Tag Archives: Sadie Shimmin



Hampstead Theatre

THE DIVINE MRS S at the Hampstead Theatre


“A delightful mix of the traditional and the contemporary.”

In her time, Sarah Siddons was known as the Queen of Drury Lane, renowned for her roles in Shakespeare tragedies – especially her Lady Macbeth. She hung out with the top dramatists of the time, including David Garrick and Samuel Johnson. She had the leading artists fawning over her, desperate for her to be the subject of their paintings. Yet this powerful woman also personified the powerlessness of women at the time. It is the tail end of the eighteenth century. Women were deprived of money, couldn’t own property, and had no real legal rights. No control over their children – nor even their own bodies.

April De Angelis’ play “The Divine Mrs S” takes us backstage, shedding light on the personal tragedy behind the grand ‘tragedies’ portrayed under the spotlights. Sarah Siddons’ acting career was under the direct control of her imposing brother (actor and manager John Kemble), and it was her husband who received her fees and signed her contracts. She was shunted off on a provincial tour when it looked like her acting would upstage her male counterparts. All the while her children appeared to be dropping like flies all around her. But De Angelis, whilst highlighting the dreadful state of affairs, steers well clear of worthy polemic or earnest tragedy, and instead dresses Siddons’ fight for self-expression and self-determination in a couple of hours of very fine comedy.

The language has a contemporary feel while harking back to Restoration Comedy, French Farce, and even touches of Commedia Dell’arte thrown in. De Angelis pokes fun at all the right characters, but doesn’t let righteousness intrude. In occasionally breaking the fourth wall, a charming self-deprecation is allowed to colour Siddons’ earnestness as she conspires with the audience, commenting on everyone’s foibles – including her own.



This mix of feistiness and fun is in no better hands than Rachael Stirling. The sharpness of Stirling’s delivery of Siddons’ words matches the biting wit De Angelis has given those words. Set mainly in the confines of the dressing room it encapsulates the whole world of the theatre. Dominic Rowan neatly conveys the lecherous misogyny of theatre manager Kemble, hamming it up to ridiculous heights when called upon to actually ‘act’ on the stage next to his far more talented sister. Anushka Chakravarti shines as Siddons’ all-knowing maid, dresser, personal assistant and ultimately counsellor. Meanwhile Eva Feiler, Sadie Shimmin and Gareth Snook multirole in excess to bring all the other characters onstage, in the right order and in the right costume. Most notable of these is Feiler’s Joanna Baillie; the writer who has to conceal the fact that she is a woman otherwise her plays will not get staged. When Kemble discovers her true gender he pulls her play, even though it is the most successful production he’s had for a while.

Even that contentious issue is dealt with in good humour. They say that if you want people to listen to you, the best way is to make them laugh. And there are even more laughs in the second act. And also more pertinence. The concept gets trickier, but the message gets clearer as Stirling more frequently steps out of character, allowing her to cast a contemporary perspective on the eighteenth-century restrictions imposed on the woman she is playing.

“The Divine Mrs S” can’t really be labelled a comedy or a tragedy. But it encapsulates both, and addresses serious issues – serving them up as light entertainment. Historically that would classify it as a ‘Problem Play’. But I have no problem with this one at all. A delightful mix of the traditional and the contemporary.

THE DIVINE MRS S at the Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed on 28th March 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson




Previously reviewed at this venue:

DOUBLE FEATURE | ★★★★ | February 2024
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL | ★★★★ | December 2023
ANTHROPOLOGY | ★★★★ | September 2023
STUMPED | ★★★★ | June 2023
LINCK & MÜLHAHN | ★★★★ | February 2023
THE ART OF ILLUSION | ★★★★★ | January 2023
SONS OF THE PROPHET | ★★★★ | December 2022
BLACKOUT SONGS | ★★★★ | November 2022
MARY | ★★★★ | October 2022
THE FELLOWSHIP | ★★★ | June 2022
THE BREACH | ★★★ | May 2022
THE FEVER SYNDROME | ★★★ | April 2022



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Mad Man Sad Woman – 4*


Mad Man Sad Woman

The Space

Opening Night – 22nd June 2017




“A bold new production demanding attention”


If you are looking for an intimate theatre venue, The Space, nestled in the heart of the Docklands is really quite something. The converted church provided the perfect backdrop for a gritty and moving tale between two of society’s marginalised characters.

Award-winning Chilean playwright Juan Radrigán’s “Mad Man Sad Woman” has been beautifully translated by Catherine Boyle and portrays the struggles faced by a crippled prostitute and a dying drunk (Sadie Shimmin and Bil Stuart).

In an abandoned building we see their relationship develop from hostility and blame to acceptance and courage, understanding where and how beauty can be found in the littlest things in life.

Having no interval enables you to fully immerse yourself in their story and almost invites you to participate in their space, in ‘The Space’, as they enter and exit through the audience.

This is a bold new production, and the venue and direction (Sue Dunderdale) work together wonderfully. Your attention is demanded throughout for characters that may be unfamiliar, and also that challenge notions of society and the outlook we may have on our own lives.


Reviewed by Thom Perks



Mad Man Sad Woman

is at The Space until 8th July