Not to put too fine a point upon it: THE PANTOMIME LIFE OF JOSEPH GRIMALDI is one of the best books ever written about the world of the theatre. It is, as they say, full of character and incident: a wonderful introduction to the ribald, sleazy, corrupt, energetic and wholly unpredictable Regency. Impeccable research, terrific editing instincts and an eye for the telling anecdote, and at the same time, a sense of pathos, this book chronicles far more than a mere life and times. Joseph Grimaldi, 1788–1837, the clown whose biography lies at the center of the book gave his name, Joey, to the practice and profession of clowns ever since.
Grimaldi’s life has long fascinated this reader. Before this there was only a slim volume biography which, though enough to fascinate, felt thin. Andrew Stott’s brightly bulging volume does not disappoint. The author’s skillful, readable weaving of the influence of current events (it was not then history; they lived it) on the lives of the many characters here, on the theatre itself, on the life and more to the point, the livelihoods of troupes of actors, musicians, clowns, managers and magicians who broke their hearts and occasionally their very backs to bring entertainment to a hungry and passionate public. The author’s own background as a comic and not a mere academic infuses the narrative with a deep vein of understanding. Even if you care nothing for the theatre or for the Regency, read it as an antidote to Jane Austen’s prim Regency. The This book will take you far away and fill you with both delight and sadness. A gem.