The 1823-1824 Season

By Alfred Nelson and Gilbert Cross

During the summer recess, backs had been added to the pit benches. The band had been enlarged and new players added to the Adelphi Company. Most important of these were Meredith (from the Theatre Royal, Bristol), James Kirby, Mrs. Searle (the former Miss Caroline Giroux), and Mlle. Maria (from the Italian Opera House). Missing from the Company were Buckingham, Herring, Oxberry, Paulo, and Miss Jerrold. Miss S. Pitt had become Mrs. Wilkins.

On the first night, 6 October 1823, there was no main piece, unless a three act novelty, billed as a new comic burletta: The Prince and the Player; or, A Trifling Mistake, could be counted as such. It did not last beyond the first week. A ballet, Dancing Mad, suffered a similar fate. During the second week, Capers at Canterbury was revived. The Mirror of the Stage said it was "A very agreeable trifle.... Wilkinson did his best and was entitled to more praise on the ground that the part in itself [Jacob Grogram] possessed so little material for its attainment." Nevertheless it was performed only six times. Opposition, a popular comic ballet on the same bill, scarcely did any better. The Mirror of the Stage said, "The dance of Opposition still amuses; we wish however St. Albin would not smile so much and screw himself into a corner like a great hoyden" (20 October 1823, p. 91). The same journal, on 17 November took issue with a cocked hat the ballet master had acquired, "Why man, you are all felt and feather! That beaver must surely bear the spoil of a whole poultry yard" (p. 127).

The management tried to cash in on the current Frankenstein craze with a play by Richard B. Peake, Another Piece of Presumption. The Drama summed it up thus:

Mr. J. Reeve, an author, attends with Mr. Lee, the stage manager, the rehearsal of a new piece of his, entitled Another Piece of Presumption of which the plot runs thus. Frankenstein, a tailor, wishes to make a man out of nine of his workmen. He administers poison to them, and then clubbing heads, hands, and legs, produces a nondescript--a being without a name. This unknown, who bears the head of a parish scholar and is consequently a linguist, runs about with a dictionary in his hand for the explanation of new terms, and goes on doing mischief in every way, acquiring new sensations until he perishes by the overthrow of a market cart ... Mr. Wrench was condemned to this buffoonery and very little did he seem to like it ... it was announced for repetition but with considerable opposition (October 1823, pp. 142-43).

Repeated failures forced Rodwell and Willis Jones on 27 October to revive Tom and Jerry; or, Life in London; it ran for fifty-four perfomances. The reaction of the Mirror of the Stage on 3 November 1823, was predictably ferocious:

That excrescence Tom and Jerry, that filthy drug at which the gorge rises, has been again brought forward ... why rake up the rotten remains of Tom and Jerry and once more strive to make filthiness fashionable? [Pierce Egan] has partly succeeded in introducing the cant of St. Giles in more or less abundance into the drawing room--so pestilent has it become that it is as common to substitute 'chaff' for 'jest' and 'fly' for 'conscious', with many other 'holiday terms' as the occasion for using them demands.... We are no Methodists, but we are frequently irritated at the breaks even in common dialogue which the carnage of Mr. Egan's brains have rendered so pestering they are slugs, vermin in our every day walks; they sicken us (pp. 111-12).

A month later, Tom and Jerry shared the bill with another important piece The Quadrupeds; or, The Manager's Last Kick. This was Samuel Foote's The Tailors as adapted by Samuel J. Arnold of the English Opera House. Proving extraordinarily successful it became a staple of Adelphi fare for a number of years to come. It was played forty-three times this season. The Drama had nothing but praise. "Almost the whole business devolves upon one performer, Mr. J. Reeve, and in it he is himself alone ... his imitation of Kean was ... the best and most legitimate we have ever witnessed ... The wooden steeds were marshalled admirably, in emulative excellence of the real stud at Drury" (January 1824).

The pantomime that Christmas was Dr. Faustus, and The Drama said of it:

The grand attraction of the piece was a panoramic representation of the bombardment of Algiers ... we have a grand view of the bay with the British fleet moving proudly on, and the mind is gradually kept engaged up to the critical moment when the engagement is at the hottest, when the towers, and brigs, and forts, and all are enveloped in smoke, and, as a grand finale, an allegorical representation of Neptune presenting the Crown of the Ocean to Britannia with the British Lion trampling on turbans, chains, and fetters, and growling most magnanimously as the bills describe (January 1824, pp. 309-10).

Romantic and melodramatic plays were popular. Thomas Dibdin's version of Fielding's Tom Jones was damned by the Mirror of the Stage as "inefficient and intolerably dull" (16 February 1824, p. 29). Three adaptations of Walter Scott novels, St. Ronan's Well, Heart of Midlothian, and Waverly proved successful.

The Theatrical Observer in its review of The Heart of Midlothian felt called upon to chide the players at the Adelphi. "In general the performers here are apt to fall into caricature, possibly from habits acquired by the long run of pieces which require that style of acting ... when they have characters to personate containing some portion of nature ... a restraint should be laid on their customary breadth of acting" (7 January 1824).

Other actors were gently chastised in the journals. The Mirror of the Stage took exception to Tyrone Power's performance in St. Ronan's Well. He "should remember ... impudence and neglect may soon deprive him of his popularity." Watkins Burroughs was damned with faint praise. Burroughs did not rant so much as usual and was consequently endurable (26 January p. 13). Of Mrs. Charles Baker, the journal reported, "Her manner is too negligent and at the same time approaches to rudeness. If she considers it worth her while to remain upon a minor stage, she should at least assume a more becoming deportment" (8 March 1824).

On Thursday, 25 March, 1824, The Red Indian; or, The Shipwrecked Mariner and His Faithful Dogs featured Mr. H. Simpson's kennel of canines. The sequel to Tom and Jerry, titled Green in France, that had been introduced the previous season was not attempted. However, The Death of Life in London; or, Tom and Jerry's Funeral, a burlesque of Tom and Jerry failed and was withdrawn after the second performance.

During Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays, M. Henry put on his version of the one-man entertainments Reeve, Bologna, and Wilkinson had done in previous seasons and which Mathews and Yates were to popularize later. It consisted of magic acts, mechanical and chemical experiments, and phantasmagoria. But the most important element was his experiments with laughing gas (nitrous oxide). This marked the first time this gas had been demonstrated in public, and the medical profession was to seize upon this boon to mankind and put it to extensive use before long. The British Journal of Anaesthesia claimed this was the first public use of the gas for entertainment. Henry invited volunteers from the audience to inhale the gas from rubber bladders. The effect on one man was striking. He bounded all over the stage to cries of "humbug" and "nonsense" from the spectators who refused to believe the effect was not staged.

M. Henry's show was so popular that he extended it beyond Lent--until 5 June. After Lent, he increased the number of performances from two to four per week. All told he gave forty performances. Another feature of the season was the lectures by John Thelwall. He engaged the house to present three lectures billed as "Oratorical and Critical Lectures on the Drama and Poetry of Past and Present Times." The first of the talks was given on 5 May 1824, that "Being the Anniversary of the Birth and Demise of our Immortal Dramatist." He compared the excellences of Shakespeare and Milton and eulogized the former. On Friday, 7 May, he focused upon Paradise Lost, and a highlight was his recitation of Satan's soliloquy. On his final appearance, May 12, he lectured on Shakespeare's history plays.

On 21 July 1824, a charity performance was held in aid of the Sons of St. Andrew for the purpose of helping the distressed and afflicted.

Performances of Ella Rosenberg and two farces Two Wives; or, the Wedding Day, and George Rodwell's favorite, Where Shall I Dine? were performed. Only a few of the regular company acted in these pieces. The rest of the casts came from local theatres.

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

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