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The Divine Mrs S by April De Angelis – Hampstead Theatre

A witty tale of a driven woman facing the troubles of the misogynistic world of Georgian theatre. This amusing but eventually mild-mannered play by April De Angelis is an enjoyable but resolutely safe evening of traditional comedy.

Rachael Stirling as Sarah Siddons in The Divine Mrs S. Credit Johan Persson.
Rachael Stirling as Sarah Siddons in The Divine Mrs S. Credit Johan Persson.

Siddons (Rachael Stirling), is a star who has not found, or rather not been allowed to find her greatest work. Set in the Drury Lane Theatre, run by her intolerable brother Kemble (Dominic Rowan), Mrs S, or Siddens is unwell and unhappy. Her health is waning, and increasingly unable to complete the bizarre melodramas her audience seems to love. But these ludicrous stage creations do not fulfil her, she seeks a tale that might be more honest, that speaks to the soul. Enter Joanna Bailey played with comedic chutzpah by Eva Feiler, the young, unflinching Scottish writer, who will do what it takes to get her play on the stages of London. And so the drama ensues, will Siddens get to tell the story she believes in, or will she be resigned to wasting away as Lady Macbeth in regional repertory theatres for the rest of time?

April de Angelis imbues Siddons’ story with a certain farcical quality, a cast of bizarre characters from pompous critics to vaudeville-esque comic actors wandering on and off the stage. And while characters often appear more for comic beats than for the sake of the plot, it is certainly very funny.

Performances, and at times the show as a whole, felt inconsistent. At times it leans into a Moliere-esque mayhem, before moments later hitting serious feminist points. These are not mutually exclusive of each other, but when not brought together, give the sense that the play is unsure of what it is doing, and what style it is in.

That being said, Lez Brotherston’s design places us in the entirely recognisable and distinctly over-the-top style of regency drama, already warming us to the unusual occurrences that followed.

The comedic ability of the cast is undeniable, playing off each other and the script alike. While the feminism that underlay this piece is naturally compelling, it might have benefitted from committing harder to its absurdity and moral drive.

3 Star Review

Review by Tom Carter

Drury Lane, 1800. Mrs Sarah Siddons, universally acclaimed as the greatest actress of all time, holds complete sway over public and critics alike. But she is herself subject to direction from the men in her life – her bone-headed brother who runs the theatre and chooses her roles, and her faithless husband who signs her contracts and collects her fees. Siddons decides it’s time become the leading lady of her own life, harnessing her star power as the world’s first female celebrity and taking control of her own destiny – but she reckons without the absurdly comic plot twists of a life on the stage…

A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE WORLD PREMIERE
THE DIVINE MRS S
BY APRIL DE ANGELIS
DIRECTED BY ANNA MACKMIN

22 MAR – 27 APR 2024
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

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