The 1822-1823 Season

By Alfred Nelson and Gilbert Cross

The season opened 7 October 1822 with Tom and Jerry and The New Marriage Act. William Oxberry (from the TR Haymarket) and Salter (from E.O.H.) were important additions to the company. Of the latter, the Mirror of the Stage said in 1824: "No gentleman on the minor boards has a greater share of general and useful talent. His old men are strong and sturdy, his flippant valets ... are rather heavy ... Without being actually great in anything [he] must be respectable in everything" (16 February p. 20).

During the first week a double tragedy happened. Benjamin Wrench sprained his leg severely and Reeve's wife died, thus causing the temporary absence of two of the Adelphi's stars. At this time, neither William Walbourn nor Oxberry could be released from summer commitments at other theatres. As a consequence Tom and Jerry's spot on the bill was filled by last season's Christmas pantomime, Beauty and the Beast, and a farce, Moncrieff's The Green Dragon; or, I've Quite Forgot.

The Mirror of the Stage was critical of Tom and Jerry:

A well-governed stage has been justly described to be 'an ornament to society' ... but can it be said for a moment that where the characters in a drama are prostitutes, thieves, and vagabonds, where the language is a tissue of disgusting ribaldry and obscene jests, where vice is upheld and virtue debased, can it be said, we repeat, that such a piece is likely to improve our morals, our virtue or our manners? ... We are no canting Methodists, no puritannical casuists (18 November 1822, p. 125).

The piece was resumed on 17 October accompanied by a new farce. The New Marriage Act had expired, as the Scrapbook reported: "The voice of disapprobation at the end was so loud that the manager came forward to say that it should be carefully revised or withdrawn."

After Christmas, the pantomime, Harlequin's Holiday; or, Who Killed the Dog?, replaced the farce. A week later the subtitle of the pantomime was changed to The Cockney Sportsmen. Nothing helped, and Harlequin's Holiday perished by 27 January, its place taken by alternating short pieces.

Green in France, a spin-off from the ever-popular Tom and Jerry, began in January. The Drama summarized the plot as follows:

The three choice spirits, Tom, Jerry, and Logic, have entered into matrimony with those chaste ladies, Kate, Sue, and Jane, and, after three months devotion to the shrine of Hymen, resolve on a continental tour; this is accordingly undertaken in company with Green (Wilkinson) of Tooley Street, a true specimen of Cockney foolery and ignorance. The ladies are, however, very unwilling to trust their 'lords' from their aprons, and therefore determine to follow them to France (January 1823, p. 47).

Advice was offered to John Reeve to "place his hands before him, or to look at the personage who is speaking to him, or to who he is himself addressing, and to give up all attempts at singing until he has improved himself in the science of music" (p. 49).

A popular piece, No Dinner Yet, had a simple plot concerning the attempts of Sponge to find a meal. The dialog was lively and contained several puns. The Mirror of the Stage praised both main actors. Wilkinson "may justly be said to be inimitable. Buckingham as Doric, a sort of speculative builder, was very clever. There is much novelty in this piece, inasmuch as there are not any female characters in it--a thing very rare in modern times" (24 February 1823, p. 44).

This season no entertainments were offered on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, the theatre being dark on those days. On 24 April, 1823, Wilkinson and Reeve combined to present their one-man entertainments on the same bill. Wilkinson opened the program with his Trifles Light As Air, a combination of songs and impressions. Reeve's contribution was titled Bachelor's Torments; or, The Sweets of a Family. It featured nine characters personified and two songs: "'Tis a Folly to Talk of Life's Troubles," and an extravaganza, "First Vid de Grace Extraordinaire," composed by George B. Herbert. Reeve concluded the show with imitations of London performers. Apparently the program was successful, for an initial schedule of four nights was changed to six nights a week. On 14 June, the entertainments ceased, and the theatre was dark until 23 June when Reeve assumed Wilkinson's part of the show along with his own, announcing that since Wilkinson's summer engagements precluded him from continuing, he (Reeve), "At the request of the numerous frequenters of this theatre, has undertaken to attempt the whole entertainment." Reeve's entertainments continued four nights per week until Saturday, 6 September 1823.

"C." wrote to the Drama in August 1823 of Reeve's performance:

The ease and success with which he goes through the whole of the entertainment, the first part of which was originally written for a performer so different in his style of acting, is a decided proof of Mr. Reeve's extraordinary versatility, and when to this is added his justness of conception, mastery of features, admirable style of comic singing and rich vein of genuine humour, I am justified in asserting that a union of such qualities would render him a most valuable acquisition in the retinue of Thalia.... It would be a want of justice to Mr. Reeve to omit noticing the rapididty with which he changes his dresses in the last part of his entertainment--his excellence in this particular exceeds anything I have hitherto seen (p. 46).

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

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