The 1887-1888 Season

By Peggy Russo

After being dark from 26 June through 27 July 1887, "The Adelphi, enlarged and improved, reopened on Thursday," 25 July, with a new melodrama--The Bells of Haslemere, written by Henry Pettitt and Sydney Grundy (Athenaeum, 30 July 1887, p. 160). With this season, the Adelphi began the practice of presenting a new piece minus the accompanying farce for its premiere performance, perhaps in order to copy Henry Irving's practice of opening-night, curtain-call speeches at the Lyceum. Indeed, according to the Telegraph, the authors and the Gatti brothers were called before the curtain to receive the applause of the audience and presumably to give speeches following the opening-night performance of The Bells of Haslemere (Times, 30 July 1887).

The Bells of Haslemere was "a plain, homely, old-fashioned melodrama, of a kind of which an unsophisticated audience does not easily tire" (6 August 1887, p. 191). Sydney Grundy, praised for his skill in creating dialogue, was also lauded for turning out

a play not only full of the thrilling situation and the ad captandum sentiment familiar to the Adelphi playgoer, but strong, sound, vigorous, and humanly interesting even to those who may be described as the public of the stalls (Times, 29 July 1887, p. 9f).

Although Bells of Haslemere followed the established Adelphi formula, there were some innovations. The Theatre noted that because William Terriss had become "the actor at whom the pit rises and the gods shout," the authors had been compelled to make "him the one figure that shall stand out from the others." In doing so, they had "dwarfed" the other characters, especially the heroine, and even though

the heroine is true and steadfast in her love, is persecuted by an objectionable lover and goes through much mental anxiety, there is little of that rescuing from imminent danger and hair-breadth 'scapes which so rouses the enthusiasm of the pitites (Theatre, 1 September 1887, p. 147).

The Athenaeum also noted that this production differed from normal Adelphi drama because of the absence of low comedy but blamed this on the then current scarcity of low-comedy actors and on public taste rather than on the authors' compulsion to concentrate on Terriss. A "species of half-comic interest," was provided by a village blacksmith, but when the blacksmith followed Terriss to America, it was "in so uncertain a capacity and in so purposeless a fashion that the idea is conveyed that the actor cast for the part refused to play it unless room were found for him in the American act" (6 August 1887, p. 191).

The Times noticed another major difference--the addition of a third villain:

Time was when one single villain of sufficiently unscrupulous habits might be trusted to work all the necessary amount of mischief in a five-act melodrama; but with the introduction of revolving scenery and the general quickening and intensifying of the action of such plays, the want has been itself felt of some additional pressure of villainy to the square inch.

In addition, the new type of villain was no longer interested in love and revenge; rather "the sordid acquisition of property ... causes him to devote himself to the meaner arts of forgery or blackmail" (29 July 1887, p. 9f).

The technical effects and scenery won praise from the Theatre, especially the paintings for the American settings: Bruce Smith's "The Bayou," "Canebrake," and "Mississippi Mangrove Swamp;" and W. Telbin's "'Desmond's Plantation,' with its field hands bearing their baskets of golden fruit and singing as they go the old negro melodies, so plaintive and so sweet" (Theatre, p. 149). The Athenaeum, however, presented an opposing view, complaining that the number of scene changes were

so intricate and elaborate as to perplex almost more than they please. It is sincerely to be hoped that the present fashion of revolving scenery is a passing whim, and that the public will either be elevated to something better, or allowed to fall back on something more simple (p. 191).

Despite these minor negative criticisms of the production, the actors were praised by all. "In truth," said the Times,

the success of the evening belongs ... to the acting rather than to the carpentry of the piece; and second only to the heroism of Mr. Terriss and Miss Millward is the villainy of Messrs. Beveridge, Cartwright, and Beauchamp as a factor in that success (p. 9f).

Even though The Bells of Haslemere was not as big a hit as the previous two seasons' Harbour Lights (there was no demand for continuous matinee performances), the Gattis' formula of sensational melodrama plus Millward and Terriss in the leading roles guaranteed them another solid Adelphi success.

During the run of The Bells of Haslemere, a special matinee was presented on 19 November 1887, to benefit the Actors' Benevolent Society. Presented were Lady of Lyons and Tears, Idle Tears. Actors taking part included major Adelphi company members (Terriss, Beveridge, Millward, Jecks, etc.); and some former Adelphites--most prominently, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Stirling and Carlotta Leclercq (Times, advertisement, 17 November 1887). Also, during the week of 19 March through 24 March 1888, there appears to have been a special run-through performance of a play being planned for the next season. "Union Jack, the forthcoming drama at the Adelphi, was very unostentatiously given this week at the Adelphi with the idea of securing all privileges" (Athenaeum, 24 March 1888, p. 382).

A disastrous conflagration at the Exeter Theatre and the Lord Mayor of London's subsequent relief fund drive served to remind the theatre-going public of the danger of fire. The Adelphi, like several other London theatres, felt it necessary to assure the public that it had sufficient exits to permit speedy evacuation and announced "Captain Shean, the Vice-President of the Fire Brigade Association, reports ... the time taken in emptying the Adelphi Theatre is six minutes, this being less, with the exception of the Avenue, than any other theatre in London" (Times adv., September 10, 1887).

This season, the Adelphi was visited by the nobility: the Duchess of Edinburgh, and the Duke of Connaught in company with the Russian Ambassador (Times, 16 August 1887, 6b); and by royalty: the Prince and Princess of Wales (Times, 21 December 1887, p. 8a). The Bells of Haslemere ran for the entire season. On Monday, 4 June 1888, the Gattis announced the 276th performance; the final performance was the following Friday, and thus ended the 1887 season (Times, 4 June 1888).

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

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