5 November 1866: The Story of Henry Irving and Dion Boucicault’s Hunted Down, or, The Two Lives of Mary Leigh
Despite the awakening of critical interest in recent years, Victorian theatre before Wilde and Shaw is still a virtually undiscovered country. The world of Victorian theatres, with their complicated personal interconnections and astonishing feats of professionalism, and Victorian drama itself, often skillfully written and controversial, are worth investigating.
Henry Irving, the icon and later the bogeyman of a whole theatrical era, has been the object of several scholarly works and essays, inevitably focusing on his Lyceum years. What was Irving before the Lyceum? Or, in other words, how did Irving become Irving?
The present book reconstructs the event that made Irving famous overnight and, as it were, made the Lyceum years possible: the London première of Dion Boucicault’s Hunted Down, or, The Two Lives of Mary Leigh. It investigates the circumstances of the composition of the play and of its first London production, also presenting the first edition of the text of Boucicault’s play in 150 years.
The reconstruction presents twenty-first-century readers with a strange world of irascible playwrights, all-powerful stage managers, long-forgotten Pre-Raphaelite beauties and humble theatre folk in which the young Irving moved, a world whose traces remained visible and whose influence remained palpable in the years of Irving’s later fame.