Story of great Victorian actor-manager William Charles Macready brought to the stage - The Leamington Observer

Story of great Victorian actor-manager William Charles Macready brought to the stage

Leamington Editorial 2nd Jun, 2023   0

THE STORY of the great Victorian actor-manager William Charles Macready is brought to the Rugby stage at the theatre bearing his name later this month.

Macready! Dickens’ Theatrical Friend, written and performed by Mark Stratford, can be seen at the Macready Theatre at Rugby School – for one night only on June 28, as part of the Festival on the Close.

Macready – the man to who Charles Dickens’ dedicated ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ – is billed as a tale of love, devotion, ambition and sacrifice.

With an array of characters, Stratford takes his audience on a journey from Macready’s first tentative steps on stage in a tatty country theatre to his final ever performance at the mighty Drury Lane.

And, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of Macready’s death, the production also pays a timely tribute to a theatrical pioneer who did much to influence theatre today.

Life had begun well for the young Macready. The prestigious Rugby School, where he started in 1803, was intended to be a springboard for him to go to Oxford and study law.

But when his father’s theatrical empire collapsed and he was imprisoned for bankruptcy, Macready, aged 16, was forced to leave the school and help with the family business.

Although still a boy, he took charge of a shambolic company of players still in his father’s service at Chester. Young William had shown early promise as a performer at school and before long he somehow managed to knock the troubled troupe in to shape. Debts were cleared, salaries paid and the company moved on to the next theatre.

And when his father was released from prison he cast his son as Romeo and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mark said: “Macready goes on to become the greatest actor of his generation,but why he’s got a place in history is down to how he changed theatre for good. He introduced things we now take entirely for granted. For instance he abandoned the somewhat over-the-top style of performance, in favour of more real and natural acting. He insisted on detailed rehearsals and made sure all aspects of a show such as sound, lighting, costumes, props, and scenery, fitted together properly. He also trained actors and directed. None of these were common practices at the time.”

“But there’s also so much more to his story. Macready’s rise from country actor to ‘eminent tragedian’ is full of fascinating anecdotes. The conflict between his love of acting and his contempt for the acting profession provides some amusing asides, and Macready’s feuds as actor and actor-manager make for great entertainment.”

The show is a labour of love for Mark who became intrigued by Macready’s story when he read his diaries a few years ago.

“He is not as well-known as the likes of Edmund Kean and Henry Irving, famous actors whose careers overlapped with Macready’s at each end of the 19th century,but his story is of such importance and interest, I feel driven to tell it.”

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