Vincent de Camp
Known for his comic roles, Vincent de Camp led a turbulent life on and off the stage. He fought a bloodless duel with the actor Robert William Elliston, and he was reportedly in love with the actress Julia Glover prior to her ill-fated marriage in 1799.
Robert William Elliston
A leading actor at Drury Lane, Elliston played Hamlet in the inaugural production that reopened the theatre in 1812. The following year, he created the role of Alvar in Remorse by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1819, he took over the lease of Drury Lane, bringing over William Charles Macready from Covent Garden.
Born Maria Logan in 1770, Gibbs mainly played comic roles at the Haymarket, but Covent Garden chose her to represent the Muse of Comedy as part of festivities marking the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1816. Playwright and theatre manager George Colman the Younger created a number of roles for her in such plays as John Bull, The Heir at Law, and Blue Devils.
Renowned as a comic actress, Julia Glover specialized in portraying sharp-tongued women, such as Mrs. Candour in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s A School for Scandal. However, she also earned rave reviews for her performance in the dramatic role of Alhadra in Remorse. According to the review in the Times, if Remorse were to have a further life as a play, “she has a most important share in the merit of keeping it in existence.”
Arguably the greatest actor of the Regency Era, Kean was a child actor who made a name for himself touring the provinces. His London debut as an adult came on January 26, 1814, when he appeared at Drury Lane as Shylock. Kean was an overnight sensation, and his popularity reversed the fortunes of Drury Lane, bringing the theatre back from the verge of bankruptcy. Kean was known for Shakespearean roles and for playing Sir Giles Overreach in A New Way to Pay Old Debts by Philip Massinger. He was generally a failure in new plays, however, and was not known to be generous with other actors on stage. After touring America twice, Kean collapsed onstage while acting with his son Charles in Othello on March 25th, 1833. He never recovered.
John Philip Kemble
The little brother of Sarah Siddons, John Philip Kemble was the leading tragic actor of his day. He famously played Rollo in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s drama Pizarro, an adaptation of a play by August von Kotzebue. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had originally envisioned Kemble playing his tragic anti-hero in Osorio, a play he sent to Sheridan at Drury Lane, but which was rejected. Kemble left Drury Lane in 1802, and in 1803, he took over Covent Garden. He ran afoul of his audience by introducing higher prices in 1809, an increase that precipitated the Old Price Riots. Kemble eventually backed down and continued to run Covent Garden until 1817.
A leading tragic actress of her day, Harriet Litchfield is best known for performing the title role in Matthew G. Lewis’s monodrama The Captive. Her performance during the first (and only) presentation of the play at Covent Garden on March 22, 1803 led to audience members going into hysterics.
William Charles Macready
The son of a theatre manager, Macready was educated at the prestigious Rugby School and hoped to go to Oxford, but a change in family finances made him have to resort to the stage. He first appeared onstage as Romeo in 1810, but did not make his London debut until 1816. He later became famous for starring in an adaptation Isaac Pocock wrote of Rob Roy. A close friend of many literary gentlemen (including Charles Dickens), Macready went on to set new standards for the production of Shakespeare in the Victorian era.
Known for his famous one-man show At Home, Mathews excelled at impressions of contemporary celebrities, often playing multiple parts in rapid succession during the same performance. Though Mathews also shone in comedies by other writers, he is most known for his At Home performances with its changing cast of characters he would impersonate. His son Charles James Mathews later married the famed Madame Vestris.
Born into a family of Irish actors, O’Neill made her London debut as Juliet at Covent Garden in 1814. Richard Lalor Sheil subsequently fell in love with her, dedicating his play The Apostate to O’Neill, who originated the role of Florinda. She impressed Percy Shelley, who saw her in H.H. Milman’s tragedy Fazio. According to Mary Shelley, O’Neill was “often in his thoughts” as her husband wrote The Cenci.
Alexander Rae was a leading male actor who performed frequently at Drury Land. According to the reviewer in the Examiner “his face was capable of expressing the most complex workings of the soul.” Unfortunately, he was not known for having an equally expressive voice.
John Philip Kemble’s elder sister, Siddons was the leading tragic actress of her day. When Sir Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of her as the Tragic Muse, he signed his name at the bottom of her dress, claiming, “I have resolved to go down to posterity on the hem of your garment.” Siddons officially retired from the stage in 1812, though she frequently returned for special appearances. Her departure left a noticeable gap in the London theatre scene. Until Eliza O’Neill made her London debut in 1814, there was no tragic actress of comparable ability to fill her shoes.
After the retirement of Sarah Siddons, Sarah Smith was thought to be the leading tragic actress in London, though she was never able to rise to the level of her great predecessor. Smith declined the part of Alhadra in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Remorse, instead wanting to play the ingénue, Teresa. The playwright rewrote her part repeatedly, ultimately cutting much of it when Smith was unable arouse the interest of audiences. According to the great actor William Charles Macready, Smith lacked “the soul that goes to the making of an artist.”
Lucia Elizabeth Vestris
The talented singer Lucia Elizabeth Bartolozzi married the French ballet dancer Armand Vestris in 1813, and two years later made her stage debut as Madame Vestris, winning the admiration of Princess Charlotte. Though her husband abandoned her, she kept his name, appearing in a succession of cross-dressing trouser roles that showed off her shapely legs. She played the title character in the burlesque Giovanni in London and later had a breakout hit with John Poole’s comedy Paul Pry at the Haymarket in 1825, singing the famous “Cherry Ripe” song with its numerous sexual double-entendres.