The 1829-1830 Season

By Alfrida Lee

The season opened on 29 September 1829 with rather less eclat, but perhaps more assurance, than the previous one. No new pieces were offered, only established favorites. The Times and the News (in which the Adelphi is described as a "mirth-inspiring house") point to the popularity of the pieces chosen.

There were some changes among the performers. Thomas Potter Cooke, a great favorite with the Adelphi audience had gone to the Surrey Theatre. John Reeve and Mrs. Edward Fitzwilliam, both popular at the Adelphi, were once more in the company. Charles Mathews appeared less often, until he gave his Comic Annual after the regular season had ended. He wrote to C. T. Harding, "It was my determination at the end of last season, not again to act regularly at the Adelphi; for this reason, Mr. Reeve was engaged."

The highlight of the season was The Elephant of Siam and the Fire Fiend. The chief performer was an elephant of considerable size for whom "an entirely new stage had been constructed." Certainly some reinforcement was necessary. The idea of engaging the elephant was apparently an inspiration of Frederick Yates. It is reported in The Memoirs of Charles Mathews,

Mr Yates, having gained his partner's slow leave, engaged the celebrated acting elephant (Mademoiselle d'Gelk) for the ensuing opening; fortunately as it turned out, for the success of that part of the season, when another female actress of great popularity made a strong opposition to the minors--Mademoiselle d'Gelk and Miss Fanny Kemble shared the town between them--each the greatest in her line.

The elephant, whose salary was reported in the Theatrical Journal to be twenty pounds a night, was not brought in to perform irrelevant exercises; each action was an integral part of the plot. The critic of the News made particular mention of the "docility and sagacity" of the elephant. The piece as a whole appeared to be entertaining and spectacular. Yates gave a prologue which was "not the least amusing part of the evening's entertainment" (Times 4 December 1829). As well as the elephant, human performers were praised. A general comment was "it is perhaps one of the most magnificent things of the kind in scenery, dresses and decorations, which has been produced for some time on any stage."

The News was struck by the enterprise of the managers in giving a pantomime at the end of December in addition to the elephant. "With the great attraction of the elephant at this house it is almost an act of supererogation to have produced a pantomime--the spirited managers, however, deemed it a duty to treat their holiday friends with their accustomed fare, and they have catered for them most successfully." Novelty was again apparent in this, which seemed to have been a good production and was well received. A dwarf, Senor Santiago de los Santos, was the outstanding attraction in the piece. "He had scarcely anything to do in the piece but he danced prettily enough; and when the clown produced him as the kernel of the Barcelona nut, the audience was convulsed with laughter."

The elephant took part in an entertainment on 30 January. The rest of the evening was made up by a display of magic by Habit of Moscow and optical illusions by H. Childe, a former slide-painter who had invented "dissolving views" (Altick, The Shows of London, p. 218). The elephant trainer was Huguet. This was the first year the Adelphi was not dark on Martyr's Day.

Some adverse criticism, however, came from the News in February, 1830. Supper's Over was a poor affair. "The actors seemed to consider the piece beneath their notice, by not having learned their parts." As John Reeve was the chief character, this is perhaps evidence of his inability to remember his lines. As the popularity of The Elephant of Siam never declined, the critic found much to commend. "We are much pleased to find that this theatre overflows nightly; it would be hard, indeed, if the exertions of its liberal proprietors were not crowned with the success they so richly merit."

This good opinion did not prevent the News being scathing about The Heart of London in February. It was "the very lowest and most blackguard affair we ever witnessed." The Lord Chamberlain's office was blamed for allowing the production; nevertheless, the News had no doubt it would be a success. It was played until the end of the season.

The elephant appeared in the Lenten entertainment, performing "Olympic exercises," in addition to being "the great performer" in The Elephant of Siam, which was given every evening except Wednesday and Friday each week.

Mlle. D'Gelk was heard of again. During the summer a coroner's inquest was held on Baptiste Bernard, one of its handlers. Apparently Bernard had stabbed the beast with a pitchfork some two years previously in a drunken rage. The elephant had not forgotten and gained its revenge. The verdict was the deceased "died from wounds and bruises received from the elephant. Decedent five shillings."

During Passion Week there was a lecture by C. H. Adams, illusions, laughing gas administered by Childe, and harmonica solos by Tait.

Mathews appeared, without Yates, in his Comic Annual from the end of April until the end of June, 1830. This had considerable originality and its success led on to more Comic Annuals in the future.

This completed another season with which the managers had every reason to feel pleased. On 31 May, 1830, Mathews wrote to H. B. Giles, "I have done very well at the Adelphi: the boxes especially have kept up right arnest [sic] well."

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

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