Despite occasional complaints, audiences over the centuries have generally become well-behaved. It’s unlikely that people today would go to the theatre armed with an assortment of rotten fruit or buttons to throw at actors who fail to perform to their satisfaction.
A masterly and fascinating performance.
That was certainly the case in the 19th century however, as we are reminded by Ian Hughes, whose solo performance, The Dramatic Exploits of Edmund Kean, at Tara Theatre, Earlsfield, explores life of one of the theatrical legend.
There were times, however, during this particular performance that Hughes might have imagined himself in a time warp. He had to contend with the wheezing, slightly gasping lady on the front row stage right and the man with a hacking cough, third row centre stalls during the first act and the woman with the cackling laugh throughout, who alone found humour in certain lines.They were all surpassed by the lady who arrived late, sat on the front of only two rows stage right and proceeded to encamp with her bag and her large personalised water bottle, from which she frequently took refreshment, divest herself of knee-length thick socks and rummage to find bars of nourishment, the noise of whose wrappers crunched resoundingly. A very elderly lady reprimanded her severely once the interval came and she was removed by the management to a more discreet location for act two with a warning about her behaviour. Hughes resisted the temptation to comment on any of this, but instead faithfully stuck to his script, undeterred.
That he did so was just one part of a commendable evening that related the highs and lows of Kean’s career, interspersed with passages from the great Shakespearean plays. Himself an accomplished performer of the Bard, at the RSC and elsewhere, Hughes gives expression to the range of styles that existed in the period before Kean and the changes that Kean brought about in performance. It’s a largely chronological format of ten scenes in two acts that reveal Kean’s travels around the country, financial difficulties, married life, visits to the USA, battles with theatre managements, rise to fame and ultimate demise under an excess of alcohol.
Ninety minutes of performance with a fifteen minute interval is a long stretch for a monologue. The travels that dominate Part One have a tendency to be event piled upon event as he trudges from place to place trying to eke out an existence. They could easily be condensed to give a more punchy one-act production. Part Two has the greater energy and excitement as the conflicts mount, the performances take off and he finally wrestles Drury Lane from the clutches of his great rival, Kemble.
Hughes gives a masterly and fascinating performance that provides an insight into not only the life one of the great actors of a bygone age but also the history of theatre itself.