Born in Antigua in the West Indies Robert Coates was the son of a wealthy sugar planter. When he inherited the estate in 1807, he moved to Bath in the UK to pursue an acting career. His lack of any skill in acting was obvious to his contemporaries but notwithstanding a lack of any ability in this area he eventually drew the attention of the manager of the Theatre Royal Bath and finally began to appear in plays in 1809.
He later appeared in a production Romeo and Juliet in the role of Romeo. When performing the role Coates appeared in a costume of his own design. The costume had a flowing cloak with sequins, red pantaloons, a large cravat and a plumed hat – not to mention dozens of diamonds – which was hardly suitable for the part. Unsurprisingly, the audience collapsed in gales of laughter. The reaction of his audiences, however, did not dissuade him from the view that he was ‘…the best actor in the business‘ – or at least that is what he claimed.
He routinely forgot his lines and invented new scenes and dialogue on the spot. He loved dramatic death scenes and would repeat them – or any other scenes to which he happened to take a fancy three to four times over – mid performance.
Coates claimed that he was driven by a desire to ‘improve the classics‘. Continue reading