The 1828-1829 Season

By Alfrida Lee

This season Charles Mathews, a very popular comedian from Drury Lane, joined Yates in management, paying 17,000 pounds for a half share of the Adelphi. Improvements were made to the interior of the theatre. The News critic reported it was re-burnished and gilded and "the front tier of the dress circle reminds one of the lower tier of the boxes of the English Opera House." A new proscenium had been constructed.

The season opened on 29 September with a farce, lightheartedly showing how the partnership had come about and giving Mathews, who appeared as different characters, an opportunity to display his versatility. Billed with Wanted, A Partner was My Absent Son, a piece with little appeal. Mathews succeeded in making the chief character "excessively amusing"; however, "some parts of the dialogue were grossly indecent, and were plentifully and deservedly hissed" (Times, 30 September 1828). It ran for only nine nights. Early in November, A Day's Fun met with disapproval. The critic of the News described the humour as "broad without being laughable; coarse without the redeeming quality of piquancy." It is significant that the piece was withdrawn after the second night and not revived later.

However, other productions had sufficient merit to gain favorable reviews. Of The May Queen, given in October, the critic of the News wrote, "On the whole, this piece is well acted, and well worth seeing."

Vocal music was more prominent during this season than the previous one, chiefly owing to more quality singers being engaged. Performers now included Mathews, who undoubtedly surpassed John Reeve (who had left for Covent Garden), both as an actor and a singer of comic songs. The Mason of Buda, brought out in October, described in the News as an opera, gave opportunities for John Sinclair and Miss Graddon, new to the company, to show their talent. Sinclair, who sang extensively at Covent Garden, had trained with Banderali in Milan and sang in Italy, where [Gioacchino A.] Rossini had written a part for him in Semiramide.

The Times described it as "a lively little piece, full of bustle and activity, and no inconsiderable portion of amusing and interesting incident ... It is, however, indebted for much of its merit to the composer (Mr. G. H. Rodwell) whose music, though not of the first order, is respectable." The News described the piece as "the vehicle for some very pretty music, avowedly by Mr. Rodwell, but we suspect, in many instances, rather arranged and adapted, than composed by that gentleman." The News had some reservations. "Sinclair has, perhaps, the best voice of any tenor singer now before the public ... but sentiment or soul ... is wanting to invest that organ with that degree of witchery it might otherwise possess"; and of Miss Graddon's voice, it "is a pleasing soprano ... high enough, but not always free from harshness; and she is too lavish of ornament, sometimes imperfectly executed." The piece "was given out for repetition amidst loud cheers in a very crowded house."

On 9 November, the News was able to report, "The Adelphi seems to be going on prosperously, a succession of crowded houses witnessing the disposition on the part of the public to be pleased with the fare provided for them at this little theatre." Mathews seemed well pleased with his venture. On 19 November he wrote to the Rev. Thomas Speidell, "Our houses are prodigious. The other theatres are doing as wretchedly as possible," and on 23 November, "You will, I am sure, be pleased to hear the following report from the only critic to whom I pay attention in the City of London--namely our treasurer, made yesterday, 'Last week produced the greatest receipts ever known at the Adelphi.'"

Incidental songs enlivened The Pilot (given thirty-nine times). No less than eight numbers, including two duets, appeared on the bill for 10 November. The singers were Mathews (who had taken over John Reeve's role as Captain Boroughcliff), Sinclair, Miss Graddon and Mrs. Hughes. The program of songs varied during the run. Towards the end of the season, songs were prominent in the production of No. This piece was described in The News as "a laughable trifle" and John Sinclair's singing was praised. He had "one very desirable quality in a singer, distinct enunciation."

Dancing, however, seemed less prominent than in previous seasons; ballet was not attempted on a large scale. Fewer child dancers' names appeared.

Occasionally, a critic made a scathing comment on a piece given at the Adelphi. The Earthquake, given in December, caused the Times to write, "A worse piece has not been presented at any theatre for a long period ... Altogether the new piece is quite unworthy of the character which this theatre has lately acquired, and the sooner it is withdrawn, the better it will be for both reputation and profit." The attempt at showing an earthquake on a small stage made it absurd. The production had the extraordinary result of provoking someone, signing himself Christianus, into writing to the Times to express feelings of moral horror at the idea of an earthquake, an act of the Almighty, being represented on the stage and offered as entertainment. He charged the managers with "an affront to the Supreme Being."

The pantomime, which followed later in December, was popular. According to the Times, it was received with unanimous applause. The News critic made special mention of the "construction of a moving figure after the fashion of Cruikshank--from various fruits, etc., [which] is clever and deservedly applauded ... Upon the whole," he added, "the pantomime merits approbation. It has one great virtue, that of comparative brevity, and the diversion it produces never flags." The dancing of Miss Barnett received commendation.

A noteworthy production in January, 1829 was Mons. Mallet. The Times commended the performance of Yates, Mathews, and others, and said "A Mr. Buckstone, whom we do not recollect to have seen before, did much justice to the part of Jeremiah Kentucky ... His busy, lively manner told extremely well." If the critic were the same as in October, 1827, he might have been expected to recognize Buckstone, whose performance as Bobby Trot, he had commended. The good opinion was not shared by the News, which said, "Mr. Buckstone ... seems to think that all humour consists in rapidity of utterance." Of Mathews he wrote, "Mathews' performance is deserving of highest praise. Munden being gone, he has no equal." The success of the first night was summed up. "The house was crammed to the ceiling, but a full house in this favourite place of amusement is so much a matter of course, as to cease to be a subject for remark." Only one adverse criticism of the piece was made in both newspapers: it was too long--apparently it lasted three hours.

The Red Rover, given in February, was well reviewed. The Times critic concluded, "the whole representation met with most favourable reception on the part of the audience. It was given out for repetition, by Yates, amidst the loudest applause."

All the above is evidence of a very successful season. In March 1829, Mathews was able to write to H. B. Gyles: "The season has been the best since Yates has been in it--infinitely beyond my hopes, and that we have not had one night since 29 September under our expenses; of this no theatre in the metropolis can boast but ourselves."

The close of the season in April was followed by an entertainment by Yates and Mathews, given, with one short break, three times weekly until 15 July. This was as successful as the season had been. On 28 June, the News reported, "In spite of the advanced state of the season--the heat of the weather, the indefatigable exertions of Mathews and Yates continue nightly to fill this theatre with a laughing audience." What more could Yates and Mathews have wished?

[Extracts from Mathews' letters are taken from Memoirs of Charles Mathews, V, 5f, 20]

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

Thank you for visiting this site. If you wish to contact the various Editors, please visit the Editor's Home Pages.