Unless you have studied the history of theatre it's easy to imagine that performances on stage have always been very much as they are today. But that is not so. Drama King, written, designed and performed by Mark Stratford, tells the story of William Charles Macready, one of the greatest actor-managers of the 19th Century who transformed the art of acting over a number of decades through a personal journey of discovery.
A vivid lesson in how acting was transformed
Macready was born in 1793 and died in 1873. He occupied the time between the great actor Edmund Kean and the distinguished actor-manager Sir Henry Irving. He is not as well-known as either of those 19th-century pillars of theatrical achievement, yet his influence on acting as we now perceive it exceeds them both. The former was his great rival, and they vied for chances to perform at the most notable London theatres of the day; Drury Lane and Covent Garden. It was not until Kean’s death in 1835 that quite literally the stage was cleared for Macready to become the undisputed head of his profession.
Stratford eloquently narrates the ups and downs of Macready’s life while demonstrating the performing styles of the day, which we would probably now describe as, at the very least, ‘over-the-top’. It was the period in which the lead would address the audience with little regard for his fellow actors, make stylised gestures and strut around the stage like a peacock for everyone to admire. Stratford demonstrates all of this both physically and vocally. As the years move on he informs of the transition brought about by Macready to something more akin to the method acting that would dominate later years.
It is a joy not only to see Stratford take on the many roles and voices in this performance, but also to receive a vivid lesson in how acting was transformed by Macready and how he revolutionised the concept of theatre. His was an intriguing career and there are many historical details in this work that make it a fascinating tale to hear. Stratford’s remarkable ability to tell that story and create characters brings it all to life.