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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

A fascinating woman

Thursday, January 23rd., Ilchester Gardens, London.

I had tea with Lena Ashwell on Tuesday, her elder sister was there. Beautiful old house arranged with taste. Flashes of common sense and of insight, but a little embittered. This would doubtless pass as intimacy was gained. She told me how Frohman had refused "Leah Kleschna". Reason: because he thought the public would not be interested in a thief. When it had succeeded he paid a premium of £1,000 to get control of it, and then went about buying every play that had a thief in it. This anecdote has the same elements as nearly all the other anecdotes she related. Miss Ashwell is most alluring woman with eyes which stir the blood. 

For Ellen Terry, actress-manager Lena Ashwell (1869-1957) was 'a passionate voice'. From her first appearance on stage in 1891 to the end of her life, Ashwell was determined to make the theatre accessible and relevant to everyone, prompting G.B. Shaw to describe her as possessing an 'awakeningly truthful mind as well as an engaging personality.' An inspiring and strong woman in a rapidly changing world, she was crucial both for the advancement of women in the English theatre and for the formation of the National Theatre. She presented 'new drama' at the Kingsway and Savoy Theatres and was active in the Actresses' Franchise League, as well as being committed to the British Drama League. From the outbreak of World War 1 she initiated and raised money for thousands of concert-party troop entertainments at the Front; when peace was declared, her Lena Ashwell Players set about taking regular theatre performances into local communities throughout London and beyond. Long before educational drama and public subsidy for the arts were realities, she engaged local authorities in the provision of facilities and support for her work.

Also for Lena Ashwell see 'Exhilarating young women', December 15th. -

On the previous night we saw the piece "Irene Wycherley" about which everyone is talking as the best piece in London. Lena mentioned its author and me as signs of a renascence of the drama. A curious mixture of ancient convention and bits of novelty. Exceedingly amateurish, and mostly bad, but pervaded at times by a very distinct feeling for the dramatic.

The rehearsals of "Cupid and Commonsense" now going much better. Only a week ago I went to a rehearsal at Terry's Theatre and was exhausted and very much depressed by it. Nothing seemed to get over the footlights. The players now played too quickly instead of too slowly. Local accent all wrong and certainly incurable. Everything about the place repelled me. But yesterday I began to get quite enthusiastic.
For more about "Cupid and Commonsense" see August 30th. -

Additionally for January 23rd., see 'Other forms of vanity' -

The other day a vendeuse and an essayeuse came up from the Maison de Blanc, with a robe d'interieur for Marguerite and another for Mrs. Selwyn. A porter of the Maison Blanc carried the box. The general tableau; - the two employees, young and agreeable, but certainly not vierges, with soft liquid persuasive voices, speaking chiefly English; the frothy garments lying all about on chairs and in the box, Selwyn, Alcock and me lounging on chairs, and M. and Mrs. S. playing the mannequin, and the porter waiting outside in the dark corridor - this tableau produced a great effect on me. Expensive garments rather, - and I felt that for my own personal tastes, I would as soon earn money in order to have such a tableau at my disposition, as for a lot of other seemingly more important and amusing purposes. A fine sensuality about it.

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