The 1831-1832 Season

By Alicia Kae Koger

The 1831-32 season opened on 3 October 1831, less than a week after that of the English Opera Company. The writer for the Athenaeum noted that "the constant occupation by the English Opera Company has prevented any novelty in the way of decoration; but the house does not appear to need it" (24 September 1831, p. 621). Indeed, the conditions of the house seem to have had very little bearing on the theatre's popularity, for this was to become one of the Adelphi's most successful seasons. During it, the company performed 27 plays for a total 212 performances. Although it was rumored during the season that Charles Mathews was negotiating to sell his share of the Adelphi to Mr. Liston (Theatrical Observer, 14 December 1831), nothing came of this arrangement and Mathews remained in partnership with Frederick Yates.

The highlight of the Adelphi's 1831-32 season was John Buckstone's melodrama, Victorine; or, I'll Sleep on It, which delighted audiences and critics alike, running for ninety performances. This moral tale focused on a woman who, faced with the choice of two suitors, goes to sleep and dreams about what her life might be like if she married the less desirable of the two. The Spectator announced in a review reprinted by the Adelphi management that "the idea is good, the acting is as near perfection as may be, and the effect is excellent." The Morning Herald exclaimed, "the scenery and appointments can be exceeded by none." The Times concurred, saying "the whole piece has been got up with great care" (19 October 1831). Most attention focused on Elizabeth Yates' performance as Victorine, which was labeled "realistic" and "perfect" by the critics. The descriptions of her acting note its truth and effectiveness; the Athenaeum called it "the most real exhibition now on the stage" (17 December 1831, p. 821). These accolades explain why historian Westland Marston labeled Mrs. Yates "clearly one of the forerunners of realism" (Our Recent Actors, Vol. 1, p. 20).

Another highly successful offering that October was a burlesque called Hyder Ali; or, The Lions of Mysore. The piece parodied a controversial melodrama by the same name, concurrently playing at Drury Lane, which involved live wild animals. The Times reported on 27 October 1831, that "Mr. Yates was in treaty with the pantomime actor (M. Martin), for himself and his beasts, before there was any notion of bringing them out upon a stage supposed to be dedicated to the legitimate drama, and ... the higher prices offered by the proprietor of the Drury Lane put an end to the negotiation." Yates' response was to have his resident playwright, John Buckstone, construct a burlesque of the popular piece. Critics and audiences loved the show; the Athenaeum commented that the actors' impersonation of the wild animals promised "to be more profitable and less expensive than the real ones ... It is a most amusing parody on the others" (29 October 1831, p. 708). Only one person went on record as having disapproved of the Adelphi production. Charles Mathews told the Parliamentary Select Committee on Dramatic Literature that he had not consented to it and that "it should not have been done if I had been present" (Mathews, Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian, IV, 489).

In addition to these two successes, Buckstone contributed five other plays to the Adelphi's repertory that season. He "was principally engaged at the Haymarket [as a comic actor, but] all his more ambitious plays were for the Adelphi" wrote Maurice Disher in Blood and Thunder (p. 220). Buckstone suited his plays to the talents of the Adelphi company, with leading male roles for Frederick Yates, leading female roles for Elizabeth Yates, secondary female roles for Fanny Fitzwilliam, and comic roles for himself and John Reeve. Frank Rahill writes in The World of Melodrama that "plays everywhere ... were written more or less with the special talents of particular companies in mind ... but the practice of carpentering pieces to a company was developed to a higher degree at the Adelphi than elsewhere" (p. 166). This perhaps explains why so many of the pieces met with such great acclaim.

In addition to the triumphs of Elizabeth Yates and John Buckstone, the 1831-32 season featured the debut of Madame Celine Celeste, the French actress who would later manage the Adelphi. Her first appearance was as Hope Gough in William Bernard's The Wept of the Wish -Ton-Wish. It was a non-speaking role. Although the play received indifferent reviews, Mme. Celeste was praised for her dancing and stage-fighting abilities. The Theatrical Observer said she "displayed some fine specimens of expressive gesticulation" (23 November 1831), hinting at the actress' future success on the Adelphi stage.

Scenery and spectacle, designed by Mr. Tompkins and Mr. Pitt, merited special attention during this season. Robert Le Diable, the result of a collaboration by Fitzball, Buckstone, and the composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer, received great praise for its tableaux vivants, which were "most beautifully arranged, generally admired and greatly applauded" (Athenaeum, 28 January 1832, p. 68). The scenery for The Forgery; or, The Reading of the Will by Buckstone included reproductions of two paintings.

The Examiner reported on 11 March 1832:

Two scenes were greatly admired: the first was a realization of Wilkie's "Village Politicians," the other of his "Reading of the Will"; both were very good--the latter, indeed, was most excellent; it could not have been so well done on any larger stage; the characters exactly filled the scene in most perfect grouping ... the artist has reason to be satisfied with the arrangement of the manager. He has done ample justice to his original.

Finally, a burlesque called The Printer's Devil; or, A Type of the Old One, presented in March 1832, was "based on Hogarth's 'The Idle Apprentice,'" according to Martin Meisel (Realizations, p. 116). Meisel notes that "the Adelphi was the theatre most given to the embodiment of illustrative fiction as pictorial drama" (p. 251). No doubt this would not have been the case if not for the talents of Tompkins and Pitt.

The Adelphi season of 1831-32 closed with benefits for Elizabeth Yates (5 April 1832) and John Reeve (12 April 1832). The bill for the latter date indicates that this was a command performance since it features the Royal Coat of Arms. Charles Mathews presented his Comic Annual of 1833 during May, June, and July, once again garnering critical acclaim. The final performance at the Adelphi this season was the 7 August benefit for the widow and children of John Isaacs, featuring four plays that were not part of the regular Adelphi repertory and several actors from other companies.

© 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.