The 1834-1835 Season

By Alicia Kae Koger

The final season of Charles Mathews' joint management of the Adelphi Theatre with Frederick Yates opened on 29 September 1834, after considerable redecoration and remodeling of the theatre's interior. The opening night bill announced that "the audience part of the theatre has been re-painted and re-decorated, a new movable stage constructed, and the stage encreased [sic] to double its former extent." The season ran for 163 nights; a total of 29 plays were presented; the theatre closed on 11 April 1835. Because Mathews was indisposed during the bulk of the season, Yates had almost complete responsibility for the theatre's management.

John Buckstone once again scored the hit of the season with The Last Days of Pompeii; or, Seventeen Hundred Years Ago, a melodrama based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel. The play ran for 64 nights and received lavish praise from the critics and copious applause from audiences. The Times declared that "the scenery and dresses appeared to be new, and were both appropriate and splendid, and the eruption of Vesuvius in the last scene conveyed to the spectator a good idea of the terrors of that awful, natural phenomenon" (14 December 1834). The Morning Post exclaimed in a review reprinted by the theatre's management, "On the boards of no theatre, whether major or minor, and by no manager, great or small, could the numerous scenic incidents and complicated mechanical effects of such a drama be more perfectly displayed than as witnessed last night on the boards of the Adelphi Theatre, under the superintendence of Mr. Yates."

Yet another spectacular production, Celestia; or, The World in the Moon by Dalrymple, received plaudits from the critics when it opened on 2 February 1835. The Times declared that the "splendour of decoration and brilliancy of scenic effect surpasses anything that we have hitherto witnessed at this house." The house machinist, and scenic designers Tompkins and Pitt merited these remarks from the same critic: "The story ... affords an ample field for the imagination of the painter ... and [the] skill of those very important personages in all melodramatic pieces, the machinist and fire- worker." The work of costumers, Godbee and Miss E. Rayner, was recognized when the Athenaeum declared that the "dresses are very splendid" (7 February 1835, p. 114).

Buckstone provided yet another successful script with The Christening, which opened on 13 October. The 49-performance run and the play's enduring popularity with Adelphi audiences throughout the decade may be attributed to the source of the piece. Although it was unacknowledged in the theatre's publicity, Charles Dickens claimed the popular comedy had been pirated from his "The Bloomsbury Christening," which had appeared in the Monthly Magazine that previous April. Dickens protested the "kidnapping" of his "offspring" in a letter to the editor of the Monthly Magazine, writing: "I find that Mr. Buckstone has officiated as self-elected godfather, and carried off my child to the Adelphi, for the purpose, probably, of fulfilling one of his sponsorial duties, viz., of teaching it the vulgar tongue" (Dickens, I, 42). Ironically, he reviewed the play favorably in the Morning Chronicle saying, "we hope and believe [it] will have a long run" (14 October 1834). The editors of Dickens' letters claim only "the title, the type of name given to the godfather ... and some jokes and phrases were borrowed" (Dickens, I, 42). Nevertheless, the play "christened" a long and profitable relationship between the Adelphi and the writings of Charles Dickens.

Repeatedly throughout the season, critics referred to the crowding of the houses and the enormous size of the audiences in attendance. For The Christening, the house was "filled from top to bottom" (Times, 21 October 1834). During Oscar the Bandit, which opened a week later, the Times referred to the "continued and clamourous plaudits of an overflowing house" (21 October 1834). When another Buckstone melodrama Agnes De Vere opened on 10 November, "the house was crowded in all parts" (Times, 11 November 1834) and during The First Night by Thomas Parry, "the house was crowded to an overflow in every part" (Times, 28 November 1834). Yates' Martyr's Day performance of his one-man show, Mr. Yates' Views of Himself and Others attracted such a crowd that the Times reviewer commented upon the "total incapability of the house to contain so dense a throng as waited in the lobbies for admittance" (31 January 1835). These reports verify the description of the Adelphi by a contemporary writer in 1835 as "by far the most fashionably attended theatre in London" (Quoted by Mander and Michenson, The Theatres of London, p. 17).

Ironically, Charles Mathews apparently saw little of the monetary rewards of this critical and popular success. Forced to tour the United States to supplement his income, Mathews fell ill while overseas and never regained his health. On 31 January 1835, Mrs. Mathews wrote this bitter letter to her son:

It is alarming to find that, in the fullness of 'the Adelphi's success,' no emolument arises to any but the performers and the tradesmen. Out of these enormous receipts, all gone without a shilling your father can call profit. The building is not large enough to pay for splendor and salaries which Drury Lane cannot now afford. This should be seen to. It is a fallacy to say the concern prospers because the houses are filled ... (Mathews, Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian, IV, p. 339).

Though Mathews cut short his American tour and returned home to recuperate, he never appeared on the British stage again. He died a poor man on 28 June 1835, at the age of fifty-nine.

In Mathews' absence, Frederick Yates took over the daily management of the Adelphi operations. In addition to acting in several productions, he frequently received credit in the bills and reviews for having supervised (or directed) the productions. Playwright Edward Fitzball commended Yates' creativity when he wrote, "Yates ... had great discernment when an original idea was stated to him, however absurd it might have appeared to others; he could extract the wheat from the chaff" (Fitzball, Thirty-Five Years in a Dramatic Author's Life, I, 261-62). Writing in an 1839 review of a production of Jack Sheppard at the Adelphi, an unidentified critic observed, "Yates has earned a deserved celebrity for producing what are called 'effects;' and often have we seen things done upon the little stage of the Adelphi that put to blush the effects of other managers." (Quoted by Meisel, Realizations, p. 251.) Yates' unfailing theatrical instincts, in combination with Charles Mathews' immense comic talents, resulted in the vast popularity of the Adelphi Theatre between 1830 and 1835. With the exception of the following season, Yates was to continue to steer the theatre to greater success in the second half of the decade.

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

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