During his brief stage career Master Betty, or the Young Roscius, was no stranger to superlatives: genius, unparalleled, superior, Albion’s glory, a Child of Nature, the Wonder of the Age. He was a child prodigy who, in the early 19th century, took British theatre by storm. Aged just 11 William Betty made his debut and was hailed as a second David Garrick. Bettymania ensued: theatres fought for his services and the House of Commons adjourned early to see him tread the boards.
But it didn’t last. After two years Betty’s star had faded. In Michael Arditti’s latest novel, The Young Pretender, we follow Betty, now aged 20, as he attempts to stage a comeback. It is soon clear that this may be a mistake. ‘I have no wish to see you hurt again,’ cautions his mother.