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

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Always a pleasure to see Rachael Stirling onstage however The Divine Mrs S doesn’t fairly match her price at Hampstead Theatre

“She interrupts men”

One of my all-time favorite theatre performances got here from Rachael Stirling within the 2010 manufacturing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Rose, Kingston. Though the primary draw was ostensibly Dame Judi Dench’s return to Titania, directed by Peter Hall as soon as once more, my eye was always drawn to the wealthy element of Stirling’s Helena and her deeply empathetic work – I used to be fully bought. These days, her stage appearances are slightly 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. Widely acclaimed as the best actress of her time, that point additionally thought-about girls 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 benefit from her comparatively elevated scenario, she seeks to take management of her profession at the same time as society tries its greatest to withstand.

It’s a bawdier piece of theatre than one may need anticipated from De Angelis, director Anna Mackmin maintaining issues going at a lick with an usually rollicking tone that goes some solution to disguising the repetitiveness of a few of the scenes right here. The play-within-a-play conceit permits for some pointed injokes which the Hampstead viewers laps up greedily however as at the same time as we contact on themes that also resonate immediately – 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 superb as Siddons, grieving the loss of a kid as we meet her however decided to work to the perfect of her appreciable potential, a forceful character however one who nonetheless by some means stays one thing of an enigma. The usually jovial tone finally ends up jibing towards 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 preferred.

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