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The Divine Mrs S, Hampstead Theatre – There Ought To Be Clowns

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At all times a pleasure to see Rachael Stirling onstage however The Divine Mrs S doesn’t fairly match her value at Hampstead Theatre

“She interrupts males”

One in every of my all-time favorite theatre performances got here from Rachael Stirling within the 2010 manufacturing of A Midsummer Evening’s Dream on the Rose, Kingston. Although the primary draw was ostensibly Dame Judi Dench’s return to Titania, directed by Peter Corridor as soon as once more, my eye was consistently drawn to the wealthy element of Stirling’s Helena and her deeply empathetic work – I used to be fully offered. Nowadays, her stage appearances are a bit of extra sparing however proper now, she’s heading up The Divine Mrs S.

Written by April De Angelis, we’re backstage on this planet of 18th-century theatre with Sarah Siddons at its coronary heart. Broadly acclaimed as the best actress of her time, that point additionally thought-about ladies performing to be totally demeaning and Siddons nonetheless finds herself on the mercy of the boys in her life, whether or not her philandering husband or her meddling brother. Resolved to profit from her comparatively elevated state of affairs, she seeks to take management of her profession whilst society tries its finest to withstand.

It’s a bawdier piece of theatre than one may need anticipated from De Angelis, director Anna Mackmin holding issues going at a lick with an usually rollicking tone that goes some solution to disguising the repetitiveness of among the scenes right here. The play-within-a-play conceit permits for some pointed injokes which the Hampstead viewers laps up greedily however as whilst we contact on themes that also resonate as we speak – the misogynistic therapy of feminine celebrities, double requirements throughout women and men and the paucity of well-written feminine roles – all of it feels a bit surface-level.

Stirling is great as Siddons, grieving the loss of a kid as we meet her however decided to work to one of the best of her appreciable means, a forceful character however one who nonetheless one way or the other stays one thing of an enigma. The usually jovial tone finally ends up jibing in opposition to our comprehension of how distinctive she was for doing all this at this time and the frequent hints of darkness within the wider world solely serve to amplify that the play isn’t exploring them (Eva Feiler efficient in her a number of roles although).

Lez Brotherston’s set design is superbly realised although, a slice of Drury Lane backstage evocatively lit by Mark Henderson, its luxurious heat pleasant to behold. Dominic Rowan is nice enjoyable as no-mark brother Kemble, Sarah’s supervisor and fellow performer, although amusingly far inferior in expertise. And attending to see an actor of the calibre of Stirling in such relative intimacy stays a thrill, even when the play didn’t seize me in the way in which I may need appreciated.

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