The 1819-1820 Season

By Franklin Case

The 1819-20 season was the first under the management of Willis Jones and James T. G. Rodwell who bought the theatre for 25,000 guineas from John Scott. Lee, who had been employed by Robert W. Elliston, became stage manager. With Mrs. W. S. Chatterley, formerly of the English Opera House, he delivered an opening address written by William Moncrieff. The theatre was refurbished extensively. A new gas chandelier suspended from the dome was the "subject of universal admiration." The new owners' theatre was dark for 18 days because of the deaths of the Duke of York (1 day), King George III (16 days), and Ash Wednesday (1 day).

The newly purchased theatre opened its first season as the Adelphi on 18 October 1819, with performances of The Green Dragon; or, I've Quite Forgot and Tom Thumb. The company now included James P. Wilkinson, Joe Cowell (from Drury Lane), and Miss Eliza Scott of the Haymarket. The Misses Dennett were on hand to introduce, as E. L. Blanchard put it "graceful dances between the pieces."

One of the featured actresses this season was Mrs. Frances Alsop, a daughter of the famous Mrs. Jordan. Reviewers of her early Covent Garden performances found her much inferior to her mother: "Her singing is sweetly expressive, and she sweeps the light chords of the harp with a truly tasteful finger. Her proportions are diminutive without neatness, and her features alike divested of grace and intelligence" (Theatrical Inquisitor, May 1817, pp. 323-24).

Rather extravagant staging took place, particularly in works such as The Fairy of the North Star; or, Harlequin at Labrador, first performed 27 December 1819. This pantomime involved 16 scenes with a view of the palace of Labrador, a view of Dover, a medical laboratory, and a country inn, the "Rose and Crown."

Some pieces were not greeted with the kindness of genteel applause. Love and Chase, performed 6 December 1819, was referred to as "an agreeable bagatelle ably supported by the talents of Messrs. Reeve, Wilkinson, and Chatterley, the last was less somnambulant than usual" (LTM Scrapbook).

The theatre was not devoid of charitable feelings towards those less fortunate outside its doors. For example, the performance on 19 January 1820, of Run For Your Life had the whole of its "receipts go to the City Charitable Fund for the houseless poor. The Lord Mayor attended as special patron" (LTM Scrapbook). In the British Stage, February 1820, the following cutting comment is recorded: "A benefit was appropriated to the aid of the fund for the houseless Poor, on the 19th of January, when the receipts were L101..7s..6d. Yet this is a minor Theatre, which the Drury-Lane Manager, whose vast contribution amounted to but little more, would willingly supress, as a nuisance."

Again, there was royal interest in the theatre. The bill for The Fairy of the North Star; or, Harlequin at Labrador on 27 January 1820, announces: "The Prince Regent has been graciously pleased to command that this theatre shall be opened every evening, as usual, excepting that of the Royal Funeral."

The season closed on 25 March 1820, with Rochester; or, King Charles the Second's Merry Days and Ivanhoe; or, The Saxon Chief.

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

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