Drama King PREVIEW

Drama King PREVIEW

Find out more about DRAMA KING, a new solo show coming to the Corpus Playroom for two performances in April!

DRAMA KING – Charles Dickens’ Theatrical Friend - written and performed by Mark Stratford – tells the story of the great Victorian actor-manager, William Charles Macready - the man to whom Dickens dedicated Nicholas Nickleby. 

As well as being a fascinating journey into the world of Victorian theatre, it’s also a universal tale of love, devotion, ambition and sacrifice.

The show plays straight through in 75 minutes and follows this structure:

Prologue: Introducing W.C.M

Act I: 'Romeo’

Act II:  ‘The Distressed Mother’

Act III: ‘Richard III’

Act IV: ‘Virginius’ & The Slump

Act V: Actor-Management & Final Farewell Forever

Epilogue: Retirement

The creation of the show has been a labour of love for Stratford who became fascinated by Macready’s story when he read his diaries a few years ago. He was surprised to find he knew very little about this man who did so much to influence the theatre of today.

And as this year marks the 150th anniversary of Macready's death in 1873, the show pays a timely tribute to this theatrical pioneer.

How has the play been developed?

Stratford started his research on Macready in January 2017 and in October 2019 performed the first half of the play in the Watford Palace Studio as part of that year's Watford Fringe.

The full version of the play was given its first airing as try-out production on the main stage of the Abbey Theatre in St Albans in September 2020. It was live-streamed due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time. This try-out was followed a few weeks later by performances at the Watford and Brighton Fringes. These latter performances were also streamed but a few people were allowed to attend in person in masks.

The show was further developed over the next couple of years by returning to the Brighton Fringe in 2021 (The Rialto Theatre), and the Abbey Theatre in St. Albans and the Watford Fringe last year. The show’s visit to the Corpus Playroom is now part of a UK tour which sees the show travelling to Liverpool, London, Richmond in Yorkshire, Rugby, Ludlow, Ventnor before ending up at the Camden Fringe in August.

Photo by Martin Smith

What is Macready’s story?

Macready occupied the time between the great actor, Edmund Kean, at the start of the 19th Century and the distinguished  actor-manager, Sir Henry Irving, at its end but, for some reason, he’s not as well-known as them.

Charles Dickens became his best friend and Robert Browning wrote The Pied Piper of Hamelin to amuse Macready’s son Willie when he was ill. 

When Macready first stepped onto the stage as Romeo in 1810, theatres were lit by candlelight and the acting style of the day consisted mostly of bravura gestures and histrionics - with the actor facing front and addressing the audience rather than a fellow player. 
And, at that time, theatres were associated with idleness, drunkenness, frivolity and prostitution, and those who worked in them were considered to be social and artistic outcasts. Against this backdrop, Macready set about learning his craft. 
But he never wanted to be an actor. Although he was born into the profession - his parents both actors - he dreamed of becoming a barrister and a gentleman. But after his education was cut cruelly short following his father’s bankruptcy, Macready was plunged into the ungentlemanly world of the stage. 
He became a man of many conflicts: he loved his art, especially Shakespeare, but hated his profession; in the theatre he had a violent temper but could be the kindest of men outside it. 
“I wish I were anything rather than an actor - except a critic; let me be unhappy rather than vile!” (William Charles Macready)

Actor Fanny Kemble said of him: “He was unpopular in the profession, his temper was irritable and his want of consideration of the persons working with him strange in a man of so many fine qualities. His artistic vanity and selfishness were unworthy of a gentleman, and rendered him an object of both dislike and dread to those who were compelled to encounter them."
Nevertheless, Macready became a pioneer - revolutionising the theatre of his day.
He was the first to insist on full and proper rehearsals, and ensured that the smallest part was as well rehearsed as the largest. 
He restored many of Shakespeare's texts to their original versions after a century-and-a-half of rewriting by various post-Restoration "improvers” and strove to make theatre more respectable.

And he did more to encourage new playwrights in his day that anyone else; Byron, Browning, Dickens, Knowles, Bulwer-Lytton, and many others, all wrote plays for him - many of which he helped them to rewrite!
It is said by some, in fact, that Macready became - in every sense of the word - the founder of modern theatre practice. During his time as an actor-manager, he put into effect nearly every principle we now take for granted; of directing, design, lighting, costuming, as well as the training of actors.
Macready’s greatest rival was Edmund Kean and they enjoyed a few “gladiatorial contests” on stage in Kean’s latter years. But after Kean’s death in 1835 the way was clear for Macready to become the undisputed head of his profession.

What is Mark Stratford’s background?

As an actor Stratford’s West End credits include: Singin’ in the Rain (London Palladium); Blood Brothers (Phoenix Theatre); Peter Pan (Cambridge Theatre); The Enchanted Toyshop (Fortune Theatre); and The Magic Flute (Arts Theatre). International tours have included: Blood Brothers (Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto) and Macbeth (British Council tour to Japan and Argentina). National No.1 UK tours include: Peter Pan; The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe; and The Horse & His Boy. He has also appeared in repertory seasons in Swansea, Edinburgh, Chesterfield, Eastbourne and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, and has also played the principal villain in pantomimes at various theatres throughout the UK. Almost exclusively a theatre performer, Stratford has also appeared in film (Parting Shots, That English Woman) and TV (The Four Minute Mile).

As a writer he adapted the classic novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde into a solo show which he first performed at the 2014 Camden Fringe, and which is now touring alongside Drama King. In addition, Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Vernon - based on Stratford’s experiences as an actor - has been published in an anthology of short plays. He’s also written and performed a comedy/cabaret act under the stage name ‘Mike Rivers,’ and written and directed a number of plays for festival performances by young people.

DRAMA KING – Charles Dickens’ Theatrical Friend plays at the Corpus Playroom at 9.30pm on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd April. You can get your tickets here to enjoy this compelling story told through the many characters that Stratford inhabits along the way – including, of course, Macready himself!

Drama King: Charles Dickens' Theatrical Friend

Friday 21 - Saturday 22 April 2023, 9.30PM

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