The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnell Scott (3 stars)

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The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnell Scott

This sprightly biography of Britain’s most famous clown is inevitably prefaced by the Grimaldi family tree. This is a particularly handy illustration, given the Olympic appetite of his father, ‘the Signor’ – a true bastard it seems – for copulation. Meanwhile, so dense is the hurly-burly of the early 19th century theatre world that Grimaldi inhabited that a similar depiction of the personalities who flitted between Covent Garden, Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells – the pivotal points of Grimaldi’s career – might also have been useful, if a tall order.

Andrew McConnell Stott manages to keep the tone light despite the vast amount of detail he imparts. However, despite an absorbing canter through Grimaldi’s life and times you never quite feel that you are getting a complete hold on the subject’s personality, though his circumstances are laid bare from happiness and fame to misery and isolation, the two extremes of the comedic soul, as the author reminds us.

(Canongate)

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