Masks and Faces Or, Before and Behind the Curtain

From Mon 19 July at 6pm until 25 August at midnight


The online premiere of a unique rediscovery
by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor
Directed by Matthew Iliffe.
Assistant Direction by Myles O’Gorman
Presented by Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre as part of Kensington + Chelsea Festival 2021

“We are actors. The most unfortunate of all artists. Nobody regards our feelings…”

The Finborough Theatre presents a new digital production of the classic Victorian theatrical comedy Masks and Faces, by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor.

Country gentleman Ernest Vane comes to London and is seduced into the celebrity lifestyle of a group of players – soon discarding his new wife for the more obvious charms of the great stage actress Peg Woffington.

In the tradition of The School for Scandal and The Rivals, Masks and Faces is both a 18th century period caper and a tribute to the backstage world of the theatre, complete with the hapless failed playwright, Triplet, and his hungry family, to real-life writer Colley Cibber, and the ghastly critics Soaper and Snarl……
Set in the 18th century, written in the 19th century, filmed in the 20th century (with an all-star cast), and now presented for the first time online, Masks and Faces is a celebration of making theatre.

First performed in 1852, the history of Masks and Faces is rooted in Kensington and Chelsea and the local area around the Finborough Theatre. It provided Ellen Terry – a former resident of Finborough Road, and a long term resident of Earl’s Court – with one of her first and most acclaimed leading roles. The production is supported by the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, next to the Finborough Theatre, where the co-author Tom Taylor, and actors Ben Webster and Sir Squire and Lady Bancroft – all known for their roles in Masks and Faces – lie buried.

Playwright Charles Reade (1814-1884) was known as both playwright and novelist. His works include the novel The Cloister and the Hearth, and the play The Courier of Lyons. He wrote Masks and Faces in collaboration with Tom Taylor (1817-1880) who remains best known for his plays The Ticket-of-Leave Man and Our American Cousin – the play that Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated. Born in Sunderland, he became editor of Punch Magazine in 1874. Born in Sunderland and educated at Cambridge, Taylor was a respected classical scholar as well as house dramatist to the major theatres in London, the Olympic, the Haymarket and the Lyceum. He became editor of Punch Magazine in 1874, after thirty years as a regular columnist, specialising in humorous verse with a liberal attitude towards issues of the time. Tom Taylor is buried in Brompton Cemetery, just five minutes from the Finborough Theatre.

Director Matthew Iliffe’s productions at the Finborough Theatre include Eleanor Burgess’ The Niceties, Lionel Bart and Alun Owen’s musical Maggie May and Colleen Murphy’s new play Geography of Fire/La Furie et sa Géographie as part of Vibrant 2019 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights. He previously directed Jake Brunger’s Four Play (Above The Stag) and the European premiere of The Burnt Part Boys which was nominated for the OffWestEnd Award for Best Director and Best Musical Production (Park Theatre). Matthew graduated from the University of Bristol with a first-class honours degree in Theatre and Performance Studies, and trained on the StoneCrabs Young Directors Programme, in association with The Albany. He has served as an assistant director for National Youth Music Theatre, Insane Root Theatre Company and Changeling Theatre, and as associate director on Musik (Leicester Square Theatre).

The press on the 2004 production of Masks and Faces at the Finborough Theatre
"A welcome and surprising revival." Michael Billington, The Guardian
"Full marks to the Finborough for dusting this piece off." Evening Standard Metro Life
"This rare and diverting revival of Charles Reade's and Tom Taylor’s Victorian comedy transports us back still further to London’s 18th century theatrical life...the plot is a mix of Carry On antics and vials of theatrical vitriol.” John Nathan, Jewish Chronicle
"This long forgotten piece was much praised by G. H. Lewes, who was George Eliot’s husband and the finest critic of his day." Benedict Nightingale, The Times

"Masks and Faces is a sentimental comic melodrama set amongst 18th century acting folk and has been languishing in obscurity for almost 75 years…It contains not only several extremely humorous lines but also some aphorisms almost worthy of Oscar Wilde and philosophical musings about the theatre. Many of the latter are as true today as they were 250 years ago when it was set and 150 when it was written.” Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide

The press on Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor at the Finborough Theatre
“A jaunty comic melodrama astonishingly similar in style and tone to the work of Taylor’s Irish contemporary, Dion Boucicault.” Michael Billington, The Guardian
“Not all of the Finborough's lost classics were always unappreciated: Occasionally they revive a play that enjoyed lengthy international success before disappearing into obscurity…But the hit run of Tom Taylor's Our American Cousin ended in darker fashion when, 150 years ago this month, it went down in history as the play Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated.” Nick, Partially Obstructed View
“So is it just a historical curiosity or does it stand up on its own?’s a total hoot...An immensely fun evening.” Robbie Lumsden, Bargain Theatreland

The press on director Matthew Iliffe’s production of The Niceties at the Finborough Theatre
★★★★ Four Stars, The Times, Theatre Weekly, West End Wilma, LondonTheatre1, Reviewsgate
“You’ll argue all night… Matthew Iliffe’s production maintains its grip…Surely deserves a transfer to a bigger stage.” Clive Davis, The Times
“It’s refreshing to see a genuine play of ideas.” Michael Billington, The Guardian
“Matthew Iliffe manages to keep this a battle you do not stop watching.” ReviewsGate

Available to view for free on the Finborough Theatre YouTube channel #FinboroughForFree.

Monday, 19 July at 6.00pm to Monday, 16 August 2021 at midnight
Simultaneously available free with subtitles on Scenesaver
Performance Length: Approximately 2 hours.

Commissioned by the Festival.

Masks and Faces Or, Before and Behind the Curtain