The 1883-1884 Season

By Peggy Russo

At the beginning of the 1883 season, the Adelphi turned once more to a work by Dion Boucicault and opened on 25 July with a revival of his Streets of London, first produced as Streets of New York in that city in 1864. Directed by Charles Harris, the production featured "new scenery" by Bruce Smith (Times, advertisement, 25 July 1883). Charles Warner appeared as Badger and was praised by the Athenaeum for his "mixture of melodramatic energy and animal spirits which is the distinguishing feature in his acting." Also praised were Mrs. H. Leigh and Miss Clara Jecks (Athenaeum, 28 July 1883, p. 122). Despite its vintage, The Boucicault revival rated a matinee performance for the bank holiday on 6 August, and drew a royal visit from the Princess of Wales, Prince Albert Victor, the Princess of Saxe-Meiningen, and Prince Louis of Battenberg on 13 August (Times, 14 August 1883, p. 7f). Although the Gattis originally announced that Streets of London would be "performed for a limited period," the production continued to draw a good house for over two months, ending on 4 October. A popular farce called Turn Him Out preceded Streets of London on the bill.

Following the close of Streets of London, the Adelphi was dark on Friday, 5 October, in preparation for an original melodrama which was to become one of the theatre's hits of the eighties. Although the Adelphi had previously produced work by Henry Pettitt (Taken From Life,1881, Love and Money [with Charles Reade], 1882, and Pluck [with Augustus Harris], 1882), In The Ranks was the first Adelphi production written by the collaborative team of Pettitt and George R. Sims. Works by Pettitt and Sims (both alone and in collaboration) became standard fare at the Adelphi for the rest of the decade. In the Ranks opened on 6 October, under the direction of Charles Harris, with music by Henry Sprake. Turn Him Out was retained on the bill as the opening piece. The Athenaeum classed In the Ranks "as a good Adelphi melodrama with no claim to be anything more" (13 October 1883, p. 474). The Times agreed, and added:

None of the characters of the story belong to the category of living men and women. They are all puppets of the stage, whose life-blood has long since been dried up within them by the footlights (8 October 1883, p. 7b).

Playing one of the puppets, however, Charles Warner had "plenty of scope for the display of heroism of that robust and acrobatic order dear to the Adelphi public" (Times). Isabel Bateman, who had been absent from the stage for some time, played Ruth Herrick, the heroine who is subjected to a "drugging scene" which the Times claimed fell "flat, in part it may be from Miss Bateman's want of practical experience of the effects of morphia." The Theatre was more enthusiastic: "The acting of the play has been entrusted to well-known and competent artists, and is altogether exceptionally good." J. D. Beveridge, playing the villain, was especially commended: "he is howled at and hooted at every opportunity ... if some of the excited spectators could lay hands upon him they would quickly make way for his understudy" (1 November 1883, p. 258).

Even though the characters and acting of In the Ranks did not gain a consensus of approval among critics, it was immensely successful with Adelphi audiences who enjoyed a plot that included the arrest of the hero on his wedding day for a crime he has not committed, followed by separation of the happy couple, prison and military scenes, pursuit by the villain, and an ending with virtue triumphant over vice (a formula that was to be repeated in future productions). Moreover, its scenic effects, designed by Walter Mann, Thomas W. Hall, and Bruce Smith, delighted both critics and audiences. These were not spectacular effects; rather, they were innovations in scene changes:

Not only are elaborate scenes whisked up ... to disappear in the flies, but whole "sets" are moved on and off the stage, turned outside in, or otherwise made to undergo a complete change of aspect under the eye of the house. A striking application of this ... occurs when ... the "set" [is] suddenly pulled round and made to exhibit the exterior instead of the interior of the guard-room (Times, 8 October, 1883).

The Athenaeum was equally enthusiastic: "Nothing equally elaborate and ingenious in the way of stage mechanism has been seen on the Adelphi stage" (13 October 1883). Thus, despite the familiarity of plot, character, and theme, the novelty of the new set-change technique and the heroic acting of Charles Warner kept audiences in attendance until 28 March 1885. Royal visitors during the run of In the Ranks included the Prince and Princess of Wales (Times, 8 February 1884, p. 9d) and the Duchess of Edinburgh (Times, 12 February 1884, p. 5d).

In the ranks of the cast of In the Ranks was a bit-part actor named Archer (playing O'Flanigan). This Archer was later to become the notorious Richard Prince, murderer of actor William Terriss. Playwright George R. Sims (quoted in William Terriss and Richard Prince by George Rowell) remembers Archer:

Prince or Archer--that was the name we knew him by at the Adelphi--was known to many members of the profession as "Mad Archer" ... While in a small part in In the Ranks, he complained to me twice that another actor was trying to "queer him" (p. 60).

We have no clue to the identity of the other actor. Perhaps he was Warner, an actor out of the same man's-man mold as Terriss.

Two special matinee performances were presented at the Adelphi during the 1883 season's run of In the Ranks: Money, 14 December 1883, and Little Cricket, 27 March 1884. According to a Times advertisement, the performance of Lord Lytton's Money was to be a "compliment" produced by a management committee of over forty theatre notables in order to "serve an old professional friend who has ever been ready to serve members of the dramatic profession" (the professional friend is not identified but may have been Edward H. Brooke, who had earlier received a benefit at the Adelphi and who was to die the following November). For this purpose, the Gattis donated the use of the Adelphi, and Thomas Thorne permitted his Vaudeville Theatre Company to appear. In addition, several members of the committee appeared in the "well known club scene" (Times, 12 December 1883). Also on the bill was Young Fra Diavolo, the Terror of Terracina, a burlesque of Auber's opera (first scene only), written by Henry J. Byron and with musical arrangements by Herr Mayer Lutz (program).

The production of Little Cricket was advertised in the Times as "Miss Lydia Cowell's Matinee" (Times, 27 March 1884). The purpose of the matinee, according to the Times, was "to remind playgoers of [the play's] existence." Little Cricket was adapted by James Mortimer from George Sands's La Petite Fadette and had been first produced several years earlier at the "obscure" Duke's Theatre where, after a brief run, it was "lost to the stage." The Times found the play "slight in texture" but also found its loss "regrettable." Lydia Cowell's re-appearance in the lead role earned praise, especially her dancing which featured "a commendable regard for local colour." The "rustic setting" was unfortunately supplied by "scenery which nightly does duty in In the Ranks" (29 March 1884, p. 6b).

Besides being dark on 5 October (preparation of In the Ranks), 25 December (Christmas), 27 February (Ash Wednesday), and 11 April (Good Friday), the Adelphi also closed unexpectedly on Saturday, 5 April "in consequence of the funeral of his late Royal Highness the Duke of Albany" (Times, 5 April 1884). Except for these interruptions, In the Ranks continued daily with no regard to seasonal breaks. For this reason, we end the season arbitrarily on 4 October 1884.

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

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