Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt and the National Theatre

Sarah_Bernhardt_as_Phedre_in_Racine's_Phaedra copy

In Matthew Arnold’s essay on ‘The French Theatre’ (1879) he urges on the movement to found a national theatre and fancifully imagines French comediens departing for London and passing ‘along the Strand… I see a fugitive vision of delicate features under a shower of hair and a cloud of lace, and hear the voice of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt saying in its most caressing tones to the Londoners: ‘The theatre is irresistible, organize the theatre!” This phrase was for decades to be the call to arms for the movement to found the National. In the many decades that passed before the NT emerged south of the river, first at the Old Vic and then in its own building on the South Bank, the Strand was posed a number of times as a potential site.

Bernhardt in an 1873 production of Racine’s Phédre at the Comédie-Francaise (image via the Getty Research Institute Open Content Program)


Gav Clarke

Gav Clarke

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