The 1812-1813 Season

By Frank McHugh

In its two preceding seasons, the Sans Pareil had featured the knockabout comedy of pantomime. In 1812-13, the tone changed somewhat. Leigh Hunt has said, "there is something real in Pantomime: there is animal spirit in it." (Examiner, 15 January 1817). But in 1812-13, a different spirit pervaded the graceful dances of Gabriel Giroux and his four daughters and the melodramas and farces of the acting company, which included James Villiers, Stebbing, R. H. Widdicomb, the Mintons, Mrs. Daly and the newly arrived Meredith and Huckel.

The season opened with spectacle rather than pantomime. Jane M. Scott's Asgard the Demon Hunter; or, Le Diable a la Chasse, as violent and funny in its own way as a pantomime, was a Gothic fantasy which gave the audience plenty of lurid situations and stage effects. At the climax of the piece the dissolute Baron Wildgrave, hard-pressed by the forces of the Inquisition who are closing in on him, takes the peasant Lilla, his victim, to a secret cavern beneath his castle. But on the stroke of midnight, exactly as a hermit murdered that day by Wildgrave prophesied, the cavern "assumes the hue of fire." Wildgrave's mysterious confidant, Asgard, appears now in his true guise as a Demon of Darkness. Infernal hounds (acted by La Croix, Gardell, Florio and Solnar) attack the Baron and he falls into the arms of Asgard, "who descends with him in flames." At the moment of the Baron's descent (impressive enough to be featured on some of the playbills) the ghost of the hermit appears in the background "enveloped by celestial light." Westmacott Molloy was the company's new machinist, but it is quite possible John Scott assisted in the lighting of this melodrama.

The return of the Giroux family was very important. Gabriel Giroux had managed the Sans Pareil in 1807 and tutored the young Jane Scott. Prior to that he was said to have been ballet master at the Paris Opera, and he danced at the Haymarket and some minor London theatres. In his five-week stay this season he contributed six ballets or divertisements and choreographed Asgard and also The Bashaw; or Midnight Adventures of Three Spaniards. He and his daughters acted in several pieces in addition to dancing. Their acting did not please everybody: "If the Giroux' consult their interest they will speak as little as possible. As dancers, they certainly are of the first consequence to this theatre" (Theatrical Inquisitor, December 1812, 239).

A Giroux ballet was given every evening of the family's engagement. The Giroux benefit, 21 December 1812, was a festival of dances, including two ballets performed for the first time at the Sans Pareil. In the course of these and two other pieces there were danced an allemande pas de trois, a dance from "The Sultan," a castanet dance, a Russian dance, two hornpipes, a Cossack, a minuet de la cour, a gavotte and a medley finale by all members of the family.

Perhaps influenced by Gabriel Giroux's return, Miss Scott gave two recitations similar to those of her early Sans Pareil years, "Music, Poetry and Painting," and "Marian the Constant and the Knight with His Visor Closed." She acted in nine of her own pieces, six of them new this season. As usual, she was indebted to other writers for some of the work she produced. For example, Love in the City was "founded on The Romp and written into verse by Miss Scott" (bill of 7 February 1814). Love, Honor and Obey was based on the "petite comedie of M. Patrat, L'Hereuse Erreur" (bill of 19 January 1815).

David Mayer notes that the character Black-Eyed Susan appeared in pantomime soon after Jerrold's melodrama of 1829, but that she had appeared much earlier--in fact in the Sans Pareil pantomime of 1812-13, Davy Jones's Locker; or, Black-Eyed Susan. Mayer says, "A summary of the pantomime in the playbill of the 1813 Davy Jones suggests how extensively the character of Black Ey'd Susan belonged to the theatre, equally suitable to pantomime arrangers and to such serious dramatists as Jerrold" (Harlequin in His Element, 82-3). The arranger of the Sans Pareil pantomime was Jane Scott. Black-Eyed Susan, afterwards Columbine, was Miss Browne. William, afterwards Harlequin, was Swan. Pantaloon was Daly, and Clown was Young Jones (James Jones). The Theatrical Inquisitor was not much taken with this piece; "Miss Scott's industry has produced Black-Eyed Susan; or, Davy Jones' Locker" (February 1813, p. 68). So little, apparently, did the pantomime's plot control the harlequinade that in a special performance of Davy Jones on 16 March 1813, several scenes were withdrawn and replaced by scenes from the two popular pantomimes of the preceding season, The Magic Pipe and The Necromancer. Such medleys, however, were not unusual in the pantomimes of the time.

Incidental entertainment this season included much dancing by the Girouxs, Swan and other members of the company. Mezzia (Messiah) and Miss Acres were very popular singers. Young Jones did his "wonderful tricks on a ladder" and Signor Rivolta gave Pandean performances on five or six musical instruments at the same time. There were three benefits, one each for the Giroux family, Miss Scott and Miss Acres. There were also eleven mechanical exhibitions by Bologna, Jr. during Lent and three presentations of Lloyd's Orrery.

Approximately 110 evening performances were given in the regular season which began 17 November 1812, and ended 24 April 1813.

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

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