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The Same Only Different — Five Generations of a Great Theatre Family - Margaret Webster

Victor Gollancz, 1969, Hardback in Dust Wrapper.
Condition: Very Good — in Good Dust Wrapper. Unlaminated dust wrapper a little edgeworn and faded with heavy rubbing to the joins, spine ends and corners. Price Clipped. Edges of the text block lightly spotted and tanned. Text complete, clean and tight but a little age-tanned.

Illustrated with black and white photographs. From the cover: “The Websters are one of the great theatre families. Their story covers five generations, and their careers are in effect a history of the English stage through the last hundred and fifty years. Edmund Kean, Macready, Samuel Phelps, Irving, Ellen Terry, Forbes Robertson, Beerbohm Tree, the Bancrofts, the Kendals, Pinero, Wilde, Granville-Barker, Shaw, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Gerald du Maurier, Marie Tempest, Sybil Thorndike, Lilian Baylis, Gielgud, Olivier; they and many more are here, not merely for the record but because all have been intimately involved in the story of the Websters. It provides an ever-fascinating chronicle, and Margaret Webster, the last of the theatrical line (to date), tells it superbly.

Benjamin of Bath, who began it all, was a dancing master, a composer and actor of pantomime, and a friend of many of the great actors of his age. He fathered his last child at 68, but it was his first, ‘Old Ben’, who was to become a figure of magnitude on the London stage in the 19th century, an actor and manager of a type now extinct (and he in turn had his last child at the age of 79). In Old Ben’s day, it was a life of barn-storming for run-of-the-mill actors. But Ben was meant for greater things. At that time, the London stage was dominated by the two ‘patent houses’, Covent Garden and Drury Lane; and they were dominated by their star actor, the violently temperamental Macready. Ben was no more than a bit player — until the day when he risked his savings on a lease of the Haymarket theatre, and had the temerity to offer Macready a job under his management. He had a tiger by the tail, and knew it; but by his daring he established the Haymarket as the home of the greatest acting of his age.

With the 1880s we come to the beginning of the career of the author’s father, ‘Young Ben’, and of her mother, another great stage (and screen) figure, Dame May Whitty — whom Ben met when she was a humble understudy to his sister at the St. James’s. This was the era of Irving and Ellen Terry, with whom they both played. What would we think of Irving’s larger-than-lifesize performances now? Miss Webster replies: ‘Genius would still be the operative word’. But Ellen Terry was timeless, and would seem just as contemporary today; and Miss Webster knows at first-hand, for when a girl she was actually on stage with Ellen Terry, for an ‘all-star matinee’ performance of the Trial Scene from The Merchant of Venice. Ellen Terry had long since retired, and in rehearsal seemed old and failing; but in performance she was suddenly in her twenties again, speaking her famous lines as though they had never been spoken before.

And so we go on to the great revolution in the theatre: to the days of Shaw and Granville-Barker at the Royal Court; to the Oscar Wilde scandal, to Mrs. Pat daring to portray a ‘fallen woman’ as a heroine in The Second Mrs Tanqueray. And on to the 1920s and the author’s own beginnings: understudying Sybil Thorndike in St Joan and leading the chorus in her Trojan Women; playing in John Barrymore’s Hamlet; playing with Olivier in Henry VIII; starring in the Ben Greet Company on tour (Viola, Portia); a season at the Old Vic under Lilian Baylis — the year of Gielgud’s first Hamlet; and the formation of Equity, for which she fought hard.

The book is a cornucopia of memories; scores of great actors and great theatrical occasions come to life again in its pages; it is packed with good stories and perceptive critical estimates; and it is indeed history without tears. A must for all theatre lovers, and for all who appreciate a rich biographical tapestry.”

Size: 9¼" x 6¼". Black boards with Gilt titling to the Spine. [XVIII] 395 [XIV] pages.

This one has already found a new owner.