"Sarah Siddons. Ellen Terry. Judi Dench. Names with which to conjure, and McDonald's Look to the Lady does just that, bringing the three actors' presences and performances into a celebratory dialogue. Interweaving biographical details, theater history, and cultural commentary, McDonald tells a fascinating story that not only recounts how each actor prepares a role but also maps a trajectory that draws all three performers and their performances together, providing insight into a tradition of great Shakespearean acting. Lucidly and elegantly written, Look to the Lady makes delightful reading for theater scholars, cultural historians, and theater lovers—a wonderful performance in its own right."
—Barbara Hodgdon, author of The Shakespeare Trade: Performances and Appropriations
"Actors are always talking about traditions, looking back to the great actors of the past and working out who has inherited their mantle. McDonald's wonderful new book traces the line of descent that links three of the greatest actresses ever: Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Judi Dench. With a superb and unusual combination of great scholarship and real panache, he makes us understand what that rare quality was that each possessed, that special unquantifiable something that so powerfully affected their audiences. Always a delight to read, Look to the Lady is a brilliant contribution to theater history, making us aware afresh of why each was so mesmerizing as Lady Macbeth and helping us make sense of what makes a star in the world of theater."
"McDonald’s prose is almost always clear, unpretentious, and grammatically correct, providing a welcome respite from the sloppy writing that mars too many books on theatre. . . . A worthwhile and entertaining book."
One of McDonald's interests is in the ways Shakespearean performance influences, and is influenced by, critical and popular appraisal of the works. He also discerns parallels and distinctions in the approaches of Siddons, Terry, and Dench to the vocation of acting--specifically to Lady Macbeth and other great Shakespearean roles. Look to the Lady also helps us to better understand the place and function of the theater in British national life and what constitutes "great acting" at various historical moments. Further, by examining across time the varied attitudes of actors, critics, and audiences toward Shakespearean texts and roles, McDonald offers insights into how external forces combine with the inherent appeal of the plays to keep them fresh and new centuries after they were first written and performed.
Throughout, McDonald blends learned commentary on the history and culture of the stage with entertaining details about the appearance, personality, genealogy, and private life of each actor. Including some rarely seen images and drawing on previously untapped reviews and anecdotes, this is a lively introduction to the burgeoning field of performance criticism.
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