Sarah Bernhardt back in London – archive, 5 April 1921

A very large audience, in which all the Allied Embassies were represented, welcomed Mme. Bernhardt to the Prince’s Theatre this evening. Nor was it only a sentimental greeting or a tribute to historic achievement. For in “Daniel,” the play recently given by Mme. Bernhardt in Paris and produced in English by Mr. Gilbert Miller, there is a part for the great actress in which physical disabilities are no hindrance. It is not a great play, neither so well-knit nor so tempestuous as those livid things of Sardou with which Mme. Bernhardt carried London by storm forty-two years ago, but it is in the same convention. And the part of Daniel, the neurotic young lover dreaming himself to death with songs and memories of hopeless passion is material for tragedy of a kind.

All the acting of the French company was a good deal more vigorous than that of the English players who recently tried their hands at it. Mme. Bernhardt gave us less of the fine shades than Mr. Claude Rains had done, and painted with more vivid colours on broader lines. The fire still burns. It was not a subtle study, but it had power. There was a wonderful range, too, in Mme. Bernhardt’s acting, the words hammered out and chiselled and turned into a statuesque eloquence, the sweep of mood from a tenderness that was never sentimental to a grim violence that was never grotesque. It was not merely a feeling of duty that compelled the tremendous volume of applause, but a spontaneous reaction to the very elements of acting, which are concentration of emotion and sure ownership of power. Mme. Bernhardt was well supported by her company, notably by M. Arquillière as a strong and far from silent man.

French actress Sarah Bernhardt (wearing feather boa) with her entourage at St Pancras Station, London, 28th July 1894. The party were travelling in a private saloon which could be booked for groups. Photograph: Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL via Getty Images

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