The 1864-1865 Season

By Alfrida Lee

After a break of one week, the season opened on 3 October with a full change of program from the previous season and with John Collins, who had returned to London after eighteen years, new to the company. There is no doubt that his particular talents and his reputation, enhanced by his recent experience in America, accounted for the choice of plays. He was the star performer in Irish pieces until the end of his engagement on 19 November. The Observer (9 October) recalls him as "a meritorious singer and actor" with a good brogue, who sang Irish melodies "with taste and feeling." He appeared in The Irish Ambassador, which was given for the "first time" at the Adelphi (playbill) and Teddy the Tiler, both giving opportunities for his impersonations of Irish character and his singing of Irish songs.

Rory O'Moore, the main piece, billed as "a serio-comic Adelphi drama," was introduced on 10 October. The Athenaeum (15 October), commenting on the three plays, stated that Collins had "created a considerable interest for his impersonation of the Irish character to which he gives especial vitality.... He sings with such humour and force as to secure several encores." These Irish pieces, played throughout October, made a good start to the season. The last of the Irish pieces to be given was a revival of The Colleen Bawn, performed for a fortnight in November. John Collins undertook the role of Miles-na-Coppaleen, first played by Dion Boucicault. Songs were introduced into the part, all of them encored. The final comment of the Athenaeum (19 November) was "altogether, it was well played; but many of the mechanical effects were absent." Clearly, there was no attempt at reproducing Boucicault's "famous header," and disappointment may well have been felt by the audience.

Of the other plays of the first two months of the season, a new one, Brough and Halliday's Doing Banting, was as topical as ever. The plot is about an impostor, passing himself off as a lecturer on Banting's system (a cure for obesity by dieting). He imposes upon an overweight Alderman who "wishes with his household to be reduced to genteel proportions." The impostor is suspected on account of his "indiscriminate eating" and is finally recognized by a young surgeon present at the dinner. The credulity of society is mocked in a song by the professor, "which commanded applause." In a few words spoken before the fall of the curtain, the authors disclaimed any intention of "casting a slur upon Mr. Banting, himself. Acted with humour and abounding with practical pleasantries, Doing Banting is perfectly successful" (Times, 27 October). It ran for fifty-four performances.

In November, Masks and Faces was revived, but the outstanding new piece was Workmen of Paris; or, The Dramas of the Wine Shop. It was an adaptation of Les Drames de Cabaret by Dennery and Dumanoir. The plot is developed from a murder the main character, Van Gratz, committed while drunk. "Nearly every personage in the piece becomes intoxicated, and does some mischief while under the baneful influence of alcohol." It seemed to justify the comment that it was "as teetotal in its tendency as any leader of a band of hope could desire" (Times, 2 December). The scenery by Gates and his associates evoked commendation from the Atheneum (3 December). "Two of the scenes transcend any previous example.... Others are exceedingly picturesque." The Times added that the scene painter received "well merited applause." The play did not "abound in great parts, the one exception being Van Gratz, played by Webster, which may well rank among his finest impersonations." It was of inordinate length, lasting nearly five hours on the opening night, and needed curtailment. "But ... so ... superbly put upon the stage, [it] cannot fail to be attractive for a considerable length of time." Nevertheless, twenty-eight performances seem a short run for a play given so much preparation.

The new year brought the return of Kate Bateman to the Adelphi. On 2 January, Leah was revived. At the end of the month, she appeared as Julia in The Hunchback, a role new for her in England. The Times (31 January) saw it as a kind of "test piece," in which she "had to prove she is not a one-part actress.... The ordeal was successfully passed." For the company as a whole, the judgment was favorable, making the point that the play made demands on a company "ordinarily employed in dramas of the most modern date and school. The way in which it was played was most creditable."

The play had only just been launched when Miss Bateman fell ill and the program had to be changed. John Toole's appearance in Stephen Digges and in The Flowers of the Forest saved the day. More than a fortnight later, on 17 February, a copy of a doctor's certificate was published in the Times, stating plainly that Miss Bateman had bronchitis and was, therefore, unable to appear. On 6 March, an announcement was made in the Times to the effect that she would appear in The Hunchback on Tuesday (7 March), Thursday, and Saturday. The Prince and Princess of Wales attended her performance on 9 March. After only eighteen performances its run ended on 8 April. Other plays had been introduced. Of The Steeplechase by J. M. Morton the Times (25 March) reported:

Mr. J. M. Morton never let loose his innate spirit of "fun" with more determined recklessness or to better practical purpose than in a new farce called The Steeplechase which keeps the Adelphi audience in an incessant roar, and thus consoles them for the pain they have endured in sympathizing with Miss Bateman's Julia.

Kate Bateman continued to be a great attraction of the season. Her next role was Bianca in the tragedy of Fazio; or, the Italian Wife. The Times (10 May) considered this to be "the most artistic of her performances." The Observer (14 May) thought that "her art consists chiefly in making certain points with great effort, not in filling up by numerous details of expression, the author's draft of character, or on any thoughtful elaboration of the conception."

There were only twelve performances in three weeks. The last piece in which she appeared was Geraldine, a play written for her by her mother. The Times (15 June) again made favorable comment on her performance but considered the play too long. "Interest does not even begin until the third act is half over." The play was obviously a success--"Miss Bateman was called for at the end of all but the second act. But there is nothing in this to obviate the necessity of abridgement." The Observer (18 June) made even harsher criticisms of the play:

The piece is deficient in power, as well as in dramatic construction, and the story, as treated in the play, appears even more commonplace than it actually is. The characters are utterly conventional ... with no actuality, no distinct personality.

The review gave detailed consideration of Kate Bateman's performance, including some defects.

By this time it must not be a question whether Miss Bateman is an artist of the highest class, but whether certain excellences overbalance undoubted defects; whether the practice of making points effectively atones for the absence of that higher dramatic faculty that enables an artist to assume and develop the true personation of a character.

The audience, however, expressed "the most demonstrative approval" of the performance. It was played nightly until her farewell benefit two weeks later.

It is not possible to know what were the original intentions for her appearances in this season. It seems that her ill health may have accounted for the short runs and intermittent showing of plays that had required so much preparation. It is evident that she was popular with Adelphi audiences, but no play in which she appeared in 1866 compared with the tremendous success of Leah in the previous season.

There was no shortage of other new plays during the season. Pan; or, The Loves of Echo and Narcissus by H. J. Byron appeared in April. It was, said the Times (12 April), "one of Byron's least felicitous achievements." The play attempted to combine the fables of Echo and Narcissus, but omitted the salient factor of the love of Narcissus for his own reflected image, "and so completely hazing over the transformation of Syrinx into a reed that we are left in doubt whether it took place or not." The piece seemed adequate, if no more, supported as it was by the ever-popular Masks and Faces and The Steeplechase.

For Toole's benefit on 29 June, a new play, Through Fire and Water, was introduced. The Observer (2 July) was enthusiastic, combining favorable comment for this piece with adverse criticism of those in which Kate Bateman had appeared.

After the unsatisfactory attempts that have been made to naturalise the legitimate drama at this house, to be accounted for on the ground that it was desirable to give a young actress who had attracted public attention opportunities of appearing in leading parts, it is pleasant to have to record the production of a novelty which reminds one of the pieces that used to be ... the speciality and attraction of the theatre.

The construction of the piece had its faults, noted by the Times (3 July) and the Athenaeum (8 July), but, apart from that, the play was considered highly successful. It was a great piece for Toole and something of a new line for him. "All the parts are good and well acted." It ran for forty-four performances, being played every night until the close of the summer season on 19 August, except for Webster's benefit on 1 July.

Webster's benefit took place on 1 July. For this benefit, the Observer noted that the house was filled

in every part with an audience who testified their esteem for the manager ... by attending in great numbers, as well as by receiving Mr. Webster when he appeared before the curtain ... with every demonstrative expression that could be granted.

Kate Bateman appeared for him in The Lady of Lyons. Gracious as always, he thanked her for "generously offering her great services."

This was the last night of the winter season and a short summer season followed immediately, the theatre reopening on 3 July with a new play, Solon Shingle, and an American actor, John E. Owens, new to the Adelphi.

The merits of the production rested with the portrayal of Solon Shingle by Owens, whose object was

to give a representation of Yankee character, free from those exaggerations which are accepted on this side of the water as its usual exponents; and that his portrait ... has been recognised in America as a veritable likeness.

With other compliments to his performance, the Athenaeum (8 July) made the final comment, "if Mr. Owens has many such portraits, we shall be happy to meet with him in other characters." The Observer (9 July) gave him high praise: "No one has shown greater power of delineation of the American character than Mr. Owens," and the Times (5 July) confirmed that credit was due more to Owens than to the original play. The plot was "a stupid story." It was performed every evening until the end of the short summer season.

On 19 August, an announcement was made in the Times that the close was necessary for repairs and repainting.

During the winter and summer seasons, thirty-three different pieces (including The Lady of Lyons played for two benefit nights) were produced. Of these, seven were entirely new and others new to this theatre. It was an outstanding year for the Adelphi and full of interest and variety in productions.

© Copyright 1992 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

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