The 1885-1886 Season

By Peggy Russo

Following the disappointing run of The Last Chance, which closed on 19 June 1885, the Adelphi remained dark until 25 July. It re-opened for the 1885-86 season with yet another Boucicault revival--this time of Arrah-na-Pogue, accompanied by a farce, Leave It To Me, by C. H. Hazlewood and A. Williams. While pointing out that the Boucicault "revival appears designed only to meet the modest requirements of the summer season," the Times praised the "great care and completeness" afforded the production, noting that the public's opinion of the play had changed in the eighteen years since its first production at the Princess's Theatre on 22 March 1865. Public sentiment at that time had forced the play to be "prematurely withdrawn" because "the political element of the story" surrounding Irish rebellion against the British was considered "seditious." This time, however, audiences listened to the "rebel sentiment" with "equanimity" and even with "pleasure." The cast was termed "adequate" (Times, 27 July 1885, p. 8b). Recalling the original cast, the Athenaeum called Mary Rorke "a worthy successor to Mrs. Boucicault," and praised J. D. Beveridge's Colonel O'Grady, but found Charles Sullivan "lacks as Shaun the Post the humour and tenderness of Mr. Boucicault" (Athenaeum, 1 August 1885, p. 154).

Following the somewhat unexpected success of Arrah-na-Pogue, the Adelphi mounted a revival of The Colleen Bawn, another of Boucicault's Irish dramas. And this revival too achieved popular success. In an attempt to explain their popularity, the Times noted:

after the complicated and too often sordid plots invented by the dramatist of the present day, the simplicity and directness of motive and the romantic incidents of these impossible stories of Irish life are as refreshing as the "shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (26 October 1885, p. 4c).

Boucicault's skill as a playwright certainly should be considered as cause for success, but worthy of note also is the Times news story appearing on the same page as the play review in which is reflected an interest in equal rights for Irish tenant farmers, surely an indication that British public sentiment toward the Irish question was softening. In part, the cause for this softening may be attributed to Boucicault's attempts to change British attitudes through his Irish dramas.

Mary Rorke again appeared in the part originally played by Mrs. Boucicault, and both she and Miss Millward earned praise from the Times. Also praised was the treatment of Boucicault's major sensation scene: "The famous water cave scene where the Colleen Bawn is thrown into the pool by Danny Mann and rescued by Myles-na-Coppaleen thrills the house as it has always done" (26 Oct., 1885, p. 4c).

During the run of The Colleen Bawn, there was a special matinee of the "first London production" of Roma; or The Deputy by Gospodin Lubimoff, adapted from a play by Sardou (Times, 28 November 1885). Elaine Verner starred as Roma. The run of The Colleen Bawn continued Until 12 December 1885.

The theatre was dark from 13 December through 22 December in preparation for one of the Adelphi's biggest hits of the eighties. The Harbour Lights was the second collaborative effort of George R. Sims and Henry Pettitt, who had co-authored In the Ranks, the Adelphi hit of the 1883 season. The Harbour Lights was primarily "a naval version of the recent military drama by the same authors, In the Ranks, eked out with scenes or ideas derived from The Colleen Bawn and other familiar sources" (Times, 24 December 1885, p. 9f). The Athenaeum noted that there was "in character and in incident no element of novelty," but it was "a distinct success ... well mounted and acted" (2 January 1886, p. 43). Despite its lack of originality, the Theatre called The Harbour Lights "all that an Adelphi melodrama should be--a strong, touching play, excellently placed on the stage, and admirably acted" (1 January 1886, p. 42). Especially praised was William Terriss for "courageously saving a woman from a watery grave, represented by some hundreds of yards of undulating calico" in a scene obviously borrowed from Boucicault's Colleen Bawn (Times). The Theatre said:

There never was a better hero for this kind of play than Mr. Terriss, who looks the handsome young lieutenant to the life, and is always active, easy and vigorous (p. 44).

Indeed, in William Terriss, the Adelphi had found a much-needed replacement for Charles Warner who was now part of the rival Olympic Theatre company. And when the Gattis made the decision to pair Terriss and Jessie Millward as romantic leads, they had finally perfected their recipe for the Adelphi melodrama of the eighties. Terriss and Millward had acted together before, in Much Ado About Nothing at the Lyceum, but Harbour Lights represents the beginning of their career together in Adelphi melodrama. The Times applauded this pairing, claiming that Terriss and Millward "impart into popular melodrama the finished style of the Lyceum" (12 April 1886, p. 4a). Terriss and Millward were to remain as romantic leads at the Adelphi through the 1889 season and would later return for the seasons 1894-97. Terriss was to be murdered outside the Adelphi Theatre on 15 December 1897. But during the seasons that he headed up the Adelphi company, as George Rowell so aptly points out, Terriss:

gave the expression "Adelphi melodrama" a new meaning, and by his association with Jessie Millward ... also provided the theatre with the double attraction that the Lyceum possessed in Irving and Ellen Terry or the Criterion in Wyndham and Mary Moore (Rowell, Theatre in the Age of Irving, p. 143).

Mary Rorke was also a drawing card for the Adelphi in the 1885 season. Calling her "one of our most gifted emotional actresses," The Theatre ran a full-page picture and biography of her (1 March 1886, p. 116a, 162).

The Adelphi announced the one-hundredth performance of Harbour Lights on 5 April 1886, and marked the occasion with

the adoption of a new act drop, painted by Hawes Craven from a picture lent by Mr. Irving and giving a glimpse of old English life as it was lived by Robin Hood and his merrie men in the glades of Sherwood Forest (Times, 12 April 1886, p. 4a).

While taking note of the one-hundredth performance and the new act drop, the Times gave The Harbour Lights a mid-run review, asserting, "The play itself is, as yet, far from needing any adventitious attractions ... and time after time one may sit it out with pleasure." Indeed, a significant number of London playgoers must have sat it out time after time. Beginning on 9 January, Saturday-matinee performances were held weekly, and this practice continued until 15 May. The production received three royal visits during this season: the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh (Times, 30 December 1885, p. 7e); the Duchess of Connaught and the Duke and Duchess of Oldenburg (Times, 12 May 1886, p. 9d); and Prince and Princess Henry of Battenburg and Countess Erbach (Times, 23 March, p. 12a).

On 23 June 1886, the Adelphi hosted a special matinee performance of The Suspicious Husband by Benjamin Hoadley in order to "aid the Funds of the Thimble League" (Times, 22 June 1886). First produced at Covent Garden in 1747 with Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard, Hoadley's comedy "requires for its successful presentation a class of acting now not easily to be found," according to the Athenaeum, and this production "did not rise much above the level of amateur representations." Nevertheless, the Athenaeum praised Amy Roselle's delivery "with spirit" of a prologue by Walter Besant and Bessie Hatton's recitation "with much pathos [of] Mr. [Robert Traill Spencer] Lowell's poem of 'The Relief of Lucknow'" (26 June 1886, p. 856).

Performances of The Harbour Lights continued through the summer and into the following fall. Thus, the season, which had begun with productions of Boucicault revivals in order to recover from the disaster of The Last Chance, ended with the perfection of the Gatti's formula for success in the pairing of William Terriss and Jessie Millward combined with one of the Adelphi's biggest hits. Due to the extended run of The Harbour Lights, the theatre did not close between seasons; for this reason, we end the 1885 season arbitrarily on 4 September 1886.

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

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