The 1830-1831 Season

By Alicia Kae Koger

When the Adelphi Theatre opened for the season on 4 October 1830, its managers, Charles Mathews and Frederick Yates, announced on the bill "a splendid new theatre and Chinese saloon have been completed in the incredible space of seven days" (4 October 1830). The Times described the changes more fully in an article published the next day: "The decorations are brilliant and tasteful. The prevailing colours are pale yellow and blue, and the fronts of the boxes are ornamented with a profusion of scroll-work and flowers, executed in gold. The general appearance of the theatre is light and elegant."

The season included 26 plays which were performed a total of 189 times. Among the most popular were John Buckstone's Christmas pantomime, Grimalkin the Great which played 39 nights, his King of the Alps and the Misanthrope, which ran for 42 performances, and Edward Fitzball's The Black Vulture; or, The Wheel of Death, which opened the season and ran for 36 performances. The hit of the season, however, was The Wreck Ashore; or, A Bridegroom from the Sea, yet another Buckstone melodrama which opened on 21 October 1830, and was repeated 80 times during the season. Critics concurred with the audiences' enthusiasm for the piece. The Athenaeum pronounced it, "one of the most amusing ... and interesting [plays] ... of any that have been produced for years" (18 December 1830, p. 797). The Times proclaimed on 5 October that "much skill has been displayed and much expense incurred, in getting up this spectacle. The scenery, chiefly the work of Tomkins, is well painted; and the different changes and transformations are adroitly executed." Particularly outstanding was the performance of O. Smith (Richard John Smith) whose characterization of the pirate Grampus was described by H. Barton Baker as "a wonderful piece of melodramatic acting" (History of the London Stage, p. 429).

As the 1830-31 season progressed, the Athenaeum observed and commented upon Yates' and Mathews' management style. Noting that the audience was particularly displeased with a burlesque of The Pilot presented in December 1830, he wrote,

We rather wondered that the audience gave themselves so much trouble, because this is the only theatre we know of at which they are not permitted to have their opinions attended to--a new piece is generally advertised for 'Monday and every night during the week.' We know not whence the managers acquired this right, but it is well for them that they are allowed to keep it (4 December 1830, p. 765).

At the end of the season, the critic commented again on the managers' techniques, noting "They have discovered the sorts of entertainment which suit their audiences ... we do not mean to assert that they are always successful; but it comes to nearly the same thing--for, if they do not hit the house the first time, they keep discharging their pieces at it until they do" (2 April 1831, p. 221). He concluded "the season has been, as usual, a profitable one. Indeed while the present managers continue in possession, we do not see how it can be otherwise."

In addition to the terrifying acting and thunderous voice of the villainous O. Smith, Adelphi audiences were treated to comic characters created by John Reeve and John Buckstone, gallant heroes played by Frederick Yates, and touching heroines performed by his wife. Watson Nicholson argues in The Struggle For a Free Stage in London that Mathews and Yates had collected a company of actors who had gained the respect and admiration of the public. He quotes a letter to the Tatler which said, in part, "I trust you do not put the Adelphi on a level with its restricted neighbours. Can Covent Garden produce a list of comedians equal to Mathews, Yates, Reeve, Buckstone and Wilkinson?" (17 November 1830). The Times proclaimed Reeve "one of the best farceurs on the stage" (17 November 1830), and Charles Mathews' appearances in The May Queen (29 November 1830) and The King of the Alps won special praise from the critics. Mathews closed out the theatre's season with his one-man entertainment, Mathews' Comic Annual Vol. 2, written by his son, Charles J. Mathews, and Richard B. Peake. One critic wrote of the elder Mathews' performance: "We hold it to be one of Mr.Mathews' best volumes ... What is weak in it he strengthens and enriches; what is old he makes new; what is commonplace, he exalts" (Mathews, Memoirs of Charles J. Mathews, Comedian, vol. 4, p. 79).

As the Adelphi company closed out their season, the managers presented ten appearances by the French company of Mons. Potier with a repertory of twenty-one plays. These ran during June in alternation with Mathews' Comic Annual but received little attention in the London press. Among the principal performers were Mons. Potier, Mons. Guenee, Mons. Preval, Mlle. St. Ange, and Mlle. Florval.

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

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