Monday, December 27, 2021

Margaret Somerville Bunn

The actress Margaret Somerville made her debut at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane playing the female lead in Charles Robert Maturin's play Bertram opposite none other than Edmund Kean.

At the time, she was only 16 years old, at least if we can rely on The Biography of the British Stage, published by Sherwood, Jones, & Co. in 1824. That source gives Somerville's birth as being in Lanark, Scotland, on October 26, 1799.

Young Margaret, at the age of 10, began performing in private theatricals, taking on the role of Marcia in Joseph Addison's Cato in a performance of juveniles. Apparently, she grew into an impressive actress, and in 1815 Douglas Kinnaird, a member of the sub-committee running Drury Lane, managed to get her into rehearsal at the theatre in the starring role of Belvidera in Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved.

Alas, poor Margaret Somerville was dismissed from those rehearsals, being informed she was simply not up to the role. Undeterred, she appealed to John Kemble, then manager of the rival patent theatre at Covent Garden, but he declined to help her. She then returned to Kinnaird and performed some passages from Venice Preserved in an attempt to win a second chance. It so happened that Lord Byron, who was also on the sub-committee, was present, and he and Kinnaird both agreed that the young woman should make her debut immediately.

Bertram opened on May 9, 1816, with Somerville in the role of Imogine. The show was a success, and the actress was offered a three-year contract on "very advantageous terms" according to The Biography of the British Stage. In 1817, she obtained permission to perform in Bath for a engagement of ten weeks, lasting into the new year. It was there that she played the role of Bianca in H.H. Milman's tragedy Fazio. In 1818, she left Drury Lane and defected to Covent Garden, where she played Bianca again. That role had already been made famous in London by Eliza O'Neill, who subsequently appeared with Somerville in Jane Shore by Nicholas Rowe.

Somerville was frustrated with a lack of choice parts for her in London, though, and she left Covent Garden to tour the provinces. It was while performing in Birmingham that she met Alfred Bunn, whom she married in 1819. Bunn became part of the inner circle of Robert William Elliston who then took over Drury Lane, allowing Margaret, now Mrs. Bunn, to appear in London as Bianca again, as well as Hermione in William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Cornelia in Sheridan Knowles's Caius Gracchus.

Perhaps Margaret Bunn's most famous role, however, was Queen Elizabeth in an adaptation of the Walter Scott novel Kenilworth. According to The Biography of the British Stage, she was applauded "to the very echo" in the role.

According to a local newspaper in south-central Minnesota, the Bunns' second daughter Helen immigrated to the United States, and Margaret, then widowed, joined her. She died in 1882 and is buried in Blue Earth, MN.