A talk by Sandra Clark

Thursday 16 June 2016
Senate House Library
Part of the 'Shakespeare: Metamorphosis' season

Review by Robert Whitehead

Continuing the ‘Shakespeare: Metamorphosis’ season this evening’s event took place in the wonderful Senate House library. There were around 25 attendees in the 30 capacity room, tucked away in the back room among shelves of Shakespeare’s very own work. Once the talk began the information came thick and fast, and delivered in such detail that one truly felt like being transported back in time to the Victorian stage itself.

The talk was given by Sandra Clark who, armed with only a lectern and projection screen, delivered an informative and humorous lesson in Victorian theatre. The talk was structured well as Clark took turns introducing and illuminating upon the careers of a cast of critical darlings and duds. She began with a portrait of William Charles Macready from 1821 and gave a short but concise biography of the actors’ ability to divide critics. Thanks to Clark’s insight it soon becomes clear that Macbeth was a popular choice among both leading and character actors, with all self-respecting thespians of the era each vying for the titular role. Indeed, it was interesting to discover the genuine interest and individual opinion that Victorians had regarding Shakespeare’s work. Clark implemented attractive engravings several actors and tickled the audience by reading aloud some of genuinely humorous and insightful diary entries. By doing this Clark further brought the voices Victorians to life.

However, this talk wasn’t just a men’s only affair. Clark took time to discuss Helena Faucit and her 1873 portrayal of Lady Macbeth. This was followed again by a choice selection of contemporary critical reviews which served to highlight the complexities Victorians faced by bringing the Scottish Play to the stage.

What was really impressive in Clarks’ talk was how she was able to incorporated and address the wide ranging influences of the Victorian ‘Macbeth’. I particularly enjoyed her reference to how an 1875 staging can be seen as being ‘proto-Hollywood’. This is due to how the grand spectacle of the stage can be traced forward to D.W. Griffiths work in films such as The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. As a film studies student I really enjoyed this brief foray into the world of film theory and judging by the amount of nodding heads in attendance so too did the audience.

With this being said, what started out as a trickle of insightful points eventually became more like a torrent of information that served to interest only the keenest of Shakespeare aficionados. The repetition of actor biographies followed by critical reception became somewhat tiresome by the closing of the talk. Overall it would’ve benefitted from a bit of experimentation to grab back the attention of any wandering minds in the Senate House Library. But, I must admit that this is really just nit-picking in what was otherwise an insightful and thoroughly well researched talk.