Garrick Club, Covent Garden, London. Friday, 2 November, 2012
Report Michael Kilgarriff
The all-embracing charm and geniality of our Guest of Honour permeated the gathering of members of both the Irving Society and the Society for Theatre Research as we chattered merrily over a pre-prandial glass in the Garrick Club’s Irving Room – where else ? I speak of Sir Donald Sinden, of course, who, unbelieveably, has entered his ninetieth year, a ready excuse for showing him our admiration and respect.
In the Milne Room forty-nine of us were welcomed by our Chair, Frances Hughes, in her customary cogent and witty manner; we then dined on haddock so ufflé with a chive sauce, roast guinea fowl with celeriac & truffle mash & bourguignon sauce with parisienne potatoes and seasonal market vegetables. Dessert was baked chocolate & chestnut pudding with kirsch cherry ice cream or a selection of British and Irish cheese. The menu did not disclose details of the vegetarian option, but I’m sure it was as delicious as the food served to us carnivores.
After the Loyal Toast, offered by your reporter, Frances made the first p resentation to Sir Donald, a signed photograph of HI aptly inscribed ‘With my love I do commend me to you’ – Hamlet 2:i. Richard Foulkes, Chair of the Society for Theatre Research, then gave a most eloquent and affectionate eulogy of Sir Donald’s sterling qualities as actor, author, collector, campaigner, and raconteur. His offering to Sir Donald was a certificate declaring the recipient to be an Honorary Life Member of the STR .
Sir Donald, in reply, wondered whether he had been made an Honorary Life Mender, but then, reassured, treated us to two vintage stories: one concerning two old actors who dried simultaneously in performance. Sir Donald’s virtuoso display of bewilderment, frustration and embarrassment as one elderly thespian endeavoured to ad-lib his way back to the text was priceless. His second story recalled an unfortunate encounter between Lady Alexander and Lilian Braithwaite. The tale is too long to recount here, but it was a delight to see Sir Donald in full spate, his timing as precise as ever and that wonderful rich voice rolling back the years; to so many of us his fine career is contemporaneous with our entire life’s theatre experience.
The final speaker was our host, Ian Herbert, who entertained us with stories of his sundry attempts to become an actor, all doomed to failure. But an unqualified success was the joyful humour of the evening; in such an historic venue and with such a legendary Guest of Honour it could scarce have been otherwise.
FINDING SAMPSON PENLEY
by Alan Stockwell. Vesper Hawk Publishing (2012)
284pp+ notes and appendices but no index. £9.95 pb ISBN 978-0-95 65013-4-9
Hitherto the only Penley of my acquaintance – and I suspect yours – was W S Penley, the original Fancourt Babbs in Charley’s Aunt, Brandon Thomas’s timeless 1892 farce. But a century earlier English provincial theatre had been littered with Penley actors and managers, though none achiev ed anything app roaching the eminence and succe ss of W. S. In fact their lot was so hard and so uncertain one wonders why they continued to persevere in what Samuel Phelps bitterly called ‘an ill-requited profession’.
Alan Stockwell begins his history of this stage-struck family in 1782 with Mrs Penley’s Gallant Troupe at the Paviour’s Arms, Shadwell, Wapping. The company included four of her children, three of whom produced over two dozen offspring, all indefatigable strollers. The eldest was Sampson, as was his first child, hence the book’s title. It has to be said that the Penleys, frankly, do not seem to have been notably talented for few of them reached the major London stages, and their reviews, when not downright offensive, were usually tepid.
Their regular stamping-ground was the south-east of England, especially in and around Tenterden, Kent, but as time passed they took leases wherever opportunity arose, travelling as far afield as Windsor, Bristol, and Newcastle. And if a town had no theatre it was not unknown for the Penleys to knock one up . Alan offers a powerful insight into the theatrical mores of the period, with the occasional hoary anecdote thrown in for light relief, e.g: Kean as Richard: ‘You think I’m drunk? Wait till you see the Duke of Buckingham…’ Supporting Kean, as both Sampson snr and jnr often did, must have been hair-raising.
Sampson snr’s most remarkable foray was to Paris in 1822, where the Penleys were the first company of English actors to appear since Elizabethan times. Alas, the French were still smarting from Trafalgar and the venture foundered in rioting on the first night.
Towards the close the author recalls, ‘A mere fifty years ago, my only possibility of seeing a live play locally was to catch a bus into town to see the rapidly dwindling Harry Hanson’s Court Players in weekly rep in an aged crumbling theatre.’ Suddenly your reviewer felt very old. Reader , I was a Harry Hanson Court Player. Editor
‘IN ALL HUMILITY…
….I feel certain of one thing – mine is the only great
Shylock.’ (Laurence Irving p646)
A bold and uncharacteristic boast by Irving, but true nonetheless. The photo of HI as Shylock on the right is by Lyddell Sawyer (1856- 1927). If anyone has any information about the photo or the photographer please contact Geoff Loweon email@example.com
PERFORMING ARTS BOOK FAIR
The next PABF will take place at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, 9 December, from 11am to 4p m in the Level 5 Function Room. As well as books stalls will include programmes, letters, posters, and other
FURTHER RARE ILLUSTRATIONS OF IRVING & STOKER TOGETHER
August’s Irvingite included two of the few known ph otograp hs of HI and Bram together. Member Elizabeth Sutter has sent me copies of two more, reproduced below. The first is aboard ship, though where and when are not known.
The second is a luncheon, doubtless one of those innumerable worthy occasions to which Irving was constantly invited while on tour and which he felt obliged to attend .
Elizabeth also sent in a cartoon from The Entr’acte dated 23 September, 1882, in which Irving congratulates Stoker for attempting to save a man from drowning in the Thames. Note how the artist, Alfred Bryan, gives Irving’s face full frontal prominence, with Bram, though the hero of the hour, shown only vaguely in profile.
The cartoon on the right is signed A Sloper and dated 1888, presumably having been published in Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday. Again Bram is in shadow, reminding us that on stage, HI’s features, whatever the play and whatever the action, whether midday or midnight, were invariably illuminated with a pin-spot.
Owner’s description: This pen and ink caricature of HI is monogrammmed FGC and dated 18 77. It is on heavyweight paper and is in good condition. Not pasted down. Some slight discolouration to the very top of the paper (outside the image area), corners clipped, some historical discolouration verso where it was pasted down. Size 31cm x 20 cm. Unframed. OIRO £100+ Contact Rev Matthew Askey on firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: The banner lists ten plays strongly associated with HI: Hunted Down ., Two Roses, Bells (sic), Charles I, Eugene Aram , Richelieu , Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Richard III. Under these titles the words Lyceum Theatre suggest that the date of this drawing is actually 1878, the year Irving took over the lease. Across the bottom in a different hand is written JOHN HENRY BRODERIBB IRVING – Broderibb should of course be Brodribb.
Sunday, 17 February, 2013
Wreath-Laying at HI’s statue 2.30pm
AGM Concert Artistes’ Assn 3.15pm
Heritage Lecture 4. 00pm
Dr Arthur Bloom
Irving & Edwin Booth
Cutting of Birthday Cake 4.45pm
Meeting closes 5.30pm
Admittance for Non-Members £3
RETIREMENT OF HON SECRETARY
I first indicated my wish to retire as Hon Sec at the 2011 AGM. As yet no-one has offered to take over, so if there is still no volunteer by the 2013 AGM next February, the future of the Society as it currently exists will be in doubt. If you have any ideas or suggestions please contact:
Michael Kilgarriff tel: 020 8566 8301
10 Kings Ave, London W5 2SH
HI THE SUPREME DICKENSIAN
From Cues and Curtain Calls (192 7) by H Chance Newton (‘Carados’): ‘Here I might chronicle the fact that [Irving] had the biggest record of Dickens impersonations ever achieved by any actor, before or since.
Irving’s Dickens characters included, firstly, nearly all that novelist’s criminals and crooks. Besides Sikes, he played Jonas Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield, Montague Tigg, Quilp, Mantalini, Squeers, Dombey, Ralph Nickleby, and Steerforth, and afterwards became famous as John Peerybingle and Jingle.
The only other actor who approached Irving’s remarkable record was Sam Emery…[His] impersonations – all very fine – included John Browdie, the Yorkshire farmer in Nicholas Nickleby, Jonas Chuzzlew it, Pecksniff, and his still greater Captain C uttle and Da n’l Peggotty.