Mrs Siddon's at Drury Lane

  • 16 Jan 2012
  • Theatre
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At the end of 1775, Mrs . Siddon's made her first appearance on the London stage as Portia, in the Merchant of Venice. It was a disastrous evening. She was overcome by nerves and made the poorest showing, her performance being damned by the critics. She was quite overawed by the huge auditorium, seating for 3,600 people (500 more than the present day Drury Lane), which later she described as 'a wilderness of a place'. She played on till the end of the season, but then she was not engaged, and she had to return to the dismal drudgery of the country circuit and the barns. She returned to Worcester with her husband in 1779, still in Mrs. Crump's company, but occupying a more important place on the bill.

After five years more in the provinces, Mrs. Siddons again appeared in London, and this time she made an overwhelming sensation. Over night, she became established as 'the first tragic aactress now on the English stage'. London was infatuated, and the public talked of little else. Hazlitt wrote: 'To have seen Mrs. Siddons was an event in everyone's life .... she was not less than a goddess or a prophetess inspired by the gods .... she was Tragedy personified'. She reigned for years as the very Queen of Tragedy. Sir Josuah Reynolds, George Romney and Sir Thomas Lawrence painted her, and so did John Opie, who had earlier painted Mrs. Siddons and her fellow actors at the back of the King's Head, in Worcester,