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Powell, Jane

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Jane Powell, whose maiden name may have been Palmer, was born in Cranbrook, Kent, about 1761. On 29 August 1787, advertised as a lady making her first stage appearance, she acted Alicia in "Jane Shore" at the Haymarket Theatre in London. One newspaper identified her as Miss Palmer, another as Mrs Farmer. She apparently had a good reception, but, whoever she really was, she did not appear again for a year: on 9 September 1788 she acted Alicia again, identified as Mrs Farmer. She was praised this time for her beauty but criticized for her awkwardness. John Philip Kemble must have found her promising, for he engaged her at Drury Lane for a 17 November 1788 debut as Juliet to his Romeo; Kemble noted on his playbill that she was a beautiful creature and, ‘She will be a good actress.’ So he gave her that season, among other characters, Anne Bullen in "Henry VIII", Sigismunda in "Tancred and Sigismunda", Virgilia in "Coriolanus" and Lady Grace in "The Provok’d Husband" and paid her £3 weekly. In the summer of 1789 Mrs Farmer acted at Liverpool, met and conquered William Powell (not the promiment actor but the Drury Lane house servant and, later, prompter) and returned to Drury Lane in the autumn as Mrs Powell, playing Lady Anne in "Richard III" on 12 September. She spent some summers acting in the provinces, but her winter home for most of her career was with the Drury Lane company, where she added to her repertoire such important roles as Desdemona, Olivia in "Twelfth Night", Lady Percy in "Henry IV part 1", Lavinia in "The Fair Penitent", Mrs Sullen in "The Beaux’ Stratagem", Sylvia in "The Recruiting Officer", Statira in "Alexander the Great", Hamlet, and Portia in "The Merchant of Venice". She reached a salary of £15 weekly in 1808-9. With the Kemble clan Jane performed at Covent Garden in 1811 and within a few years she was spending more and more time at such secondary venues as the Surrey Theatre and with Mrs Butler’s troupe in Edinburgh (for 11 years). She had left Powell before 1808, married John James Renaud in 1813, and made her last stage appearance on 30 September 1829, playing one of her best roles, Gertrude in "Hamlet" with Edmund Kean in the title role. Mrs Renaud died in London on 31 December 1831. Jane Powell at her peak was much praised for her acting, being favourably compared by some to Sarah Siddons, with whom she often performed. Her Hamlet was not just a stunt; Thomas Gilliland in 1804 had high praise for her ‘uncommon powers’ as the Danish prince. (BDA) [EAL]
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