Brecon Beacons National Park
18th century actress dubbed the ‘Diva of Drury Lane’
This coloured engraving 'Mrs [Sarah] Siddons, as Lady Macbeth, in the Tragedy of Macbeth' was painted by Harlowe, and engraved by Robert Cooper. It was printed in 1822
Sarah Siddons (nee Kemble) was born in 1755 in Brecon, Powys, above a pub on Brecon High Street called the Shoulder of Mutton (now the Sarah Siddons Inn). She died in London at the age of 75.
She was the eldest of 12 children born into a theatrical family – her father managed a small troupe travelling actors. She took to the stage at an early age and, while in her teens, fell in love with an actor who joined her father’s company, William Siddons.
He proposed to her during a performance at the Bell Inn, Brecon but her family did not approve of the match and sent her away to be a lady’s maid. But by the time Sarah was 19 they’d given in and agreed to the match. The couple went on to have seven children, only two of whom survived.
Treading the boards
From the age of 19 Sarah began taking roles in provincial theatres in Bath and York, gradually building her reputation. She was spotted by a talent scout and, after a first unimpressive foray into the capital’s theatre world, by 1782 she had made her name on Drury Lane. The lead role David Garrick’s adaptation of the play Isabella (The Fatal Marriage) shot her to fame.
Queen of Drury Lane
Sarah Siddons had 20 years of success treading the boards on Drury Lane. She played Desdemona, Rosalind, Ophelia and Volumnia all with great success. Her most famous role was as Lady Macbeth. In 1784 her fame was such that she was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his work, Mrs Siddons As The Tragic Muse
She was also painted by Thomas Gainsborough. She retired in 1812 at the age of 57, giving an unprecedented and emotional eight-minute farewell speech.