The 1872-1873 Season

By Frank McHugh

Messrs. Webster and Chatterton thoroughly refurbished the auditorium of the Adelphi during the summer recess of 1872:

On Saturday night the Adelphi re-opened its doors in a condition of unwonted brilliancy. Profiting by the designs of Mr. J. T. Robinson, it had thoroughly cleansed and re-decorated itself from the floor to the ceiling, which, always classical in form, now displayed a combination of delicate and harmonious tints. While it had studied splendour it had shrunk instinctively from the heavy, and the panels of its boxes look gay and refreshing in their new array of gold. It had also studied the comfort of the occupants of the boxes by providing them with a ventilation previously unknown (Times, 17 September 1872, p. 5).

The program for opening night, too, seemed designed to restore old Adelphi glories, for once again The Green Bushes headed the bill and Mme. Celeste once again took the role of Miami, "a part which she first played no matter how many years ago" (Times, p. 5). The second piece, C. L. Kenney's farce Autumn Manoeuvres, had played 85 times in the preceding season.

After 42 performances, Green Bushes gave way to H. J. Byron's Mabel's Life. Mme. Celeste remained with the company for the run of this piece, and while the Athenaeum was critical of Byron's play, this "poorest and flimsiest production its author has yet given to the stage," it praised Mme. Celeste, who "evinced a breadth of style such as no English actress imparts to melodrama" (9 November 1872, p. 607). The Times also noted the "singular power" of Celeste's performance and praised the acting of John Clarke and Mrs. Alfred Mellon (4 November 1872, p. 8). A two-level stage was used at times, so that the audience saw "the unholy trio in the shop plotting the death of Mabel while the proposed victim is innocently tending her birds in the room above." A change of scene "in which the basement of a house sinks, revealing the first story, is one of the most remarkable effects stage-machinery has yet obtained" (Athenaeum, p. 607). But the play, written apparently in haste by a busy and prolific author and actor, had its defects. According to the Times, "a few dissenting voices" in the audience were raised. But according to the Athenaeum "marks of disapproval at one time threatened to bring the whole to a premature conclusion." The play ran for only four weeks.

December brought the first hit of the season, the loosely-structured Adventures of Fritz, which displayed the talents of the American actor J. K. Emmet and had done so in America, the bills said, for "upwards of 1000 nights." The Athenaeum, not given to easy praise, saw Emmet as a great entertainer if not a great actor:

Mr. Emmet sings easily and well, and his dancing is the best we have seen. Again and again mere beauty of movement extorted, from an audience not apt to overprize grace or refinement of any kind, an enthusiastic encore (7 December 1872, p. 740).

Although The Adventures of Fritz was so popular the Times thought Benjamin Webster would not offer a Christmas novelty this year, Charles Millward's burlesque Jack and the Beanstalk was given. The Times saw it as "a bright and pleasant piece, and it is well acted throughout." It noted especially the acting of Caroline Parks, Charlotte Saunders and John Clarke (27 December 1872, p. 8). In the spring Green Bushes returned with Miss Furtado playing Miami. The Times commented, "This popular house is now in a normal condition, the perennial Green Bushes once more flourishing on its stage" (17 March 1873, p. 7). Teresa Furtado (Mrs. John Clarke) performed for nine seasons in the Adelphi company. Erroll Sherson describes her as "a very pretty actress, who ... made a great hit as various heroines of melodrama" (London's Lost Theatres of the Nineteenth Century, p. 274).

Other theatrical perennials that appeared for very short runs included The Beggar's Opera, playing 12 times, and The Stone Jug, a version of Buckstone's Jack Sheppard, modified in its title and other details to satisfy new requirements of the Lord Chamberlain's office, playing 13 times. The Athenaeum thought the original Jack Sheppard succeeded because of its actors. "When now presented by a company of incapables, its faults become painfully evident" (29 March 1873, p. 417).

The second great success of the 1872-1873 season was Leopold Lewis' The Wandering Jew, which played 151 times between 22 March and 1 October. Lewis, the Times said, managed to reduce the complicated novel of Eugene Sue to meet the conditions of spectacle and melodrama. And his efforts were aided by the appearance of the great Benjamin Webster in a leading role, even if, like Mme. Celeste, Webster was no longer in his prime:

anyone ought to appreciate the finished acting and thoroughly artistic 'make up' of Mr. Webster as the arch plotter Rodin, into whose every gesture he infuses a distinct meaning. The voice of the veteran actor is no longer what it was, and occasionally his words are scarcely audible, but his by-play as Rodin is always eloquent, and many are the attitudes into which he silently settles himself which would form an admirable study for a painter. The facial expression is true throughout (6 April 1873, p. 60).

Rodin was the last new role Webster ever played. In 1874 he announced his retirement from the stage.

This season ended on 1 October 1873, after 321 performances.

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

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