from the Heat of the House yet this suffering was less than usual from the precaution of sitting near the cool Stage & altogether I have escap’d much better than I expected — The House was full but the Boxes exhibited an assemblage of the plainest women I believe that were ever collected in a Theatre so much so that I could not help saying to an Italian Gentleman who was talking near me in that Language that He must not judge of our Country Women by so unfortunate a Sample—