The 1821-1822 Season

By Alfred Nelson and Gilbert Cross

During the recess, the theatre underwent extensive alterations and embellishments. Exits were enlarged, and the interior was completely redecorated and beautified.

Just half as many pieces were offered as in the previous season. This was mostly due to the unprecedented popularity of Moncrieff's extravaganza, Tom and Jerry; or, Life in London, based upon Pierce Egan's famous work of the same name. First played 26 November 1821, it was presented each night from then on until the end of the regular season (except on those Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent when serious music replaced dramatic entertainment), for a total of 94 times, never with more than one other piece on the bill.

The Drama said of it: "Several of the scenes are very laughable--particularly the night row at Temple Bar and All Max in the East in which the meeting of all the celebrated beggars and ballad singers of the metropolis is displayed" (22 February p. 207).

A correspondent to the journal, J. L. B. was not so taken with the Tom and Jerry craze:

'Shoot folly as it flies' says the poet; yet if Life in London is designed as a check upon our vices, candour must decidedly pronounce it a failure...our theatres teem, for the most part, with 'nothing but inexplicable dumb show and noise'. And it is doubtless this circumstance that restrains many of our living bards from writing for the stage...Who would risk their fame and feelings on the stage when our minor theatres are nightly thronged, by means of the lucubrations of Mr. Egan, an author enjoying as great a share of popularity as Lord Byron himself? (22 May pp. 321-22).

The Christmas pantomime, Beauty and the Beast; or, Harlequin and the Magic Rose, was played 54 times. The only melodrama The Corsair's Bride; or, The Valley of Mount Etna, by Planche, saw 21 performances. Appearing in the latter was Watkins Burroughs. Of him, the Mirror of the Stage said in 1823:

Burroughs, we think, would have been twice the actor had he played to the mind and not the eye--the judgment of men and not the approval of novel-reading mantilla-makers. His action in the melodrama is good, but his voice, when it should demand, whines, when disclaim, cracks. His walking gentlemen are his best performances, though sometimes coxcombical, lavender water and otto of roses we cannot forget when he appears (6 October 1823).

Short ballets and farces labelled burlettas completed the season's offerings. An anonymous but popular piece of the decade, Bruno; or, The Sultan's Favorite, with music by G. W. Maddison, was given 33 times. It was, the Drama pointed out in October, 1821, "a spirited translation of a lively trifle produced last season at the French Theatre in Argyle Street." The reviewer had this to add:

The subject is the death of a favourite white bear of the grand sultan (who is possessed with a mania for learned animals) and the tricks of his minister, aided by a pair of strolling English exhibitors of wild beasts to conceal from his knowledge the loss of his favourite...The bustling activity of Wrench, the dry humour of Wilkinson, and the whimsical unconsciousness of Keeley, who share the burden of the action, contribute mainly to the success of the piece (pp. 300-01).

James R. Planche wrote seven of the pieces played this season. (He had written 12 for the previous season.) Planche and Moncrieff were responsible in large measure for the success of the Adelphi under Rodwell and Jones. Their works were to be staples of dramatic fare at the Adelphi for years to come. Tom and Jerry defies classification, witness the genre description on the bill--"An entirely new, classic, comic, operatic, didactic, moralistic, Aristophanic, localic, analytic, Terpsichoric, panoramic, camera-obscura-ic, extravaganza burletta of fun, frolic, fashion, and flash." The play is in the tradition of The Beggar's Opera and Jonsonian comedy.

For years to come, Benjamin Wrench's Corinthian Tom and Reeve's Jerry Hawthorn were to enliven the Adelphi stage while Logic, Primefit, Regular, and Dusty Bob became household names. Female roles were important too. Kate, alias the Hon. Miss Trifle, alias Sir Jeremy Brag, alias Nan, the match girl; and Sue, also alias the Hon. Miss Trifle, alias Captain Swaggery, alias Mrs. Mummery, the fortune teller, alias Poll, the ballad singer, parts originally played by Mrs. Baker and Harriett Waylett were roles any comic actress would aspire to.

The theatre was dark during Passion Week. On Easter Monday, 8 April, Monsieur Alexandre engaged the theatre for his one-man show entitled The Adventures of a Ventriloquist. The bill proclaimed that Mons. Alexandre "will display the various astonishing vocal illusions for which he has been so justly celebrated and distinguished on the continent, and which have been represented with such signal approbation before most of the crowned heads and princes of Europe." This entertainment in which Mons. Alexandre sustained numerous characters, including assorted animals and fantastics, was presented daily until 20 July. It was written by William Moncrieff and first presented under the title The Adventures of a Ventriloquist; or, The Rogueries of Nicholas. Later it was billed under the subtitle.

The Theatrical Observer (17 April 1822) was particularly taken by Alexandre's entertainment:

His powers of ventriloquism are of the very highest order, and in some instances his performances are truly astonishing. The characters which he introduces have nothing very new or striking about them, but he contrives to put them into some very entertaining situations...The scene at the tooth-drawer's is too long, and a little curtailment would be of service throughout. His most original and extraordinary efforts, without doubt, are his imitations of animals, dogs barking, cats mewing, a child crying; [they] are admirable, and then his plaining [sic], sawing, and tuning the guitar, together with frying eggs and other things, are so good they should be witnessed by every one who has a couple of hours to spare for such enjoyment (p. 522).

Monsieur Alexandre extended his entertainment because of popular demand and delivered a farewell address on July 20, which concluded, "England has been justly styled the stranger's home. I have found it too the liberal patron of a stranger's talent. The recollection of your past kindness shall stimulate me to merit it in future by every exertion of my abilities."

There was a benefit for a Mr. Bromley of Drury Lane, a teacher of elocution, on 22 July 1822. Theatrical Observer mentions it but gives no details of what was played.

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

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