The 1814-1815 Season

By Frank McHugh

This season the renovated theatre was called the Strand Theatre, The Sans Pareil--a name it retained until the beginning of the 1819-20 season.

The house opened in late December 1814, after extensive reconstruction and the erection of a new front. The theatre, according to the December 1814 Theatrical Inquisitor, "has been completely rebuilt, considerably enlarged, and the alterations are of the most elegant and commodious description. Twelve new boxes have been added, including two stage boxes; and the pit will now accommodate eight hundred persons. The gallery is so constructed that the audience have a full view of the stage even from the back seats" (p. 406).

E. L. Blanchard describes the interior after the rebuilding and as it still was in 1819 when Rodwell and Jones acquired the theatre: "The form of the interior was that of an elongated horseshoe. The proscenium, twenty-eight feet in width, had stage doors at the side, with a box over each. The cove above was decorated by fanlike irradiations from a semicircular base of rough gold [actually this decoration may date from 1824, according to a description in the Drama of that year] ... There was one full circle of boxes, with an upper range on a level with the gallery, and boxes were constructed at the back of the dress circle, to which a lower rated of admission was charged. The gallery seated about three hundred. The house would hold very nearly two hundred pounds" ("History of the Adelphi Theatre," Era Almanac, 1877, p. 1). The Theatrical Inquisitor supplies more details:

The ceiling is a finished piece of workmanship, representing Venus and her attendants. The drop-curtain is also a beautiful production, representing Apollo and the Graces dancing round the statue of Cupid. The house is painted on a light blue ground, with ornaments after the Grecian style. The stage is between fifty and sixty feet deep, and forty feet wide, which gives ample scope for the scenery. Here are, likewise, two stage pillars, in imitation of stone, which gives the whole a grand and noble effect (pp. 406-7).

Because of the delayed opening the season was short and the company small. Thirty-nine actors and dancers appear on the roster, but many stayed briefly or played minor roles. However, such excellent actors as Meredith, Villiers, Stebbing and R. H. Widdicomb appeared, and such fine dancers as Yarnold, Richard Flexmore, John Jones, Miss Cooke, and Miss Gibbs. Mrs. Riley (later Mrs. Bemetzrieder) began her association with the company this season. John Jones, "late of the King's theatre," succeeded Gabriel Giroux as ballet master, and Lawrence followed Parnell as band leader. Miss Scott, John Jones, and Lawrence--author, choreographer, and composer respectively--contributed eight new works to the total of eleven pieces produced in 1814-1815. A brief notice of the company's efforts in the Theatrical Inquisitor for January 1815 was more polite than laudatory: "The Sans Pareil continues to deserve and attract crowded audiences. Miss Scott is greatly improved--she performs better than usual. The ballet does infinite credit to the taste and skill of Mr. Jones" (p. 78).

Several bills insist at length on the originality of Miss Scott's comedy, Whackam and Windham; or, The Wrangling Lawyers. The 20 February bill, for example, says of it, "Never was a French piece but wholly original." The same claim could not be made for Love, Honor and Obey, which Miss Scott and Michael Parnell fashioned in 1812 from Patrat's L'Heureuse Erreur. But the bills did contend that Love, Honor and Obey was the original of Brother and Sister, which played at Covent Garden this 1814-1815 season. (Parnell had become a member of the band at Covent Garden.) Dimond wrote the book and Bishop the music for the Covent Garden piece, and Dimond's reputation for readily "adapting" others' works no doubt strengthened the Sans Pareil's claim. The Theatrical Inquisitor for February 1815, reviewed Brother and Sister and found it pervaded by a "sombre dullness." The critic, without troubling himself to review (or possibly even to see) Love, Honor and Obey, then dismissed the protests of Miss Scott, "a lady of considerable talent and great dramatic industry." He said, "The contention is rather a sharp one. Where the blame lies, or whether there be any blame, is really not worth enquiry. The productions and complaints will soon sink together into an irrecoverable oblivion" (p. 150). In fact, oblivion didn't immediately overtake either piece. Brother and Sister, "this highly favorite piece," played "as often as the run of new pieces would allow" at the Haymarket in 1816 (Theatrical Inquisitor, August 1816, pp. 140-1). And "Dimond's amusing plagiary" got another expensive production at Bath in 1817 (Theatrical Inquisitor, March 1817, p. 229). Miss Scott's Love, Honor and Obey, meanwhile, was playing at the Sans Pareil as late as the 1818-1819 season.

Despite the expensive improvements to the theatre in 1814, ticket prices remained the same (the bills do not mention a lower price for boxes behind the dress circle): boxes were four shillings, the pit two, and gallery one. Henry Crabb Robinson attended a performance on February 20, and noted that he and his bother were "cheaply amused." Of the amusements he says, "We heard some respectable imitations by one [Andrew] Campbell. And a comic piece Windham and Whackam [sic] in which one Meredith acted in Dowton's style very respectably--that is producing effect by broad comic acting" (The London Theatre, 1811-1866). A January 31 bill states that Campbell was imitating Kemble, Cook, Johnstone, Elliston, Farley, Emery, Munden and Kean. Crabb Robinson doesn't say whether he saw the opening piece, an apparently successful "new Scotch ballet divertisement" by John Jones called Jamie of Aberdeen, in which all the company's principal dancers performed. Nor does he mention the pantomime, Harlequin Rasselas; or, The Happy Valley, the last piece on the bill. Harlequin Rasselas opened February 9, and played twenty-two times. Yarnold, who had danced with the company since 1810, was Harlequin. William Templeton, newly arrived from Dublin and remaining only this season at the Sans Pareil, was Pantaloon. Richard Flexmore was Clown, as he had been in the preceding season, and Miss Cooke danced Columbine for all but two nights.

From the scant references to incidental entertainments on the bills this season, Mrs. Pearce and Minor, both newcomers, and Huckel emerge as principal singers. Shaw, Richard Flexmore, Yarnold, and the corps de ballet danced. Jane Scott made at least one serious address to the audience, and Widdicomb a comic one, and Andrew Campbell did his imitations. But the notice of a 16 March benefit for Stuck, the box book-keeper, shows the full range of variety acts the theatre actually offered, perhaps on every evening. On March 16, Miller, Simpson, and Minor sang. Richard Flexmore did a "whole new comic dance." Miss Brady danced a broadsword hornpipe. Edwin Yarnold and Miss Hart danced a double hornpipe. Taylor tumbled and with Shaw did "a black and white" scene.

In addition to the benefit for Stuck, there were benefits for Miss Scott on 16 February and for John Jones and Edwin Yarnold on 6 March. Approximately fifty-nine performances were given this season which began on 26 December 1814 and ended 18 March 1815.

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

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