The 1835-1836 Season

By Alicia Kae Koger

The Adelphi's 1835-36 season was financially and artistically the least successful season of the decade. In fact, the Adelphi company and its management offered more interesting action backstage than it did on stage. They produced thirty-seven plays during the 157-night season, none of which ran for more than 43 performances, indicating a luke-warm audience and critical response to the company's work. Remarks in the Times and the Theatrical Observer, however, hinted that perhaps the lack of artistic achievement could be attributed to management problems and personality conflicts behind the scenes.

The theatre opened its doors on 28 September 1835, under the management of Frederick Yates and Charles J. Mathews, who had inherited his share in the theatre from his father, Charles Mathews. Yates had little to do with the day-to-day operations of the theatre since he was serving as the acting manager at Drury Lane in the fall of 1835 (Pollock, Macready's Reminiscences, p. 359). The younger Mathews, who aspired to be an actor, faced several obstacles to financial success in his first experience as a manager. The company had lost some of its most popular actors, including Yates and his wife, Elizabeth, and comedian John Reeve, who was touring the United States. Historian Thomas Marshall notes that these "disadvantageous circumstances," along with the reduction of ticket prices at the Covent Garden Theatre and the severe competition that caused, "rendered Mr. Mathews' commencement so great a failure that after considerable loss, he consented to Mr. Yates' letting the theatre for the remainder of the season to Messrs. Ephraim Bond and company ... and eventually disposed of his share" (Lives of the Most Celebrated Actors, p. 193).

On Nov. 12, 13, and 14, 1835, there was "no performance in consequence of extensive preparations for Monday, the 16th" when Louisa Cranston Nisbett took over the management (bill, 9 November 1835). The closing of the Adelphi for any reason other than a holiday had been extremely rare during the 1830's and this move indicates that drastic action needed to be taken to prevent greater financial loss. Apparently, Mathews and Yates secured the assistance of the infamous Bond brothers, who are variously described as gamblers and money-lenders by contemporary sources. As proprietors of the Queen's Theatre in Tottenham Street, they employed Mrs. Nisbett as manager. On 16 November 1835, as promised in the bills of the previous week, she and "Mrs. Honey, Miss Murray, the Miss Mordaunts, Mr. Wrench, Mr. Williams, Mr. Mitchell, and others from the Queen's Theatre, in addition to the present powerful Adelphi Company," reopened the theatre with three new productions, Zarah, The Station House, and The Rival Pages.

Mrs. Nisbett opened the season's most popular play, John Buckstone's The Dream at Sea, on 23 November 1835. The play received little notice in the press, but apparently won some favor with the public since it ran for forty-three performances. Thomas's suggestion that the Adelphi felt the pressure of competition from lower ticket prices at other theatres is borne out in an advertisement that appeared on the 23 November bill for A Dream at Sea, which assures the public that "no means shall be left untried to sustain the present unparalleled success" and that "every effort shall be made to place it out of the power of the CHEAP theatres to compete."

Despite this and other noble proclamations by the management, the Adelphi continued to struggle. It opened play after play with no sustained success. On 23 December 1835, Mrs. Nisbett played her last performance there and returned to the Queen's, and all the other principal players she had brought with her except Mrs. Honey had left by January 2, 1836. Mrs. Stirling (also known as Fanny Clifton) made her Adelphi debut on 26 December 1835. She replaced Mrs. Nisbett and soon became a favorite with audiences and critics alike.

The traditional Christmas pantomime, The Elfin Queen; or The Battle of the Fairies, sustained a respectable run of 43 performances but received the scorn of the Times critic who remarked on the size of the actresses who played the fairies and declared that "the pantomime ... is not so good as that description of entertainment has usually been at this theatre" (28 December 1835). Late January and early February saw the opening of two other moderately successful plays, George Soane's Luke Somerton and Buckstone's Rienzi; or, The Last of the Tribunes. Each production introduced live horses to the stage, which seem to have both awed and frightened audiences. (See Times, 19 January 1836 and 4 February 1836.) Neither production became the hit the management desperately needed.

February brought more conflicts to the Adelphi's management. The 9 February edition of the Theatrical Observer reported that "determination ... to shut this Theatre has been abandoned" and that it "arose out of a dispute between [management] and some members of the company which has ended by the dissatisfied parties leaving the theatre." The writer refers to "strange stories concerning the quarrels, the jealousies, and the heart burnings at this theatre." The exact source of these conflicts is a mystery. We may find some clues, however, in the hint that on 4 February Laura Honey "was apparently not very well pleased with her part" (Times) and the fact that she abruptly left the theatre on 13 February. On 18 February, the Theatrical Observer reported "the cause of Mrs. Honey quitting this theatre is said to be her jealousy of Miss Daly, who is about to become the wife of one of the lessees," Mr. Bond. Mrs. Honey's departure did not go unnoticed by the Times critic, who noted in his 24 February review of The Balance of Comfort that "the absence of Mrs. Honey is a drawback on the amusements of the evening."

The season came to a close with Lenten entertainments by Edward Elton, Mrs. Fanny Fitzwilliam and Benjamin Webster. The final productions of the season were revivals of old Adelphi favorites, Victorine, and Oscar The Bandit. Perhaps the highlight of the season for the Adelphi's faithful audience was the announcement on closing night by the stage manager, Mr. Gallott, that in the next season "the theatre will be under the sole management of one who has long and indefatigably laboured for our amusement--that of Mr. Yates, assisted by the oldest and greatest favourites" (Times, 28 March 1836).

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

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