The Greatest Tragic Actress

  • 16 Jan 2012
  • Theatre
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Early Years at Worcester

The King's Head Theatre was traditionally celebrated as the theatre where the greatest tragic actress of the British stage made her first appearance. Sarah Kemble, known later as Mrs. Siddons, was the daughter of Roger Kemble, and grandaughter of Mr.Ward, both of whom managed companies at Worcester. She was the eldest child in a family that produced a number of famous players.

During the Kemble season at Worcester she was sent to Thoirneloe private girls school at Thorneloe House, Barbourne, which was kept by a Mrs. Harris. The House later was the Eye Hospital. As a child of a strolling player, she was subject to some rebuff, but made her way by her capacity at school theatricals, and by her resource at improvising costume. A fellow school-girl who survived until the mid-19th century, said of Sarah, aged about ten:

'She won universal popularity by exhibiting a device for imitating a 'sack-back' with thick paper that covers sugar loaves'.  

She was brought to the stage as an infant phenomenon. At the King's Head, on February 12, 1767, with other members of her family, she took part in an entertainment to which admission was granted to those purchasing packets of toothpaste. Her contribution consisted of a performance of Rosetta in the play Love in a Village. She also acted with some millitary amateurs in The Grecian Daughter, and it is reported, caused some wrath among her military associates by bursting into laughter in the midst of a tragic situation.