The Irving Society Newsletter No 56

The Irvingite


Saturday, 11 June, 2011
Words: Michael Gaunt Photographs: Jennie Bisset

At midday the Irving Society met with members of the Society for Theatre Research at St. Mary Magdale ne, Richmond’s parish church long associated with Edmund Kean. Jennie Bissett pin-pointed the likely site of the former exterior entrance to the crypt, in which Kean was interred in 1833. This identification is supported by contemporary line drawings illustrating Kean’s funeral procession; Macready, Braham, Farren , Harley, Dunn and Cooper were pall bearers, moving from the ‘Western Portal’ of the church to the open crypt entrance.

Edmund KeanIn the church it was possible to view the ‘neat mural monument’ erected in memory of the great ac tor by his son that previously had been placed on an outside wall above the crypt entrance. Set in the floor of the south west corner of the church, under a carpet, is a stone that states that Edmund Kean is buried in the crypt be neath. Paul Velluet RIBA, who was present, related that in 1975 it was discovered that the stone in this floor area was sunken and when it was lifted ‘the partly collapsed brick vault below, filled with rubble …’ was revealed. He was lowered into the vault and discovered two damaged lead coffin linings containing ‘modest but disordered human remains within’: he may have been gazing at Kean’s skull: no coffin plates were discovered to identify the deceased. The vault was repaired and sealed .

The once resplendent memorial to the actors Richard Yates (1745-1796) and Mary Ann Yates (1737-1787) is in the Creche at the rear of the church.

After lunch we all enjoyed a bill at the Orange Tree Theatre made up of three farces – Slash er & Crasher, A Most Unwanted Intrusion, and Grimshaw, Bagshaw & Bradshaw – by the inestimable Mr. John Maddison Morton (1811- 1891). Within the plays were elements of the drama to come: Feydeau’s doors and swift action, the surreal humour developed by the Goons and Monyy Python and the (comedic in this instance) menace present in Pinter’s writing. The actors, led by Clive Francis, acted in all the plays: characterisations engaged fully with period and text and to extraordinary and changing circumstances to the delight of the matinee audience. Henry Bell’s direction respected the style of the plays and he w ith the actors is to be congratulated on a fine piece of theatre.

After the performance the director conducted a question and answer session on farce in general and Morton in particular which was much appreciated.



Brian Masters
The Garrick Club, 2010. £25 + £3.50 postage 319 pages
ISBN 978-0-9 5674-360-2
Reviewed by Richard Foulkes

The Actors by Brian Masters is the first in a series of books to be published by the Garrick Club grouping members together according to profession. When the club was founded in 1831 there were only a dozen actors amongst its one hundred and seventy-five founder members. Significant though the contributions of Macready, Phelps and Charles Kean were Masters argues that Henry Irving ‘achieved startling progress’ with the social reputation enjoyed by actors and audience’s more respectful behaviour towards the m. Elected in 187 4 Irving remained a member until his death in 1905 by which time the club’s membership had been swelled by the new generation of actor-knights as Bancroft, Hare, Alexander, Forbes- Robertson, Martin-H arvey and Tr ee all beca me. Irving set the precedent of not usin g his title pr ofession ally.

As well as delineating this social change (culled from the very helpful appendix of membership compiled by Samantha Wyndham) Masters, the author of several books on the psychology of serial killer s (Dennis N ilsen; Rosemary West) and a Garrick member since 1977, explores the nature of Irving’s personality and acting style, stressing his emphasis on psychological reality as illustrated in such roles as Shylock, Lear and Becket. Masters also conjures up the sen se of how imp ortant the Garrick was to Irving and how his presence continues with the chair on which he died now located on the second landing of the great staircase, though he debunks the myth of ‘Irving’s chair’ at the head of the long table as it was not acquir ed until after his dea th.

Masters also cele brates the importa nce of the Gar rick in t he li ves of a past and present patron of the Irving Society: John Gielgud and Donald Sinden and their contribution to it. As with Irving Master s es says an analysis of the two men’s acting style of which he of course had first-hand experience. The portrait of Donald Sinden as Lord Foppington in The Relapse is amongst the wealth of illustrations from the Garrick’s magnificent collection. Irving is represented by the Millais portrait, several photographs, a set design for Hamlet and an extract from a promptbook.



Sir Donald Sinden
Sir Donald Sinden and Marc Sinden. Photo by permission of G WET Ltd

Our patron Sir Donald Sinden is presenting a series of DVDs produced by his son Marc and entitled Great West End Theatres.

‘We will be taken on an exclusive journey through the doors and into the most magnificent and best loved theatres in the world. From Shaftesbury Avenue to St. Martin’s Lane, down the Strand and into the Aldwych and along the Haymarket – an unforgettable expedition through the theatreland of London.’

For further information visit:

Michael Sharvell Martin
Michael Sharvell-Martin


St Paul’s, Covent Garden
Thursday, 12 May, 2011

At 3.00pm on a fine late Spring afternoon the immediate family of our late and much lamented founder Chair, Michael Sharvell- Martin, gathered in the churchyard of the Actors’ Church to carry out his final wishes. Rev Simon Gregg led a brief service befo re sprinkling Michael’s ashes on the earth, after which Linda, his widow, planted an Ellen rose and some Henry Irving narcissi, thus ensuring that her husband is with ‘his two favourite people’.

If you wish to pay your respects, enter through the Bedford St entrance. Behind the benches on the left is a raised semi-circular area containing two trees; the Ellen rose marks the spot.



The Wikipedia website devoted to Irving is remarkably extensive and error-free. The mystery is: who erected the site and who maintains it? Any information would be welcome. The site may be visited on:

Essential to the Irving legend is the devotion he inspired, none more so that in his dresser, Walter Collinson. In his biography of HI, however, Laurence Irving tells us that Walter’s predecessor, Moody, had been dismissed after becoming ‘a victim of his own conviviality’. On one occasion HI suggested that, for the sake of his wife and children, he should mend his drunken ways.

‘You look so ridiculous,’ he admonished. ‘Ah Sir,’ said Moody, with tears of maudlin vanity in his eyes, ‘they make so much of me!’

The British Library has selected the Irving Society’s website for inclusion in its UK Web Archive which ‘contains websites that pub lish research, that reflect the diversity of lives, interests and activities throughout the UK, and demonstrate web innovation. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations. Visit the site on:



The Stage, 10 September, 1891, p11

Anyone who the other week had entered the Lyceum vestibule and peeped as far as the dismantled auditor ium would have exclaimed with the gentleman in the tragedy Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!

Workmen were everywhere and everywhere their material “chaos-like together crushed and bruised.” By last night, contrary to general expectations, my own included, all that had been changed, and the audience that filled the theatre and cor dially gave greeting to the admirable Daly company on their latest visit, found itself possessed of an auditorium which in many ways was hardly recognisable. There was the new decorative work, set off by the electric lighting, and there were the new structural alterations, some of which, as in the gallery, greatly changed the aspect of the house. Everything was in readiness, and everybody was delighted, as indeed who could not be with an auditorium that architect and builder, artist and decorator, had done so much to make more safe, more comfortable, and more beautiful.



Talk by Frances H ughes
Tristan Bates Theatre, The Actors Centre
Tower St., London WC2H 9NP
Thursday, 21 April, at 1.30pm

Undaunted by the failure of both the venue’s PowerPoint equipment and its slide projector, our Chair delivered a cogent forty five minute rundown of HI’s life and career to an appreciative audience of Irving Society members. Actors Centre members were conspicuous by their absence, highlighting yet again the lack of interest by the younger generation in the history of their calling.



Kevin Spacey in Richard III at the Old Vic. Director: Sam Mendes. 15 seats at £30 still available for Sunday, 28 August, at 5.00 pm. They are in the Lilian Baylis balcony so be prepared for quite a few stairs. If you wish to join the party contact me a.s.a.p.

A coach trip is proposed from the Old Vic to Tower Cottage, Winchelsea, Ellen Terry’s country home from 1896 to 1906. Although the actual house is not open to visitors there is access to a small museum, and the trip could include a digression to nearby Rye. The cost will probably be around £30, depending on numbers. Whether this event goes ahead depends upon members’ response, so if this Summer outing appeals please let me know.

This years’s Annual Dinner will again be held at the New Cavendish Club on Friday, 28 October. Cost £45 inc. ½ bottle of wine.
Guest of Honour: Malcolm Sinclair, President of Equity. Details t.b.a.


Paul IlesI regret to report the death on 30 April of member Paul Iles. He was 59. Paul was one of life’s enhancers, bringing the utmost energy and enthusiasm to ever y project in which he was involved, whether as general manager of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, principal lecturer at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, or chairman of Northern Broadsides. Paul was a complete man of the theatre whose talents and strength of personality will leave a lasting legacy. Editor


To start 6 February, 2012. Maximum interest and job satisfaction. Reasonable expenses. Applicants should be computer literate. Every assistance offered with the handover. If you’re thinking about it but aren’t sure whether to commit contact me for a chat. See box below .

All Communications to:

Michael Kilgarriff , Editor & Hon Sec
The Irving Society,
10 Kings Avenue,
London W5 2SH,
Tel & Fax: 020 8566 8301

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