The 1820-1821 Season

By Alfred Nelson and Gilbert Cross

During the second season of their tenure at the Adelphi, James T. Rodwell and Willis Jones continued to emphasize dance and song. While most pieces were labelled as burlettas, a casual glance at the bills for this season indicates that almost all the thirty-seven pieces played are farces or comic ballets. The exceptions are Zamoski and St. Cuthbert's Eve (romantic melodramas) and Kenilworth and Ivanhoe (historical melodramas). With these exceptions, the entire season was limited to short farcical burlettas featuring dancers like the Dalys, the Kirbys, Walbourn, Simpson, St. Albin, and Miss Garbois.

The management boasted on the early bills that it had acquired "performers and pieces of the first merit, anxious to deserve a continuance of that patronage they so fully experienced last season." The company was basically the same as last season. Though the number of actors was increased from 41 to 77, most of the newcomers were bit players who played single roles in the pantomime or in one of the melodramas. The number of actresses was reduced from 27 to 25. Major figures missing were Starmer, Gay, Lane, Willis, and Bemetzrieder among the men and Mrs. Alsop (the daughter of Dora Jordan) and Miss Garcia among the women. Added to the company were these important names: Brisac, Callahan, Dennis, Phillips, Miss Garbois, Mrs. Tennant, and Mrs. Harriett Waylett. Mrs. Tennant was a Mrs. Vaughan, formerly a great singer now on the way down. The British Stage and Literary Cabinet commented: "Mrs. Vaughan has appeared ... under the name of Tennant; [she] looks as pretty as ever, though her singing does not seem to be so excellent as it formerly was" (December 1820, p. 346).

The old standbys Walbourn, Daly, St. Albin, Paulo, Reeve and James P. Wilkinson remained. The latter was praised by the Mirror of the Stage (27 January 1823), as one of the

very few original actors of the present day ... The laugh which invites is enjoyed from the genuine flow of nature, as pure as pure as unconstrained. We admire to see a performer act, as it were, internally (a want of which is too prevalent, more especially with comic pretenders), language to be the secondary means of communicating the business and character of the scene--to discover in an actor's look and gesture the 'spring of action'. Such admiration may be ever awakened by an acquaintance with the portraits of this gentleman. The simpleton, the eccentric, and the boor alike receive from his judicious touch the unfading glowing colours of reality--he makes them his own ... There is no swaggering into good opinion (p. 1).

Miss Collier, an actress who had joined the company from the Theatre Royal, York, was involved in a serious accident during a performance of St. Cuthbert's Eve on 14 October. The actress, as The British Stage and Literary Cabinet reported, "having to mount a ladder to appear at the battlements of a castle, when near the top, she was seized by a sudden giddiness and fell on the stage. A surgeon was sent for, and she was conveyed home much hurt" (December 1820, p. 346). Miss Yates had to take her part. Although Miss Collier evidently recovered, appearing in November as Donna Beatrice in The Deuce Is In Her, she last appeared on 8 February 1821. After that date, there is no record Miss Collier ever appeared at the Adelphi again.

One piece certainly pleased the audience. It was A Burletta of Errors, based on John Dryden's Amphitryon. Dryden's play was adapted from the comedies of Plautus and Moliere and published in 1690. Jupiter imitates Amphitryon in order to enjoy the favors of the latter's wife, Alcmena. Jupiter orders Mercury to imitate Sosia, Amphitryon's slave. The comedy centers on the successive arrivals of the two Amphitryons and two Sosias at Amphitryon's palace and climaxes with the meeting of the disguised Jupiter and Amphitryon. The play was lengthened from two to three acts on 20 November 1820.

Reeve's benefit, 18 December 1820, was billed as "Under the patronage of the Right Hon. The Lord Mayor and sheriffs of London, who intend, on this occasion, to honor the theatre with their presence."

Greenwood's benefit was in April, and Rowbotham came over from the E. O. H. Some years later, The Mirror of the Stage commented of the latter, he "is correct, persecutingly correct. He speaks and acts by compass and rule, he is a turner of syllables to an indescribable fineness, there is no fancy work; it is all plain and smooth, yet still without point; it is the carved work of a bedpost" (26 July 1824, p.129).

Signor Paulo (Paul Redige) was a performer destined to achieve a measure of fame. In this season he appeared as Clown in two pantomimes and as Friday (another clown role) in Robinson Crusoe, a pantomimic ballet. He was the son of the "Little Devil" of Sadler's Wells.

On Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, Bologna Jr. engaged the theatre to present "An entirely new Pictorial, Optical, and Mechanical Exhibition called 'The Panoramic Mirror; or, Nature's Reflector.'" On the same bill was a magic act conducted by Rosenberg.

Lest the general public (or John Larpent, the examiner of plays) should think otherwise, Bologna thoughtfully included this disclaimer on the bills: "The above performances have nothing of a Theatrical Nature in them; they are calculated to shew the beauties of nature, and may be visited by the most scrupulous." A sample beauty of nature was a "View of Yarmouth with Lord Nelson's monument and the surrounding country. The effect of a declining summer afternoon, with the coming on of night, and the rising of the moon ... enlivened by a representation of the landing of the troops from Holland during the late war."

The wheel had come full circle, for in 1812 Bologna had presented his "Mechanical Exposition" at this same theatre, then called the Sans Pareil.

There was a reminder of the problems of visiting a theatre in the 1820s. James Winston wrote in his scrapbook: "A regular filch was caught in the pit of the Adelphi Theatre on Wed. evening. On searching his pockets, they contained 7 silk handkerchiefs, 3 pairs of gloves, a French snuff box, an opera glass, and several bunches of keys."

From June 4-21 (after the regular season), the French equilibrists, Chalons, Davoust, and Company, performed feats of agility and strength. Davoust would climb a cord to the top of the house, walk with his feet against the proscenium, his head downwards, play with hoops to prove he was not wired, beat drums, eat and drink, and waltz with his head downwards.

Such marvels did not pass unnoticed. Robert William Elliston, lessee of Drury Lane, attempted to lure Monsieur Chalons to Drury Lane for a masked ball on 18 June 1821. The Frenchman refused the overtures, but James Rodwell, hearing of the approach, wrote what the British Stage and Literary Cabinet (July 1821, p. 224), termed a "petulant epistle." Elliston's "sublime reply" began: "Rodwell--I have heard of a 'puddle in a storm' and a 'puppy in a passion'--at the one I am amused, the other I scorn."

Rodwell repaired to Drury Lane in haste, seconded by the singer, P. P. O'Callaghan, intending to belabor the "Great Lessee" with a horsewhip. Elliston proved equal to the challenge and produced a "night-preserver," an instrument of self-defense formed of several short pieces of strongly bound cane with a knob of lead at both ends. The Adelphi proprietor was struck with a blow to the forehead and fell, bleeding profusely, to the floor. Worse mischief was prevented by O'Callaghan who managed to restrain Elliston until help could be summoned. The Bow Street magistrate, before whom the next act of this melodrama was played out, gave Rodwell short shrift, assuring him that Elliston would have been perfectly justified in shooting him. The whole matter fizzled away as such puddles do in storms, and Elliston, with "matchless impudence," inserted Mons. Chalons' name in his bills anyway. Rodwell and O'Callaghan agreed to pay twenty pounds each to both theatrical funds and were fined one shilling. (See also James Winston, Drury Lane Journal, edited by Alfred Nelson, pp. 31-34). It did no good. Elliston was accused of two cases of assault in 1824--the same year O'Callaghan was jailed for a month for the same crime.

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

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