‘Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse’
by Joshua Reynolds (1784)
Last week in Leeds, while staying at the
Ibis hotel a short walk from the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I was astonished to
learn that the manager of the sister hotel across town was a Mrs Sarah Siddons.
The Mrs Siddons, the great
eighteenth-century tragedienne, first appeared in Leeds in 1786 and seems to
have subscribed to actor-manager Wilkinson Tate’s view that Leeds was ‘the
actor’s Botany Bay’. Her opinion was no doubt influenced by the following
unfortunate incidents:

During an engagement at Leeds she played
with the elder Mathews, who describes what she suffered from the barbarous
frequenters of the galleries. When she was about to drink the poison, one
called out, ‘Soop it oop, lass!’ When she was playing the ‘sleeping scene’ in
Macbeth, a boy, who had been sent for some porter, walked on to the stage and
presented it to her. In vain the great actress motioned him away; in vain
hoarse voices called him off. The house roared; the whole play was spoiled. No
wonder, when the curtain came down, on the last night of her engagement at
Leeds, that she said, ‘Farewell, ye Brutes!’
(Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1872)

Up until last week, I too might have had my doubts about Leeds, but My Perfect Mind was most warmly received by wonderfully witty and sophisticated audiences at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Paul Hunter and I have been gratified indeed by the lovely ‘tweets’ about the show and to know that people continue to find such a profound connection with it:

Still basking in the pure unadulterated joy of ystrday’s My Perfect Mind frm ‪@toldbyanidiot93 If you only see 1 show this year make it this.

That was just possibly the most brilliant thing I’ve seen this year (and I’ve seen a lot of brilliant shows recently). ‪#MyPerfectMind

So many comic, poignant and meta-theatrical layers to ‪#MyPerfectMind that I want to go straight back to ‪@WYPlayhouse and watch it again.

ICYMI ‪#MyPerfectMind ‪@tftheatres is a joy of a show full of theatrical anecdote that thrills. 

Lear self-portrait, West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Photo by EP
Last Thursday I did a Desert Island Discs-style interview for BBC Radio Leeds, choosing pieces of music with special associations for me – quite a few of them to do with my boyhood in Bradford, just eight miles away.
Mural of Leeds-born Alan Bennett on the wall of the BBC
building in Leeds. In 2000, I appeared as Sir Anthony Blunt in
Bennett’s A Question of Attribution. Photo by EP
An afterword or two on Sarah Siddons. Some years ago I met her great-great-great-great-grandson, Michael Corby, founder of the 1970s group The Babys and son of the founder of the Corby trouser press company.
Portrait of Dibdin by J. Young
And, as always, there’s a link to West Hampstead. The prolific dramatist and godson of David Garrick, Thomas John Dibdin (1771-1841), who had a cottage at West End (as it then was), played Cupid at the age of four to Mrs Siddons’s Venus in Garrick’s revival of his Shakespearean pageant The Jubilee ‎at Drury Lane.
This week we travel north again, to Liverpool where we played last March at the Unity Theatre and where I made this little film as a memento of the tour.

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