The 1844-1845 Season

By Franklin Case and Mary Case

Benjamin N. Webster became the lessee for the 1844-1845 Adelphi Theatre season, which opened on 28 September 1844 with performances of Mother and Son, The Belle of the Hotel; or, American Sketches, Norma, and How to Pay the Rent. The director for this season was Mme. Celeste; Edward Stirling continued as stage manager.

The opening address for the season was written by Gilbert A. a Beckett and spoken by Mrs. Frederick H. Yates. The theatre had been entirely redecorated and repainted in the recess by T. Ireland, and the boxes so arranged as to give an unrestricted view of the stage. Careful attention was paid to ventilation, as the smell of gas was irritating and inescapable at all theatres of the day. In addition, "a splendid new chandelier in glass has been introduced at considerable expense, executed by Mr. Phillips, also a new curtain and new act drop designed and painted by Mr. C. Marshall" (Theatrical Observer, 24 September 1844).

Two minor pieces received passing note in the Theatrical Observer. Mother and Son was dismissed--"Little can be said in its favour as a dramatic piece; it, however, received some applause through the excellent acting of O. Smith, Lambert, Mrs. Yates, and Mme. Celeste" (30 September). The Fox and the Goose fared better. "It is an adaptation from the French and was exceedingly well played by Hudson, Paul Bedford, Cowell and Mrs. Fitzwilliam. It is interspersed with some pretty music composed by Ambrose Thomas, arranged by Mr. T. German Reed" (3 October 1844).

With great flourish, Benjamin Webster made his first appearance on the Adelphi boards in Don Caesar de Bazan. The golden age of Adelphi dramas was about to begin. Under the joint managership of Webster and Mme. Celeste, the theatre increased its reputation. A long series of plays by John Baldwin Buckstone added materially to the success of the house. The Theatrical Observer, (15 October) recorded the historic moment.

There was a simultaneous burst of applause from all parts of the house which lasted some minutes ... his acting throughout the drama was excellent, and his well-known talent found ample scope in the character of Don Caesar. The drama has been dramatised, we believe, by Mr. Bourcicault [sic], and he has displayed much judgment in its construction. Mme. Celeste was the Maritina; her performance of the Neapolitan girl was truly natural ... she danced the Tarantella of Napoli with Miss Woolgar [whose] style of acting did not suit the part of Lazarillo. It is impossible for her to keep a serious face (15 October 1844).

Nicoll lists the author of The Belle of the Hotel; or, American Sketches as unknown, and says it was the same piece acted at Niblo's Garden, New York (August 1842) "written to display the versatility of Fanny Fitzwilliam who was there on a visit." The bill, however, clearly gives John B. Buckstone as the author.

Victorine; or, I'll Sleep on It was revived for this season with "new scenery, dresses, properties, and decorations." But it played only 12 times.

One of the great successes of the season was The Mysterious Stranger, and from the reviews printed on the bill of 29 October 1844, it is clear that the play had a sensational effect on its audiences. The plot was as follows. Count Henry de Beausoleil (Hudson) supposes he has given a bond to Satan for his wealth. The bond falls due, but His Grand Satanic Majesty grants a respite of twenty-four hours. All the Count's former friends desert him in his time of need, and he believes himself lost. He is ultimately discovered sleeping on a sofa by a young woman who has long loved him (Mme. Celeste). It was she who personated Satan to show the Count the folly of his ways.

The public press was much taken with the piece, and numerous extracts were printed on the bills. The Times reported that

A scene in a night-cellar, the resort of thieves, in which the banker takes refuge in order to obtain a forged passport to secure his escape, and where the young lady has previously gained admittance in the disguise of a gamin, was particularly effective. Mme. Celeste, who played 'the Mysterious Stranger,' was admirably 'made-up', in all her disguises, and acted the part with great pointedness, and at the same time with quiet discretion of manner ... Selby, as a thoroughly heartless parasite, endowed with a wonderful flow of animal spirits, and Mrs. F. Matthews, who was very funny as a widow ... no doubt the piece will prove a thorough 'hit.'

The Morning Post agreed. "That this strange but effective drama will prove the greatest hit of the season we do not entertain a doubt. It is the very thing for the Adelphi--full of mystery, strong excitement, and delicious improbability."

The Mysterious Stranger's author is listed on the bill as Charles Selby, but it is noted also that the work was "founded on a comedie vaudeville by Mssrs. Clairville et Damarin called Satan; ou, Le Diable A Paris."

English authors were adapted with equal vigor. Mrs. Caudle at Home and Abroad was "adapted from renowned papers in Punch by Douglas Jerrold." A new Dickens work led to yet another Adelphi dramatization of the great novelist. Dickens had made an agreement with Madame Celeste to permit Mark Lemon to adapt it. A new drop-scene painted for the occasion represented the title page of the work. If the novelist had hoped to forestall other dramatizations, he was unsuccessful--five versions were performed including one by The Adelphi favorite Edward Stirling played at The Lyceum.

The Theatrical Observer said, "We have seldom seen actors take so much pain with their parts ... O. Smith's Toby Veck was capital as were Hudson's Will Fern, Selby's Richard, and Miss Fortescue's Meggy Veck. This young lady's sweet acting gave general satisfaction" (19 December 1844).

The pantomime was Cat's Castle; or, Harlequin and the King of the Rats. According to the bill, it was "founded on a categorical and doggrel poem, written by a laureate who invoked the mews in the Middle Ages, called Cat's Castle and how it was beseiged and taken by the rats."

The Theatrical Observer, 28 December gave it a stamp of approval. "There are numerous good changes in the piece, and the Clown and Pantaloon's practical jokes create incessant laughter. Harlequin and Columbine dance with much ease and agility, and the scenery, dresses, etc. were appropriate and magnificent. The pantomime was loudly applauded throughout."

An arbitrary date, 30 August, was selected by the editors as the season's end because there was no summer break.

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

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