The 1808 Summer Season

By John Brokaw and Gilbert Cross

The theatre opened its doors on 4 July 1806, for a short summer season. The corps de ballet from Covent Garden with such luminaries as Wybrow, King, and Thomas Blanchard performed a total of five pieces. Two of them, La Heroine Incomparable and The Maid of Hornsey were played every night. Several of the performers brought their wives.

The company was under the management of Holland, Louis, and Grant--all of Covent Garden. Ryall undertook most of the choreography. It is impossible to determine how many nights the season lasted as there are few exsisting records from the first decade of the Sans Pareil's existence.

During the evening's performance there were sometimes songs by Woolf and King. Included among the titles were "Black-Eyed Susan," "May the King Live Forever," and "The Wig"--the last by Charles Dibdin, the younger. It was King who made Dibdin's "songs 'Giles Scroggins' Ghost' and 'Call Again Tomorrow' with many others, so popular" (Charles Dibdin's Memoirs, p. 54).

Andrew Campbell performed his popular imitations of familiar actors in their best-known roles.

During the pantomime Beauty; or, Harlequin of the Black Isles, Signor Saxoni was engaged for twelve nights to walk the tightrope. Charles Dubois, following in his famous father, Jean Baptiste Dubois's footsteps was "clown to the rope." This character was a buffoon who kept the audience amused while the rope dancer was not in motion. The clown attempted some of the tricks himself and by his utter failure amplified his master's achievement.

Thomas Blanchard, the Pantaloon, had a long career. He was said "to be a magnet at the minors" (Dibdin's Memoirs, p. 136). He did reappear at the Adelphi in the early twenties and was successor to Richard Norman at Covent Garden, but the Times was not overly impressed with him.

Blanchard's Pantaloon is clever, but it wants humour. The real Pantaloons should be a kind of Polonius in Motley. Everybody admits that he deserves to be beaten and cheated, but then one is sorry for him, on account of his gray hairs and the foolishness of his old age as when the other "meddling fool" is stabbed behind the arras. The fault of Mr. Blanchard is that he excites no sympathy. If he is knocked down, or jumped upon, or even killed, you are glad of it (27 December 1828, qtd. in David Mayer, Harlequin in his Element, p. 43).

Mrs. Ridgway was the wife of the Harlequin who appeared with Charles Dibdin at Sadler's Wells. She had sons who later appeared at the Adelphi, and according to Dibdin, they possessed "much merit, and promise to follow the steps of their father who was, in his grade of performing, taking skill and versatility of talent together, unrivalled" (Memoirs, p. 90).

Besides the headliners, there were also those who made a living but not a splash. Witness Miss Vallency (or Valancy) who played a bar-maid and was still playing small roles fifteen years later. For example, she appeared once as a stand-in at Drury Lane in 1823 dancing Columbine for the frequently ailing Ann Maria Tree in The Golden Axe (James Winston, Drury Lane Journal, p. 63).

Woolf sang the famous "Description of a Storm" by George Alexander Stevens, which became such a familiar favorite at the Adelphi in subsequent years.

The season was successful; a clipping in the Adelphi Scrapbook states "on Saturday week the corps de ballet of Covent Garden Theatre will close their labours at the Sans Pareil in the Strand. It appears they have made a successful campaign by their efforts to please the public."

© Copyright 1988 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

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