The 1833 Summer Season

By Alicia Kae Koger

The plans of Samuel J. Arnold to build a new English Opera House before the summer season of 1832 did not come to fruition and as a result, the company lacked a permanent home that summer and during the summer of 1833. The latter season at the Adelphi, which commenced on 8 April, proved to be a trying one for the management, as witnessed by this early report by the Theatrical Observer that the "season has commenced most inauspiciously, the house being every night very ill attended" (14 April 1833). The apparent cause of the low attendance was a flu epidemic which also prevented Charles Mathews from returning to London in time to begin his Comic Annual performances. In a letter to H. B. Gyles on 17 April 1833, Mathews wrote: "I should have opened with, I think, another good entertainment on Monday [22 April], but the epidemic...is a panic with a vengeance--worse than cholera, though not so fatal" (Mathews, Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian, IV, 162).

A remark in the Theatrical Observer on 22 April indicated, however, that the epidemic actually helped boost business at the Adelphi: "Mr. Arnold has benefited by the influenza greatly, for since the closing of other houses, his audiences have quadrupled" This jump in attendance did not ultimately save the season, though, because the Theatrical Observer reported on 20 May: "We are sorry to hear it reported that Mr. Arnold has resigned the responsibility of manager of this company for the present in consequence of the badness of the houses" (Theatrical Observer, 20 April, 1833). In his autobiography, James Robinson Planche writes that Arnold asked him to take over the management for the season but that he was unable to serve his old friend in that capacity (Recollections and Reflections of James Robinson Planche, I, 192). Finally, the Observer reported on May 31 "Mr. Arnold intends resuming his interest in the concern in July." Then in the middle of June this development was reported:

It was intended to have closed this theatre on Thursday last until the beginning of July, when Mr. Arnold renews his managership, but we understand that the company have made an arrangement by which they will continue to perform on their own responsibility. Mr. Arnold lost 1000 pounds this present season, before he withdrew from the concern (Theatrical Observer).

During the English Opera Company's management of the Adelphi, problems continued to plague them. The Athenaeum reported that the leading actors sacrificed their own salaries for the good of the company: "For some time after the company resolved to take the theatre into their own hands, the receipts were very moderate; and, while this was the case, the salaries of the humbler classes were paid in full, the principals acting for nothing" (22 June, 1833, p. 404). In fact, one member of the company, Benjamin Wrench, even tried to negotiate with the Adelphi's proprietors for a reduction of the rent. According to the Theatrical Observer of 17 June, "Mr. Wrench waited on Messrs. Mathews and Yates, for a short time since, and after stating the situation in which the performers were placed, requested them to make a reduction in the rent of 10 pounds per week; they, however, refused, saying that they could compel Mr. Arnold to pay the full amount he had agreed for." Arnold finally returned to the Adelphi in July and finished out the season, which ran through 21 September. Despite all the financial struggles, 33 plays were staged and 114 performances were given.

The summer season of 1833 included many revivals of old favorites which ran briefly and then closed. Among those plays were The Bottle Imp, The Middle Temple, Gretna Green, Wanted, A Governess, and The Evil Eye. Richard B. Peake proved to be the most popular playwright of the summer with seven of his plays appearing on the bills. The most popular play of the summer, William Bernard's The Mummy, ran for 71 performances and "succeeded in attracting [audiences] beyond anything that the season has produced" (Times, 4 June 1833). Another favorite proved to be Thomas Searle's The Yeoman's Daughter which, although written for Fanny M. Kelly, was successfully acted by Harriet Waylett. The Athenaeum pronounced the musical drama "very well written" and praised the performance of Mr. Salter as well (27 July 1833, p. 500).

Throughout the season the Times critic repeatedly remarked about the small size of the Adelphi stage and its unsuitability for large-scale productions like those done by the English Opera Company. However, when Planche's opera The Court Masque; or, Richmond in Olden Time opened on 9 September, critics forgot about the limitations of the theatre and saw only the merits of this landmark production. The Athenaeum lamented that "it is a pity that the most creditable piece of the season should not have been produced until within a fortnight of its termination" (14 September 1833, p. 620). The critic went on to describe the acting as "above average," but paid particular attention to the style with which the production was mounted. He wrote that Planche "has gracefully thrown over the whole, the mantle and manners of the period.... [The] dresses and general arrangement give good evidence of [his] intimate knowledge of these very essential matters." The Theatrical Observer remarked upon The Planche's great "tact and dramatic skill" (11 September 1833) and gave particular attention to the visual elements of the production. "The opera has been got up with great care as far as regards scenery and dresses, all of which were new, picturesque, and appropriate; the first dress worn by Miss Murray is an exact copy of Holbein's celebrated picture of Anne Boleyn" (Theatrical Observer, 10 September 1833). The production marked a significant attempt at historical accuracy by James Robinson Planche and the Adelphi designers, Tompkins and Pitt.

At the end of the season, Thomas Searle addressed the audience on behalf of S. J. Arnold by conveying his "sincere thanks for the patronage with which you have honoured this establishment during a period of calamity and general depression almost unparalleled in theatrical history" (Times, 23 September 1833). He also noted that "many difficulties have hitherto prevented the building of the new English Opera House, but that those vexatious impediments have been gradually removed ... and there is now every reason to hope that a very few months will enable him to welcome his friend and the public in a theatre worthy of them." He pledged that Arnold would restore "the English Opera at least to that degree of credit which it had acquired for some years before the disastrous event which drove him to an asylum where all his energies have been cramped and his main object defeated." Indeed, the summer of 1833 was the last season that Arnold and the English Opera Company occupied the Adelphi Theatre.

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

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