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November 1866 The Story of Henry Irving and Dion Boucicault’s Hunted Down, or, The Two Lives of Mary Leigh

Maria Serena Marchesi


The work is the reconstruction of the first London performance of Dion Boucicault’s Hunted Down, or, The Two Lives of Mary Leigh, which took place at the Saint James’s Theatre on Nov. 5th, 1866, and was Henry Irving’s first London success as an actor. Irving also directed the play, and therefore the production of Hunted Down can be considered one of the earliest instances of his personal directing style: some of the features of the production of the 1866 play were later developed by Irving during the Lyceum years.

The work also contains the annotated transcription of the prompt-book of Boucicault’s play, which dealt with deeply controversial issues and was far from being a stereotyped melodrama, even though it did contain many typical elements of the genre. In this play, Boucicault subtly combined tradition and innovation, in order to produce a play that escaped banality and raised some of his own particular ghosts – respectability, family ethics, the clash between the law and the moral code – but at the same time did not deviate too much from the audience’s horizon of expectation: Boucicault was a show-businessman and knew full well the paramount importance of making a theatre pay.

Finally, the entire cast, the musical director and the scene designer of the play are discussed, and their previous and later works reconstructed in detail, in order to put the 1866 performance in its context within the extremely complex theatrical milieu of Victorian London.

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