The 1833-1834 Season

By Alicia Kae Koger

The opening of the 1833-34 Adelphi season brought more changes to the interior of Yates' and Mathews' popular house. The Theatrical Observer announced that "although this theatre will not have been closed more than a week, it will present on its reopening night quite a novel appearance, having been entirely redecorated in that short interval, to effect which more than 100 workmen having been employed" (27 September 1833). After the 30 September opening, the Theatrical Observer reported "the house has assumed quite a new face; the blue silk draperies and fringes have been removed from the fronts of the boxes, and burnished gold ornaments substituted which have a very pleasing effect" (1 October 1833). Of particular interest was the box engaged by the Duchess of St. Albans which had been constructed from two previously existing boxes (Theatrical Observer, 27 September 1833). H. Barton Baker reports that the Duchess (formerly Miss Melton) was a special friend and patron of Yates who "frequently came to his assistance" during times of financial hardship (History of the London Stage, p. 423). Perhaps it was for her "particular desire" that a special performance of Victorine was presented on 22 March (see bill). The season closed on 4 July 1834, after 24 plays had been presented in 191 performances.

Yates and Mathews faced some significant personnel problems as the 1833-34 season opened. According to the Theatrical Observer of 26 September 1833, the Company had grown to 140 performers, including four leading actresses: Harriett Waylett, Fanny Fitzwilliam, Laura Honey, and Elizabeth Yates. That publication had noted on 16 September 1833, that the contention of these four ladies for the "first business ... will give the manager sufficient employment." Indeed the Observer had anticipated a problem which did surface with the opening of the first show, Lekinda, The Sleepless Woman. On 1 October he explained: "Mrs. Honey played the part of Mme. Poupette which was intended for Mrs. Fitzwilliam, but in consequence of a misunderstanding, the latter lady threw up her engagement at this theatre." In a self-congratulatory tone, he added, "We foresaw that Mr. Yates would have great difficulty in reconciling the clashing interests of his ladies." Despite this problem, Baker wrote "this house could boast of companies which made the name of the minor theatre famous throughout the dramatic world" (p. 423).

As in the previous season, none of the 1833-34 offerings achieved the popularity of The Wreck Ashore or Victorine, but John Buckstone's burletta, The Rake and His Pupil; or, Folly, Love, and Marriage, did run for 53 performances. When it opened on Nov. 25, the Theatrical Observer proclaimed that it "bids fair to rival in popularity the most attractive of the Adelphi pieces" (27 November 1833). The Times agreed that the play "must be added to the long list of deservedly successful pieces" presented at the Adelphi (26 November 1833).

Elizabeth Yates received special acclaim for her acting again this season by starring in Henry Holl's Grace Huntley. Proclaimed "a real Adelphi drama" by the Athenaeum on 2 November 1833 (p. 740), the melodrama featured Mrs. Yates as an innocent girl married to an unscrupulous criminal. The New Monthly Magazine for 1833 declared, "We must observe that the acting of Mrs. Yates ... is just as near perfection as anything on a stage can be. She is a Garrick in petticoats" (pt. III, p. 351). The play ran for 48 performances.

Another favorite of the season was a musical extravaganza by Pitt called Lurine; or, The Revolt of the Naiades [sic]. The play's spectacle attracted the most attention from critics like the writer for the Times who said: "We have seen nothing at any of the minor theatres that in point of brilliancy at all approaches it. The scenery, by Messrs. Tompkins and Pitt, would do credit to any theatre" (14 January 1834). The Athenaeum's critic seconded that opinion when he wrote: "The machinery and the general getting up of the piece touch closely, when we consider the difficulties to be surmounted in so small a theatre, upon the wonderful" (18 January 1834, p. 52). An interesting note concerning this production appears in Mathews' biography. The co-manager apparently did not approve of the production's concept when first introduced by his partner. He wrote to his wife on 15 December 1833, "I wrote my objections to the 'harem-'scar'em scheme ... I told him it was, in my opinion, disgraceful:--but what a mockery it is of Yates asking my consent!" (Mathews, Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian, IV, 248).

Mathews had, in fact, spent much of the season away from London recovering from various illnesses. He returned to the city in April to present "a succession of selections from his old entertainments" (Mathews, p. 281). The resulting pieces were billed as two different shows: Mathews at Home, Comic Annual, which ran for 26 performances, and Mr. Mathews at Home with His Comic Annual, which ran for 10 nights. Critics responded with their usual praise, calling Mathews "a living Hogarth" (Times, 5 May 1834).

When the regular season closed at the end of March after benefits honoring Elizabeth Yates, John Reeve and Laura Honey, Yates proclaimed this to be "a most successful season--the shortest we have ever played under, but the most brilliant" and bragged that "no expense is spared for your amusement" (Times, 24 March 1834). Unfortunately, according to Mathews' widow and H. Barton Baker, the managers' profits did not reflect the plays' critical and popular success. Baker writes that "somehow, [the Adelphi] could not be made to pay; whether it was badly managed, or managers lived beyond their means, or the public were not sufficiently liberal in their support, it would be difficult to determine" (p. 423). Anne Mathews indicates throughout the fourth volume of her husband's biography that the actor-manager constantly struggled in his later years to make ends meet. It appears that by the end of the 1833-34 season the extravagance which had made the Adelphi so popular began to take a toll on the theatre's managers.

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

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