The 1876-1877 Season

By Frank McHugh

Early in the season a Times reviewer noted that Boucicault's Shaughraun, which he saw at the theatre on 18 November, was not a good play, "but in its time it pleased, and will no doubt please again, the audiences which are mostly attracted to this house." The absence of Mr. and Mrs. Boucicault from the leading roles, he said, "must always be felt, though felt perhaps in a less degree at the Adelphi than elsewhere." But he focused on the curtain-raiser, a new piece called Give a Dog a Bad Name, and its reception:

As it is set down to begin at 7 o'clock it is probably not intended to serve any other purpose than that of 'playing in' the audience, and if the behavior of a considerable portion of the audience on Saturday night may be taken as typical of the general behavior of an Adelphi audience being 'played in,' this piece may do as well as no doubt any other. Perhaps a more literal interpretation of the phrase by the orchestra would do better still; at least it would serve to drown the remarks of the gallery, and one would at least be spared the unpleasantness of seeing actors of the capabilities of Mr. Emery and Miss Coghlan reduced to the position of the performers in the farce which ushers in the pantomime on Boxing night. On that particular night the custom of years has sanctioned such licence, but in any other circumstances such behavior is little short of disgraceful (20 November 1876, p. 7).

The Athenaeum reviewer said nothing about the audience, but he too had kind words for Rose Coghlan's acting in Give a Dog a Bad Name. He found Charles Sullivan's performance as the Shaughraun "not a little startling. This gentleman has a voice of such range he seems capable of communicating, in his own person, an idea of the hubbub at the Tower of Babel, or of performing the feat ascribed by Butler to Cerberus, of pronouncing a 'leash of languages at once'" (25 November 1876, p. 698). Such a startling voice may have had its value in the sometimes noisy Adelphi.

Not all the audience was rowdy, however, for the Adelphi was a house divided in more ways than one. In Discovering Theatre Ephemera, John Melling says, "By the 1880s, it was noted that the lower-priced sections of the house received an inferior, thin, folio sheet, heavily and odoriferously printed, whilst the expensive seats got a scented octavo programme advertising the particular perfumer" (p. 46). Eugene Rimmel's company, which specialized in novelties and choice perfumes, began advertising on the Adelphi's programs in December 1870. Whether there was any scent, we cannot say at this date. But we do know that Rimmel perfumed the waterfall in the 1871 pantomime.

The management had to beware not only of noise and rowdiness but also of the danger of fire in the theatre. On 21 December, "after the recent tragedy in the Brooklyn Theatre, at New York," the Lord Chamberlain's Office issued a memorandum to all managers reviewing the fire rules and warning against putting additional seats in the gangways, as some theatres had been doing (Times, 22 December 1876, p. 6).

The most extraordinary success of this season was a pantomime, Little Goody Two-Shoes, written by E. L. Blanchard and performed entirely by children. According to the Times, "The management here has got together 18 clever children to play a pantomime which occupies two and a half hours in the representation and through it all leaves nothing to be desired" (27 December, p. 5). This piece played more than 150 times, at first only in morning performances at reduced prices but by February in evening performances as well. Sometimes the whole pantomime was given and at other times only the opening. This section, the Times said, was "almost a fairy play, it is so full of pretty thoughts, graceful sentiments, and poetry." But more surprising, the "comic business" was not neglected. "In the two scenes of the harlequinade, the fun is fast and furious" (p. 5).

So successful was this pantomime that in August the management offered a second one of the same kind, again written by Blanchard. The Theatre praised Little Red Riding Hood but suggested "the full warmth of sunny August" was unsuitable for such entertainment (7 August, p. 1). However, this second pantomime ran into November, 1877, for some 85 performances.

As in the preceding season and except for the children's pantomimes, the Adelphi's programming showed little imagination or innovation. It continued to depend on Dion Boucicault revivals and such other proven works as True to the Core, one of the most successful of nautical melodramas. In a very terse notice of Falconer's Peep o'Day, which returned once again to the Adelphi, the Athenaeum observed, "Some stirring of the waters of the Adelphi is much to be desired, if the house is to maintain its place among theatres" (28 April, p. 556.)

Just after Peep o'Day the management succeeded with yet another Boucicault work, Streets of London, which played for twelve weeks. Boucicault's was one of several adaptations of Les Pauvres de Paris (1856). Erroll Sherson writes, "There were two sensations--a house on fire with real fire-engines and horses galloping on to the stage, and a scene where the heroine and her brother are just saved from being suffocated by charcoal fumes" (London's Lost Theatres of the Nineteenth Century, p. 158).

Streets of London was followed by Paul Merritt's The Golden Plough, a new melodrama. The Theatre said of it "if ever there was a thorough-going Adelphi melodrama of the good old Jack Sheppard school, this is one" (14 August, p. 33). Like The Athenaeum, The Theatre praised the work for its construction and some effective scenes rather than for any profound qualities. It thought John Billington was not up to his usual standard and McIntyre was "extremely disappointing. Nor was Mr. S. Emery altogether satisfactory" (p. 34).

The editors have designated 24 August as the end of the 1876-77 season.

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

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