Macready! Dickens’ Theatrical Friend by Mark Stratford. The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 to 27 May 2034. 4****. William Russell.

One of the great actor managers of the 19th century Charles Macready (1793-1873) is pretty well forgotten today but Mark Stratford has come up with a fascinating monologue which brings him to life – and reveals some things one did not know. He was a great Shakespearian and played all the leading roles time and again in London at either Covent Garden or Drury Lane, throughout the regions and in the United States starting with Romeo in 1810 – he even faced a riot in New York. His father, who ran theatre companies, wanted him to become a lawyer but when he ended up bankrupt in a debtors prison his teenage son came to the rescue, took over on surviving company and ran it profitably ensuring he ended up working in the theatre for the rest of his life. He was Charles Dickens’ best friend, Robert Browning wrote The Pied Piper of Hamlyn for one of his sons and many of the leading writers of the time wrote plays for him to perform in or stage. He altered the stage style of speaking so that actors spoke to one another rather than declaimed to the audience and introduced proper rehearsals, but it was as a manager that he did things that changed the theatre for ever – when he began theatres were places for drunkenness, the stalls lacked seating and prostitutes pied their trade in the corridors. All that was changed by him. After Edmund Kean died Macready became until he retired the undisputed head of his profession. Stratford has created an interesting piece and performs it with skill managing to avoid what could have sounded like a lecture with dramatic inserts. As well as performing in Britain he appeared in Paris and twice toured in the United States where when he was performing Macbeth in 1849 a riot broke out in which some 30 people were killed and 120 injured. He had gone as a way of raising funds so that he could retire from the stage. The piece started life during the pandemic in St Albans and was streamed and is an interesting addition to the Jack Studio’s list of short run shows.

Macready – Mark Stratford.

Director – Mark Stratford; Lighting – Han Sayles.

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