The 1874-1875 Season

By Frank McHugh

Mme. Celeste made her final Adelphi appearances in October, 1874, once again playing Miami in Buckstone's Green Bushes. Reminiscing in 1925, Erroll Sherson wrote:

Miami was Celeste's great part and one which she played many hundred times. I saw the play ... with her in this part when she appeared for the last time in 1874 at the Adelphi. She was then at least sixty years of age, if not more, but her acting was wonderful as the deserted Indian maiden; as was also that of Mrs. Billington, who was the Geraldine.... Celeste, like many another actress, had got into the habit of advertising her "Very last appearance," and then a few years later taking another engagement and having another "very last." Few old actresses have stood so many reappearances so well (London's Lost Theatres of the Nineteenth Century, p. 214).

Perhaps Sherson attended Mme. Celeste's farewell performances in more than one season, for in 1874 the Geraldine was not Mrs. Billington but Edith Stuart, whom elsewhere in his book Sherson describes as "an excellent dramatic artist" (p. 72). Mrs. Billington did play Geraldine in 1870.

After a run of 13 nights, Green Bushes was succeeded by G. F. Rowe's Geneva Cross, said to have been performed 500 times previously in the United States. This was a domestic drama set in the recent Franco-Prussian War. The Times described Geneva Cross as "a piece of huge dimensions," received by the audience "with vehement applause." It found in the play, however, "a strange lack of dramatic conciseness" and "reckless verbosity" and noted that the very long intervals between acts "caused occasional expressions of dissatisfaction" (19 October 1874, p. 8). Like the Times, the Athenaeum saw the play as a probable success with its scenes of warfare and its "strong if rather familiar situations." It added, "There is, however, no passion or intensity, no dramatic grip or sequence" (24 October 1874, p. 554). Both the Times and the Athenaeum praised Marie Henderson (a famous Mazeppa), making her first appearance at the Adelphi. Geneva Cross had a respectable run of more than 7 weeks. It was followed by Prayer in the Storm, with James Fernandez and Genevieve Ward in the roles which won them acclaim in the preceding season.

E. L. Blanchard and Thomas F. Greenwood wrote the elaborate Christmas pantomime The Children in the Wood, which played for about 8 weeks. John Cormack was the choreographer and Edwin Ellis the composer. A large array of nursery characters predominated in this piece, not only the children in the wood but also "Father Aesop and Cock Robin and Jenny Wren, and Mother Bunch and Dame Trot and the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, to say nothing of her family and a host of other well-known characters, which have nothing in the world to do with the story but a very great deal to do with our amusement" (Times, 28 December 1874, p. 4). The traditional pantomime figures appeared as well: Miss Parry and Miss St. Pierre were Columbines; Edward Dean, Harlequin; A. Forrest, Clown, and Paulo, Pantaloon.

In January, Buckstone's Dream at Sea was revived. The Times found it typical of Adelphi plays of forty years earlier, "sensational and wildly improbable" (11 January 1875, p. 4). The Athenaeum agreed, "yet the play has stuff in it. It is even, in its way, a miracle of ingenuity, and we watch it with something of the interest inspired by an acrobat who keeps himself poised on a rolling ball, and whirls knives and forks around his head and shoulders." But if the Athenaeum was merely bemused, the audience was intent: "So genuine... is the interest that the audience listens still with rapt attention, and the Adelphi gallery howls forth thunders of applause" (16 January 1875, p. 95).

Uncle Tom's Cabin played in February but was withdrawn after two weeks. It may have failed for two reasons, the Times suggested: "the abolition of slavery in America has taken from Uncle Tom's Cabin the special interest it once possessed, and the frequent change of scenes may not be viewed with favor at a time when a desire for something like unity of place is apparent" (15 February 1875, p. 8). Adelphi audiences saw many new faces in Lancashire Lass and Lost in London, which immediately followed Uncle Tom's Cabin. Lost in London was written by Watts Phillips, who had died in the winter of 1874. Phillips was somewhat of an Adelphi writer. His first play was produced at the Adelphi and his Dead Heart, starring Benjamin Webster, played many times there. The new faces were from the cast of Lost in London which had been at the Princess's Theatre and was now brought over to the Adelphi. Many of them later appeared in Nicholas Nickleby.

The one great popular success of this season was Andrew Halliday's version of Nicholas Nickleby. It played for some 175 evenings. The Times called the play an "immense success" (22 March 1875, p. 8). The Athenaeum, called the Adelphi's cast "as satisfactory as the present generation is likely to see" (22 March, p. 436). It considered George Belmore's Newman Noggs "unsurpassed by any previous performance in the same line, not forgetting the famous representation of Mr. O. Smith" (p. 435).

Errol Sherson held an equally high opinion of George Belmore (George Garstin), "one of the cleverest actors that the London stage had seen since the death of Robson and of much the same style.... He was a great character actor whose equal would be very hard to find on the stage today" (pp. 190-91).

An extended benefit took place in March for the widow and five children of James Crabb, a member of the London Society of Compositors. He had died of phthisis. A bill of March 22 says the benefit was to last from "Monday to Saturday, 22nd and [sic] 27 March, inclusive." There would not be a performance on March 26, which was Good Friday. The goal was to raise enough money to "place his widow in some business."

In the spring and while Nicholas Nickleby continued, the Vokes family brightened the Adelphi program. The Vokes were famous for their dancing in the Drury Lane pantomimes. This year at the Adelphi they appeared in four pieces, two of them written especially for them by E. L. Blanchard. Sherson describes a third piece, Fun in a Fog, which they performed again in 1879 at the Aquarium Theatre, as "a rough sort of 'tumble and trip' entertainment, something like what is called a Revue in England" (London's Lost Theatres, p. 299).

The Adelphi stayed open through the summer and into the fall of 1875.

© Copyright 1992 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.