The 1845-1846 Season

By Gayle Harris

The Adelphi bill of 25 September 1845, proclaimed: "Glorious Success. Adelphi Success! Palmy Days of Triumph! really overflowing houses! AND A COMPANY OF TALENT NOT TO BE BEATEN!!"

Such excess seems to have been justified. To celebrate the success an elegant supper was given for the management and cast. Representing the latter, Paul Bedford presented to manager Ben Webster a silver facsimile of the Warwick Vase as "a token to their regard for his unwearied exertions and perseverance, and to commemorate the uprecedented prolongation of the season" (Times, 28 September 1845, p. 6).

Adaptations of French plays were standard fare at other London theatres as well as the Adelphi. A correspondent to the Theatrical Times (24 October 1846), assessed this trend:

[Those] unacquainted with the proceedings behind the curtain, must be astonished at the number of translations from the French that are continually palmed upon the public; and must naturally conclude therefrom that there is a dearth of native dramatic talent, whereas the sole cause of this state of affairs is the fact of the indolence or want of enterprise in managers generally. They are unwilling to incur the risk of producing a play which may prove unsuccessful, and therefore they prefer translating one which has received the fiat of approval from an audience (although that audience be a foreign one, and the tastes of the French are in dramatic respects widely different from our own.) Yet, nevertheless, they think that with a little mutilation and a few alterations, it may be rendered palatable for a short time, and thus save them the outlay of much expenditure.... Some thousands of plays of all kinds are every season submitted to the managers of our theatres, for their approval. They are taken in, doomed never to see the light again until called for by the authors, to whom they are returned unread (p. 165).

Although adaptations from the French abounded, the season did produce multiple variations on one work of English origin, and the Adelphi, on 31 December 1845, produced the second of what was to become a plague of crickets, based upon Dickens' The Cricket On The Hearth. In all, seventeen versions were presented at various London theatres during the holiday season.

Charles Dickens apparently wrote the story in ready form for pirates to plagiarize, dividing the story into three "chirps," or acts (although the Adelphi production was given in only two chirps), and providing dialogue that could be simply lifted in sequence--possibly to preserve the integrity of the original version.

The previous year, the Adelphi had produced Dickens' authorized version of The Chimes, but, for Cricket, Dickens instead gave sanction and advance proofsheets to the Keeleys for use at the Lyceum but was powerless to prohibit the multitude of productions at other houses. From the simultaneous publication of the story and first authorized dramatic production at the Lyceum on 20 December 1845, it took Edward Stirling only eleven days to produce a version, and subsequent adaptations rapidly appeared at the Victoria, City of London, Albert Saloon, Marylebone, Queen's, Pavilion, Garrick, Effingham Saloon, Standard, Haymarket, Bower Saloon, Olympic, Grecian, and Apollo Saloon. It may be fairly asserted that Dickens reaped no reward for his assistance to the adapters of these various productions.

The Sunday Times of 17 January 1847 (p. 3), under the heading, "The Stage as It Is" presented a critical analysis of the theatre in general and the causes of its "decline": (1) exorbitant rents charged by proprietors to lessees, leading the latter to adopt dubious schemes approaching extortion to meet the rents (2) rehearsals which were too few and too careless, actors seldom if ever studying parts at home (3) scenery which is seldom built and in place before the first performance (4) the custom of admitting the "dame du pave" frequently by free admission on the theory that they are an "attraction" (5) callous treatment of actors by, for example, having them line up for the "opening of the treasury," and posting substitutions openly in the Green-room--putting the actor who has been substituted into the mortifying position of having everyone know that he has taken a part refused by someone else.

There was, finally, an event in the personal life of the manageress, Madame Celine Celeste, which bears recording. The New York Herald of 7 June 1846, reported that the daughter of Mme. Celeste, by her marriage to a Mr. Elliott, had eloped. The girl, as a child, had been left in Baltimore under the care of Mr. Johnson. In the meantime, the young son of the guardian had grown and reached maturity with the girl, and "without asking the consent of either 'ma or 'pa, they proceeded on a visit to the parson, and became indissolubly united for the remainder of their lives." As both enjoyed considerable financial security, their future seemed assured (New York Herald, 7 June 1846).

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

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