The 1811-1812 Season

By Frank McHugh

In 1811-12, the Sans Pareil excelled at pantomime. As in the preceding season, a pantomime was given virtually every evening. The casting, however, was less stable than in 1810-11. Auld played Harlequin for the entire season, and Miss Ruggles returned as Columbine for all but the last six evenings, when Miss Wells replaced her. Miss Ruggles, who had performed at the Sans Pareil since the summer of 1808, was an accomplished dancer. A review of the 1817 Olympic pantomime mentions the "known graces and agility" of her Columbine (Theatrical Inquisitor, November, 1817, p. 229). Miss Ruggles left the Sans Pareil after the 1811-12 season. James Barnes opened as Pantaloon, but stayed only until Christmas, when he left and made a great hit in The White Cat; or, Harlequin in Fairy Wood, with the Drury Lane company, then at the Lyceum. Pantaloon was thereafter played by Montignani, Swan, Edwards or Daly. Lover was most frequently Edwards (late of Glasgow), but sometimes Swan or Montignani. "The celebrated Young Jones," played Clown most of the season. The forceful, "leather-lunged" James Jones, "the noisiest biped our critical ears ever encountered" (Theatrical Inquisitor, November, 1817, p. 389) was, the British Stage and Literary Cabinet said, "the quintessence of trick, roguery, grimace" (January, 1817, p. 32) and "one of the best clowns we ever encountered" (February, 1818, p. 51).

Jane M. Scott's new pantomime, The Poison Tree; or, Harlequin in Java, ran the longest and was the most timely of her pieces this year, playing sixty-five times successively, beginning the first evening of the season. It celebrated the British expedition against Java, 4 August to 18 September 1811, in which 9,000 men under Lord Minto and Sir Stanford Raffles conquered a Franco-Dutch army of 17,000. This pantomime was perhaps as elaborate as the Scotts could make it, with fifty-eight major and minor roles and fifteen scenes. It surely gratified the audience's patriotic impulses. A sign of this was the new patriotic song by Miss Scott and orchestra leader Michael Parnell, apparently added as the piece gained momentum, which was announced on a 23 December bill. The pantomime offered spectacle--a bridal procession with an incidental dance by the corps de ballet, for instance. And it provided both information and fantasy, presenting several views of Batavia and of a "superb orangerie and garden of Asiatic plants" and dramatizing the legend of the poison tree. The Poison Tree concluded its run 4 February 1812. The pantomime which had opened the preceding season, The Magic Pipe; or, Dancing Mad, returned on 10 February for forty performances.

If Jane Scott did well by her pantomime performers with the openings she wrote for them, she seems to have done at least as well by her acting company, with such varied pieces as The Vizier's Son, The Merchant's Daughter and the Ugly Woman of Bagdad, a comic opera which ran sixty-two evenings and returned in the next season, and Mary, the Maid of the Inn; or The Bough of Yew, a romantic verse melodrama submitted to the Lord Chamberlain in 1811 but first given in some form in 1809. John Scott, proprietor, manager, machinist, specialist in magic lanterns and fireworks must have devised some powerful effects for such a Gothic piece as this.

The performers roster swelled from the forty-four names of 1810-11 to fifty-eight this season. Signor Montignani, "from the Lisbon Opera," the new ballet master was active as composer and performer. James Villiers, better known for his many years as a Sadler's Wells actor, appeared here for the first of nine seasons. Mrs. Nathan E. Garrick (earlier in her career Sarah Jane Gray), actress and singer, joined the company for one season, as did James Pack, agilist and equilibrist, who performed in the two pantomimes and in variety acts. Pack, touted in an 1812 Sadler's Wells advertisement as "The Protean Prodigy," later converted to Christianity and wrote a pamphlet (1819) denouncing the theatres and circuses of his time.

The most notable incidental entertainments of 1811-12 included the dancing of Montignani, the singing of Sarah Jane Garrick, and the contortions of Pack, who sometimes played musical instruments "with head downwards," but more often made springs and somersets, "the whole in a neat and chaste manner" (23 January bill).

The theatre was engaged for Lenten entertainments by John Peter "Jack" Bologna (1781-1846), best known as Harlequin to Grimaldi's Clown at Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden, but also known for his Lyceum Phantascopia and various other conjuring, hydraulic and fireworks exhibitions. He gave twelve one-man shows at the Sans Pareil in 1811-12.

Eleven pieces were presented in the 120 evenings of this season, which began on 18 November 1811 and concluded on 9 April 1812. Jane Scott enjoyed a benefit on 24 February, Pack on 3 March, Misses Stubbs and Ruggles on 5 March, and Simpson on 19 March.

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

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