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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


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Birth of Fiona Shaw, Actress & Director

fiona-shawFiona Mary Shaw, accomplished classical actress and theatre and opera director, is born in Farranree, County Cork on July 10, 1958. She is best known for her role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films and her role portraying Marnie Stonebrook in the HBO series True Blood.

Shaw attends secondary school at Scoil Mhuire in Cork. She receives her degree at University College Cork. She trains at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and is part of a ‘new wave’ of actors to emerge from the Academy. She receives much acclaim as Julia in the Royal National Theatre production of Richard Sheridan‘s The Rivals (1983).

Shaw’s theatrical roles include Celia in As You Like It (1984), Madame de Volanges in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1985), Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew (1987), Lady Franjul in The New Inn (1987), Young Woman in Machinal (1993), for which she wins the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress, Winnie in Happy Days (2007), and the title roles in Electra (1988), The Good Person of Sechuan (1989), Hedda Gabler (1991), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1998) and Medea (2000). She performs T. S. Eliot‘s poem The Waste Land as a one-person show at the Liberty Theatre in New York City to great acclaim in 1996, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for her performance.

Shaw plays Miss Morrison in the 1984 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes episode “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” and Catherine Greenshaw in Agatha Christie’s Marple episode “Greenshaw’s Folly” in 2013.

Shaw notably plays the male lead in Richard II, directed by Deborah Warner in 1995. She has collaborated with Warner on a number of occasions, on both stage and screen. She has also worked in film and television, including My Left Foot (1989), Mountains of the Moon (1990), Three Men and a Little Lady (1990), Super Mario Bros. (1993), Undercover Blues (1993), Persuasion (1995), Jane Eyre (1996), The Butcher Boy (1997), The Avengers (1998), Gormenghast (2000), and five of the Harry Potter films in which she plays Harry Potter‘s aunt Petunia Dursley. She has a brief but key role in Brian DePalma‘s The Black Dahlia (2006).

In 2009, Shaw collaborates with Deborah Warner again, taking the lead role in Tony Kushner‘s translation of Bertolt Brecht‘s Mother Courage and Her Children. In a 2002 article for The Daily Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen describes their professional relationship as “surely one of the most richly creative partnerships in theatrical history.” Other collaborations between the two women include productions of Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechuan and Henrik Ibsen‘s Hedda Gabler, the latter adapted for television.

Shaw appears in The Waste Land at Wilton’s Music Hall in January 2010 and in a Royal National Theatre revival of London Assurance in March 2010. In November 2010, She stars in Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin alongside Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. The play is also staged in New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2011.

Shaw appears in season four of American TV show True Blood. Her character, Marnie Stonebrook, has been described as an underachieving palm reader who is spiritually possessed by an actual witch. Her character leads a coven of necromancer witches who threaten the status quo in Bon Temps, erasing most of Eric Northman‘s memories and leaving him almost helpless when he tries to kill her and break up their coven.

In 2012, Shaw appears in the Royal National Theatre revival of Scenes from an Execution by Howard Barker.

The world’s largest solo theatre festival, United Solo Theatre Festival, recognizes her performance in The Testament of Mary on Broadway with the 2013 United Solo Special Award.

In 2018 Shaw begins portraying Carolyn Martens, head of the MI6 Russian Desk, in BBC America‘s Killing Eve, for which she wins the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Television Series. Later the same year, she plays a senior MI6 officer in Mrs. Wilson.


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Birth of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Playwright & Satirist

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, Irish satirist, playwright and poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is born on October 30, 1751 in Dublin, where his family has a house on then fashionable Dorset Street.

While in Dublin Sheridan attends the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moves permanently to England in 1758 where he is a pupil at Harrow School from 1762 to 1768. After his period in Harrow School, his father employs a private tutor to directs his studies.

In 1775, Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, is produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. It is a failure on its first night. He casts a more capable actor in the lead for its second performance, and it is a smash which immediately establishes the young playwright’s reputation and the favour of fashionable London. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley the Elder, a successful composer, produce the opera, The Duenna. This piece is accorded such a warm reception that it plays for seventy-five performances.

The following year, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner purchase a half-interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, buy out the other half. Sheridan is the manager of the theatre for many years, and later becomes sole owner with no managerial role.

His most famous play, The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, May 8, 1777), is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It is followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration comedy The Rehearsal. He has a rivalry with his fellow playwright Richard Cumberland and includes a parody of Cumberland in The Critic. In 1778, Sheridan writes The Camp, which comments on the ongoing threat of a French invasion of Britain.

In 1780, Sheridan enters Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He remains in Parliament for 32 years.

On February 24, 1809, despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794, the theatre burns down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan is famously reported to have said, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

When he fails to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, his creditors close in on him and his last years are harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the United States Congress offers Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American Revolutionary War. The offer is refused.

In December 1815 Sheridan becomes ill and is largely confined to bed. He dies in poverty on July 7, 1816, and is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His funeral is attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.


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Death of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Playwright & Satirist

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, Irish satirist, playwright, poet, and long-term owner of London‘s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, dies on July 7, 1816, at 14 Savile Row, London.

Sheridan is born on October 30, 1751 in Dublin, where his family has a house on then fashionable Dorset Street. While in Dublin Sheridan attends the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moves permanently to England in 1758 where he is a pupil at Harrow School from 1762 to 1768. After his period in Harrow School, his father employs a private tutor to directs his studies.

In 1775, Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, is produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. It is a failure on its first night. He casts a more capable actor in the lead for its second performance, and it is a smash which immediately establishes the young playwright’s reputation and the favour of fashionable London. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley the Elder, a successful composer, produce the opera, The Duenna. This piece is accorded such a warm reception that it plays for seventy-five performances.

The following year, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner purchase a half-interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, buy out the other half. Sheridan is the manager of the theatre for many years, and later becomes sole owner with no managerial role.

His most famous play, The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, May 8, 1777), is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It is followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration comedy The Rehearsal. He has a rivalry with his fellow playwright Richard Cumberland and includes a parody of Cumberland in The Critic. In 1778, Sheridan writes The Camp, which comments on the ongoing threat of a French invasion of Britain.

In 1780, Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He remains in Parliament for 32 years.

On February 24, 1809, despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794, the theatre burns down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan is famously reported to have said, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

When he fails to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, his creditors close in on him and his last years are harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the United States Congress offers Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American Revolutionary War. The offer is refused.

In December 1815 Sheridan becomes ill and is largely confined to bed. He dies in poverty on July 7, 1816, and is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His funeral is attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.


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Birth of Stage Actress Julia Betterton Glover

julia-betterton-gloverJulia Betterton Glover, Irish-born stage actress well known for her comic roles in the late 18th and 19th centuries, is born on January 8, 1779 in Newry, Northern Ireland.

“Betterton” is not her real name, despite her father`s promotion of the fiction. She is born Julianna Butterton, the daughter of the Newry`s theatre manager William Butterton. His venture fails and he decides there will be financial benefit to him if her name is changed to “Betterton,” claiming links to a famous actor and long dead Thomas Betterton. With this deception he and his family travel round the theatres and the young Julia is acclaimed as an infant acting prodigy in York, the West Country, Bath, and elsewhere.

In 1787, she joins the York Circuit under manager Tate Wilkinson and appears as the Page in Thomas Otway‘s The Orphan, as well as the Duke of York with George Frederick Cooke in Richard III. When Cooke is cast as Glumdalca, the Queen of the Giants, in Henry Fielding‘s burlesque play Tom Thumb, Cooke chooses Julia to play the title role.

In 1790, at age nine, she makes her debut in Scotland at the Dumfries Theatre Royal. In 1795 she goes to Bath and plays the parts of Juliet, Imogen, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and Lydia Languish. She becomes well known, particularly praised for her comic role as Languish, and news of her success reaches London. A number of job offers are made, but they are declined by her father. He eventually accepts a lucrative offer, taking her salary for himself, for which she makes her London début in 1797 as Percy by Hannah More.

In 1800, her father sells her in marriage to Samuel Glover, the son of an industrial family from Birmingham, for £1, 000, although the money is never paid. Unhappily married, she has eight children, four of whom survive childhood. In 1820, she plays Hamlet at the Lyceum Theatre to critical acclaim. In 1822, she appears as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her daughter Phyllis plays Juliet. On February 8, 1837, her father, with whom she has had an unhappy relationship, dies.

One of her sons is Edmund Glover and another is William Howard Glover. In 1850, Glover announces her retirement from the stage. After two weeks confined to her bed, she appears at Drury Lane for her farewell benefit performance on July 12, 1850 as Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals. She is noticeably ill and weak during her performance and is unable to stand to receive her applause at the end of the play. Instead, the curtain rises to reveal Glover seated, surrounded by the rest of the cast. She dies in London four days later on July 16, 1850. She is buried in St. George’s Churchyard Gardens in London.