The 1882-1883 Season

By Peggy Russo

On 7 August 1882, while the Savoy Theatre was again drawing crowds to its seasonal opening with the novelty of electric lighting, the Adelphi commemorated the bank holiday with a revival of Drink, adapted by Charles Reade from Emile Zola's French version and first produced at the Princess's Theatre in 1879. Reade directed, and Charles Warner, Fanny Leslie and Amy Roselle re-enacted their roles from the Princess's production. The revival received no special notice in the press, but Charles Warner's highly regarded performance as Coupeau guaranteed a box-office success and warranted royal visits from the Prince and Princess of Wales on 14 September (Times, 15 September 1882) and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh on 21 October (Times, 23 October 1882). Drink was preceded on the bill by Families Supplied, an original farce by Ernest Cuthbert.

On 30 September, The Adelphi offered audiences a "first-time-ever" matinee performance of "a realistic adaptation of Ouida's novel" Chandos or The Jester Who Turned Traitor by Hartbury Brooklyn (prog). The Athenaeum called the adaptation "extreme in length and disconnected in story," and bemoaned the actors' lack of preparation (7 October 1882, p. 474). The Times celebrated the "comic effect" achieved by an adaptor striving for "high-flown sentiment," claiming that at first, the audience was "mystified," but "as the utterly incomprehensible character of the play dawned upon it, it entered into the humour of the thing, and the two last acts were received with laughter" (3 October 1882, p. 4b). "Especially engaged for the race scene" was Chirgwin, the White-Eyed Kaffir, a popular burnt-cork comedian and musician (Times, 30 September 1882). Chandos was preceded on the bill by the "first London performance" of Mariette's Wedding, an operetta composed by Haydyn Millars and co-authored by Millars and W. E. Morton.

On 17 November, the Adelphi invited the officers and men of the Indian Contingent and those of the Household Cavalry who had served in the Egyptian campaign to a special commemorative performance of Drink. Following the performance, Charles Warner recited a new poem to "mark the occasion"--Clement Scott's "The Midnight Charge" (Times, 13 November 1882). This also marked the final performance of Drink.

From 18 November through 8 March 1883, Charles Reade and Henry Pettitt leased the Adelphi and put together what the Times called a "scratch" company to perform their new melodrama Love and Money. Harry Jackson, of Augustus Harris's company, was brought in to "superintend" the production. Entr'acte music by E. Ellis was performed by cornetist Henry Sprake. Despite a complaint about "comic situations that interrupt the action," the Athenaeum found Love and Money worthy of "the highest praise" because "few dramatists know better than Mr. Reade how to touch the heart" (25 November 1882, p. 707). The Times praised the piece for exhibiting a return to the "fountain of old-fashioned sentiment" instead of "the sordid realism of The Romany Rye and other plays containing such a gutter element." The Times also praised spectacular scenes of a mine explosion during which the heroine and her father were buried alive and then threatened by an underground flood: "Water--real water--pours in ... and a clever device ... represents it as slowly rising to overwhelm the survivors" (10 November, p. 10a).

After the first week, during which Love and Money was alone on the bill, Reade and Pettitt experimented with a variety of companion pieces. On 25 November, Fogged, a "laughable farce," was added as an afterpiece. It starred John Morris who made "seven marvelous changes" for the seven roles that he played--some of them female (Times, 25 November 1882). Fogged lasted through 15 December, when Reade replaced it with his own "rustic drama" entitled Rachael the Reaper. On 22 January, a revival of Reade's three-act adaptation of Tennyson's Dora replaced the two-act Rachael. Dora had failed at the Adelphi in the 1867 season, but Reade had blamed the scene painter and this time set about planning a production that would prove the quality of this work--with new scenery, new music, and Charles Warner to play the lead. The Times, while noting improvements in the revival's scenery, cited the piece's "inherent weakness and want of story" (23 January, 1882, p. 5f). The Athenaeum saw improvement in the production quality, but noted the wearisome length of the evening and likened the play to "a merchant craft which has, to meet some emergency, been turned into a man-of-war." (27 January 1883, p. 130). Alerted to the danger of using Dora as a 9:00 afterpiece, on 29 January, Reade placed it before Love and Money on the bill where it remained until the end of the run (8 March); but given every chance, Dora sank.

Besides offering a variety of companion pieces during the run of Love and Money, the Adelphi hosted Samuel Hayes' tenth annual matinee on 21 February. The Love Chase was presented, followed by a "miscellaneous concert" (Times, 21 February 1883). The Adelphi was again honored by two royal visits: The Duchess of Edinburgh and Prince Louis of Battenburg on 21 November (Times, 22 November 1882, p. 5d); and the Prince and Princess of Wales on 12 January (Times, 13 January 1883, p. 9f).

In the new year, the theatre's name was changed to Royal Adelphi Theatre, a name it had borne earlier in the decade. Two months later, the management received a legal summons that had been initiated by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The Gattis were ordered to "remedy defects in the theatre ... to prevent danger to the public ... from fire." While the Gattis claimed that only a "few structural alterations" were needed, the Board insisted that there were eight "requirements" (Times, 3 February).

The theatre was dark from 9 March through 13 March as preparations were being made for the Gatti's production of Storm-Beaten, a drama in a prologue and five acts adapted by Robert Buchanan from his popular novel God and the Man. Storm-Beaten was a sensational melodrama in the Adelphi tradition with a shipboard fire, passengers shipwrecked in the Arctic, and the break-up of ice floes upon which passengers had taken refuge. William Beverley was responsible for sensational settings and effects enjoyed by audiences and praised by critics. Critics also commended Charles Warner, who directed and starred as Christian Christianson. But those same critics were disappointed in Buchanan's adaptation: "From the drawbacks which attend most stories converted into dramas 'Storm-Beaten' is not free," said The Atheneaum (24 March 1883, p. 387). Buchanan had given his story a happy ending because the traditions of Adelphi melodrama demanded it, but the ending did not seem believable. Both the Times and the Theatre agreed with the Atheneaum. Among the cast members on opening night, playing Jabez Greene, a shepherd, was H. Beerbohm Tree. This was the year before he gained recognition in the farce The Private Secretary at the Globe. Brother Bill and Me, a farce, accompanied Storm-Beaten on the bill through 28 April, when it was replaced by Betsy Baker, or Too Attentive by Half, also a farce. Storm-Beaten received one royal visit; on 20 March, the Duchess of Edinburgh and her suite attended (Times, 21 March 1883, p. 10a).

During the run of Storm-Beaten, there were two matinee performances. On 16 March, Mark J. Quinton made his debut in the title role of the first four acts of Richelieu and as Romeo in the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. The Athenaeum was lukewarm: "To natural advantages Mr. Quinton adds a certain amount of training. He is, however, far too restless in manner" (24 March 1883, p. 388). On 14 May (Whitmonday), there was a matinee performance of Storm-Beaten due to "special desire" (Times, 14 May 1883, p. 8).

On 9 June, the summer season began under the management of Edgar Bruce with a disastrous production of Rank and Riches by Wilkie Collins. The Theatre called the play "predestined for failure," and claimed that it "was deservedly and properly laughed at" (2 July 1883, p. 47). The Athenaeum concurred: "we must assert that an idea more perversely absurd seldom came into human brain" (16 June 1883, p. 774). The author's idea did not constitute the only absurdity, for on opening night:

Mr. Anson, the stage manager, lost temper, and ... in his eccentric garb as the bird-doctor, made an angry appeal to the house to cease its ... hostility to the work of a "great master." Cries from the pit of "Bosh," "Nonsense," "Get on with the play," etc., testified to the spirit in which this ill-considered interruption was received.... The fate of the play was sealed (Times, 11 June 1883, p. 12a).

Betsy Baker, a one-act farce, preceded the drama on the bill. Rank and Riches received more laughter.

Collins's new drama was replaced on 16 June by a hastily thrown together version of Camille, advertised "for a few nights only" (Times, 15 June 1883). After having endured audience derision in Rank and Riches for a week, Miss Lingard much preferred dying of consumption in Camille. Betsy Baker was retained on the bill on 16 and 18 June, and appeared in the Times for 19 June; but according to the program for 19 June, Camille was preceded by a production of Ben Webster, Jr.'s The Laughing Hyena.

The Laughing Hyena remained on the bill until the end of the season; Camille, like Rank and Riches, lasted only one week. On 25 June, it was replaced by a revival of Pluck: A Story of 50,000 Pounds, written by Henry Pettitt and Augustus Harris and produced by Harris at Drury Lane the previous August. Kate Pattison starred in her first London appearance following her American tour with Mrs. Langtry. The Athenaeum called Pluck "sensational and slightly preposterous" (30 June 1883, p. 838). The Times termed the transference of Pluck from Drury Lane to the Adelphi "the last indignity inflicted upon ... Collins's unfortunate play," because Pluck was not a play, but rather:

a succession of tableaux ... a railway collision, the breaking of a bank in the City, a snowstorm in Piccadilly, and the destruction by fire of a dilapidated tenement in the Seven Dials--incidents which the authors make no pretence of stringing together by a dramatic idea (27 June 1883, p. 10c).

Like the two preceding productions, Pluck did not last long; after twelve performances, it closed on 7 July; and so the season ended with a whimper.

The theatre was dark from 7 July through 25 July, except for 21 July when a matinee was held to benefit the Royal College of Music. The program included a "grand concert" and a "new three-act play"--Retaliation, a comedy by Rudolf Dircks (Times 17 July 1883). Special features were performances by Lord Lonsdale's Private Band and Madame Antoinette Sterling who sang "Sunshine and Rain" and "Caller Herrin" (Times, 20 July 1883).

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

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