The 1847-1848 Season

By Gayle Harris

The attractions of the Adelphi continued to please the public for yet another season. In January, the Theatrical Times reported that the Adelphi had accomplished the feat of having been open for one thousand consecutive nights, "a circumstance without parallel in the history of the West-end theatre" (22 Jan 1848, p. 32).

The season was notable for the apparent absence of new attractions which were based upon or taken directly from French sources. What the motives of the Adelphi management were in taking this reverse tack are unrecorded; events later in the season suggest that filling the bills with works by British authors was not happenstance.

Moreover, although new pieces were frequently offered, they were withdrawn quickly if they failed to please. Five well-established productions were presented frequently: This House to be Sold, a musical extravaganza by Joseph S. Coyne, with 87 performances, Harvest Home, by Thomas Parry with 83 performances, How to Settle Accounts with Your Laundress, a farce by Coyne, with 75 productions, Our National Defences, another Coyne farce, and Pearl of the Ocean, a burlesque by Charles Selby.

It should also be noted that the plans for enlarging or rebuilding the Adelphi were delayed longer than the previous season's plans would have indicated. It was not until the end of the summer season that the Adelphi company moved to the Haymarket Theatre while renovations were being completed.

While the Adelphi carried through one more season with apparently wild success, its front-of-the-house personnel were not universally admired. Over only the pseudonym "A Voice from the Side-Wing," the Theatrical Times of 2 October 1847 (pp. 309-310) carried a scathing description of what Adelphi patrons endured.

The box-keepers were noted for their "incivility and excessive disobliging propensities," and the "proceedings in the upper box lobby, the saloon, and the slips, were such as would have disgraced a threepenny Casino." Noting that Adelphi box-keepers historically bore a reputation for discourtesy, the writer noted that of late they had developed a scheme of charging an undercover fee for late seating in the back boxes. "Now, obtaining a gratuity for every seat once during the night ought to be sufficient, one would imagine, to satisfy the most rapacious and cormorantly inclined box-keeper; but not so with the Adelphi sharks." At the end of the second piece of the evening, when many left the theatre, late comers would be admitted to the brief remainder of the program, but only upon payment of the full fee, plus gratuity for the box-keeper.

The writer then went on to list other "extortions." Patrons arriving too late to get an immediate seat were cajoled into paying a fee to obtain the first seat available. Once the fee was safely in the box-keeper's possession, the unlucky patron was forgotten. And, finally, Adelphi theatre-goers were expected to pay sixpence for the bill of the evening. While admitting that Manager Webster generally deserved the praise he enjoyed as a result of his management of the Haymarket, he was urged to attend to matters at the Adelphi: "The greater the education, respectability, and standing in society of the individual who holds the office of director, the greater the blame that attaches to him for countenancing the continuance of such abuses in the theatre." But if Manager Webster had succeeded in ridding his little theatre of French influence, the question was by no means settled in other London theatres. An unsigned article entitled "Foreign Dramatic Invasion" appeared in the the Sunday Times of June 4, 1848, and boldly attacked Queen Victoria and the aristocracy which followed her example for patronizing the French theatre, as well as her representative, the Lord Chamberlain, who licensed French productions.

Reaction was swift. On Monday, 12 June 1848, an agitated British crowd was assembled at Drury Lane for the Theatre Historique production of "The Count of Monte Cristo." As the Sunday Times reported:

The opponents were tolerably peaceable during the performance of "God Save the Queen" by the orchestra; but the raising of the curtain was the signal for unloosing the pent-up indignation of the anti-foreign party, who hooted, hissed, whistled, and groaned in the most discordant chorus, amidst which the cheers and plaudits of the French supporters were vigorously sustained (18 June 1848, p. 3).

Another, although somewhat milder, demonstration occurred on Wednesday evening, 14 June; and by announcement in the newspapers of Sunday, 18 June, the Theatre Historique announced that its final performance would take place on the following Monday and Wednesday. Upon this announcement, British partisans proclaimed total victory in routing the foreign invaders. It was rumoured that Mathews and Manager Webster himself paid the rioters, and posted bail for those who were arrested.

This season was the first to include a regularly scheduled series of matinee performances. Professor Hermann's magic show began on 14 February and continued until March 3, 1848.

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

Thank you for visiting this site. If you wish to contact the various Editors, please visit the Editor's Home Pages.