Theatrical critics at the turn of the 20th century speculated whether the passionate intensity that Olga Nethsole projected on stage could be attributed to the Spanish ancestry on her mother's side, because no English actress of her generation could approach her ferocious emotionalism in the climactic scenes of the dramas she performed. And yet, for someone so volatile in her projections of other characters, her own personality tended to order and professionalism.
Always punctual, given to routines of exercise and diet, and famous for quitting cities whever not engaged in a production, Nethersole was a peculiarly self-conscious mimetic artist. Her intellectualism emerged in her unstinting advocacy of the plays of Ibsen, Shaw, and Gorky, and her willingness to appear in controversial projects. She never married, and no project in her career proved more controversial than her appearance in Clyde Fitch's "Sapho," a work that prompted the New York police to shutter the theater and arrest the performers.
While she began performing on English stages at age seventeen, her international reputation was made in 1888 brilliantly performing a supporting role in "The Dean's Daughter" at the St. James Theatre. Her unbuttoned emotionalism made 1892's "Agatha" a revelation to English critics who tended to echo Clement Scott's opinion that "Women seldom let themselves go on the English Stage." Her genius became universally recognized in England in 1894 when she singelhandedly made "The Transgressor," a tediously preachy play on the marriage laws, a gripping experience. Later in 1894 she brought the play to America, using it as the vehicle for her American debut.
Augustin Daly's publicity branded her the "English Bernhardt." Her American debut on October 16, 1894, shocked the New York audience with its extravagance, and critical opinion about her ability was undecided until her presentation of "Camille" four nights later, in which her subtly became apparent and her triumph sealed. For a dozen years Nethersole crossed the Atlantic regularly appearing in plays featuring a central woman.
After the turn of the century, she became increasingly concerned about health issues, tuberculosis particularly. After her departure from the stage in 1913, she devoted her energies to health issues exclusively. She joined the British Red Cross and founded in 1917 the People's League of Health.
NOTES: http://www.dgillan.screaming.net/stage/th-frames.html?. http&&&www.dgillan.screaming.net/stage/nethersole/nethersole-o2.html. David S. Shields/ALS